Wow, I'm on the roll today.
Thinking about Elizabeth Hoyt's To Taste Temptation has me realizing that one thing I really miss when it comes to erotic romances today is subtlety. I'm not talking about closed door stuff, oh no. I miss the slow build-up of passion, the exchange of glances, or any other small little things that people attracted to each other do when they play out the mating game. I personally believe that erotic romance need not solely be about sex scenes. Conversations can be erotic too. Flirtation can be erotic. Even a brief glance across the room can be erotic if the author's sense of description is good.
Two authors that come to mind when it comes to this are Pam Rosenthal and Janet Mullany. These authors don't write love scenes that I find particularly erotic, but the way the authors often delve into the characters' heads, letting me know of the pained longing that is behind each subtle glance or brief physical contact, that make the entire story erotic. I found myself thinking, when I was watching the movie version of The Remains Of The Day, that the movie was quite erotic despite the lack of explicit sex scenes because of the way the characters manage to express their feelings for each other in subtle ways. Perhaps it is the contradiction between their feelings and their prim and proper exterior that makes the whole thing erotic, but whatever it is, the movie works for me. Likewise, Jane Campion's The Piano may have some nudity here and there, but I found the heroine's love affair, in a way, with her piano the most erotic thing about the story. It's the way she expresses herself through the music, the expression on her face as she plays, that is more erotic than any close-up on Harvey Keitel's behind.
In the end, it all boils down to the expression of feelings, I believe. If the author is very good with her description, she can make even the briefest touch, or even the way the heroine bites her lower lip as she stares longingly at the hero, a very erotic scene. I find the ability of the author to play with my feelings absent in many erotic romances. Too many of them are all about blatant in-your-face sex scenes. People are always having sex at the oddest time and place by page 30, characters rarely even indulge in foreplay anymore - it's all stick-it-in-and-whoaaaaa-baby that is done with in two pages, with some cartoon version of mating instinct tossed in for garnishing. Don't even get me started about polyamory romances. If I have to read another "two strong men rush to protect a helpless woman... and realize that they have to share her WHOOP-BE-DOO!" story, I am going to throw up.