Monday, August 25, 2008

Why sex isn't enough

When someone asks my husband what genre I write, he invariably says I write “bodice rippers”. Usually I laugh, but lately, I’ve been giving the label some thought, and I’m not too thrilled with the inference.

Labeling romance as “bodice rippers” implies that the stories are all about the sex. And they’re not.

Frankly, if women wanted to read about sex – even great sex – they’d pick up pornography (which of course, many women do, if the statistics are correct).

Romance novels, on the other hand, are about something else – they’re about relationships.

Sure, sometimes they include the relationship between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy, but on a grander scale, they explore the relationship between two complete and complex characters.

Can’t find that in the pages of Penthouse.

Some folks contend that the only difference between porn and a romance novels ("porn for women" they usually call it) is the unrealistic expectation involved. In porn, it’s an expectation of sex, in romance novels it’s an expectation of romance.

They might be onto something, but seriously, what’s so bad about a heightened expectation of romance? (I know my life is better because of it, and I bet my husband would say the same!)

Which gets me to the point: porn and romance novels ma both portray unrealistic expectations, but those expectations have the exact opposite impact on relationships.

Writing in The Porn Myth, Naomi Wolf talks about the impact of porn on relationships saying, “If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.”

Wolf visited a lot of college campuses for her research, and if anything, the kids she spoke with reinforced the belief that porn makes them feel less connected to members of the opposite sex and less capable in relationships.

“They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.”

How sad.

And what an indictment of porn.

On the other hand, according to Dr. Virginia Lyn Neylon of Cuyamaca College, romance novels stimulate our appetites for romance and help to build and maintain better, stronger relationships - and not just in the bedroom.

“Popular romance novels are an evolution of cultural ideals, gender issues, and writing conventions. They illustrate how the culture has changed from a belief system of marriage for property, prestige and wealth to a system of marriage for love. They show how a woman's place in society has changed over time in her roles as daughter, wife, and mother.

“Romance novels connect women writers to women readers and allow for the expression of female ideology. By using this popular medium, we will not only reach women and instruct them as readers and writers, but also through them, we will come into contact with the next generation. Popular romance novels are so much more than heaving bosoms and brawny chests.”

And that’s the message we need to get out.

Great sex isn’t what makes a romantic novel a great read – it’s the romance that matters. That’s what we hunger for, and that’s what romance writers deliver – whether or not any bodices get ripped!

(This post is part of the ProBlogger writing project.)



nice job on the title. good luck.

Jen at Semantically driven

I'm here via Problogger. I have to agree with you about the romance bit. And your title caught my eye.


I love that it's the romance that matters. And if bodice ripping is the result of a good romantic encounter, even better!

Here via Problogger. Love the title.


What's fascinating about romance is the multitude of ways we engage in it. While porn may all be about the climax and penetration, romance lives in nuance, the touch of fresh vegetables at the farmer's market, a knowing glance across the room or your partner in your favorite shirt of theirs. In fact, the best part of the act of sex itself is what happens before and after. Therein lies the romance.


Forget porn, my turn on is a cuddle and a compliment at the right moment, porn makes me feel inadequate and I tend to compare then boom the moment is gone, yet a little look can move mountains ;)
Good Luck with the ProBlogger competition

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