Issue #52 (May 15, 1998)

This Just In:
According to Lifetime Television, women who read romance novels have 74% more sex than women who don't. This, of course, presents a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I think it's great that reading romance helps women have more fulfilling sex lives. On the other hand, one has to wonder why and how this survey question arose. Was this question asked because of the assumption that romance is female pornography?

I don't measure the intimate details of my marriage bed, but reading romance has certainly made my love life more fulfilling. But I've enjoyed G-rated romances like Promise Me by Laura deVries as well as R-rated romances. There's nothing wrong with a love scene that makes one feel amorous, but there's so much more to romance than love scenes. Where do you fit in this statistic? Are you worried that the romance as female pornography argument will rear its ugly head yet again?

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Slut, Slut, Slut:
I first introduced you to the Duke of Slut in Issue #49 of LN&V. Although we'd all met him before, I don't think we ever thought about him in just those terms until then. This is the romance hero who has slept his way through the ton (or the neighborhood or the office) until he meets the heroine. She alone raises his passions to such a level that, although she's inexperienced, sex becomes more than coupling, it becomes true love. Often through lovemaking our hero realizes this woman is special and that he loves her with all his heart, body, and soul.

We're all familiar with the double standard - a man sleeps around and he's a great lover while a woman who sleeps around is a skank. While there are romances with heroines as prostitute, are there romances with heroines as the female version of Casanova or Don Juan? I tend to doubt it, but do let me know if I'm wrong. We don't equate heroes who are legendary lovers as skanks, do we? What is it about romance heroes that they transcend this label?

I think it is the romantic in us which allows this transcendence for many of us. Heather perhaps said it most succinctly when she wrote, "I don't mind the man having 'been around the block' a time or two, since we know at the end of the book, he'll be with his 'true love' for the rest of his life - of course, he loves her so much he'll never look at another woman!" Blythe concurs, writing, "I also love those slut heroes. While they aren't attractive in real life, there is something about a man who has been around the block but suddenly has eyes for just one woman."

The Duke of Slut isn't beloved by all romance readers, however, especially those with an attitude problem. Nora wrote about that class of Casanova who has been betrayed in the past and condemns all of womanhood because of it. I'm in the middle of To the Ends of the Earth right now, and I'm riding the fence about this hero. He refuses to get involved with a woman unless she has more money than he does (which is nearly impossible because he's a millionaire), so he mostly pays for sex. Will I be able to forgive him for his treatment of the heroine? Possibly, but I'm not sure, so Nora's comments are well-taken. She wrote:

"What really gets to me is that so many of these Dukes of Slut are really misogynistic. Usually we're supposed to forgive him because of some evil woman in his past, but it's hard to really like these woman- hating heros. It wouldn't bother me if such heroes were not so prevalent. It seems like in every book the hero screws around without feeling anything for all the women that he's hurt. That is just not attractive. I do like a hero who knows what he's doing, but I have a hard time with the malicious heros who are out to punish all women for the sins of one."

LC agreed with Nora in finding the woman-hating womanizer unattractive as well as unrealistic. She fails to understand why such heroes don't feel "degraded and cheapened by their tawdry lives before they meet the heroine. Or even after, since many times in these books the hero never looks on his past with chagrin at all." But, she adds, "Like all things, when handled well and in an interesting manner, I don't have a problem with a promiscuous hero. However, I do especially enjoy books like Outlander where the hero is a virgin. Turnabout is fair play!"

I think LC has made some important points. Let's not forget that men are from Mars while women are from Venus. Do men actually feel sleeping around is tawdry? From an early age, we seem to be taught that sex can be dirty, but while for women this becomes tawdry, for men this is something which can become simply exciting. We've all heard that sex is more biological for men than for women, so that "doing it," and "doing it" often doesn't carry with it the same baggage for men as it does for women. Of course, the women with whom he's "doing it" are still skanks.

As for romantic heroes who mistreat women and who were simply rotters before love transforms them - yes, they occasionally don't realize they're being bastards. But more often than not, they do realize at some level they have degraded lives or are degrading others, and act the bastard because of it, or act the bastard because they don't know how else to act. They need someone to show them the way. That's the power of love in many romances. Reality, of course, is different, and any man who degrades women should be run from as fast as possible. I'm not one of those who believe Beauty & the Beast stories encourage abusive relationships or encourage women to stay in abusive relationships because as an adult I know we can distinguish between fantasy and reality. Perhaps some longer-time romance readers weaned on the "old style" romance can talk more about their appeal, and if a steady diet at an early age might lead to relationship problems later on.

LC also mentioned the virginal hero. I know these are popular because we're asked about them all the time, and have devoted a list for them in our Special Title Listings section. They don't hold much appeal for me, however, because there is something to be said about being initiated into the "pleasures of the flesh" by someone who knows what he's doing. But I know that many find virginal heroes "refreshing."

What about the hero who simply loves women? Are there well and truly such men? Men who don't hate women but love them, and sleep with them because they love them? Yes, such men exist in romance novels, and whether it's the Peter Pan Syndrome, sowing wild oats, or societal expectations that keeps them from committing to one woman, this is a hero many of us have come to love. At least for awhile. And not just in romance novels, but on television and in movies. Think about Ted Danson on Cheers or Doug Ross on ER. We loved them as Dukes of Slut. . . at least for awhile.

Karen, for instance, used to love the Duke of Slut. "If a book had the word 'rake' in the title, I'd buy it. However, I find myself a little more cautious these days. I prefer the books where the hero has begun to realize that his life is empty and without meaning before he meets the heroine. Or at least before he starts sleeping with her. Somehow, when a hero meets the heroine, and is just so attracted to her, so aroused and overwhelmed that he just can't stand it, and then decides she's the one and he's ready to settle down, it just rings false to me. I can't help but think, is he going to change his mind after the novelty wears off?"

Lynn believes authors go overboard in showing heroes as skilled lovers. She thinks a young man's sowing his oats is one thing, but a hero who continues to engage in this behavior past a certain age is immature and shallow. Erin agrees. She wrote, "I like a hero who has some experience and I don't disagree that the logical way for him to have gained this experience is by sleeping around, but I think that to have a hero in his late 30s who is still practicing this behavior to be very unattractive." She added, "I find the experienced woman, inexperienced man situation also exciting, and I would like to see more writers take on this idea."

Samantha doesn't "get it at all" and says "the whole slut hero thing is a huge pet peeve of mine." She believes western culture is saturated with woman as saviour to the wandering male and adds that it's "dangerous to rehash the myth that a woman's love can make a man with few morals and scruples suddenly reform and become the devoted family man. In my opinion it is one step from there to 'so he's an alcoholic, my love can change him'. Conversely, of course, I must admit that I have read books with slutty heros and liked them. But I always think in my head when I put down the book 'so what happens after the glow is off'?"

Reader Juliet seems to be the lone hold-out fully in favor of the Duke of Slut, although she sees him quite differently. She likes scoundrels and libertines, doesn't find them addicted to sex, and says they're not "indiscriminately promiscuous." Meet Juliet's Duke:

He is likely to have a mistress in keeping, and/or have discreet affairs with widows or the wives of other men, and he may occasionally patronize an upscale brothel (though he's often there accompanying a friend, visiting with the madam, or looking for someone ((he even occasionally rescues some poor heroine from degradation and ruin!)) The "Duke" could do any or all of these things without succumbing to an STD, if he took care. Besides, he often has a dark reputation because he has (or is suspected of having) ruined some respectable young woman's reputation without offering her marriage. Consider that he could do that by being in a room with her or getting stuck on the road with her after nightfall, whether any sexual encounter took place or not!

Then too, "the Duke" is devastatingly attractive, usually enormously rich, and holds an extremely influential position in society. Young women with scheming relatives go to great lengths to bring themselves to his attention, and often do their darndest to entrap him in a "compromising situation." Under those circumstances, I'd expect "the Duke" to be rather cynical about women, and tending to avoid those eligible for marriage while seeking sexual release and female company elsewhere. Besides, when "the Duke" does fall victim to love, he is usually matched with an intelligent, somewhat older young woman who has all but given up dreams of marriage, pursues a variety of unconventional interests, is assertive, values "sense" rather than "sensibility" and desires to be a true partner to him -- a most modern sort of woman, in fact!

It is easy to believe that our hero would be attracted and would experience his relationship with her as completely different from those he has had before, at least for me. Your typical regency "debutante" was educationally very limited, spent an inordinate amount of time on her wardrobe, and was expected to spend her days calling on other respectable women and trading gossip, shopping, planning social events, or writing letters and her evenings attending parties with the same set of people at every one. Then too, I don't think it reasonable to expect a man who likes women and could fall passionately in love to have been virginal through his twenties (your average rake in these tales is at least 30). And it is an awfully flattering thing for a heroine to be so totally sexually attractive to this stud that he no longer wants any others, and to become so loved that he becomes convinced of his ability to remain faithful and satisfied in marriage. (It may not be realistic, but it's a heck of a fantasy!)

Finally, I think the odds of any couple where the woman is totally inexperienced sexually and often all but totally ignorant as well becoming physically happy together are greatly enhanced if the man has become an experienced, knowledgeable and sensitive lover who believes women can enjoy sex and wants his partner to do so. So long live "the Duke," not of slut but of sensuality! He's my kind of guy! (My pet peeve, by the way, is the inexperienced virgin who has monster orgasms the first time she makes love and never needs any help or instruction to please her man and herself. I think it's a lot more sexy and believable to have him sexually awakening her.)

Pet Peeves:
Both Samantha and Juliet have revisited the issue of pet peeves. So did a number of other readers who read about Anne and the question of coffee, Marianne and the reasonable person, and me and the "flat male nipple." Interestingly enough, this whole nipple thing took off in a way I never imagined. Kate Smith's entry into the Purple Prose Parody contest paid homage to it. Many readers wrote in about it. But funniest of all is that readers responded to it very differently than I expected.

Perhaps I should explain. Nearly every romance I've ever read refers to the "flat male nipple." When talking about a man, why do authors refer to nipples as "male"? Isn't that a given? Don't all men have male nipples? Furthermore, it goes without saying, does it not, that nipples on men are flat? My peeve abut the "flat male nipple" is that all three words are always used together to describe a man's nip. Surely Enamorata could "flick her finger against his nipple" just as easily as Dahlia could "rub his flat male nipple."

Instead of commenting on this, however, readers focused on the flat male nipple as an erogenous zone. I'll never divulge whether or not this is a hot spot for my own dear husband, but apparently there was a great deal of surveying going on in the households of romance readers after this question "perked up."

A reader who may not have known how free-wheeling and open we are here anonymously asked, "I had to laugh out loud about the 'flat male nipple' comment. I have never been able to read this phrase without wincing. Which brings me to a delicate question ....Do men really have sensation there? I have read countless seduction scenes designating this area as a male pleasure spot, but I am left highly puzzled since my experience has been to the contrary - I have been married 11 years. Is this a legitimate occurrence or just a tool for beefing up a love scene?"

Cathy wondered as well whether the flat male nipple is "actually a hot spot on a male." She added, "My husband says no, it just aggravates the hell out of him. Is he the only one that feels that way, or did some author come up with it and it sounded good, so they others used it, too? Glad you brought that point up."

To which Katsy replied, "I asked hubby about the flat male nipple question and he looked at me as though I hadn't quite recovered from my recent bout with flu and fever. This, I assume, would be a definite 'no' from hubby. Personally, when that part of the male anatomy is mentioned in a romance as though it were a 'hot spot', I always felt I was missing something."

Stacey shared that "my husband does not want me anywhere near this place - in no uncertain terms."

Marianne's segment on reasonable behavior was very well-received. In fact, author Marsha Canham, who won last year's Purple Prose Parody contest, wrote in to say that, "Marianne should win the Purple Prose Parody this year, just with Darcy Decolletage and Jose Jansome. I laughed hard enough to send the dawg cowering behind the bird cage. And I agree with her 100%, though I wonder if there is a distinction between unreasonable situations and too stupid to live characters. I would have shot Darcy myself."

Deanna likens heroines who disregard everyone's good advice and feel compelled to take on the world to "going on the ice and playing hockey." She added, "I can't skate. It would be pretty stupid now, wouldn't it? So therefore I don't." Laura "loved what Marianne had to say. I get tired of the heroine who makes stupid decisions in the name of independence. What I really hate, however, is the heroine who will forgive the hero anything without him making any effort to make amends. I have read many books in which the hero treats the heroine horribly and at the end when I'm expecting him to recognize the meanness of his behavior, it is the heroine who apologizes for being angry with him. Why does the woman always have to fix the relationship. I don't see this as a HEA ending because I know he will continue to treat her badly and she will accept the treatment because she loves him. If he really loved her he wouldn't treat her badly. If he made a mistake he would at least apologize and hopefully learn from the mistake. I don't mind alpha males but I hate bullies."

Rebecca wrote, "As for feisty heroines, I think Marianne hit it right on the head! I can't like a heroine or a hero who does not behave as a reasonable person would. On a similar subject, what is it with heroines who are described as having 'backbones of steel' and are in positions of power, that become wimpy trembly things incapable of making a decision when their men are around? Argh!"

According to Kate, the "toooooo domineering" hero and the "supposed to be smart and able to take care of herself but can't heroine" are major pet peeves. She cannot fall for a character "who is always throwing his weight around." Neither can she abide a heroine who has been built up, and, "all of a sudden, the hero shows up and she seems to lose these skills, because he is there to take care of her. . . Just once, I would like to see these women be what they are built up to be. I hate it when the heroine tries to prove herself and the author makes it all a big mistake and the hero has to save her. Why can't she save him? I know we as women are supposed to relate to these heroines and one who is too strong but be out of this world. But just once I would like to step into the fantasy shoes of a woman who can stand up for herself and prove her mettle and I'd like to meet a hero I could love, not just want to bash his face in and then wonder how it came to be that they lived happily ever after."

Other pet peeves readers have include:

The phrases masterful kiss and expert touch - Christine
The orphan/runaway/abandoned child who is always revealed to be rich/royalty or inheriting lots of money - Tamera
Green-eyed characters. "I am staggered that more of the population does not have green eyes! Quite a few romance characters have yellow eyes also, but I have met two such people in my life - they must be the descendants of some very romantic people." - Mary
"Hair black as a raven's wing and steely gray eyes. I haven't met many men looking like this. The majority of the population seems to have brown hair and brown eyes but I guess there aren't as many adjectives to enhance these colors. Rootbeer brown eyes anyone?" - Jill
Calluses. "All heroes of romance novels no matter what their occupation, have calluses." - Ellen
Each of these pet peeves were first discussed nearly two years ago in Issue 11 of this column. And, although the readers are different, the following exchange rings a bell as well:
Laura: Open mouthed kissing in the morning without the benefit of toothbrush and/or mouthwash grosses me out. I don't think the reader should be gagging in the middle of a morning sex scene. Don't people in books have morning breath??

Becca: Now I'm gonna think of that each time - mine has always been the bathing question. When did they have time to bathe between bouts of war and such? *G* I hate when that thought pops into my head. Can ruin a perfectly good scene. LOL

Katsy: I think the good folks at Listerine have us afraid to even breathe directly at a mate, much less, do anything really intimate. Maybe hygiene was so relaxed in the Middle Ages that neither partner could detect where his own aroma left off and his partner's began.

Susan: Or, as the love-smitten Napoleon wrote to Josephine: "I'll be home in three days. Don't bathe."

Always Reading:
I don't know about you, but I'm always reading. Sitting down for two minutes waiting for a phone call? I'll grab a magazine, catalog, or a book lying around. Waiting for a page to load on the Internet? Same thing. In line at the grocery store? You might find me reading the ingredient list on a bottle of shampoo. I read every billboard I see and read menus cover to cover. Even when we're not ordering wine in a restaurant, I read the wine list. I just can't seem to stop reading.

It stands to reason that someone who loves to read would read a lot. But does this odd behavior sound strangely familiar to you? When, what, and where do you read that seems odd when you think about it?

Special Notice:
I had hoped to bring to you a segment on reviewing based on the addendum to Issue 50. I was to interview Entertainment Weekly reviewer Ty Burr this morning. Unfortunately, a breaking entertainment news story broke last night (the sad passing of singer, actor, dancer, Rat-Packer, and hipster icon Frank Sinatra) and Ty is busy preparing a thousand word article. He rescheduled our interview for Monday and I'll anchor the next issue of LN&V around it.

The Message Board:
It's time to post to the message board again. Here are the questions I'd like you to consider responding to:

What do you make of the statistic indicating romance readers have 74% more sex than non-readers of romance? Where do you fit in this statistic? Where and why did they come up with this as a survey question? Are you worried that the romance as female pornography argument will rear its ugly head yet again based on this?
The Duke of Slut - I think between Issue 49 and this one we've pretty well covered it, but if anything you read here strikes a chord, feel free to respond. What about Samantha's comments and my own about beauty and the beast stories and fantasy versus reality?
Pet Peeves - We've talked about pet peeves before and we'll do it again. Have you any more to add to the list? How about the pet peeve you've noticed that you're sure no one else has.
Always Reading - Are you always reading something? When, what, and where do you read that seems odd when you think about it?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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