For the Love of Romance, Leave Us to Our Fabulous Sex Lives!

couple kissing in shower

Have you read a good romance lately? Did you recommend it to a friend or colleague only to have them say, “I don’t read such things” or “I read crime novels or autobiographies”? Of course, they say it with an immense sense of superiority as though they’re more present in the ‘real world’ and that there is something wrong with someone for enjoying a good ‘happy ever after’. It makes me want to regress to being a teenager, roll my eyes and reply, “whatever”. But I don’t. Until recently, I’ve smiled and nodded and changed the subject. On Facebook, I generally ignore the comments or provide a diplomatic response.

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, I’m neither referring to individuals who genuinely don’t have an interest in romance (much as some people prefer tea to coffee) nor those who prefer other genres and will only pick up a romance occasionally and if a friend coerces them to. I’m also not referring to people who don’t believe in romance. I respect that we all have pasts and can understand that some experiences don’t lend themselves to creating much belief in love. I am referring to the ‘heart haters’ – those individuals who believe that they have the right to judge the romance reader and writer.

The suppositions made by them are that romance readers are sadly disillusioned or are overcompensating for a lack of sex, love and / or dating in their lives. I even came across an article that refuted a statement that women who read romance novels “can become dangerously unbalanced”. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/01/claim-romantic-novels-unbalance-readers) In the same article, a crime writer is cited as stating, “”My plea to romance writers: please stop writing. You are destroying marriages, the fabric of society, and the entire cosmos”. Really? Judge much? Okay here, I think regression is appropriate and an eye roll is absolutely deserving and maybe a good shaking or two. The irony is that the statement made by this crime-writer is soaked with the very melodrama us romance writers and readers are often attributed with. (And I think he is just jealous because romance novels sell more than any other genre.)

Thankfully, there are enough people out there who have the kutzpah, the tenacity, to challenge the fabricators of such dribble. I found another interesting article on the demographics of romance readers (http://www.lifescript.com/life/timeout/chill/romance_novels_who_reads_them_who_buys_them.aspx) and quite a few more on how romance can spice up one’s sex life, most notably, Teach Me Tonight (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/01/sex-lives-of-romance-readers.html).

So here are the judgmental assumptions made about romance readers, facts I’ve found and of course, my take on things:

Assumption – Romance readers are sad and alone.

Fact – The majority of romance readers are married or in a committed relationship.

My take – I know many romance writers, being one myself, and even more romance readers. Most of them are not only in relationships but also in happy, supportive relationships. Who knows… maybe the hope and positive outcomes inherent within romance novels creates a mind-set more open to love and overcoming the challenges relationships present. Now I have what I refer to as a ‘gatvol’ stage. The direct translation of that Afrikaans word is ‘ass-full’ (LOL) and means, “I’ve had enough’. I’ve reached that stage where I no longer can ignore the disdain from others when mentioning romance and so I’ve begun asking them about their own relationships. I’ve found that those who don’t read romance novels have mostly been hurt in the past, are divorced or generally don’t believe in love. Essentially, a romance is about the belief that the human spirit can and will overcome the difficulties life presents it with and that this is only strengthened by love. I personally find it sad that others have lost that hope.

Myth – Romance readers are old and unattractive.

Fact – The age of romance readers ranges between 25 and 54. Romance readers are not predisposed to look a certain way.

My take – Most of my readers fall within that age range although there are a few older and younger too. As to whether or not we are an attractive bunch? Well, I beg to differ. We are all shapes, sizes, colors, and features. Given that most of us are married or in committed relationships, someone obviously found us attractive enough to ‘put a ring on it’.

Myth – Reading romances creates unrealistic expectations of sex

Fact – “Most of the study participants (75.5%) reported that reading romance novels has had an impact on their sex lives. This occurred in several ways, including making participants more likely to engage in sexual activity and by making them more likely to try new sexual activities.” (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/01/sex-lives-of-romance-readers.html)

My take – Many readers I know have reported an especially hot experience between the sheets after reading a romance novel. As a writer, I know that many of my colleagues and I feel particularly frisky after writing a sex scene and our partners certainly do not complain when we expend that energy in the bedroom. We also *clears throat* do extensive research for our novels. Does that sound like we have unfulfilled sexual relationships? Moreover, the fact that we don’t complain obviously means that our expectations were met. I’ve even heard of many women who use what they’ve read in romance novels in the bedroom. If it is legal and consensual then surely that’s okay? What puzzles me is why on earth folk want to know what goes on in the bedroom of romance readers? Are they projecting? In other words, are the ‘heart haters’ actually the ones who are unhappy with their sex lives? Are they threatened? I know what I think… I’ll let you make up your own mind about that.

The fact that I found most interesting was that romance readers use the novels as a means of relaxation and escapism from life’s daily stress. The last time I checked, that is one the primary reasons why most people read. I know that I treat myself after every deadline to a long bath and a good romance novel. In fact, that is precisely why I read and write romance – I want to enable others to escape into the worlds I create and have a moment of bliss, shed a tear or two in commiseration and to feel happy that all turned out okay at the end. So my plea to all heart haters is to give it a try and if you insist on ridiculing us, then leave us to our fabulous sex lives! Now I’m off to think dirty thoughts, write them and then…

Body chocolate.

Is Erotica Literary Porn?

If a book contains sex scenes does it make it erotica?

hot couple 2

To me, the answer is no.

I write romance and recently, also erotica. With my first book I purposefully kept any descriptions of sex scenes mostly suggestive, however, with my second book, the sex scenes were more explicitly described. I did not describe body parts and the acts in detail. I did, however, describe the emotions and sensations in tantalizing depth and sex was a major initiator for many events in the book.

My first novel, Finding Promise, was not labeled as erotic. It was labeled as I meant it to be – a sweet, small town contemporary romance for adults. My intention with the second book, Coffin Girls, was not to be erotic either – it was to provide a realistic description of what occurs within adult romance, which in my book (both literally and figuratively speaking) means a description of sex. I purposefully curbed the level of detail provided. However, I was surprised (neither pleasantly or unpleasantly) when I received feedback that the book was in fact erotic. This confounded me.

I’m a firm believer that whatever the reader feels is their reality and thus true for them and so I accepted that to some, the book may seem to be erotic. This acceptance was shaken when most of the feedback I received was that Coffin Girls definitely fit into the erotic paranormal romance category. I then sat back and thought – very long, extremely hard (no pun intended *grin*).

What I was struggling with is that I had indeed read erotic literature long before the hype around “Fifty Shades of Grey” arose and as early back as when I was a university student. Back then I devoured the colorful descriptions writers such as Anais Nin and Henry Miller gave to carnal endeavors. To me, that was erotic. These classically acclaimed writers, to my mind, celebrated sex through the mastery of their words.

At this point, it may shed clarity to share my philosophy on sex in literature and other entertainment media. To me, sex is a natural activity that occurs between consenting adults and a very important one. As a romance advocate I cannot imagine a happily ever after for a couple who do not enjoy sleeping together. This is one of the many reasons I do not enjoy YA (Young Adult) reads. They seem to leave something to be desired due to the nature of the genre – like the proverbial ‘coffee without caffeine’.

I was baffled. Here I thought I was being very conservative with Coffin Girls and yet, the general consensus seemed to label it as “erotic with a bit of fang”. I then embarked on a journey to try and figure out if it indeed was erotic and if my definition of erotic was accurate or more akin to literary porn.

A series of events occurred. I read and reviewed a few newly released indie books labeled as erotic. I found that they weren’t actually erotic in my book and that Coffin Girls was indeed more explicit than they were. As I was outnumbered, I had to concede defeat. Next, I read explicit erotic short stories and here found that they made Coffin Girls look like a Disney production, which was more aligned to my original thinking. So, still in a state of confusion, I pulled out the old erotic classics and re-read them and reeled back in shock. They weren’t explicit in nature but what they were, were terribly illegal. A strong word but I cannot find any other to describe the grotesque acts I re-read in those books. Shocked and disappointed in writers I had previously looked up to, I then decided to read their journals. And that clinched it for me.

What I found in reading Anais Nin’s journal in particular was that she hated what she wrote.  The erotic works she created were commissioned by a benefactor that had no desire to read ‘poetry’. They wanted cold, hard, despicable acts of sex with an undercurrent of darkness and sometimes violence. Anais (also the name of the main character in Coffin Girls – and yes, I named her after the famous writer) experienced an enormous amount of dissonance but had been compelled to write those stories because she needed to earn money. She, in short, felt as though she was prostituting her art.

This was a revelation for me and it was is what led me to realize that what separates erotica, as a masterful literary art-form from literary porn is the story and the conscience within the work. If a book contains sex that discriminates and violates unless it is part of a story then it is porn. However, if sex is part of the story, adds richness and depth to the story and is not the story in itself, then, it is erotica. Erotica does not exploit its characters, instead the act of sex provides insight into how they think, feel and behave. It is not an attempt to fulfill a reader’s more promiscuous desires but to provide the reader with a full experience of the character’s hearts and minds. Erotica is then to me, a further development of adult romance. Sex is not implied, it is celebrated along with the other emotions and behaviors that characters possess.

And so I’ve discovered that I do indeed write erotica because my definition of it has matured.