Masturbation, Wanton Women, & Other Romance No-Nos
I always find it interesting when so-called "romance experts" say what can or cannot be done in the genre. As if all romance readers have identical tastes and writing for the market is merely a matter of following the dotted lines.
Well . . .
I always thought romance was about the relationship between a man and a woman. Period. And that the only limitations were an author's imagination.
My first book, a 1995 release, was an erotic time travel romance. It opens up with the heroine masturbating. (The resulting orgasm catapults her into another time.) Twenty-eight agents rejected Awaken, My Love.
One agent wrote, "You simply cannot start a romance book with a masturbation scene."
As if romance readers don't do "it" - even though surveys claim almost everyone does. Or perhaps the agent thought editors don't do it.
The twenty-ninth agent accepted it. Awaken, My Love sold five days after submission.
So I leave it to you. Do romance readers do it? Do romance readers want to read about a heroine who craves both emotional and physical love? Or do romance readers want a clueless virgin who regularly bathes but has no idea that she has a clitoris until the hero finds the magic button?
I once met an author who claimed sex did not belong in historical romances because she didn't think women had sexual desires one hundred years ago.
I raced home and checked my anatomy books - nope, the female human body has not evolved in the last century. Obviously the author was not inferring that women did not have the physical ability to experience sexual desire, but was implying that because our Victorian ancestors were so sexually repressive a nineteenth century woman's needs (and dare I say it, her hormones?) would wither and die under the constant threat of social ruin and eternal damnation.
While I will concede that our antecedents (for the most part) did not know the medical terminology for what they did or even the anatomical word for what part of their body they did it to, I am quite sure that our great great great great grandmothers masturbated. They had the same physical desires that we do now. They needed to touch and to be touched; to love and to be loved; to hold and to be held; to give sexual satisfaction and receive it in return.
Simple desires that are a part of our human nature. The reality of romance. But romance is fantasy. Right? We read it when we were children - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White.
We don't want to read about smelly feet or bad breath or flatulence. Our fairy-tale heroines were perfect. They had no physical flaws. Cleaning up after nasty stepsisters, pleasing even nastier step-moms or being a gracious, happy-go-lucky princess leaves little time to ponder base human needs. So why do we want our romantic heroines filled with dirty, sweaty, lustful thoughts? Prince charming men do not woo women who are less than morally impeccable. And surely a woman who craves sexual fulfillment is not a "nice" girl.
Not to mention that one hundred years ago women who did indulge in premarital sex were apt to suffer rather unsavory consequences such as pregnancy and disease (amazing how things haven't changed). And then there were the dangers of "self-abuse" - warts, hair on the palms, terminal fatigue, etc. Insurmountable odds, you will say. Not likely.
Prophylactics have been around for a long, long time. And nineteenth century women were just as capable of recognizing a sexual herring as twentieth century women are.
I as a reader and a writer want both the reality and the romance. The love and the lust. The emotional and physical bonding that truly unites a man and a woman: sexual intimacy.
So yes, I believe that "nice" girls want sex - both currently and historically. And while the road to ruin was steep, many a traveler survived the hazards, and probably traversed it more than once.
There is only one subject in romance which is more controversial than masturbation and a woman's inherent need for satisfaction, and that is adultery. Please note that I am not referring to promiscuity. I have already established that romance is about the relationship between a man and a woman - not a woman and a legion of men. Although done in the proper context, even that can work. (Remember the Angelique series?)
In my upcoming historical release, The Lady's Tutor, Elizabeth is the daughter of the Prime Minister and the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Her husband has given her two fine sons. She has everything a nineteenth century woman could want, except love and sexual fulfillment.
My heroine is content if not happy. Until she hears the rumors that her husband has a mistress. And she realizes that her life has been based on lies. Lies perpetrated by society to keep a woman in sexless bondage; lies issued by her husband to keep her complaisant; lies that she has told herself throughout the years to make her existence more bearable.
But she is determined to overcome those lies. Elizabeth wants sexual satisfaction in her marriage, so she seeks out Ramiel, the bastard son of an English countess and an Arab sheik, to instruct her on how to pleasure her coldly indifferent husband.
Adultery is not an option when she approaches the man whom society scornfully calls the Bastard Sheik. She wants a formal education to revitalize her marriage. Ramiel gives it to her, using The Perfumed Garden (a 16th century Arabic treatise on erotic love that was translated into English in 1886 by Sir Richard Burton) as a textbook. Each sexually charged lesson brings these two seemingly different people closer and closer . . .
I knew when I wrote The Lady's Tutor that many romance readers would reject it outright because of that one forbidden subject - adultery. It doesn't fit into the fairy-tale concept of romance. Fortunately, my editor thought otherwise.
Love cannot be contained or defined by moral conditioning. We all want. We all need. It does not die because of social restraints or wither with age. A happy ending in romance is a part of the genre formula, but marriage is not synonymous with happiness. Especially in historical times where more often than not weddings were arranged for financial convenience and political alliances.
Self-sacrifice can only go so far.
As a reader I admire heroes and heroines who have the guts to take control of their lives and confront their physical desires. As a writer there is nothing more exciting than exploring a man and a woman's deepest hopes and fears through their sexual needs. I love the tension that ensues - the dialogue, the tentative melding of minds and bodies, the trust that overcomes inhibitions. A consummation that has me wriggling in my chair.
I freely admit that my books are not for gentle readers. It is my goal to write the hottest, sexiest, most erotic romances in the industry! Because that is what I like to read.
Hopefully the so-called "romance experts" are wrong. Surely there is a place for controversy in romance. Surely there is room for erotica as well as inspirational. For drama as well as lighthearted comedies. For reality as well as fantasy. Masturbation. Oral sex. Anal sex. Sex acts that are not always performed with body parts. These are great tools to advance a plot and develop character.
Intimacy both weakens and strengthens. We are never more vulnerable than when we yearn for love - or when we share our most secret desires. Four years ago I was interviewed on WLUP FM (a Chicago radio station) on a show called "Let's Talk About Sex." Seka, renown adult entertainer, was the hostess. My opening statement was: "I think that the sexual love between a man and a woman is the most powerful force in the universe." I still do.
-- Robin Schone