Despite their enduring popularity (47 million books were sold in the past year alone), romance novels have had a rather negative reputation in some circles. Non-readers criticize romance novels for their “frivolous” storylines and lengthy sex scenes. “For a long time, readers have been made to feel like they should be embarrassed to read romance,” says romance author Elle Kennedy, who is writing the off-campus series. “Romance has been one of the best-selling genres for decades, and yet often [is] still considered ‘minor’],” says Kennedy. When it comes to the female perspective or pleasure, don’t call it literature; it’s just “fluff”.
Subscription services like The Steam Box, founded by creator Melissa Gill, seek to shatter the stigma largely perpetuated by patriarchal standards. Gill believes that, like engagement rings, marriage proposals, and most things in heterosexual romance, gender bias is at the core of the stigma. “It’s okay if men [embrace their sexuality]but when we talk about it, when we embrace our sexuality, that’s a problem,” she says. Their service will curate a sexy romance novel and vibrator pair, then deliver the box right to the reader’s door. “We’re reading these very poignant scenes and I think… why don’t we talk about it pleasure that it brings us? Are she Aren’t you reaching for your vibrator?” she explains.”
Book subscription boxes are nothing new (though most don’t come with complementary sex toys), but Gill seeks to amplify voices and experiences that have gone unheard for far too long. “In designing the Steam Box, I wanted to make sure that it not only celebrates various works in romance, but also talks about pleasure and the acceptance of sexuality.” Instead of creating a whole new space in the world of romance, it benefits her Business and its platform to convey different voices and sexual experiences more Place.
Gill isn’t alone: social media creators are spearheading the renaissance of savory romance. More than ever, readers are embracing reading — and enjoying — sexually explicit novels. Like many YouTubers, Sanjana Basker’s BookTok following started “with an accident.” Basker once devoured 500 romance novels in four months. Now her content includes romance book reviews and academic discussions of sex and intimacy in literature, and she says TikTok has given her “a really great place to find community among other romance readers.” @salty_caroline_reads’ Caroline Green took to TikTok because “none of [her] Friends really were big readers” and #BookTok and #BookTok gave her a chance to discover new romance like Sarah MacLean’s historical romance love by numbers. Caroline now shares weekly “Coffee Chat” videos in which she reviews her week of reading by analyzing the themes or literary elements of each book. Kennedy recognizes the power of the app when it comes to attracting new readers. “TikTok in particular has really taken the genre into the mainstream and allowed non-romantic readers to realize that there’s a lot more to the genre than shirtless men on the covers,” she says.