Guilty Pleasures: Sexy Stories, Female Desire, and Resistance (NeMLA)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Melodie Roschman

CFP: paper proposals for session at NeMLA (March 7-10, 2024, Boston, MA)

Netflix’s 2020 hit series Bridgerton - based on the popular novel series by Julia Quinn - quickly became one of the most successful mainstream adaptations of a romance novel in recent memory. Media coverage of the show featured language typical of that often used to describe romance. Vox’s Aja Romano called it “snackable” and “luxurious,” The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan called it “a moreish treat,” and the Chicago Sun-Times’s Richard Roeper called it “juicy,” “delicious,” and “addictive.” In a society where women are simultaneously encouraged to love their bodies while also eating healthy and staying thin, the same language of excess and appetite is used for comfort food and sexy stories. Works centered around love, sex, and pleasure are often dismissed - even by readers - as shallow or embarrassing, to be consumed apologetically or in secret. 

This panel takes up the question of surplus desire, pleasure, and consumption as it relates to the creating, enjoying, and sharing of so-called “sexy stories”: romance novels, fan fiction, and erotica. Participants are encouraged to explore, but are not limited to, the following questions: 

-How do we culturally decide who is allowed to consume “guilty pleasures,” and which pleasures count as guilty? 

-How have “prestige” romances like Bridgerton or Outlander changed the public perception of romance and its fandom? 

-How does the form of a sexy story (page vs. screen, published vs. fan-authored, ebook vs. paperback) affect its reception? 

-How are rhetorics of excess and consumption surrounding romance and erotica complicated by sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and class? 

-How do the social (fandom), literary (reader), and sometimes physical (pornographic) pleasures of consuming sexy stories intersect? 

-Must we defend romance as resistant, revolutionary, or even feminist in order to enjoy it?

Please submit abstracts of 200-300 words through the NEMLA submission system ( by September 30, 2023. 

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Session Chair Melodie Roschman (