Any abuse of women or men, which is written to titillate, will be destroyed as soon as I get to that scene. Abuse can be in a book. It is a reality that it happens, but it should be shown for what it is-- horrifying and despicable. If it is done to arouse, I'm outta there. Some erotica has abuse that is consensual, kinky, and that is not the same thing (although I have limited interest in such books).
To me, when the heroine says no, the hero should respect that not try to seduce her as if she didn't mean it. A woman who is so immature as to play the game of coyly saying no when she means yes, isn't a woman I want to read about. As above, game playing when both know they are, that's, of course, something else.
Unchosen abuse can be written to feel sensual. This was common in what used to be called bodice burner romances, of which we see very few these days. It was when romance first went sexual-- okay actually there have been erotic books written for a long time, but what I mean is when romances novels with sex in them went mainstream, didn't have to be hidden, went on bestseller lists, and were in bookstores.
A hero, who mentally or physically abuses other people, is not someone I can find ever redeemed. If that person is a bastard from the start, almost to the end, if I stuck with it, I won't be back to that author. Intelligent women should want men who are not mean. Encouraging any reader to believe that is acceptable is detrimental to healthy living. Under this category is rape. Any man who rapes a woman is the villain. There is no excuse that will justify it to me. (Naturally this all applies to a heroine also.)
While I recognize that romances are a bit of fantasy, they can teach and give examples of better ways to live-- sometimes when the hero or heroine see their wrong directions. I know some readers don't like thinking there is a deeper message to their pleasurable read but there can be and it can be slipped in without seeming preachy. I've read romances with no secondary message and can't say I abhor them, but my preference is a book with a takeaway message, which improves life.
Although the genre is popular, I can't handle horror in a book or movie. It doesn't matter if the horror happens to a villain. I don't want to read it. If horror has slipped past my guard, I'm done as soon as I come across it. I dream very vivid, mostly delightful dreams and don't want them turned into nightmares.
Next thing that turns me off is the stupid heroine who can't learn and consistently gets the hero into trouble by her bullheadedness. She might be quite intelligent, but she has lousy judgment where it comes to physical risk. I guess she is so focused she can't look around her. She can't take into account that the risk is not just hers.
Yes, some women are like that, men too. I don't want to spend hours with someone, who is clueless. I've seen it in one of the more popular, corporate published, series mysteries with a female lead. The author sells a lot; so I guess it's fine with many readers or viewers (hers are also made into movies).
The attitude of impetuous, headstrong women, who always need to be bailed out-- or even if they don't, but they get the hero hurt as he tries to help them-- they are in my never-read-this-author-again category. If the author used that plot device to build drama once, they probably will do it again.
I don't like books where, to create drama, stupid, reckless behavior is bailed out by someone else (yes, I've read books where heroes do it too-- Longmire mysteries-- which I generally like-- tend to be that way). Real life doesn't bail people out. Writing reckless behavior that is rewarded by a hunky hero or some lucky break in the last chapter is on my no thanks list.
I like character developing books where a heroine or hero grows through the events and what they take away from it. But if event after event they keep repeating those mistakes, I won't be back. It annoys me and if I am reading for pleasure, why would I want to be annoyed.
There are some words I personally hate in a romance, but they happen to be very popular with romance readers. I'll just discuss one-- feisty. It seems to me a cat is feisty, but it's not a respectful word for a full-grown woman. If the author really means bitch, then say it. If this heroine is always snapping at everyone, which is kind of what feisty means, I have to wonder why the hero sticks around. I know as a reader I won't. If feisty means opinionated or even outspoken, those are better words. Feisty is used in a LOT of romances as somehow indicative, I guess, of strong women. It is another of those areas where I probably part with the average romance reader.
Crude words are okay with me and I won't list the ones I don't mind, but they are not acceptable with a lot of people. I am comfortable with them as being realistic for how people talk. Cursing, hey go for it-- unless it gets into the level where it really belongs in porn.
I also don't care about how much sex. There can be none or a lot-- although if there is a lot, I am probably quickly bored and skimming ahead. Sex can be character developing and pillow talk is great for showing aftermath of the sexual encounter; so I keep an eye on a book that seems overloaded with sex to be sure I am not missing plot advancement moments.
As a side note to this, which only arises... when there is sex, I am also always interested in how the writer describes the male sexual organ. I've read a lot of opinions on what works and what does not. I mostly only notice it when I am looking to see-- how did they handle it (figuratively speaking, of course).
When I get into a book, which I can tell is going to irritate me, sometimes I delete it and go onto another. A few times, hoping it will improve, I skim to the bitter end. More often than not, it never does. Once in awhile, where I thought where it was going and how it was going to make me angry when I got there, I got a pleasant surprise. It redeemed itself with a very logical, satisfying direction, but one I hadn't predicted. That always feels good as a reader-- when it is believable and not manipulated.
Thankfully, in reading so many, one right after another, I have seen books with strong heroines who fight for what is right, who do what is needed to be done, and who I can enjoy spending hours getting to know. They often blaze their own path-- and yes, even in historical times, there were real women who did exactly that.
Likewise I've read books with heroes who made me melt. They were the kind of guy who walked into the fire to rescue others. They go off to fight the dragon (figuratively speaking) even when at great personal cost. These are the men we would all like to have as a neighbor or leader.
Fortunately, in my reading so many romances at once, I found some authors I will be reading everything they wrote-- once I get through this backlog. When I found someone like that many years ago, I'd have to go from used bookstore to used bookstore. Now it's often just a click away to get them all as eBooks or find lists of used bookstores across the country. My favorites are the used copy for $.01 and $3.99 shipping. I have yet to be disappointed by one of these shops. I do love the Internet ;).