Confessions of a Romance Writer: I Think I Might Be a Prude

All About Romance just posted about revising their heat ratings, and the pursuant discussion on The Passive Voice blog (which was where  I saw the link to the post) got me thinking about the way I view sex in romance novels.

So let me get a few caveats out of the way first. One, despite the title above, I don’t actually consider myself a prude. I am generally broadminded and have had a lot of friends over the years who were involved in one counterculture or another. I don’t find myself shocked or offended by what people do, or need, in order to achieve sexual satisfaction, even though most of it is not something I need to do. It’s like how I feel about drugs: legalize them all. Alcohol will still do me just fine when that happens, but if you need something else, go for it.

Two, I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with the sex in my romance novels. On one hand, for my literary aesthetic I need it to be part of a larger emotional arc and serving a purpose (sex can be a bonding mechanism, and the bed can be a place where the power struggle in a relationship plays out, and sometimes sex is a catalyst for part or all of the plot). On the other hand, I do love me some hot sexy times, presented as a sexual fantasy I don’t have to spend my own imaginative resources creating, and sometimes hot sexy sex doesn’t fit as anything except a pandering add-on…and I do not always care when it sneaks into a story in that capacity.

So I never really expect to open a romance novel and be shocked or put off by what I find in it. There are times when I am, all the same. Stealth attacks where someone sends a finger up a butt without any warning (or lube!), for example, tend to pull me out of a sex scene.  Heroines who refuse to take charge of their own sexuality is another trigger for me. By that I mean women who simply “give in” or get “overwhelmed” by the hero’s seduction and just sort of go along with it without ever making a conscious choice to engage in a sexual act or do anything to make the actions her own. I’ve seen heroines even in coercion situations empower themselves, so the ones who can’t really piss me off. Admittedly I don’t read much beyond historical romance (though I went through a paranormal spell a few years ago), and at its worst historical romance tends to be rapey in its kink, so I might find quite a lot to be turned off by if I venture out of my little corner of the genre.

All that being said, I have to confess I felt thoroughly vanilla and old-fashioned and, yes, rather a prude despite my awareness of subcultures when I read AAR’s suggested revised ratings and saw that “warm” (basically 2 on a scale of 1-4 where 1 equals no sex) includes “unlimited amounts of male/female ‘straight’ sex.”

Um.  Say what?  I have read plenty of romances over the years where there is no anal, no bondage, no toys, no threesomes, that I would not rate as 2 of 4 on the sexual content scale. Christine Feehan comes to mind–she has books wherein every other chapter from about chapter 4 is a sex scene. Anne Stuart’s Rohan series comes to mind…that sex is not “warm” rating in my opinion. To me warm is like…one or two sex scenes that are relatively straightforward. If I were in the mood for a book that didn’t have a lot of sex and picked one up that did, because it was rated “2 for a lot of ‘boring’ sex”–the same rating my expectation of a sex scene or two, at most, got–I’d be pretty angry. That’s a deceptive rating.

I like the idea of a scale for works in a review site or even in a retail designation (if lingo could be agreed upon either formally or informally). As a reader I have been disappointed when I picked up a new novel by an author I’d enjoyed before only to discover something unlike her past work, either because of too little sex or because of way too much.  I just think a 4-point scale where 1 is “no sex” and 2 is “unlimited sex as long as it’s only PIV” (penis in…yeah…) is not quite nuanced enough. Five points would work better.

And if I never want to read–much less write–beyond a 4 on that scale (or, who knows, maybe even a 3, depending on what 3 and 4 encompass), that doesn’t make me a prude. It just makes me a woman who prefers fantasies that align more closely with my real life than with the wildest fringes of the human imagination.

3 Comments

Filed under Confessions, Reflections on Romance

3 responses to “Confessions of a Romance Writer: I Think I Might Be a Prude

  1. I’m with you on this. ‘Unlimited sex’ just doesn’t strike me as ‘warm.’ Nor does it make sense to go from ‘None’ to ‘Warm’ on this scale.

    I do get the feeling there is a competition to have the raunchiest, kinkiest sex scenes that will fit under ‘Romance’ when really they are writing erotica.

    Anthea said “It’s important to realize that NY editors have been pushing for MORE HEAT ever since they realized erotic romance was selling well.”

    This gave me an “AHA!” moment – as in ‘AHA we have the culprit!” So maybe it’s the publishers pressing for more and raunchier.

    OTOH, one of the first ‘best-selling’ indie romances was Victorine’s “Not What She Seems” which was squeaky clean from start to finish. There is a reason it was still on the Bestselling charts when my book had a brief fling with the top 25.

    I guess it’s human nature – some people don’t care for spicy food and others would put us all on a hot pepper diet.

    If I’m a prude then so be it. I’ll wear it with pride and limit my love scenes accordingly.

    • I had the exact same thought when I saw Anthea’s comment! Yet another reason to be glad about the indie revolution. Writers can get back to writing to their own personal aesthetic, and readers can can find works according to their tastes or even moods, rather than having to suffer through everything being warmer than they want, or at least warmer than they want every single time.

      Thanks for the reblog!

  2. Reblogged this on Kat Jordan's Blog and commented:
    This is a very relevant topic because readers have different tolerence for both sex and violence in their reading. It is important to be able to buy what you want to keep from being disappointed in either the lack of ‘heat’ or being exposed to too much.

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