At the Corner of Authenticity and Perspective

Or, Gentlemen readers, ye be fairly warned, there is sexin’ from the female perspective discussed below.

One of the most fascinating parts of the romance blogosphere is seeing how differently two people can react to the same text. There is just such a variance among the readership, and even among one individual’s moods, and I think it’s why romance is such a successful genre.  What one reader finds erotic another might find disgusting.  What I read in one mood as sweet can, in another mood, seem unfinishably boring. There can be a tremendous disjunct in how different readers react to heroes, or heroines–I find myself taking certain reviewers with a grain of salt because of how they reacted to characters in books I had read.

One aspect that recently came up in my blog reading is the idea of whether particular tropes in sex scenes are realistic. Most of them revolved around the virgin heroine, which is of interest to me as a writer of historical romance, since that was of more importance than it is (or at least should be) in contemporaries. Some of the items questioned included a virgin having an orgasm during her first experience…or a virgin having sex multiple times on the first night…or the “super hymen” that should be medically removed (at least in this day and age, and in the old days would require a Great Sundering).

As a writer, I find such discussions fascinating.  I want any sex scenes I include to feel natural and authentic, and what better way to get a sense of what readers respond to or roll their eyes at than reading a lively internet discussion on the topic?  There was no consensus, however, about what works and what doesn’t. Which is not really surprising to me…isn’t it a cliche for a man to comment about how “every woman is different”? I’ve always understood that to have a deeply sexual connotation–not just that some women like getting flowers and others hate it and others don’t care either way. 

Probably the most troubling part of the exchange were the readers who left comments to the effect of, “I don’t like X because I didn’t experience my first time in that way so I just don’t believe it could happen that way.”  I find it curious that some women think anything other than how they felt it must be made up, part of the “fantasy” of romance novels.  

I certainly don’t plan to write about my own first time over and over again. On the other hand, I’ve seen some authors who do essentially have all their heroines experience the same first time. But that propensity of some writers to only write their own experience (or so I assume, anyway!) and of some readers to find anything that doesn’t jibe with their experience to ring false makes me think…have these poor women really never discussed that kind of thing with their friends? Maybe it’s a generational thing, that young women who grew up post-second-wave feminism were just more open and comfortable discussing such intimate details? Because I know which of my friends had a really painful first time, and which didn’t, who had multiple relations the first night and who can’t even years later, who likes oral and who doesn’t, who needs what kind of stimulation to have an orgasm. Moreover, I don’t think it’s weird or unusual that I know such details. We were all comparing notes when we were 16, 17, 18, 19 years old and trying to figure out if we were normal or not, and trying to live vicariously through the exploits of friends who had taken the plunge if we had not.

I suppose the side benefit is that I have a lot of first-hand accounts to draw from.  The main one, though, is simply that I don’t feel so uncomfortable or ashamed of what is, really, a natural (zesty) enterprise that I can’t even discuss it with my friends, much less hundreds or thousands of strangers.

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