Laurie's News & Views

July 1, 1999 - Issue #75

We Don't Get No Respect:

Right now there are two toilets sitting in my hallway, the cat litter box is in the living room, and our feet are sticking to what's left of the kitchen floor - after today, we'll be without use of our kitchen and two of our bathrooms for goodness knows how long. Welcome to the little corner of the world I call "house re-do hell." We're in phase one right now, and when all the work is done, I told my husband there's a good chance we'll be divorced or dead. Oddly enough, he didn't disagree.

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There are workmen with butt cleavage all over our house, and today one of them wandered into my study to find out what it is I do all day long. When I told him about the web site, he got very excited and said, "I heard on the news about a woman who clears a quarter million every month with her porn site. That's not you, is it?"

When I told him I was not that woman, he lost interest, but perked up a bit when I told him the site was about romance novels - seems his own wife reads "that stuff." Of course, many women do; the dollars brought in by sales of romance novels account for nearly 50% of all paperback sales. And still, as Rodney Dangerfield (hardly a romance reader or feminist) would say, "we don't get no respect."

For a fascinating look at how romance novels are perceived overseas, please click here to read Vivien Fritsche's Impressions From a Romance Reader Overseas.

Witness some of the recent media coverage following the murder of romance novelist Nancy Richards-Akers by her husband. An AP article reprinted in USA Today was particularly offensive to many of us, but not surprising - their reporting of the Nora Roberts/Janet Dailey copyright infringement story a couple of years ago was equally offensive. While some of the reporting of Richards-Akers murder was handled as hard news, the AP story put a slant to it that really wasn't called for. Other publications, such as the online site Salon, The Washington Post, and People Magazine, took a more even-handed approach in their coverage.

Ms. Richards-Akers was brutally murdered in front of her two children by her husband, who ended his own life at the Vietnam War Memorial two hours later. What could have been a solid story about spousal abuse was instead denigrated so that the story could be more "colorful." Particularly ironic is that the murder occurred almost precisely five years after the death of Nicole Brown, and that spousal abuse is still a nation-wide problem. Both women apparently had been victims of abuse for some time, and yet this article chose instead to focus the article on the author's "purple prose" in the lead paragraph. The article also mentioned Nancy's "gushing" web site, and readers and writers' focus on "daydreams, sweetness and love." Perhaps I have a weak spot, but this kind of reporting seems to trivialize both the tragedy and those who write and read romance.

Although I always counsel taking such things with a grain of salt, this article was different from the "bodice-ripper" comments we are all bombarded with in most romance novel-related articles. And so I wrote a letter to the editor of USA Today after they ran the AP story and allowed readers to vent their feelings about a story which was so much more than that focused upon by the wire service. Here are some excerpts:

Deborah Ledgerwood wrote her own letter to the editor of USA Today, and it read, in part: "By using trite phrases such as, 'purple prose,' 'daydreams, sweetness and love,' you have trivialized Nancy Richards-Akers life. By diminishing her life you have diminished every victim of domestic violence. You had an opportunity to educate and enlighten readers about the issue of domestic violence. . . The FBI reports in 1994, 4,739 women were victims of homicides. Of these 28 percent were slain by husbands and boyfriends. . . you could have better used your journalistic abilities to show women the way out."

Anne Kirby wrote, "It's sad they feel they have to cheapen Nancy's life, and her death, with their insensitive coverage and comments. The article should have talked about how this beloved award-winning was murdered. . . it's a damn shame, and so discouraging, that after that monster O.J. murdered his wife, this is still the kind of coverage/slander innocent murdered women receive from the mainstream press."

AAR Editor/Reviewer Marianne Stillings also wrote to USA Today. Included in her remarks were these: "While it is admittedly ironic that a woman who wrote about love and caring relationships had her life taken in this way, Nancy Richards-Akers was not the first and sadly, she probably won't be the last. What your article should have focused on was that this was another woman caught in a cycle of domestic abuse that ended in the worst way possible. Whether that woman was a romance writer, housewife, teacher, secretary, doctor, or journalist makes no difference at all. None at all."

Nancy Beth provided two provocative messages to our Message Board. In her first, she juxtaposed current investigations by cultural critics and politicians to movies, video games, and music because of their ever-increasing levels of violence with criticisms of romance novels because of their purple prose and sweetness and light. She wrote, "We have a genre here ladies that is devoted to laying out healthy romantic relationships and the resulting long-term commitments in an entertaining, often informative, and creative way. These books should be on every library shelf, one for each R.L. Stine, Steven King, etc."

Nancy Beth was also struck by the difference in how both the victim and her murderer were depicted in the article. "Her murderer-husband is treated as a more dignified character than is Nancy. He is a 'former marine' and lawyer, while she is 'prominent among a cybercircle of novelists and their fans who thrive on daydreams, sweetness and love'. She writes purple prose and, apparently, 'gushes'. And why the big emphasis on cyberworlds? Why is she not described as a best-selling novelist?"

Tracy Thurber had a plausible answer to Nancy's question about the emphasis on cyberworlds. She wrote, "We have been 'outed' by this tragedy. Some people feel far more threatened by the idea that there exists a large, thriving cyberspace community of women, who provide a network of intellectual, emotional and even informational support for one another, than they ever will be by the threat of domestic violence in the so-called real world. We think, we discuss, we act, we empower; therefore, we subvert the status quo in ways far more subtle and difficult to combat than more visible targets do."

Ruth commented on something I've believed for years - that one major reason romance is denigrated in our society is that it is a genre for and by women (primarily). In other words, sexism is a large part of this. Ruth wrote, "I also believe that part of the reason the press (and our society in general) is so contemptuous of romance writers and romance readers (and I don't use the word 'contemptuous' lightly - I think it goes beyond disrespect) is because they are activities of, for the most part, women. I hate to sound so stridently feminist about this, but I know lots of men who spend (or waste, depending on one's point of view) their leisure time on some pretty silly activities, but, hey, that's okay, they're hobbies! When women spend leisure time reading romance, we're 'day-dreaming'. . . Our society has no more respect for women, as a gender, in 1999 than it did in 1960. I'm saddened, angry and frustrated that the tragedy of Ms. Richards-Akers death was obscured by that kind of barely veiled contempt."

Regency Romance author June Calvin agreed with Ruth. She wrote, "A loud amen to the contemptuous attitude toward romance reflecting contempt toward women. And the saddest thing to me is to see many well-educated, feminist women falling in with this. They've become 'Oreo's,' to borrow a term from black viewpoint - women on the outside, but taking on male attitudes toward most of their sex on the inside."

While I'm not sure whether or not June is lumping all feminists together, there clearly are different schools of thought on this, just like there are different groups of feminists on working mothers/stay-at-home mothers. To me, a feminist is a humanist, someone who believes women have the right to follow their dreams, whether they are traditionally female or traditionally male. I'm of that school of wanting availability of options for all. That's how I was raised, and that's how we're raising our daughter.

Tracy Thurber agrees with June, writing, "I don't know where the idea arose, but there is a sizable group of supposedly intelligent women who have bought into the nonsense that only 'masculine' values and attitudes carry any intrinsic worth. If you can't be a male, the most you can hope for is to become a pseudo-male, still an inferior knock-off of the real thing, but better than being a female. I suspect that women who believe this feel particularly threatened when they encounter evidence to the contrary - say, a successful romance novelist who champions love and, God forbid, actually has a happy and stable marriage and home life - and so they are always on the lookout for more tragic examples to celebrate as proof that they themselves haven't sold out."

There's another issue connected with this contempt towards romance because it is a woman's genre that we haven't mentioned yet, but I was reminded of it when that workman asked about pornography. One of the "cheapest hits" someone can take about romance novels relates to their love scenes, purple or otherwise. Is it possible that women's sexuality is frightening to some men, women, and society as a whole? Think about that in the context of Catholic Church doctrines from the Middle Ages about women in general, and women as "witches" in particular (The Malleus Maleficarum as written in the 15th century for Pope Innocent VIII). Think about that when you see the photos in Newsweek magazine this week depicting the mutilation of female genitalia in Africa.

The Frightening Idea of a Woman's Sexuality:

Last month, we posted author Robin Schone's Rant About Sexuality, and our message board went into over-drive for days. I have many thoughts about this issue, and I'll try to be cogent about them, but I do tend to get from point A to point C through point M or so - bear with me.

American society is caught between our Puritan past and the cultural, political, and sexual "awakenings" we went through as a result of the 1960's. Sex and sexual pleasure are different for men than for women. Women are still looked down upon if they engage in the same behavior for which many men are held in high esteem.

We are also living in a period of conservative backlash today, which began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Nostalgia for the 1950's remains great, but it was a decade of extreme conservatism. There was the Red scare and Hollywood blacklist; Jim Crow laws, segregation and Klan activities which eventually led to the 1960's Civil Rights movement; the suburbanization of population which began after World War II; and the growth of corporate America and "the man in the gray flannel suit." All of this was reflected in the popular new culture of the day - TV. Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie & Harriet were popular shows depicting conservative values, traditional roles for men and women, and an utter lack of reality, as witnessed by those separate beds.

In the 1960's, the nation went through a "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll" revolution that turned this conservative culture on its head. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War pitted the government against its people, and life would never be the same. The birth control pill was invented and the Supreme Court found laws against birth control to be unconstitutional. More women went to college, and more began entering the work force to stay.

By the 1970's, there were women in professions in growing numbers; they were no longer an oddity. At roughly the same time as women started to have some economic clout, the divorce rate ballooned. Suddenly the women's movement took the forefront - consciousness-raising was all the rage, the female orgasm came into vogue, and women were, for once, allowed to enjoy sex. Just when it seemed the Equal Rights Amendment would become part of our Constitution, the pendulum swung right again; now feminism was practically a dirty word.

All social and political movements have their excesses; and the excesses in feminism were derided by the moral conservatives who assumed powerful positions in the 1980's. While some of the gains made by women in the 1970's were held, others had a more tenuous foothold to begin with, and were more easily attacked. While we did not have a religious revolution akin to that in Iran, religious and other conservatives began to dominate our political culture, which caused the left to become ever more leftist in response. And so we were polarized by the extremes in both sides, neither of which truly represented most of the populace. For every Patricia Ireland, there is a Phyllis Schaffly.

This polarization of the 1980's has changed the way we work and live today. Everything is either black or white - gray seems no longer to exist. We have moved forward as time has passed, but in some ways, we seem more stuck in the past than ever. Sexuality is such an ingrained part of modern culture, but what's been ingrained isn't necessarily what's healthy about it. Sexuality is a tool of commerce rather than the sharing of love between two consenting adults. Advertisers co-opt it to sell goods, gangsta-rappers infuse it with violence to sell CD's, and some would have us be ashamed of it once again. Ironically, sexuality in romance novels is about that sharing of love, and the responsibilities that go along with it, and yet, time and again, it is sold short.

Romance novels are not pornography, although the sexuality as written in romance novels does intend to arouse. Do five or ten pages (or fifteen or twenty or even fifty) in a 350-page book render an entire book simply a device to arouse women? Calling romance "women's porn" makes it sound as though it is the female equivalent of Debbie Does Dallas. I believe that romance is dismissed in this way not only because it deals with emotions, but because it does empower women's sexuality, which has embattled our culture since Eve bit the apple.

The common wisdom is, is it not, that, for men, sex is physical and, that for women, sex is emotional? I know that for me, sex is indeed emotional as well as physical. By calling romance "women's porn," doesn't that totally negate the emotional component? I believe it does, and I believe it does so not only because women's sexuality is threatening, but because emotionality is threatening as well. This threat is perceived at the societal level, which is why I believe Robin Schone's Write Byte caused such a stir among some readers.

I'm of the opinion that information helps us make good decisions. I would no more not tell my daughter about the facts of life than I would choose not to breathe today. My sister-in-law and her husband have not yet told their 8 1/2-year-old son about the facts of life while we told our daughter when she was seven. My sister-in-law was surprised to learn her son knows some "dirty" words when that didn't surprise me at all. Yes, we were older when we learned them, but today is a different day, a different time.

I hold parents primarily responsible for teaching their children values - I certainly have been teaching my own child values since she was old enough to hear the word "no." I don't look to anyone or anything to do that for me, nor do I believe that either the media or the government must act as parents for those unwilling to perform that responsibility for their families. I believe in choice - my neighbor to the north might like to tie her husband to the bed and have her way with him while my neighbor to the east might believe only in having sex when the moon is full. This "live and let live" philosophy is hard for some people to accept; we all know people like this who believe so strongly in something that anyone who disagrees is wrong, stupid, or evil.

What was most interesting about the discussion on the message board, was the direction it took. It started out with many readers indicating they have an "anything goes" attitude in terms of sex in romance, as long as the book is well written. Then it became a discussion of the lack of values in modern society and how some readers have totally turned off to romance because of sexual explicitness. Many readers were offended by the perceived linkage between moral decay, sexual behavior between consenting adults, and romance novel love scenes. Over a period of a few days, there were more than 200 posts on the topic. And, some of those who are now turned off by most romances felt embattled by the turn in topic that then became perhaps one they had never meant.

Of course, when religion was brought into it, and the focus was on what children should be allowed to read, it became all the more volatile and thisclose to the ridiculous. After all, grown women are not children, although, historically, both were treated similarly in the eyes of the law. I think this is an important point, this linking children to women in such a manner. What do you make of it?

I'd like to share my beliefs on the sexual limits of romance novels, and then will share with you some of the more interesting comments made to the Board. Does a romance novel need sexual limits, and should a romance novel have sexual limits? Those were the questions Robin Schone brought up in her rant. The answers by readers on our Board often seemed black and white; I would venture to add a little bit of gray myself.

I fully agree with Robin's claim that women, both historically, and today, need to "touch and be touched; to love and to be loved; to hold and to be held; to give sexual satisfaction and receive it in return." I agree that these "simple desires. . . are a part of our human nature." This is what I believe all the excesses of the 1960's and 1970's taught us. This is what I believe must never be put back in a box by conservatives aching for "the good old days," for the days when "a woman who craves sexual fulfillment is not a nice girl." Yes, "love cannot be contained or defined by moral conditioning," and, yes, "surely there is a place for controversy in romance." But, what about the idea that masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and "sex acts that are not always performed with body parts" are "great tools to advance a plot and develop character"?

Somewhere in that last bit of commentary, she loses me. Masturbation as a plot device to show longing and/or sexual frustration has worked for me in the past, but I doubt I'd want a steady diet of reading it in that or other contexts. It's more of a solitary venture than something couples do together, although watching one's partner certainly has its place as well. As for oral sex, it seems to me it shouldn't even enter into the discussion - haven't we gotten to the point where it's SOP, or am I showing my 30-something age?

Anal sex, however, and sex acts involving things other than body parts are more problematical. Silk scarves and feathers I can handle - electrical devices and the insertion of foodstuffs or sex toys cross my line in the sand. Anal sex and dildoes, it seems to me, belong in erotica, not romance. These are not my idea of the physical act of love between two people - something else is in the room with them. They may be sexual and, in fact, turn-ons, but love scenes in a romance, from my perspective, should be more about love than about sex. That's not to say there isn't a place for these in a loving relationship, or that people who love each other don't do these things, but for a love scene to be meaningful in the context of a romance novel, it must focus on love rather than terribly kinky details.

Inciting or Insightful?:

Most of the discussion about romance as pornography stemmed from the comments of some women who have decided they no longer like to read romance because it is too filled with sexuality for their comfort. Some of the comments they made incited most readers; others seemed perfectly valid to me - you be the judge:

  • "If you take so many of these novels and make a motion picture out of them - including the explicit sex scenes as they are described in the novel - what would the rating be?"

  • "50% of the romance novels have sex going before there is hardly a relationship at all. Are you going to tell me that most women get turned on and melt in a man's arms just because he kisses her and touches her breast? Come on. That is not romance. Most of the time these men don't do any 'romancing' at all!! They look good, they're tortured and the woman can help him. Since when is that romance?"

  • "It's time to take stock when a simple romantic story cannot be enjoyed without a veritable sex bath of perversions."

  • "Just because a woman has no need to touch breasts & a vagina - hers or anyone else's - does not mean she is repressed. What will we say when someone wants to start writing stories that do include bestiality and pedophilia in a 'romantic' light? It used to be anything but missionary style was perverted, well we have well moved beyond that now haven't we? What makes us think it won't go any further? There has to be a line somewhere."

  • "What causes women to pick up one after another of the romance novel? I like to 'get away' once in a while just like the next Mom. But when it turns into 'getting away' often instead of once in a while I have to question the reason. It seems there is a need to get away from real life an awful lot."

  • "I (don't) understand how reading romance novels is enjoying someone's own sexuality, when it is reading about someone else's. I don't understand the connection between reading romance novels and enjoying their own sexuality"

Here is how some other readers responded:

Juliet

I've met quite a few women who contend that romance novels 'are basically soft-core porn for women.' It is true that these folks find ammunition in books with more numerous and more explicit sex scenes, and more of these books exist today than back in the distant past. I say to them that there is also more sex in the mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, and 'mainstream' fiction coming out nowadays, and that romance readers don't buy the books as masturbatory aids or to get ideas that will spice up their sex lives, in general, but because they enjoy reading stories about people falling in love with a perfect partner and overcoming all obstacles to live happily ever after. Sexual pleasure and compatibility are part of that story. And I don't deny that some sex scenes in romances are very arousing.

You could take the explicit sex out of romances, but I don't think the readers would follow you if you took the story of finding a true love out and left the sex scenes. I've read many negative comments on books that the poster felt were 'just a string of sex scenes.'

Like many romance readers, I read a lot of books, and read widely - all sorts of fiction and nonfiction. My husband and I own about six thousand books, and we both find it extremely difficult to pass a bookstore without going in. My TBR pile is frightening. So I think I am safe in claiming a reading addiction, and romances are well represented. But I don't spend the mortgage money on them, or refuse to socialize with other folks, or ignore my husband, or even use all my leisure time for reading. If someone found that she was unable to do anything else, or was reading romances instead of living her life, I would certainly tell her she should stop. But that's not the case with me, or with most of the romance readers I know. We read the books partially as an escape from 'real life', but not instead of real life. And our real lives often include long and happy marriages, fulfilling work, postgraduate education, and major commitments to our communities, both secular and religious.

Are some types of sexual activity totally inadmissible in a romance? Probably. I just can't reconcile the HEA ending with pedophilia, bestiality, fetishism, or sadism. But I don't approve of censorship; too often such power is abused as a way of controlling 'dangerous ideas', which include anything the censors and their masters disapprove of. I think that if the author can make the sex in a romance novel tell us about the relationship between the hero and heroine - how love changes each of them, what they give to each other, and how they connect with each other's deepest self - then it works and it should be there.

I think that for many romance readers, the heroine's enjoyment of sex and her partner's desire to satisfy her completely is validating and liberating. They see both those things as intrinsic to a strong, lasting relationship. Many also think that women who are passive, ashamed, or don't seem to respond sexually are women who have been left in ignorance or conditioned by their society's views of proper female behavior - views developed by males who are usually more concerned with keeping women under their control than with allowing them to become fully adult and equal.

I think that the genre can afford to cater to different tastes. I do think that reviews and rating systems such as the one on this web site, that indicate how sexually explicit a book is, are important. Readers should be able to know what kind of book they're getting. Sorry to be so longwinded, but I too feel strongly about these issues."

Author Adele Ashworth
I read my first romance novel when I was 13 years old. Before reading this book, I knew the mechanics of sex but did not understand the emotional aspects. This book opened up a world of information for me — not mechanics, because that I already knew, but what sexual love was all about. Did reading explicit sex at such a young age, in the context of premarital sex, make me promiscuous? Certainly not! If it did anything at all it made me more likely to wait for the right man to discover physical intimacy. Most romance novels with explicit sex are very touching, explaining the hardships, and the physical and emotional pain that can come with an adult sexual relationship. To me, this is very realistic. At least romance novels offer another way of suggesting what a good, moral, loving relationship can be like between two people.
AAR's Anne Marble
As I look back, I wish I'd learned about sex from romance novels first. Instead of learning about it from gritty 'mainstream' books and dirty jokes. Luckily, I finally read some romance novels, and I learned about how sex can be a part of love. Not just something to be giggled at or something to be tossed into a novel to shock people. Those novels weren't perfect, but they were much better than jokes told by giggling teenagers.
Nancy Beth
I like hot romance. I will go so far as to admit that I have learned a lot about sex from romance novels (some things which are true and some which are not!) I do not think that explicit sexual scenes, for the most part, further explore the emotional relationship of the hero and heroine. In fact, it often seems to me that their emotional relationship and their physical relationship are quite separate. I would like to see them more fully interwoven and the best writers do so. Two examples that come to mind: Linda Howard does a great job of reflecting the feelings of the hero toward the heroine in his physical relationship with her (remember the scene in Heart of Fire when the hero finds the heroine after she has run off with the diamond?) Nora Roberts too handles well the move from sex to love when she slows down the lovemaking. The hero refuses to be rushed and takes his time, allowing tenderness and love to come to the surface, in addition to the lust.
Rochelle
I think hot, spicy sex scenes are great. I don't want to read about the same old thing. If a woman masturbates in a book I don't see a problem with that. I think it's a very natural part of being sexual. I was taught if you don't know your own body, how can you expect someone else to. As long as a book has 'erotic' sex and not 'violent' sex, that's fine by me.
Deirdre
Let's turn the question around and ask why romances shouldn't have sexually explicit scenes since the implication seems to be that in order to not read them consistently they would have to not be there. The books aren't published for children or even young adults, they are published for adults. I haven't seen anyone objecting to the explicit sex in action thrillers because impressionable seventeen year old boys might read them or to men consistently reading them. I will state my first book with explicit sex scenes was not a romance - it was Boys & Girls Together by William Goldman. It gave me a very odd idea about the emotional relationship between the sexes since everyone in the book was using everyone else and lying about it. The second one, or maybe about the same time was a huge unexpurgated version of The Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard Burton in the 19th century. Ohmy, ohmy, did I learn thing from that one. It was in our local library and apparently I was the only person in 40 years to check the volumes out. Who could object to a young girl reading such a classic? There was information in a footnote about the longest penis on record I will never forget!
Langtreelil
Am I stating the obvious when I suggest that one of the big reasons women like romance - sexually explicit to sweet - is arousal? Please don't misunderstand me: the relationships, the history, the element of escapism- all of these are important factors in why women love reading romance. They also contribute to why we get all hot and bothered while reading a particularly good novel. I know many people feel the lines between erotica, pornography, and romance should be clearly drawn. I wonder though if our motivations are so very different from men who go out and buy pornography? Maybe it's just that we need to have our hearts and minds engaged to really enjoy the material.
Candy

Love scenes turn me on. That may be a part of the reason why I read them. But I truly believe that I don't read romances just for the love scenes, and I don't read the love scenes just because I want to get turned on. The only thing I object to is labeling them as pornography. Pornography has certain connotations that love scenes in romances don't (and I'm just speaking about well-written novels here, not the bordering-on-distasteful-erotica). Pornography is about lust - period. Love scenes are about an inextricable combination of love and desire. There is an emotional tie there that is absent from straight pornography. Honestly, if I did want to get turned on through the written word, I can subscribe to alt.sex.stories, for free.

. . . it all depends on what you consider 'perversions,' right? In the good ol' days, anything other than missionary position with clothes on was considered a perversion. Even touching the genitals or other parts of the body was considered a minor sin. Women enjoying sex and oral sex were also considered extremely perverse. Although I do agree there are perversions (bestiality and pedophilia, for instance), I don't like to put labels or judgments sexuality in general. Which aspect of sexuality in Schone's book or rant did you find perverse? Was it the sex toys? Masturbation? Anal sex? I, personally, don't see a problem with any of these acts (although anal sex sounds extremely uncomfortable to me) if they're performed by consenting adults in a safe manner.

Lena
If this (Robin's book) is the future of romance novels and the romance genre, I'm going to immediately place a second mortgage on my home and go to the bookstore and purchase everything out there on the romance shelves before this new era of smut is unleashed! I understand the argument that masturbation and adultery may very well be 'reality,' but if I want reality there is no reason to turn to a book for that. Please preserve the romance genre as it is!
Morgan
I totally agree. Catapulted through time by masturbating?? This will surely give romance the respect it wants. Not! I think this writer really writes porn. Sex scenes should only be used sparingly to further the story, otherwise it is just borderline soft porn. I would like to see more realistic sex scenes and also I hope writers like Robin Schone aren't the wave of the future because I think she writes soft porn.
Kris
I agreed with Robin up until the 'anal sex' part, which I strongly feel would be degrading to me as a woman. I am of the belief that if God wanted a man's penis there, he wouldn't have given me a vagina. That said, I have to say that I am a woman who enjoys explicit sex scenes in my books when there is love and caring between the man and woman. Linda Howard is my all-time favorite romance writer, and it is in part because she doesn't skip over the sex and simply have the man and woman wake up together the next day. Linda Howard makes it very plain how the hero and heroine feel about each other and that is what I love to read about. I feel like I miss some of the emotion when I am not 'there' for their physical love. Call it voyeurism if you will. I will read about almost anything except the above-mentioned sexual act.

 

(To read more on this topic, click here and click here for abbreviated looks at the message boards corresponding with this topic.)

October 5: As a result of Robin's article, the discussion it engendered, and the columns I wrote as a result, AAR was featured in the lead article today at Salon. (You may remember that this influential on-line publication broke the Henry Hyde infidelity story during the Clinton impeachment hearings.)

A Special "Thank You" to an Anonymous Reader:

In the midst of the discussions on sex and romance, an anonymous reader well and truly reminded me that there are romance readers who prefer the sweeter side of romance. She shared with me that many of her friends are former romance readers who stopped reading romance because of the increased level of sexuality. She added that the husband of one of these women was as threatened by her romance reading as many wives are of their husband's perusal of naked women in men's magazines. According to her friend, her husband's accusation that "When we're together in bed, you're not really there, you're with someone else," had some measure of validity.

This reader added that romances may indeed have become "entirely too entwined with erotica." A number of her friends have "consigned themselves to the Regency Romance ghetto because that's the only way they know to avoid sex scenes they find problematic while still getting their romance buzz, even though they'd really prefer modern day stuff."

Let's see if we can help this reader and the other readers like her. Feel free to comment on the message board about the content of her message, but let's really try to create a listing of sweeter romances for romance readers who prefer less erotic romances that includes more than simply Regency Romances titles. She offers one title herself - the series romance The Hunk & the Virgin by Muriel Jensen.

To that title, I'm adding my own list of titles so that we can create this new Special Title Listing to act as contrast to our existing Luscious Love Stories list. Here are those titles I would recommend as providing fulfilling love stories while being fairly subtle in their approach to love scenes:

  • The Bargain by Jane Ashford (Victorian-set historical)
  • Lion's Legacy by Suzanne Barclay (medieval)
  • My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway (1800's England)
  • The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie (series romance)
  • Promise Me by Laura DeVries, (western historical)
  • A Taste of Heaven by Alexis Harrington (western historical)
  • Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath (western historical)
  • A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught (medieval)
  • The Thorn & the Thistle by Julie Moffett (Scots historical)
  • An Inconvenient Wife by Patricia Oliver (Regency Romance)
  • How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn (Regency-set historical)

This isn't a large list considering the hundreds of romance I've read, and it could be expanded but I wanted to make sure and include only the best romances that were at the same time the most tame of those I've read. I'd love to have you add your favorite "sweet romances" to this list - feel free to submit Classic Romance titles as well.

Time to Post to the Message Board:

We Don't Get No Respect: Share with other readers the worst insults you've received as a result of reading or writing romance. Feel free to comment on why you believe romance is dissed so often. Comment on Vivien's article Impressions From a Romance Reader Overseas as well.

Sexuality in Romance and the Frightening Idea of a Woman's Sexuality: As a student of modern history, I think I've made a plausible argument for the theory that women's sexuality scares society as a whole, and some men and women in particular. Am I right? Am I wrong? And, talk to me about why children are brought into a discussion that is about adult women.

How Much Sexuality is Too Much? Do you draw the line at masturbation? Oral sex? Anal sex? Sex toys? How do you respond to the comments that incited so many readers? Are we just as bad as those moral conservatives I mention in my tirade?

That Anonymous Reader: Let's do two things here. First, comment about her comments about the sexual content of romances and whether you agree with her. Then, go through your bookshelves and post the titles/authors of romances that are sweetly wonderful. Is she going to turn out to be right and that 99% will be Regency Romances? I had twelve titles on my list and only one was a Regency Romance.

 

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books

Read Vivien Fritsche's article Impressions From a Romance Reader Overseas
Read the AP article about the murder of Nancy Richards-Akers
Read an abbreviated version of the message board corresponding with the discussion of sexuality in romance
Read an abbreviated version of the message board corresponding with the discussion of sexuality in romance
Read the October 5th lead article at Salon which featured both Robin's Write Byte and the discussion it engendered here at AAR (this link is a "jump" link which will open a new window in your browswer)
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

 

(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)

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