Readers Rant About Sexuality (Part I)

(Updated January 1997)

Since I address the topic of sexuality, eroticism, love scenes, and like topics in so many issues of Laurie's News & Views and can't share all the wonderful responses I receive in follow-up columns, I thought I'd set up a page for reader rants on sexuality.

From Penny Oliverio (pennyo@ramlink.net):

Interesting that I should read this column (Issue # 18) on the day I gathered up my Bertrice Small books and turned them all in at the used book store. Basically, cos they're trash. I don't think kidnapping, marrying or being forced into sexual slavery with someone else, being separated from the hero half the book, is romance. . . .

Bertrice Small and Thea Devine books are like porno flicks, lots of kinky sex strung together with a thin plot and bad acting/dialogue. Susan Johnson, on the other hand, can write stuff just as hot, but she writes well about different cultures that she has obviously researched, and the characters feel great passion for each other. I think there's a huge difference between erotica and true romance. The problem I have with stuff written for men is that it's basically degrading to women, because it portrays them as sex objects. I find the same fault with so-called "women's" erotica. It's the same thing in reverse. Not what I'm looking for. And I've looked a lot.

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I like to read an erotic love scene, I think I've mentioned this before, but I say love scene. Romance. The essence of the romance novel IMHO is the relationship between the two main characters. Give me Justine Davis/Dare any time. Or Suzanne Forster or Linda Howard (who sometimes goes in the wrong direction, too) or Kat Martin or Laura Kinsale.

Blythe Barnhill (QDXD00B@prodigy.com):

I have pretty tame taste. Anything hotter than the average Julie Garwood is probably too much for me. However, I don't mind if other types of romance are available for those who prefer them. As for what bothers me specifically, the best examples are in the two Virginia Henley books I tried. The first, whose name I can't remember, contained a sex scene involving the Prince Regent and his mistress. He was telling her about various exotic perfumes that made bodily gaseous waste smell like violets. Not only did I not want to read a detailed account of the sex between two peripheral characters, I was thoroughly disgusted by the subject matter. I put the book down right then and never picked it up again. The other story I read of hers was in the anthology A Christmas Miracle which I had bought for another author's story. This one contained rather tasteless sex between the hero and heroine, who were in a master/servant situation. The hero slept with her without having feelings for her and with no intention of marrying her. . . and told her so. He appeared so callous and unfeeling that it just left a bad taste in my mouth, and I never could quite forgive him, even though the story had the requisite happy end. The main problem was the master/servant situation, which I think can easily deviate into sleaziness. The only book I can think of that managed to carry it off was Arnette Lamb's Highland Rogue.

Kathy Guajardo (kathy@cs.utexas.edu):

This is a great topic and one which I think all fans of romantic fiction have an opinion. I've been reading romances for 20+ years and I know initially (as a pre-teen) pseudo-sex scenes in books by Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt were of incredible interest to me! I mean, I was a young girl very interested in the whole world of s-e-x even if it was seen through the rose-colored glasses of sweetness and light written by Cartland.

But I grew up and so did my reading tastes (thank heaven!) and the more graphic the sex scenes got and the more used to reading these scenes were for me, the more I lost interest. In fact, during the mid-80's in my Rosemary Rogers, Catherine Coulter, Beatrice Small, Rebecca Brandewyne, Laurie McBain, Johanna Lindsey days, I would read the first couple of sex scenes then skim over the rest of them because they interrupted the flow of the book!

What's my point? Well, what I'm trying to say is, as some other readers have said so eloquently before me, so long as the sex scenes are well written, add to the characterization and storyline of the book I'm reading and advance the flow of the book, they are essential. I'll admit to being more interested in the way the characters act before the sex scenes and their reactions afterward rather than the actual 2-3 page detailed description. As to the realism of sex scenes, remember it's romantic fiction.

Marilyn Grall (grall@inetnow.com):

Regarding condoms in contemporary romance, personally I'd rather they not use them. I have enough reality in my life. When I read romance, I want to get away from the real world. Also, if the heroine perhaps wants to have a baby by her hero (which is certainly not unheard of these days before marriage) a condom is rather self-defeating. I know about AIDS, but must we always assume that heterosexual non-drug using adults are carrying diseases? I certainly hope not. On the other hand, if the hero has been having relations with every woman in town before he meets the heorine, I certainly want him to use a condom during those times. Point in reference, Sandra Brown's Slow Heat in Heaven. The hero apparently always used a condom with his many mistresses before the heroine, but with her he didn't. To me, the spontaneity is lost when the hero has to get out that little foil packet.

In reference to Lanita's comments (you can find Lanita's comments on this page as well) , I'm no sexual expert, but my husband and I seem to have no problems having simultaneous orgasms. Considering the fact that we are middle-aged and less than perfect physically, I think we're probably quite normal. Is the rest of the world really having that much trouble obtaining mutual satisfaction? I'm a writer, and I almost always have my lovers find their joy together. To me, the scene just feels right that way, and that's how I like to read them, too.

TJ (teri_dave@msn.com):

As for "masturbation manual," I think what's most important in romance is that the hero and heroine fall in love with each other, not fall in lust with each other. Unfortunately, I sometimes notice that the authors concentrate so much on the physical side that they neglect other side of relationship. Of course, it's nice to read one or two sex scenes in the book, but I wouldn't think it's a romance unless I can really feel that hero and heroine are in love.

As for "abuse" topic, I am turned off when the hero abuses heroine sexually or verbally. And I despise the heroine if she still gets aroused and let him to it. Shouldn't his nasty words leave her cold even when he's stimulating her clitoris, breasts, whatever? If I were her, I would have blown the bastard's brains out. (excuse me for my language) I don't feel degraded. I feel infuriated! And the book hits the wall until it goes through the wall. . .(well, almost.)

Melissa (a0009697@airmail.net):

Sex is a very important component in the resolving of the tension that is created in the writen word. We could have the couple behind closed doors, but many of us want to know what that man is like in bed. Did the heroine respond like we would, or did she surprise him or him her.

I have a problem with rough sex, it is hard for me to relate to that. It is a matter of personal space and that would violate my personal space. But there are those who need the 'rapture' in a forceful way, or maybe it is part of a fantasy that could never be.

I love the sex part of the books. I am human and sexually alive. But this is a far cry from the b-movies I was dragged to in college, or other sex scenes without a story line in a pornographic movie.

Women like to be romanced, wine and dined and they like sex when they fall in love ( or even lust).

I believe there will always be a book for every intrest, and the 'sweet romance' is there for the woman who enjoys the 'wondering'. And, there is cetainly nothing wrong with that.

Lanita Cornwall (cornwall@wc.edu):

I like steamy novels, but, and this is a big but, the emotional connection between the h/h has to be strong. If the author can't get the emotions into the equation, then she's failed, at least for me. The mind is the most erotic part of the human body. If you don't turn on my mind, you don't turn on my body. I used to think that it was only men who didn't make this connection, but I've read quite a few romance authors who don't get it either. Especially the ones that do one and a half page love scenes and she has the orgasm to end all orgasms. I don't think so.

I don't like (Bertrice) Small, not because of her threesomes, anal sex, etc., but because she doesn't involve the emotions (mine or her characters). I've only read one and half (Thea) Devine books, but it's "laundry list" sex. Too many scenes that are too short. If she had expanded a few and left out a few the books would have been better.

I realize that writing really good love scenes isn't easy. I've tried a few times, just for the heck of it. But if authors are going to include them in their books (and I want more not less), they need to understand their subject better (sex) and also their characters.

Lori Cooper (lcooper@www.abor.asu.edu) :

. . . On the issue of too much sex and not enough story in romances, I agree wholeheartedly with you. Of course sex is an important part of any good romantic novel, but it is only one part of a good novel. The reason I read a romance novel is for the romance. Shocking, but true. If a novel is simply numerous sex scenes strung together by an invisible plot, then it should be lableled as "historical erotica". As for the use of "rough sex" or "multiple partners" in a romance, I feel that rough sex (rape, etc.) is only appropriate if it is an integral part of the character or plot development. Too much takes away from the romance of the story.

As for multiple partners, such as in Beatrice Small's novels, I don't feel it is romantic for the two people who supposedly love one another to sleep with a number of other individuals, and take the risk of contracting and spreading some infectious disease to their loved one. Call me crazy, but the threat of venereal disease takes a lot of the romance out of the novel for me. This is the reason I stopped reading Ms. Small's and Susan Johnson's novels.

Lynette (FTanaka@aol.com):

I, myself, usually skip over most of the "purple prose" because most of the time it's just plain silly! But, out of curiosity, my husband read one of my keeper romances (I forgot which) and most of the love scenes had him in convulsions! The term he found the most amusing was one of the staple words of "purple prose" - writhing! That word has ruined some of our own love scenes because it causes him to get the giggles! "Shall we writhe?" "Look at me hon, I'm writhing!" "Am I writhing?" "Are you writhing?" "It's writhing!!!" I now truly loathe that word! It ought to be outlawed!

Corynne (davisc@fleishman.com):

I don't have time to write really but I do have a comment about the wild vs. tame sex in romance in novels. I have to vote for walking on the wilder side. Not necesarily kinky, just not missionary position all the time. I, by no means, am a sexual expert. Maybe it is for that reason that I love a man to take control between the sheets and really whip it on the herione. You can do that in a variety of ways. Just like there is a difference between making love and having sex, there is a difference between erotic and raunchy. If I want raunchy, I'll rent a Playboy movie or one of those "erotic" books. I don't want that in romance or anywhere else and it doesn't have anything to do with morals or religion. When I read a love scene I want to be wishing I were in the heroine's place. To me, erotic and sensual is like making love on the floor against the wall stuff like that (in the privacy of you home of course). I'm not big on elevators and stairwells, alleys and stuff like that.

I guess what it really comes down to is I want to read about stuff I'd like to try some day. Most of it I plan to wait until I have a husband but you basically get my drift. Nothing painful though. The first real romance I read was by Erin St. Claire when I was 15. I think I wrote you about it once before but Black Tuesday occured and you probably lost it. I can't remember the title but that book had one of the steamiest love scene's ever. I'm trying to find that book again. Mirror Image by Sandra Brown is also one that made my face red. A lot of what is said during a love scene can make it raunchy or sensual. If he's cussing and stuff like that, that is not cute. But if he's telling you how beautiful you are or how good things feel, that is different. Talking dirty is one thing but crudeness is another. Just from reading the reviews of Bertice Small and a few others, I know I wouldn't like them. And silly sex takes away from the love scenes. If someone I was with was really thinking like some of these scenes are described I would lose the mood immediately.

Cindy Rudd (geor4329@pipeline.com):

Although I do enjoy checking out your column I don't e-mail you often because I rarely have time. My two preschoolers are pawing at me right now - even though its way past bedtime. I do learn a lot from your columns - so rest assured they are appreciated. Regarding explicit sex scenes, I enjoy them - provided that the hero's greater physicality/sexuality is tempered by the control the heroine has over his emotions. Virginia Henley usually accomplishes this feat in her writing. And while her books often verge on pornography (and have certainly taught me a few things!) her love scenes generally are tempered by the fact that the hero - who's introducing the heroine to these naughty pleasures - cares for his partner. This keeps me from thinking Yuk!, instead of Hmmmm.

The name/e-mail address of this reader is being withheld:

I don't think my tastes in love scenes have really changed over the years.

I still don't like an involvement with multiple couplings between the hero, heroine and a third party. I still don't like rape scenes or potential rape scenes (comes too close to home, having been a rape victim myself). I like tasteful love scenes as opposed to pure sexual scenes. And, yes, I hate a book that seems to be based on innumerable sex scenes rather than on an actual plot.

I don't like them anymore now than I did 25 years ago. I like a book where the sex can be explicit but not boring; where an author puts in words to titillate rather than shock.

More From Blythe Barnhill (QDXD00B@prodigy.com):

I really enjoyed your latest column. I tried to laugh quietly, because my computer is in the same room with two sleeping children. On the love scene topic - I guess the fabulous sex the first time out doesn't bother me, even though it's a little unrealistic. One book where the heroine's first time is not so fabulous is Dana Ransom's Wild Texas Bride, which is a good one. What does bother me is when the heroine is pregnant but always feels beautiful and sexy. I know some people probably feel that way the whole nine months, but not everybody! Most pregnant heroines have some kind of extremely mild morning sickness. Enough to know they're pregnant, but not enough to interfere with their stellar evenings. I can't imagine anyone really being in the mood when she could throw up at any time. I guess I do wish a heroine would have the occasional headache! Or stomachache.

Tonyia Gray (JZZS97A@prodigy.com):

Masturbation Manuals? Give me a break! With all the pressure on now for sex and hero's to run the opposite way of anything even minutely resembling "abuse", what's left to those of us who think of sex as a natural part of the love relationship? I'm so sick of people labeling a little rough lovemaking as "abuse", "downgrading to women", etc. It's only downgrading to women who have no sense of self worth. Particularly in the historical novels. Men were naturally overbearing in historical times. I don't want a hero that's mushy and afraid to be a man. And any heroine worth her salt should be able to handle the hero by using her brain.

Have we become so de-feminized that we look at every move the hero makes with a jaundiced eye? Why can't we let him be a man, and use his brawn or his "predjudiced ideas toward women" to our advantage by creating a heroine that can match him with brainpower? Julie Garwood does this fabulously! There is one fact in life that is indisputable. Men are stronger physically than women. So, let the heroine by inventive, stubborn, smart, quirky. Whatever it takes to handle that He-man. But if we keep labeling every romance novel that has sex in it as "graphic" or "demoralizing", we're not going to have anything left but a story that's unfulfilling and boring. When that day comes, I'll quite reading and writing romance.

Tonyia--still in favor of the bodice-ripper and the damn smart heroine who knew how to tame the lion.

Grace (GraceNA@aol.com) (part of this e-mail is excerpted in Issue 18 of Laurie's News & Views:

I just recently got on line so to speak, and found The Romance Reader while goofing around at work. Since my computor is so much faster there, I made copies of all sorts of things, including a couple of your columns, and spent 2 hrs at home reading them. I enjoyed reading your columns and may have comments in the future, but I would like you to know I hope you will continue with them

You do have me thinking on the rough sex issue. Having just read The Heir by Coulter, I must say I really did not care for his raping of his wife, and the thinking that because he used cream he did not force her made me want to slap him upside his head a few times. I am not normally offended by rough sex or graphic sex in a romance novel as long as it also displays elements of caring and tenderness after. If they get carried away by their desires, I guess I can buy that, but if it is forced or the heroine has pain but the hero does not show the proper remorse or get his come uppance, then I get a bit peeved at the author since most likely it is a female writer.

I did love Hidden Fires by Betina Krahn when the hero (who was a jerk) got impressed into the navy. Even though he may not have raped her I think anytime the hero is such a big jerk he should really get what is coming to him, and he needs to do some big time groveling. When he gets off lightly I am disappointed. All in all I do enjoy steamy sex scenes, but I do not like infidelity, threesomes or sex overpowering the romance, but they can be as graphic as they want as long as they can keep it romantic and not pornographic. I do hate the scenes where indeed sex are the waves crashing on the beach and the thunder shaking the ground.

Coulter has always been one of my favorite authors but I have not cared for the rape in The Heir and Rosehaven. They (the heroes) did not receive adequate punishment. II don't see how you could come to love someone who did that to you on your wedding night. Can you imagine your husband doing that to you (mine would be comatose)? However, I also recently read The Conquerer by Brenda Joyce and although it got a bit brutal I must say I loved the book. Shannon Drakes' medievals come to mind with some steamy sex and rough heroes but she makes me feel the heroes love and also allows the heroine to have a great affect on softening him up.

You were interested in comments on a couple of books, Knights for one. I did read it and to tell you the truth, the sex must not have bothered me because I do not remember it, I just remember it needed some holes filled in. Her older books had some pretty steamy stuff in it and it really did not bother me but I do not have any of her books as keepers.

As for Susan Johnson, I did not like her Kuzans; they were crude (I do not care if they reformed). Their behavior did not warrant the heroines' love. The only book by her I liked was Sinful. That was a hot book but I felt he fell for her pretty quick and pretty hard. Now Thea Devine I don't really think I care for. I do have a few of her books, but I thumbed through them and all I read was sex.

I guess to make it short(??), the books can be graphic, (and I do prefer an R book) as long at the story and writing are good, but most of all the romance is good and the characters are people you care about. Wow, I meant only to let you know I just recently found this site and am enjoying it. I am going to go through all your back issues.

Myjjb (Myjjb@aol.com):

Number one, please don't ever stop writing this column. This column is one of my most favorite places to read on this address, and it is also what makes this address unique. This is a place where I feel most at home reading opinions and voicing opinions of my own. I feel so close with all the readers as if I just met a whole new group of friends or pen pals.

Number two, just as the Women's Movement have progressed over the years, so have romance novels. Gone are the days where the novels were all the same, luke warm, chaste romance scenes where the heroine were sweet and submissive and boring. Todays heroines are witty, brave, funny, sassy and perfectly capable of taking charge and taming those He-Man heroes. The intense love scenes is what makes the stories even more enjoyable and interesting.

However, too much sex will cheapen a novel, a mistake that authors such as Catherine Coulter & Susan Johnson have made.

Number three, infidelity, sex scenes with more than the two partners, and abusive behaviors are a real turn-off & totally unecessary!!!!!

Wylinda Ashley (ashley@e-tex.com):

Laurie: You do seem to get the population stirred up. Good for you!! A good sex sequence in a great romance is essential to my way of thinking. Sex and love go hand-in-hand in my world. If other women deny this, they are lying to themselves. How many couples have a good loving relationship without sex? Not many, I bet.

I like my sex hot, but not Bertrice Small's style. There are ways of being hot without going over the top like she does. There are certain words that turn me off immediately when reading and she uses them all. I realize others like her alot, but she's not my style. There are ways of being graphic without being sadistic.

Julie Garwood and others in her class do their love scenes with emotion and that's what I want -- the emotion. I don't want the mechanics. For me, it all boils down to emotions. More power to the writers who can make me feel.

Randa Simpson (jsimpson@fairmont.mn.frontiercomm.net):

I find I want to read a book that has long and detailed love scenes between people who love each other. The more graphic language is appropriate in an explicit love scene. (Somehow I can't envision a man who would refer to his "manroot" or other such nonsense.) I certainly do not think of my breasts as "snowy mounds" or "rosy peaks". I would prefer less purple prose and more straightforward references. I read many different types of romances, some authors I read strictly for the humor factor and sex is a sidelight. I do find on my keeper shelf only those with explicit love scenes; of course the authors are outstanding, Susan Johnson, Thea Devine, Suzanne Forester, Linda Lael Miller, and Julie Garwood. Perhaps the the real key is a fantastic author, strong story lines and characters, and snappy dialogue this is when explicit love scenes work the best.

Rose Light (zo47oz@myriad.net):

. . . .Finally, I really feel that you and some of the readers are being much too hard on one of my favorite authors, Bertrice Small. Granted, the example you cited was indeed silly, but Ms. Small deserves better than to have a wholesale dismissal of her work on the basis of a few sentences. What I love most about her is her ability to yank me out of the 20th century for several hours and put me smack in the middle of Elizabethan England or the moors of Scotland. And I could go on reading about Skye O'Malley and her wonderful, large family from now until doomsday. I happen to think that her "unique" way of writing love scenes is all part of the fun and I'll bet she does, too!

Elizabeth Price (JBPRICE96@aol.com):

I'm sure that you have heard this many times before, but to me, the sex and degree of sexual explicitness in any romance is a secondary concern. I thrive on the resolution of the internal conflict between the two characters, and the heart of that conflict concerns their hearts and intellects, how these characters view the world, the opposite sex, and themselves. If the sex relates to and bears upon that central conflict in a meaningful way, then it works for me and is good. I find that I can tolerate most anything if it fits the characters and their relationship.

. . . if the author incorporates a rape situation in a way that is credible, necessary to our understanding of the pysche of the characters, and of course the rest of the book is fabulous, I could tolerate such a scenario.

However, a well-done threesome during the current storyline is beyond my imaginative powers. I can't imagine any storyline where a third party would be anything but a threat or diversion from the primary relationship. Can you? The only way I could see it as workable is, again, as an excess which is a critical part of a character's past.

Also, If the story takes place during a broad frame of time, twenty years or more for instance, I believe that opens up more room for such drastic changes in the character of the hero/heroine. I think of Luke and Laura from General Hospital - didn't their relationship begin with a rape? But, the audience forgave him because of the time frame and his long suffering repentance and tenderness toward her. Also, some argue that the classic stairway scene in Gone with the Wind verges on rape.

Of course, it is always a very delicate line to negotiate and threatens to blow up in the hands of all but the very best writers, but I believe that rape scenes have a place in romantic fiction. I think women, myself included, can become overly paranoid about the use of rape scenes because our culture has condoned and overlooked such abuse. However, I cannot deny that there is something sexy about the power dynamic between men and women and how that power is weilded.

heavenlea@hotmail.com:

I definitely agree with Tonyia's comments (Tonyia's comments can be found earlier on this page about her preferance for "rough lovemaking" or to put it more tactly, lovemaking without the Sensative New Age Guy. Truthfully, my favorite author would have to be Virginia Henley, who delivers exactly the amount of erotica to suit my taste between strong heroes and heroines. I think erotica/sex scenes in a romance novel are very important and I venture to say a vast group of people read the books in the genre for that reason only. I don't particularly like the men to exert their strength by ripping off the heroines bodices or committing almost rape. I just like for it to be there in the background like furniture, silent and yet always present.

Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part II
Readers Rant on Sexuality - Part III
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)



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