I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the popularity of the “Hot Priest” trope and why it’s proven itself to be so effective. Some may argue that it just has to do with the exciting feeling of “wrongness” that comes from these kinds of romances. Others may never understand what the trope holds.
Over the last week, though, two things spurred me to want to further explore the meaning that can be found in this well-known trope.
- I absolutely devoured Scarlett Peckham’s latest book, The Lord I Left, which includes a hot and bothered minister
- I submitted my own application to a local seminary to get my Masters of Divinity (positive vibes and prayers appreciated—I really want to get in!)
I could probably write volumes about the ins and outs of this trope, but here are a few of the major things that I think are worth unpacking.
First Thing’s First: It’s Taboo
Let’s get this out of the way: the idea of a romance with a minister (especially a priest) inherently carries some taboo. For the official “hot priest” trope, a lot of this has to do with the fact that Catholic priests are sworn to be celibate. The mingling of temptation, sexiness, and the breaking of strict rules absolutely come together as a kind of romantic catnip for some folks.
It’s this kind of rule-breaking sexiness that makes Sierra Simone’s Priest so very popular amongst erotic romance readers (full disclosure—this book wasn’t really for me, but that has more to do with my hang-ups and concerns more than it has anything to do with Simone’s writing!).
And even if we’re not talking “hot priests” but rather “hot clergy” or “hot ministers,” there’s still a bit of a unique cognitive dissonance that occurs. There’s often an expectation of purity and sanctity around ministers. So it only makes sense that readers are excited to meet saintly characters who then act like normal people with the very most basic needs!
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the themes and values this trope brings to the table.
Dismantling Purity Culture one HEA at a Time
I mentioned above that I’m applying for an MDiv, but let me make it clear: I am a person of faith. Specifically, I’m Christian. And I know that Christianity (and many other religions) have kind of a crap track record in the public eye when it comes to matters of sexuality.
Many who’ve grown up in or around Christian culture may have been exposed to harmful messages about “sexual purity,” or an outright rejection of their gender identity or sexual orientation. A lot of harm has been done to others in the name of religion, and overcoming that spiritual trauma is often a lifelong journey.
That’s where the “hot priest/minister” trope can do a lot of good, though. So many of the books that I’ve read in this trope include people reconciling their spirituality with their active and rewarding sex lives. For example, in The Lord I Left by Scarlett Peckham, a sex worker who falls for a devout Methodist minister goes on her own emotional journey to leave the toxic messages of her childhood curate behind. Over time, these toxic messages are replaced by the love and appreciation that her partner feels for her and the divine gifts he sees in her.
Furthermore, there are some truly touching examples of LGBTQ acceptance that can be found in this trope. For instance, Søren the priest in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series performs a marriage between two men. And then there’s the truly touching sermon about the Bible’s David and Johnathan at the resolution of Cat Sebastian’s darling novel It Takes Two To Tumble. This sermon is delivered as the most open public declaration of love that the vicar in this story is able to make for the man he loves.
These kinds of stories amazingly have the power to act as a healing force for people who have been harmed by religious mores surrounding sexuality. Reading books in the hot priest/minister trope is by no means a step that everyone can take to heal religious trauma. However, I can’t help thinking that every single “Happily Ever After” that comes from overcoming harmful theologies is a step in the right direction.
Sacredness and Sensuality: Not Mutually Exclusive
If you’re someone who’s not generally comfortable with Christianity/religion, a heads up that we’re going to “go there” a little bit…I just can’t explain the possible implications of this trope without getting a little spiritually in the weeds.
The bottom line is this: there are theologies and religious thinkers out there that reject the harms of purity culture. It’s possible to be religious and believe that our bodies are good. That sexual thoughts and exploration is normal. That intimacy of all kinds can reflect a sort of sacredness. As a religious person, I’ve actually found this kind of religious thought reinforced in several aspects of “hot priest/minister” books.
I’ve shared that its brand of angsty-yet-joyfully-sacrilegious romance is not quite for me, but there’s a clear demonstration of this theme throughout Sierra Simone’s Priest. Even though the central relationship is “wrong,” the actual act of coming together intimately is rooted in some sort of mystical sacredness. It makes sense that the enormous feels of this book resonate for so many of its readers.
As another example, I shed straight-up tears last holiday season while reading a scene from Tiffany Reisz’s Winter Tales. In one passage, a father is watching a video of his son’s first laugh from thousands of miles away. Nora, one of the main characters, pauses to look at the manger scene and imagine God looking down at the baby Jesus with the same amount of pride.
And in the aforementioned The Lord I Left, there’s an incredible display of intimacy in acting out a scene (safe words and all!) that mingles religious imagery with deeply-held desires. The bearing of one’s soul and wants while mimicking acts from the Gospel reinforced (in my mind at least) Christianity’s healthy tension between heavenly beings and earthly needs.
I can’t claim to know whether it’s the design of all “hot priest” books to actively make connections between heavenly bodies and lived experiences, but there are certainly several examples out there of how this trope can actually create some spiritual meaning right alongside fictional intimacy, sexy times, and everyday life.
This trope isn’t for everyone. It isn’t even for me all the time. But I think it’s important to examine how the hot minister trope has the potential to be so much more than the excitement of the taboo. In some cases, there’s also plenty of spiritual questioning and fulfillment to be found.
And thank God for that. 😉