Readers Rant About Sexuality (Part III)
(Updated January 1997)
Corresponds with Issue #40 of Laurie's News & Views
I began a section at All About Romance for reader rants on sexuality. That initial page grew to become many, especially after the Rifs on Political Correctness section was begun.
Upon noticing that recent releases by lead authors have toned down love scenes, I decided to re-focus on love scenes. I love a great love scene, because it makes physical those feelings we have when in the first stages of love, when lust is so strong. Whether certain authors are toning down in an effort to mainstream, or have run out of ways for two people to "do it", or are responding to a backlack against too much sensuality in recent years, there is a noticeable difference in the recent releases by such authors as Julie Garwood and Johanna Lindsey in comparison with their older works.
In other instances, authors such as Thea Devine, Bertrice Small, and Susan Johnson are pushing the envelope in the opposite direction. My personal problem with authors who push the envelope in this direction is that I can't seem to garner an emotional bond with the characters. For a love scene to work for me, I have to care about the characters. Otherwise, it's just sex. And, for me, just sex is not an effective love scene.
In recent issues of my column, I've addressed these issues, and asked for reader response. I also asked readers to discuss what I call "humorous foreplay", about which you can read about in Issue #39 of my column. Some of that response can be found in Issue #40 of my column , but most of it can be found here. I hope you'll add your opionion to the fray by emailing me here, regardless of whether or not you agree with me or any of the readers who have written in so far.
I like a lot of love scenes - hot, steamy, tender, funny, quickie. . . I do not take the approach of there's only so many ways you can do "it". That lacks imagination and passion - and these 2 ingredients can take you far far more than the mere mechanics of the deed. When two people love each other - the love scenes are the most personal, private part of the story. I look for the tone of the scene, feelings evoked, the sharing of bodies is the enabler of that expression, the feelings and the ardor by which that activity is pursued is what makes it for me.
Jenny Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Here are my two cents on love scenes and why I think they are essential in a romance.
Romance is a form of escapism for most readers. Most of us love reading romances because our daily lives don't take us to different lands, meeting tall dark handsome men, and actually have them chase after us. It's fun to read a romance in which the two protagonists run around adventuring, get to know each other, then get married, but to me, personally, that is not enough. Hence the sex scenes.
The most important thing to me, when I'm reading a romance, whether it is historical, contemporary, romantic-suspence, or futuristic-romance, is sexual tension. A love relationship, especially. in the beginning, is, let's face it, about two people who can't stop touching each other. But since romance is escapism for most of us, we like the story to go one step further than the usual feel-good romance. We want seduction. There is nothing like it. It is probably a feminist nightmare, but lots of strong women enjoy seduction scenes, be it the man seducing the woman or vice-versa. And the more drawn out the seduction, the more reluctant one of the protagonists, the more exciting the ending.
A good author can work up quite a firework display with the right balance of tension and plot. Someone mentioned about Susan Johnson, Thea Devine, and Beatrice Small, that their protagonists are all sex and not much relationship. I think this is especially true of Thea Devine. So I guess I ought to add that seduction is nothing if the hero or heroine is unlikeable, or shallow (as some of Johnson's heros have been lately); if the romance part of the novel isn't done right, then the sex scenes become gratuitous and a big turn off (for me personally, Devine's plots are just fillers between gratuitous sex).
Anyway, that's why I read romance. If I just want suspense without the romance, I'd buy a different genre. There are excellent suspense novels out there that don't play with relationships at all. If I pick up a romance-suspense and find too much suspense and different plots get in the way (too many characters), I find myself skipping big sections of the book to find the next scene involving the two protagonists. That's almost as bad as that reader who skip sex scenes! I try not to do it, but since I'd invested money into the book, I feel that I should at least enjoy the romance and quickly finish the book before I start another one! Ok, that's my thoughts about sex scenes. Everyone keeps telling me that the pendulum is swinging back, that the authors are going back to the old days. Maybe the more famous ones, but the new ones I find who seem to have a promising future are still writing great sex scenes into their stories. Long may they do so. I'm not ashamed to say I enjoy reading well-written sex scenes, even after all these decades.
Author Deborah Simmons (Deborah118@aol.com):
. . . As to the love scenes, I really don't know why there seems to be fewer of them in the more "mainstream" books. Personally, I think they are an integral part of the romance, although I know some readers skip over them. I'm on my 13th project, and I haven't tired of writing them. What's boring to me is writing the darn middle of the book!
Karen Ogram (CCBZ80B@prodigy.com)
I have asked myself the question about how many love scenes are ok, do I have to have many, or is just one or two love scenes ok? I really have not come up with an answer yet.
I think some authors, who are going mainstream, are not neccesarily trying to tone down their work. They may be trying to concentrate more on the conflicts of the story, instead of having the h/h always jumping into bed. I have read some books where the characters are always getting into bed, even though their conflicts are totally unresolved. It's like having a fight with your hubby and making up before the fight is over.
Some authors are just trying to make the lovers seem a little more realistic. They can be intimate without having to jump into bed. Using sexual tension in a book can be a lot of fun, and when the hot and heavy love scenes do happen, it is all the more sensual - not to mention effective.
Romance does not mean that the characters have to have numerous couplings, although the story would not be complete without a few. It's how the couple comes to be lovers which makes the story appealing. Their love does not have to be sustained by a great deal of lovemaking. The relationship must be more than that for the story to work. Mainstream authors are trying to use the conflicts more than the love scenes to develope the relationships between their characters. Sometimes they can make it work - other times they should go back to the love scenes because they are better at it. They may also be trying to develope their writing skills when they feel they have hit a dry spell. When all the love scenes start to sound the same, it is normal to try a different approach. Sometimes it just doesn't work.
Regarding the issue of love scenes, I tend to like romance with 1 to 2 major ones. The most luscious ones (yum..yum) that always stick to my mind are After the Night by Linda Howard - one in the woods (I think) and the other in the court house. I do sometimes skim through some love scenes in some other books. When I tried to analyse why, I come to the conclusion that these scenes do not engage me emotionally - what I'm trying to say is that I want the h/h to come together very much because of the love/romance/sexual tension that have been developing prior to this momentous occasion. I can't stand those where the h/h meet and fall into bed immediately. I relish and enjoy the buildup to it (maybe even more than the act itself).
Laura Kinsey (email@example.com):
I read romance for the love scenes. I started reading romance as a teenager when they didn't have any sex. I got bored. Only when I discovered romances had begun to include physical intimacy did I again return to the genre. Most of the people I know who read romances read them for the love scenes. The people I talk to who don't want to read sex scenes don't really want to read romance. I don't think authors need to become G rated in order to sell their books in hard back. Many so called main stream books contain violence and cheap sex or they are written about the problems people face every day. I read romance for the love and intimacy. I like reading about sex that brings beauty into the characters life. We can use more love and beauty in the world. Why would an author want to give it up?
Madonna Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org):
On the subject of the sex in the books I agree with Bonnie. I read the books for the interactions of the hero and heroine. I love to see how the story developes, I also agree that Julie Garwood does an excellent job with her characters, but even in her books I just skim the sex.
Kristi Young (email@example.com):
One of my personal pet peeves when it comes to romance books in the 1990s is the toning down of love scenes. To be frank, I want sex, tastefully, but explicitly expressed, in my romance novels. I rarely choose a book with less than an R rating, unless the plot sounds especially intriguing. Given this preference, I've been increasingly dismayed by the resurgence of puritanism that has taken over the romance genre. Several books I've read lately have provided a delicious building of sexual tension, then have ended with the closing of the bedroom door. Next thing you know, the heroine is rising refreshed from her bed the next morning. When an author takes this route (a cop out, IMO), I feel cheated. Dare I say it? After such teasing, I expect the author to "put out".
I am concerned about what is behind this trend. I can't subscribe to the idea that authors are getting burnt out on writing love scenes; too many of my favorite authors have failed to deliver in their most recent books (JAK, Joyce, Krinard, to name a few) for me to believe this is coincidence. These are authors whose older books contain several wonderfully written, multiple-page love scenes, not just the obligitory one or two quickies.
So what is the cause? I'm going to probably offend a few folks here, but I believe the blame lies on the publishers shoulders, who have fallen for the "family values" line prevalent in today's society. This new mantra decries modern expressions of sexuality and calls for a return to "older" values. Along with those older values is a longing for a return to the good old days. And so, in our romance reading, we get the sexual equivalent of the master bedroom with two twin beds or Rhett carrying Scarlet up the stair case. The thing these arbiters of all that is right and good don't get is that describing how satisfying the physical expression of love within the bounds of a committed relationship can be can only strenghten their arguments for marriage and family. Otherwise, love and marriage begins to look about as enticing as vanilla pudding.
I'd love to hear what others think of my theory.
Karen Lynn Wheless (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I've read books that had love scenes, and books that didn't have them, and loved both. I'll go from reading a chaste Regency to a steamy Tiffany White book. To me, the question is, how does it fit into the plot? If a book has an unmarried hero and heroine in Regency England, it's unlikely that they'll jump into bed before marriage. Some authors seem to go through convolutions to put characters into situations where they sleep together, when it doesn't fit the plot, just so they have a love scene earlier in the book. (Other authors do the opposite, like in Garwood's book.) One author that writes great love scenes is Anne Stuart, but in her book To Love a Dark Lord, the hero and heroine don't sleep together until almost the end of the book. (Admittedly, the love scene is worth waiting for, it's hot.) It would have been nice to have more, but it wouldn't have fit the characters.
Phyllis Lamken (email@example.com):
For me, sex scenes are the whip cream on my pumpkin pie. I really love whip cream on my pumpkin pie. However, I wouldn't eat whip cream by itself. I want a strong plot, good characterization and atmosphere in my books. Many of my all-time favorite books are older and thus do not have sex scenes.
Frankly, I very much enjoy a well written hot sex scene. However, I suspect that it is very hard to write such a scene. I think that the skill in the writing is more important than where the sex scene occurs in the book. Also, characterization plays an important role in the success of sex scenes. I find sex scenes between unlikeable characters obscene and offensive.
Lastly, I would like to bring up a new topic. Recently, I read a book in which the 28 year old heroine had only one sexual experience that she didn't enjoy and the secondary female character was a 26 year old virgin. Both the hero and the secondary male character were very sexually experienced. Frankly, I find these virgins and semi-virgins aa very tiresome cliche. The heroine either doesn't enjoy sex or have sex until she falls in love with the hero.
I have no problem with virgin heroines when it is part of the story, i.e. The Shadow & the Star (by Kinsale). However, I would like to see sexual experienced heroines for a change in stories. When I made this suggestion to one of the bb, I was surprised by the results. Most of the readers agreed with me. Therefore, I wonder why I keep find this cliche in book after book.
Beth Abbot (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Thank you for mentioning the recent apparent lack of luscious love scenes. I was having the feeling that I was the only one noticing it! I am one of those people who read romances in large part for those very scenes. I have noticed, for example, by perusing the ratings of new books in The Romance Reader, that most new books seem to be PG or PG-13 at the most (I am talking primarily about contemporaries and category - I read few historicals). It seems to me that a line called "Desire" or "Temptation" should have some decent love scenes. The new Harlelquin "Blaze" series has also been a disappointment - I have found nothing hotter than the average Temptation. I also happen to enjoy reading some erotica (I find many of the Black Lace titles from England to be enjoyable - written by women for women, ostensibly). I depend on the the romance titles to give me more emotional satisfaction than the erotica, but lately I have found many of the romance novels to be too tame for my taste. This is part of what drew me to the erotica in the first place. The books from the last year or so seem to be particularly tame compared to some books from the same authors several years ago. I don't know how to explain it, since many of these are categories.
Blythe Barnhill (QDXD00B@prodigy.com):
. . . love scenes? I'm not really sure how important they are to me. Some books seem to do just fine with only vague descriptions of sex at the very end of the book. With others a good love scene is essential to move the plot along. Sometimes when one doesn't come along at the appropriate time, I find myself wanting to take the h&h and bang their heads together. Like you, I loved the first love scene in Castles. That was the first Garwood I read, and it spurred me on to read the rest of them.
Diane Carino (email@example.com):
I have noticed that the newer books have fewer love scenes. I'm a long time romance book reader, and I have noticed several trends. In fact, I was wondering if there is some kind of formula that authors must follow in order to develop the characters' relationships. The one trend I seem to notice is that the initial love scene takes place around page 200. In the earlier books, written in the 1980's, the love scenes would show up anywhere from page 50 to 150.
Next time you read a romance book, note what page the love scene starts and I think you will see a definite trend.
I have read many books that hinted at love-making and many many more books that have great love scenes. I personally like to have the love scenes, and love even more to read them, I sometimes read them to my husband, and you can figure out what happens from there!!!!!
Keep the love scenes coming!!
Jill Scheppler (firstname.lastname@example.org):
For me, a romance novel without love scenes is like a cherry pie without the cherries! As long as the book contains a decent plot and rich characterization, the love scenes are integral to the development of the relationship between the h/h. I prefer explicit to metaphor-filled, though they don't need to be so graphic as to call to mind a sex manual.
I think it's possible for an author to go overboard. Connie Mason comes to mind. Her novels are a bunch of sex scenes connected by just enough plot to get the h/h from one love scene to the next.
If I get to the end of a romance novel without at least one hot love scene, I feel cheated. I also don't like to be teased -- a bunch of foreplay followed by the "afterglow" with zilch in between bugs me. Creativity is nice, too, as long as it's anatomically possible
Authors, don't tone down those love scenes on my account!
Rhonda Drummond (email@example.com):
You asked how many ways can two people do it? I think in writing we need to break down the ethnic barriers and find out. Eastern women are taught the skills from an early age, and go into a marriage knowing what to do. They are given Pillow Books, they read the Kama Sutra, and other similar texts. I would love to see more East meets West type historicals, outside of Bertrice Small. I think the Occidental/Oriental love story is way overdue in the mainstream, and when it does happen, let's see the heroine come from India, Turkey, wherever, instead of the hero. it would open up a world of information to the readers of the genre.
In response to a comment by another reader that "Eastern women are taught the skills (sexual) from an early age, and go into a marriage knowing what to do and these women are given Pillow Books, they read the Kama Sutra, and other similar texts...", I would like to disabuse this myth (or maybe the reader would like to clarify which part in the East).
From where I come from (a city in the Far East), the women are generally shy and ignorant of sex and sexuality. It is in fact very common that we go into marriage not knowing what to expect. Sex is a taboo subject (school or at home). Our parents do not talk to their childern about the birds and the bees. We are basically left to find out by ourselves - from gossiping with friends, TV and believe it or not from the romance books. In fact the I learnt a lot from romance books !
Also, I read with great interest that virginity is considered 'something' not to be expected from a woman in her twenties. Where I come from and in my generation (I'm in my early thirties now), we were still virgins when we got married (got married in my late twenties). I could say the same for my friends and relatives. Therefore, I do not find romance books with virgin heroines to be unbeliveable in my context. I always wonder whether the man/woman relationships depicted in the Hollywood movies are true to life or just fantasy. (especially all the jumping in and out of beds)
I learnt a lot about other cultures, norms and way of life from reading romance novels and sites like this. It has certainly open my eyes and broadened my mind....and also you know what!
Connie Luschini (HCEG30C@prodigy.com):
I read Dream Lover by Virginia Henley a few months ago. After reading the review in RT I decided to pick this one up even though I don't automatically grab up all that Henley writes anymore. I much prefer her older work to her latest writings, and in fact, I generally stay away from her books nowadays as a rule. The reason is because she seems to be getting just a tad too "spicy" (as romance readers like to say) and over does the sex scenes and dirty talk to the extreme.
Actually, there seems to be a plethora of authors doing the same these days. Too many authors are turing their romances into nothing more than sexual titillation with a pinch of storyline thrown in! That's not what "I" read romance for. If I want that sort of thing I can pick it up a dime a dozen! I don't want it in my romances. Sometimes I can almost understand why romance readers/writers get all that bad press. All it takes is a few of those over done, over blown sex filled novels to get into the wrong hands and suddenly the whole world hears about how romance books are nothing more than women's porn! Now before you go and think I'm one of those prim and proper old school marms that covers her ears at the mere mention of the word 'sex' let me disabuse you of that idea! I'm 45, married and have two childen. I'm not prudish but I'm not exactly sexually liberated either! I've been on Prodigy for about 7 years off and on and have been a very active member of the romance BB in the past where we've discussed many issues, sex included, and I've never shied away. So you see, I'm not just another prude pointing a finger, I don't have any hung ups regarding sex in romance, it's just that I really feel that some authors are going to heck with the sex in their novels, and by doing so, are actually cheapening them and short changing us (readers) in the exchange. Sometimes I think that authors are writting more sex into their books to fill the pages for want of actual storyline. (Got to fill those pages somehow!)
Unfortunately, I find this practice irratating and it ruins the book for me. For example, recently I picked up Captain Jack's Woman by new author (for me), Stephanie Laurens, and although I loved her easy writing style, her interesting charactors and the storyline in general, I was disappointed by the fact that there was almost no rapport between the H&H. Every meeting started and ended with sex. Whenever the heroine wanted to discuss something with the hero he began a sexual assult on her senses that she just couldn't seem to resist. (Just once I'd like to see a heroine shove the hero away in these type books instead of melting all over him!) This was so irratating that I nearly didn't finish the book, especially since the charactor developement needed more work, not only the hero and heroine's but the secondary charactors as well. I kept reading though because I really did like the story and the H&H, I just wanted to see something happen besides sex! I'm planning on giving Laurens another try in hopes that her next book will be more story than sex!
BTW, It's been a few months since I've read Dream Lover so I can't recall every detail, but I do remember that I wasn't as disappointed in it as I was a couple of her others, but I didn't love it either. The hero didn't impress me, and in fact, at times he sickened me. And his treatment of the heroine at the end didn't make a whole lot of sense either. Drugging her and sending her back home to her evil father and husband when he knew she was carring his child (actually twins, but he didn't know that at the time) was beyond reason! It was supposed to be a revenge of sorts but it didn't make sense because at that point it was like cutting of his nose to spite his face! Dumb! Also, I didn't care for the fact that the heroine's mother had an affair with the hero's brother (even though I understood her desperation for a little happiness), or that the mother picks herself back up after the beating she recieves from her evil husband only to escape back home (to Ireland) and open a brothel! Her husband accused her of being nothing but an Irish whore, and what does she do?, she goes and proves him right! Geez, was this a screwed up story or what?
LLB responds: Connie - When you have the chance, you should visit The Romance Reader's archived reviews section to read my one-heart review of Dream Lover. This was, for me, the worst book of the year, and certainly the most filled with purple prose.
The issue of sexuality in romances and how much is too much has been discussed at length in past issues of my column, so be sure to check out my index of columns for those that apply.
As for the Lauren's book, I haven't read it myself, although I did buy it based on recommendations from Aarlist.
I've said this before, but it seems as though some authors have gone off the deep end regarding love scenes while others have gotten out of the pool completely! Luckily there are certain authors who generally satisfy me in this arena.
Kerry Kastl (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Please, I beg authors of good love scenes - don't stop. I have gotten tired of some of B. Small's newer books, her early work was really good - love Skye O'Malley!! I am waiting for the Virginia Henley book to come out in paperback, because I loved her early books - they were funny and sexy -- I really want this new one to be like those.
Alicia Culver (CLA@aol.com):
I have been a romance reader for twenty years and it is only in the last seven that I've noticed the biggest changes. It seems that the conservative wave of the nineties has washed over romance as well and I've decided to speak up for what I call "traditional romance". It's a term I use for the romances of the 80's, which included beautiful cover artwork of the two lovers, plots in which the love story is dominant, and strong tension between the characters.
There are authors who still write this way, but they are becoming fewer and fewer each year. Readers and reviewers are applauding the light, humorous romances-books are recommended because of their ability to make the reader "laugh out loud", which is not a bad thing. I have nothing against humor but I do find that usually the funny ones are not as sensual. The books today are temperate in sexuality. Not only the physical act but the whole feel of the book is less sexy. The tension levels are low in a surprisingly large number of books and I wonder if others feel the same way. It's odd that I get more thrills out of watching an old Jimmy Stuart movie than reading a romance. I think it's because those romantic movies captured the essense of what is sexy! The way he gazes into her eyes, then at her lips, then back to her eyes. The yearning look he gives her when he thinks she won't notice. The way he stands close to her to catch the scent of her hair. The inference of lovemaking that the viewer never sees. One doesn't have to see because the tension between the characters is satisfying enough. Our grandparents knew what they were doing!
I have also noticed something I call "romance snobbery". Simply put it is an attitude of some people in the romance novel industry (readers, writers, reviewers, sellers, and publishers). These people, especially the readers and writers, claim to love romance and then in the next breath are bashing it! I've read articles about authors who hate the clinch covers but consider it a necessary evil for the "less sophisticated" readers. Ouch! One catalog company (Manderley) reviews what I consider semi-romances lovingly and scolds the real romances for their "silly" covers and "less than literary" plots.
Well! Some readers are just as bad. They want to read a romance but they want the cover to look like a choice from the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. We as romance lovers need to get over our fear of being judged by non-romance readers-namely, men. Why are we afraid go after the things we want? In public, without an ounce of shame or embarrassment. Men do. Men don't apologize for their needs. Isn't it time for us to do the same? Some women would say that's not why they don't like the covers, but I know the way it feels to walk up to a grocery store check out line and feel too embarrased to pick up a romance with a clinch cover. I've heard the snickers and once even an employee made fun of my book by reading the title loudly in a sarcastic voice so that everyone could hear. That's when I decided that my needs are just as important as everyone else's and I owe it to myself to go out and get what I want. Today I look at whatever I want, buy whatever I want, and I don't avert my eyes.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that I've never read a romance in which any female performed oral sex on a male. In fact I've always wondered why male to female is written about frequently but not female to male! I would like to read romances like the ones you sited in Issue #25 of your column. I believe it is a female fantasy and has a place in romance but you are right about the book sited - it is improbable that an innocent would behave as noted.
LLB responds: I've read a multitude of romances with female to male oral sex, although most do not culminate in "swallowing". However, I did find one book that I enjoyed thoroughly which did include a swallowing scene - Tempting Kate by Deborah Simmons.
Meredith Moore (email@example.com):
I had another thought about oral sex scenes. While I find them perfectly fine, so long as the heroine isn't a neophyte, I am tired of the phrase "she worshipped him with her mouth". This was nice the first ten times or so, but its now become cliche. What do you think?
Sonya Everhart (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I certainly hope the romance authors are not toning down their love sceens. I'm an adult and want to read adult stories.
I've just discovered Susan Johnson and Thea Divine. I've enjoyed some of Susan's books, mostly because I can relate more to them.
I for one, am not into 'mushy' romance. Partly because I am not nor have I ever been a mushy person. I like a story I can relate to both in storyline and the love sceens. I can't relate to mushy. That is why Danielle Steel is not on my favorite authors list. Much too sanitized.
When I read reviews, I take into account the storyline, then I consider the author. But, above all else, the rating must be appealing also. I never read anything below a PG-13. Even with that, a PG-13 rating must be written by a known (to me) author and have a terrific storyline.
||Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part I
||Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part II
|Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part IV|
|A Writer Rants about Sexuality - Writer Robin Schone|
|Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part V (This page derived from comments based on Robin Schone's article)|
|Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part VI (This page derived from Issue #75 of Laurie's News & Views)|
|Another Rant from LLB About Sexuality - AAR Contributors Weigh in as Well|
|A Writer Rants about Sexuality -Writer Emma Holly (This page derived from LLB's previous rant)|