You might have heard? Smart Bitches, Trashy Books extraordinaire Sarah Wendell has her second book, Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels, out this week. She was kind enough to give us a sneak peek in the chapter below:
Read the last Smart Bitches on the DNF.
Just as the average romance heroine doesn’t sit around filing her nails and looking pretty, waiting for her hero to ride in and sweep her away to connubial bliss, so it is with sex. Sitting there does nothing. If you just lie there and wait for it, it won’t be very satisfying.
Sex in a romance novel is a tricky subject, but let me make one thing quite clear: sex depictions in romance novels have changed drastically, and the rapetastic romances are things of the past, thank heaven and all available orgasms. In romances published today, not only is the sexuality a variable part of the plot—some books feature mere kisses, and some feature acts of kinky you might never have heard of in your life that may possibly defy laws of gravity and physics—but both parties participate in making sure the sexuality is fantastic for all involved.
I’ll be frank (ha!) and get the negative out of the way first: part of the problem with romance novel sex is that it is so impossibly perfect, so incredibly over-the-top wonderful, that real sex can seem messy and awkward in comparison sometimes. This is likely because real sex is sometimes awkward and messy.
This is one thing I don’t understand about pornography, and yes, I’ve seen some (and no, it wasn’t a romance novel). Two people having sex? Weird looking. How is this attractive or alluring? Let’s not kid ourselves. Sexual intercourse is not the sensuously choreographed ballet as old as time. Sometimes it is the elbows-and-ouch-you’re-on-my-hair as old as time.
Yet sexuality is an enduring part of the romance genre, and one of the reasons it takes so much crap from people who don’t read it or understand it. Courtship is based in part on sexual attraction, and the exploration of that sexual attraction can add to the already increasing tension between the protagonists.
In other words, of course there is sex in romance. Courtship and the relationships that follow are sexual in nature!
So what happens when a few billion dollars are spent on romance, and many, many, many women (and some men) read about courtship and sex? Many, many good things. Sexuality and intimacy are an integral part of romance, and to quote, well, myself, reading about women and men experiencing sexual honesty along with their sexual agency is a very powerful (and subversive) thing.
Sex in a romance can be fun, silly, emotional, intense, erotic, or all of the above. The highlight of sexual intercourse with romance heroes is not just dramatic loss of virginity anymore. With the increasing popularity of erotic romance, you can experience between the book covers what you might wonder about but not quite be ready to try underneath your own covers. There’s role-playing, dominance and submission games, bondage, fantasies, sex in strange and adventurous places—and with strange and adventurous people.
One of the more empowering and, in my never-humble opinion, awesomely excellent things about sex in romance is that the woman is not punished or ultimately harmed for being curious or even assertive about her sexual needs. Even in the old-skool days of forced seductions and other questionable scenes, the wages of sex were not death, ostracism, misery, poverty, and complete moral turpitude. Getting some didn’t mean giving yourself away—and it didn’t mean you were done for once you did the deed. Sex has always been one of the major focuses of romance, even if an individual book contained only the chastest of kisses, because romances are about the heroine, and about her self-discovery and her happiness. That has to include sex—and the exploration and enjoyment thereof!
Here’s the bottom line (ha!): romance novels can teach how to have good, satisfying, adventurous, and entertaining sex. If you think you’re the only one on the planet who isn’t sure how some aspects of sexuality work, let me reassure you, you are so not alone. Romance occupies a strange sexual spectrum, in that some heroines are utterly baffled by sex, and some are so adventurous you’re surprised the laws of gravity apply to them. There is no limit to what you can learn sexually from a romance, whether it’s how to flirt, or how to…well, you get the idea.
Excerpted with permission of the author. Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels is out this week from Sourcebooks.