Minotaur sperm, it turns out, is pharmaceutically useful—specifically as a component of erectile dysfunction medication. Of course, that means somebody has to collect it, hence the existence of the state-of-the-art, highly professional Morning Glory Milking Farm, the setting for a popular new romance novel of the same name. Enter Violet, an under-employed young millennial still finding her way in the world, who takes a job as a “milking technician” at the facility. Yes, her job is exactly what you’re picturing. Her hero is Roark, a nice, well-adjusted minotaur with a stable job, respected in his community. He’s also a regular contributor at the farm. “May as well get paid for what’s going down the shower drain every day,” he reasons.
Their story has a bit of a cozy Hallmark vibe; they spend a fair amount of the book getting to know each other over coffee at a charming local shop. The circumstances of their meeting, however, would certainly keep this low-angst, warmhearted book off the family-friendly Hallmark Channel. But despite the premise, Morning Glory Milking Farm’s romance is in fact a very slow burn, the two characters slowly feeling out one another’s interest. “He’s just a normal middle-aged man, ready to settle down, and that is the most boring book I could possibly conceive,” author C.M. Nascosta said, laughingly describing her own book to Jezebel. “But if you give him horns and hooves, suddenly it works!”
Published in August, the novel moved quickly from Nascosta’s fanbase to Romance Twitter, and finally to TikTok, where it went viral, peaking at number 11 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Violet and her minotaur suitor aren’t outliers. Morning Glory Milking Farm is part of a larger boom in the subgenre of monster romance. Vampires and werewolves have been part of the erotic repertoire of popular fiction for decades, long before Twilight, but this crop of books is venturing further afield than shifters and bloodsuckers: orcs, Kraken, lizardmen, aliens, tentacled aliens, gargoyles, and, yes, minotaurs. There’s even a cheeky, self-aware term among fans: monsterfuckers.
Readers have been lusting over vampires since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the internet opened new pathways. Monster erotica attracted a burst of media attention around 2014, when the trend was epitomized for the unfamiliar by offbeat titles like Cum for Bigfoot. Then there’s the influence of one of the leading lights of romance self-publishing: Ruby Dixon, author of the sprawling, famously over-the-top Ice Planet Barbarians series, whose heroes are giant blue aliens with glowing blue eyes and horns and an additional “spur” strategically placed on their groins. (Her heroines are accidentally dropped onto their hostile ice planet home by another, villainous group of aliens.)
Dixon was an important figure in fostering the new alien/monster subgenre—there’s a great deal of overlap—boom through her popularity with extremely online romance super-fans. Alien and monster romances began to proliferate: Stalked by the Kraken, by Lillian Lark, about a witch whose matchmaker magic is on the fritz and an ancient Kraken shifter, heavily featuring tentacles. Ensnared, by a husband-and-wife team writing as Tiffany Roberts, which features a spider alien. I Married a Lizardman, by Regine Abel, which follows an arranged marriage in outer space between a woman and a Lizardman. The Lady and the Orc, by Finley Fenn, about a human woman and orc who whisks her away to Orc Mountain.
Then came the crossover moment: this summer, when Ice Planet Barbarians got picked up on TikTok, leading to a huge sales bump, national media attention, and a traditional book publishing deal. “The Ice Planet Barbarians bump introduced a lot of new readers to guys that didn’t look human,” said Kathryn Moon, author of The Lady of Rooksgrave Manor, another TikTok favorite, which features one heroine and a whole cadre of monster love interests (a popular subgenre of its own known as “reverse harem”). “It was a gateway to monsters: ‘Okay, yeah, this one has horns, too. And ridges… wherever.’” Driven by TikTok, interest in monsters exploded beyond the existing community of fans. Moon added: “I felt very much like—wait, you haven’t read a book where the guy isn’t a human yet? But a lot of people haven’t!”
Then, of course, there’s the pandemic, which is not to be underestimated as a contributing factor. “I think people have been trapped in their houses for two years, and things that were unacceptable are suddenly okay because we’ve had nothing but ourselves for company!” Nascosta laughed, adding, “I’m so serious! I feel like people have gotten a lot more okay with themselves and the things that we previously really kept on the DL.”
She summed up the vibe: “I baked 153 loaves of sourdough and like monsters now—what of it?”
Both authors were thoughtful about the appeal of monster romance. “We all want a taste of the unknown, especially if the unknown comes with the benefit of not having all the baggage that we are saddled with in our daily lives,” Nascosta suggested. “With patriarchal thinking and body issues and community expectations and all of that. There’s a little bit of freedom from that.”
“I think there are a lot of angles to it,” Moon said. “There’s an element of self-acceptance by accepting the monster. I think a lot of people have what they find in themselves that is ugly or shameful or monstrous or strange.” Accepting the monster is also accepting something within yourself.
The paths into monster romance are numerous. For some, it’s The Shape of Water; for others, it’s the disappointing moment when the Beast turns into some random Frenchman, or the early 1990s Disney cartoon Gargoyles. At the same time, though, these stories are tapping into a tradition older than mass media. Animal bridegroom stories are a staple of folklore: “nearly every storytelling culture maps out dating practices with animal partners,” professor Maria Tatar writes in her introduction to the collection Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales of Animal Brides and Grooms. She points out that historically, there was a “vast repertoire of stories about animal grooms and animal brides.” The minotaur in Greek mythology, as a matter of fact, was the offspring of a cursed queen who fell in love with a bull.
When I brought up animal bridegrooms, Nascosta herself cited East of the Sun, West of the Moon, featuring a bear, and Beauty and the Beast. She laughed: “We’ve always been monsterfuckers!”
The term really embodies the tone of the genre, which is often cheerfully horny, slyly self-aware, and profoundly unashamed. When I asked Moon if “monsterfucker” was an in-community term or an outsider’s pejorative, she replied, with a hint of a laugh in her voice: “I think it’s a badge of honor.”
And, too, part of the appeal is the ground it allows readers to explore in a space where the very setup signposts that we’re not in the real world, with real-world rules. “I think it’s a very safe way for people to explore trauma, it’s a safe way for people to explore kinks,” Nascosta suggested. “I’m not just saying that because that’s what I think, I know that there are readers who don’t have a size kink in real life but they love reading about a big orc. You know?”
When it comes to crafting monsters that are just the right amount of monstrous, Nascosta explained her line is about consent: “Can these characters give enthusiastic consent? That’s why consent is always such a big part of my stories.” For her, it’s about creating a rounded-out character rather than a writhing mass of tentacles (not that there’s anything wrong with a writhing mass of tentacles if that’s your thing, she was quick to add.) “You have to make sure you’re giving these characters not just sapience, but recognizable character traits that make them feel like people you might know.” He’s an orc, but he’s also just a dude.
“I don’t want to say I don’t spend a lot of time crafting these stories, because I absolutely do,” Nascosta explained. “But most of my ideas start as shitposts. I can’t even pretend otherwise. Girl’s Weekend was conceived in a text conversation where I was like, ‘Oh my god, wouldn’t it be hilarious if these elves go to an orc nudist colony?’” She’s now plotting a four-book series around the idea. Part of the fun is seeing the different directions that various authors go with the same core set of tropes and creatures. Nascosta’s work grafts monsters and scorching high-heat love scenes onto Hallmark-style rom-com scenarios; Moon’s Lady of Rooksgrave Manor is set in a Victorian world populated by classic monsters of the era—a vampire, an invisible man, a take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—with results that feel like a mashup between League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Penny Dreadful. But she shares Nascosta’s love of sweetness: “My favorite thing to write, really, is just absolutely horny but also wholesome.”
In her introductory essay, Tatar suggests of animals: “Because our relationship to them is saturated with mysterious desires and projected fantasies, our stories about them enable us to probe what remains uncivilized, unruly, and undomesticated in us.” Monster romance pulls off a fascinating double-backflip, then, juxtaposing adventurous raw sex with emotional domesticity. Nascosta was quick to clarify that the essential fantasy of the monster romance is not “fixing” the monster, and by metaphorical implication, redeeming a man. It’s about appreciating and desiring the beast and building a relationship with him. Monster romance flips the traditional monster-movie script of the screaming woman who swoons or flees hysterically at the sight of Swamp Thing and his ilk, considering instead what it might be like to build a cozy cabin on a black lagoon and get your back blown out every night. (Free idea, by the way.)
The fact of the matter is, a lot of the human libido is mysterious and downright strange; monster romance is completely comfortable with this reality. The genre happily swan-dives straight into the unruly, undisciplined parts of the erotic imagination, and asks you to be honest with yourself: who wouldn’t fuck a charismatic, gentlemanly minotaur?