Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Romance novels and women’s sexuality

On a previous post  by Heather she discussed romance novelists and their varied educational backgrounds. I am a big fan of women’s romance novels. I have read countless books and series of chick lit. If you ever are looking for a good recommendation, trust me I can point you in the right direction. In preparation for this weeks discussion on pornography I did some research into how pornography and the internet is now serving as a substitute sexual education for young adults. As pornography becomes the primary educator on sex it brings false expectations on what makes a healthy sexual relationship between adults especially for young boys.

For me romance novels were my first exposure to women’s sexuality. I specifically say women’s sexuality because romance novels are written by and for women. In a lot of ways these novels were my own first educators on what adult sexual relationships are. Just like pornography they set some unrealistic expectations about adult sexual relationships. I know that if you have a one-night stand with a man, he probably is not going to turn into the love of your life. You probably wont fall in love with a charming 28 year old millionaire with a host of emotional issue and a penchant for BDSM. Every relation doesn’t end with a HEA (Happily Ever After). However, these romance novels do feature some very good expectations to take into practice. Just about every sex scene includes a discussion regarding protection with condoms being the standard. Sex is about two adults and should include both giving and receiving. Women should be active and equal partners. These are just some of the healthy expectations that these novels have given me about sexual relationship.

Much like pornography technology is affecting and changing women’s erotic fiction. When I was in high school I never knew if a romance novel I was reading would somehow end up including a sex scene. It was always kind of the luck of the draw. Your best bet was if there was a pirate on the cover. Then you had to read somewhere where people wouldn’t stare at your book with the shirtless pirate on the cover. Now with e-readers offering privacy and anonymity as well as an easy searchable database all the guess work is gone.

Publisher’s who work exclusively with women’s erotic fiction have seen a huge jump in sales through e-readers. Nearly 40% of all romance novels sold are in electronic format. Just as pornography has become more acceptable, assessable, and affordable so has women’s erotica. Now sexual books like Fifty Shades of Grey are New York Times bestsellers. These are also not traditional romance novels although they still do all include a HEA (happily ever after), how they get there is vastly different. Fifty Shades of Grey has some pretty serious BDSM, a book like Tempted by Megan Hart is about the development of a polyamourous relationship between the protagonist’s husband and his best friend. These are not your typical “bodice rippers” and the kind of HEA they detail is not exactly what you would think soccer mom’s would be attracted to. They are much more open about the kind of sex they are going to be detailing. They aren’t even categorized as romance but as women’s erotica.

My take is that the rise of e-readers and women’s erotica reflects not only the anonymity of the internet age but maybe also the acceptance of women’s sexuality by women. All the authors of these romance erotica are women; some highly educated some stay at home moms who thanks to online publishing are able to find their audience.

1 comment:

Attisaurus said...

Thanks for a fascinating post! I would be really interested in which titles in particular you considered to be your adolescent sexual awakening?

I ask because I really had the opposite experience - as a teenager, I was curious about human sexuality (in an emotional, interpersonal way that Health & Sex Ed wasn't able to cover), and was incredibly bored by all the "for women" novels I found. I found these novels to be like Disney fairy tales with some vague mention of penetration and orgasms, but not particularly fulfilling or instructive. I turned to pornography - which shockingly made me even more confused.

I am also curious to your take on the message of these new-age erotica novels for women - are they as enlightening for adult women? Do you find that they accurately or satisfactorily depict female desire?