Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sex is Natural, Sex is Fun...

and sex has been getting writers into trouble for a very long time.

Did you know that 25-30 years ago, romance writers faced the exact same challenges and prejudices that erotic romance authors face today?

In 1988, Duke University Press published a book by Jan Cohn titled "Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction."
In this book, Ms. Cohn wrote that reading romance provides a complex set of gratifications for a multitude of women in our society and claimed that romance responds to the conflicting demands of desire and authority in its mix of social conservatism and social aggression. That it creates a structure where readers can identify with the heroine, experience her emotions (emotions that might be negatively sanctioned) or the play out tabooed rules. In short, the reader can enjoy the vicarious experience of the forbidden.

Later in the book Cohn says that publishers of romance have found sexuality to be not only a popular but a profitable subject. They have taken what popular literature for women at one time treated in an artfully coded system of evasions and allusions and have turned it into the essential material of the literature. Sexuality, she wrote, has become the discourse of popular romance.

She goes on to write that sexuality is "the stuff out of which the story is made," and that if you eliminate the sexual material, the story line that remains is rudimentary.

Interestingly, during the 80's Harlequin romances came under attack by many. In one such attack ("Soft-Porn Culture," The New Republic [30 August 1980];25-29) they were labeled as "soft porn" and called an example of mass culture specializing in dominance, games and fantasies. The author of this article, Ann Douglas stated that Harlequin novels were "porn softened to fit the needs of the female emotionality."

In 1983 Ann Barr Snitow wrote the Harlequin romances were indeed pornographic but that they had developed a type of pornography that was keyed to the needs of women living in late capitalism and they appealed to an infantile narcissism. ("Mass Market Romance Pornography for Women is Different",Powers of Desire,ed. Ann Barr Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson [New York: New Feminist Library, Monthly Review Press, 1982, pp 345-63)

When I think about it I can't help but laugh. It's all too familiar. Since the birth of erotic romance as a sub-genre of romance, its writers have come under attack by members of the "mother" of their genre, romance itself. How it is that a parent who has suffered the stings and arrows of such prejudice as what I mentioned above, can now turn to its offspring and accuse it of being it pornographic or cast a negative light on it.

Why are we not collectively reminding those who would snub their nose at the genre of Romance at large, that while we may be writing stories that appeal to the sexual nature of women, we're still crafting stories. Stories with plot and character development, stories with danger or intrigue, joy and grief and humor.

We're not just writing sex people. Let's face it, that would be B O R I N G. Women want tales with some meat (no pun intended). Tales that stir their senses on a variety of levels. We want to be frightened, puzzled, intrigued, tempted, seduced, bewitched and bemused.

When I first heard that we erotic romance writers were being condemned for what we write by some in our parent genre, it made me stop and take a close look at my own books. Do I craft tales that depend upon sex to carry the story, or is sex simply part of the natural course of the tale, something that enables readers to get a more intimate look at what's going on in the hearts and minds of the characters?

Naturally, I'd like to think so. But an artist is never the best judge of his own work. So I went back through reviews. Was sex mentioned more than the plot or the characters? Thankfully no.

Truthfully, I don't think readers would put up with "Sex for the sake of sex alone." Readers are far more intelligent and demanding than that. They want a story that pulls them in, takes them on a ride and pays off with an ending that either satisfies, shocks or astounds them.

But that's my opinion and hey, everyone has one. There are two things I'd really like:

(1) To say to anyone in the romance industry who has a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to erotic romance... Please remember that writing is an artistic expression. And art comes in a wide array of color, shape, form and material. Why would any artist want to deny another the freedom of artistic expression? What makes the writers of any genre superior to another? Are we all not just artists, painting our visions in words rather than paint? Isn't there room for all of us? Certainly other genres have found their homes and readers. Science fiction and mystery and fantasy all have their place in the market.

And so does erotic romance. It's found a loyal following, as did romance, despite the negative light it was cast in at one time. There are bestselling authors who emerged from erotic romance. Jaid Black, Cheyenne McCray and Kate Douglas just to name a few. Best sellers on lists such as USA Today and the New York Times.

I'd like to propose a peace treaty. We're here and not likely to disappear. Wouldn't it be easier to be friends than enemies? You don't have to read us. Just don't throw rocks.

(2) And I'd like to hear from readers. Exactly what is it about erotic romance that appeals to you, and do you feel that writers in the genre are doing justice to the romance aspect? Do we deserve to be flogged for "leaving the bedroom door open" or applauded for progressing the genre in accord with the times and the independence and strength of today's woman?

My inquiring mind would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a glorious Sunday!



Sahara Kelly said...

There is nothing I can add to this...except to say a loud and supportive AMEN, sister!!!!! (An appropriate response for a Sunday!!!)

Dena Celeste said...

You have a really good point. Just because their sex is couched in pretty words and concisely in two paragraphs doesn't mean that anything is wrong with us for wanting to write and read about something more detailed!

I want romance to take me through a relationship, or even a PART of a relationship. Sex is, with some people, definitely a natural progression in a couple's bond.

Quite frankly, I read about and write about some really good sex. It's creative, sometimes planned and sometimes spontaneous. It can be warm and loving, or raw and carnal. Either way, it's somehow satisfying.

I like reading about other people finding what I have. Whether it's a BDSM erotic romance that mirrors my D/s relationship, or the contemporary romance that mirrors the consideration and love that exists with the Man I love, I want to see something I can relate to, as well as aspire to. Not just the sex, but the emotional and mental bonds that form due!

My .02, and a rather large two cents it is, LOL.


Ciana Stone said...

Thanks Dana! I agree completely and am glad to know others share my feelings :)

NathalieGray said...

Ciana, I think I love you.

Nah, I KNOW I love you.

That said, the subject just makes me roll my eyes and shrug. It's all about opinions. Mine is: don't like it? Don't read it.

I'll live.

Sally Painter said...

Great post, Ci! I'm with you, sista, 100% and then some.

Historically, there seems to be so much back-biting and name calling in this industry.

It confounds me when authors do this kind of thing and don't support their fellow authors. Aside from being just plain wrong, it comes off sounding small and petty.

I don't get it, but I sure am glad I don't have to hang out with anyone like that. I'd be making a fast dust trail in the opposite direction!(g)

N.J.Walters said...

I agree with Sahara. AMEN!

I really think the infighting among romance authors is crazy. Nobody is making anyone read a certain book. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Nicole Austin said...

The reason such a wide variety of genre and sub-genre exist is because people are diverse. We all have different likes and dislikes. Some romance readers are okay with having the bedroom door slammed in their face and being left out when things get intimate between the hero and heroine. Others want the door open so they can share in the joy of the characters’ love. Some readers don't want the romance at all but want pure sex. Different strokes for different folks.

IMHO, as with all parents, watching the kids learn and explore can be upsetting. I believe there's a bit of jealousy over the ability for the kids to be more open, have more fun and experiment. We have more freedom to be sexual beings. And I totally agree with you, Ci. If we all follow the same old accepted formula the reader is going to wind up BORED to tears! Heck, if everyone toed the line we’d all still be sleeping alone in single beds and making love would be something dirty to be kept in the dark.

Cut the stifling apron strings, mom and dad. It’s time to let us grow. We know you’ve had sex otherwise we wouldn’t be here. It’s a big part of who we are, and we want to know about it. Here’s some psychology 101, dear parents. The more you try to censor, control and suppress freedom of expression the more attractive pushing against those boundaries becomes.

Sex is a natural, good and fun! Those brave, bold authors who explore new areas—delve into subjects some consider taboo—they are pioneers. They help us learn about ourselves and others. Exploring the possibilities of human sexuality allows us all to grow and have a hell of a lot more fun!

Personally, I detest nothing more than reading a book, being there as the sexual tension grows between a couple, experiencing every aspect of their building relationship, but then I’m kept out of the bedroom and the most intimate and loving part of their bonding. I don't want the bedroom door merely opened, I want it ripped from the hinges and all the lights turned on. Sex is a major part of love and relationships. I want to know what lovers are doing to take each other to new heights of pleasure. And don’t toss sex in the story for the sake of sex but let it be a natural progression of love.

Stand in your glass house and throw your stones, brand me with the scarlet letter…whatever helps you sleep at night. It takes bold people to keep a society moving forward! I’d much rather be a conduit of progress than a stick in the mud trying to hold everyone back.

Rachel.C said...

Everyone has touched on everything I would have said but there is one thing that bugs me that no one else has mentioned. Why is it so unacceptable to have graphic sex scenes in a book but acceptable to have a graphic murder scene? Explain to me why slicing and dicing someone up is okay? Why is bringing someone you love pleasure not okay?
It's a battle we'll never win and one I'm sick of fighting. In the words of my kids; 'Here's some wood. Build yourself a bridge and get over it!'

NathalieGray said...

You know, it's okay too to choose stories where they don't depict sex and "close the bedroom door". When I read books where I know there won't be actual sex scenes, I just pretend there *are*. No big deal.

I don't want to be called names because I read and write stories with some sex in them, just as I wouldn't call someone names because they don't read or write those same stories.

It's just tastes. We *are* all different and everyone is allowed his/her opinion eh.

It's okay to want it, not want it, not care about either way.

I look at stuff like Myanmar and that Austrian monstrous rapist/father, and suddenly, sexual content (or lack thereof) in books just isn't all that important anymore.