Readers Rant About Sexuality (Part II)

(Updated January 1997)

Andrea Schlieder (DXKD78B@prodigy.com):
About the 'protected sex' issue. How many authors do you think include condoms in their love scenes because they have been encouraged to do so by their editors? I liked Pat Gaffney's comment about the hero scabbling around in the nightstand drawer. I also enjoyed the comment from I forget who about the magic, disappearing condom. Judy Cuevas is the only author I've read that has the nerve to mention the condom after the fact. It was a great little scene in Beast.

I do not believe that it is an authors responsibilty to write 'safe sex' into their books. If condoms work in the story, fine, but to add them in order to be pc is repellant. There is a great condom scene in Montana Sky - the lady opens her bag and dumps a pile of condoms on the hero's desk and he comments that he does know whether he should be afraid or flattered . It's one of the few times Roberts even mentions any form of birth control. And her books certainly don't suffer for it, nor does she use that old pregnancy ploy. Her heroines rarely get pregnant which is also okay by me. There's another overdone aspect of romance novels.

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From Liz Zink (moonrose@initco.net):
I think that on the whole authors are putting less sex in their books. Most of my favorite authors seemed to have really toned down the amount and the sensualness of their sex scenes. This is truly a disappointment to me.

One I can name off the top of my head is Kinsale's My Sweet Folly. Kinsale usually does some truly hot love scenes (more than one) And while this book did have a love scene, it only had one. Although I don't like to read books where the H&H have sex on page 5, I do like some good sex throughout them, or at least sexual tension which can be done just as well as a sex scene and that will be just as good as a sex scene for me. I don't know if the authors are writing for a wider audience or if publishers are nixing a lot of sex or what the deal is, but I can definately compare older books from the same authors and find many more sex scenes in them than what they are writing now.

LLB responds: - Liz, forgive me as I talk out of both sides of my mouth. On the one hand, I see certain authors, sadly, toning down their love scenes, and I think it is in an attempt to attract a broader audience. On the other hand, I see certain authors pushing the limits just to see if they can. Hopefully both trends will even out before they take too much of a toll.

From Phyllis Lamken flip@pdt.net):

Frankly, I enjoy sexy scenes in books. However, first and foremost, the story must have a good plot and good characterization. Secondly, there has to be sexual tension between the couple. Without the sexual tension, the sex is boring. A good example would be the latest novel by Linda Howard, Son of the Morning. Linda Howard is a great writer and her sex scenes can be terrific. However, there was no development in the relationship between her hero and heroine in this book. They meet, they have sex. As a result, the sex scenes were flat and the story never really zinged.

On the issue of "rough" or "kinky" sex, I perceive a distinct difference between rape scenes and the forcible seduction. I can't abide rape scenes in the novels of Rosemary Rogers in which the heroine is degraded and used. But I enjoy scenes of the forcible seduction in which the hero overcomes the heroine. Good examples of this type of sex would be Rhett Butler sweeping Scarlett up in arms and carrying her upstairs for a night of steamy sex. Remember Vivien Leigh's satisfied cat in the cream smile the next morning. Another writer who does great scenes of this sort is Maggie Davis.

This is a popular female fantasy, which has nothing to do with rape. In the forcible seduction, the heroine is strongly attracted to the hero. There is no degradation, no humiliation in these scenes. The heroine is first overwhelmed by the hero's strength. Then she is overwhelmed by her own feelings. She loses control. Frankly these scenes could be a metaphor for the female orgasm. Whatever, the reasoning behind the popularity of this female fantasy, I am certain of this fact. The forcible seduction is a female sexual fantasy that has nothing to do with rape. More importantly, it has nothing to do with the actual crime of rape. Does anyone think that terrible criminals who commit the violent crime of rape were influenced by the The Wolf & the Dove?

From Ellen Hestand (metonym@msn.com):

Re: The Condom Question. I have to say that I don't see a problem with emphasis on safe sex in contemporaries, while it doesn't appear in historicals. With historicals, at least we can tell ourselves that maybe the average woman didn't know about STD's or whatever might have been going around (after all, they're usually innocent virgins, right?) With contemporaries, it's ridiculous to assume that any 20th century woman old enough to know about sex doesn't know about STD's, so the condom issue can't be ignored.

I'll admit, the first time I came across a condom in a contemporary, it stopped me, and I didn't think I liked it. But now, when I read contemps that don't mention condoms/safe sex, it just seems like a cop-out. I want fantasy, yes, but not total denial of reality.

And, as someone mentioned, it can be done well - so that you hardly notice - or even so that it becomes a part of the story. A fabulous example of this is Heather MacAllister's Temptation, Christmas Male. I recommend it highly, and I won't give away the scene in question, but it is great!

From Barbara Castelani (bcastelani@aol.com):

I just want to add my 2 cents worth to the simultaneous orgasm discussion. My husband and I are living proof that this happens and often, too. Not all the time but often enough. I also want to say that having been raised in a home that did not discuss sex or sexuality, romance novels opened my eyes. These novels made me realize that in a healthy sexual relationship many things are possible and also permissable. I do feel that in contemporary fiction, condoms are a necessity. However, in historical fiction they would obviously be out of place. I like the rowdier sex scenes but do not like outright violence. I would like to see more romances with heroes and heroines more my own age. I do get tired of 20 to 29 yr old 110 pound ( and that is soaking wet) leading ladies. I also feel that a little more realism in the body size department would not be remiss. I think women 35 or 40 on up do have a lot to offer in terms of maturity, intelligence, etc. I also like stories about large families. And stories that show parents dealing with teens. Bet you can guess my current life status!

From CD (kold@airmail.net):

It has been ages since I've had the chance to email, but I really couldn't pass on this topic. I know it's a sensitive subject in this day and age, and believe me, I have thought about it a lot. But before I express my opinion, let me make this disclaimer: What I say ain't gospel, and I don't expect anyone to take it to heart and/or worry about my immortal soul or physical well-being.

I started out reading historicals, where all the heroine presumably had to worry about was the pregnancy issue. Well, of course we all know by now that that was probably the least of her worries. If we care to get realistic, personal hygiene was shoddy at best in the Middle Ages, Regency, Old West, etc, and they probably should have been more terrified at the prospect of STD's and the lack of any kind of medical treatment whatsoever should they contract such a thing. And yet, no one seems terribly concerned that the hero/heroine doesn't consider this at the blessed moment of consummation because, after all, this is only fantasy, right?

Now along comes the contemporary. Must we consider this something more than fantasy? Are writers of contemporary romance morally and ethically required to promote responsible sex? Is the main object of any kind of art or entertainment to teach, elevate, enlighten, or preach? I do appreciate and respect those authors who include those "little foil packages." I would never argue with their motives or their sincerity. Sex is dangerous these days. Sex can kill. I guess my point is, in one way or another, sex has always been dangerous. Sex has always possessed the ability to kill -- through childbirth, disease, etc -- yet, here again, no one seems to worry about that in an historical. (Perhaps because protective devices simply didn't exist?)

Let's take your average nineties woman -- be she a teenager, a college grad, divorcee, older widow, whatever. Perhaps one reads historicals. Another reads contemporaries that make no mention of the condom. Maybe another happens to pick up a couple of contemporaries that happen to use the condom. Is one reader more likely to go out and have unsafe sex than any of the others? Is that teenager who reads historicals and feels those hormones start to race going to rush out and leave her condoms behind just because those books didn't remind her? Maybe we shouldn't allow impressionable young women or widowed grandmothers who haven't been out on the sexual market since the advent of AIDS to read such things.

I don't know what the answers are. I do know that, even though I personally prefer contemporaries without the condom scenes, I would never, ever, come hail or high water or raging hormones, have unprotected sex simply because the book neglected to stress the operation. Just like I would never go and gun down a convenience store clerk or participate in a drive-by shooting just because I saw it on T.V.

Maybe I'm just naive and give readers and people in general more credit than they deserve. Maybe I'm just special and the average reader is too stupid and irresponsible to take the necessary precautions without having the message reinforced at every opportunity. Again, I just don't have all the answers. All I know is that I'm not going to castigate any writer who doesn't include that "little foil package." I personally read to escape, so please, if you can possibly stand it, let me have my fantasies without any lectures, preaching, finger-shaking, or stern faces. I promise, I know the difference.

Thanks for the forum, folks, and remember, it ain't gospel!

From Marilyn Grall (grall@inetnow.com):

Okay, Laurie, you knew I'd get in on this one. (grin).

Bertrice Small is one of my all-time favorite authors. I agree wholeheartedly with Terry's comments. I simply devour Ms. Small's books (including Hellion, which The Romance Reader did not like at all), and I'm looking forward to her next book.

One of Terry's comments was of perticular interest to me. She said that her husband is happy with the results of her reading. I have to agree. IMHO, it's hard to read vividly described, erotic love scenes and not want to go find your significant other immediately. The same thing happens when I write a particularly steamy scene. My husband is definitely not unhappy with my romance reading and writing. In fact, since I began seriously writing full-length romance novels two years ago, and therefore read a great deal of them too as part of my research, our marriage has improved considerably. I've been told that sex is the ultimate form of communication, and the importance of communication in a marriage cannot be overstated.

The steamier the book, the more it increases my libido, so I, for one (along with my hubby), am very glad there are writers such as Bertrice Small in this wonderful genre.

I hope I haven't shocked anyone too much.

From Marilyn:

I simply have to comment on Ann McGuire's entry. I realize the statistics for rape and domestic violence are awful, but I truly do not believe romance should be a vehicle for social reform. There are plenty of other forums for that.

After reading Ms. McGuire's entry, I feel like an absolute pervert for enjoying Johanna Lindsey's books. Dominance and submission is not a new theme, and many perfectly normal women do fantasize about such situations. Fantasies are just that. Something you wouldn't want in real life but appeals to your libido. I would never want my own husband to act the part of "brutal warrior" (unless he's just kidding around), and yet I find that books with extremely dominant males are my favorites to read. Does that make me perverted? I surely hope not.

I'm afraid if romances all become "sweet" or with strictly "beta" males, I will quit reading them altogether.

From Beverlee Clark (bevclark@pacbell.net):

I prefer the h/h to be in love and lust with each other. After reading Susan Johnson's Wicked I seriously diliked the h/h and wished I'd never bought the blasted thing. When he practically forced her to masterbate (the first time, afterward she used it as a means to manipulate him) with a candle -- uh, well, to say the least it did nothing for me. He slept around with other women during the course of the book and I would have been hoping for the heroine to turn into a Loraina Bobbit, but I felt that they were both so awful that they deserved each other. I guess I appreciate the love scenes that are explicit but sweet.

From Tanya Tremblay I've been reading romances for only a few years now, but I have bookshelves overflowing with romance books. I love them. They're my way of escaping the present day world and either whirling me back to the rolling hills of Scotland and Ireland, or England or even to towns today I find them all thrilling. We'll referring to lovemaking (as I like to call it) I find that I do prefer the "hot and heavy" stuff but, like a lot of the others, I like to know that the characters are at least falling in love with each other but don't know it, or they know it they just haven't found a way to say those three little words that almost every woman dreams of hearing.

My favourite author has to be Linda Howard. In my opinion she provides the right amount of lovemaking balanced with the loveable characters. In After the Night (one of my favourites) she is verrry explicit and I fell in love with Gray, albeit not immediately. I love a man with a dangerous streak.

I love strong men who want to protect their women but also I like strong women who can give as good as they get in and out of bed (or wherever their current *spot* is.) I also love when the heroes rescue their heroine from danger. Kind of the knight in shining armour type. Something about that just makes me tingle with excitement.

There's been talk about rape and multiple partners. I have had extreme luck (in my opinion) in saying that I have never come across a book where the hero rapes the heroine, or ones where they've had multiple parteners. Sorry, but that turns me right off. Blech! I'm not much for infidelity either.

As for "rough sex" I enjoy a certain degree of that. Nothing kinky or pain causing; I'm not the whips and chains type). And I like the tender times too.

I admit to judging a book by the love scenes a lot and I tend to trade in the ones with G, PG, or even PG-13 ratings, unless they are really exceptional which is few and far between to me.

I am currently working on my first romance novel and I come here to check out the opinions and get some pointers for when I get back to writing. This is a really helpful site and I visit it regularly.

From Lee Brown (Marlee7@aol.com):

I had to respond to this question because I find myself becoming less and less appreciative of the blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex between the characters in many of the novels I read. Now that's not to say all of it. . . it's just that sometimes I think, "Hoo-boy, here we go again!" I mean, how many ways and how many times can I read the same words again and not get a little bored? And, at the same time, there are those books where I read it all. Hm-m-m. . . maybe it's all in the way it's written or how connected I am to the story and the characters. I dunno. There are a lot of pages I flip through to get back to the story because of another boring love scene. I don't think I would miss some of the graphics, if you know what I mean.

From Deborah Barber (debill@v-wave.com):

Yes, it bothers me that often there is no use of condoms or modern birth control. How great a scene there would be if the h/h got together for a little slap and tickle on the couch or in the back seat of a car (nobody ever uses those scenes hardly at all anymore, especially the backseat of the car), got all worked up and then they both realized that neither one had anything with them to culminate the situation.

Haven't we all been in a position like that at one time or another, whether it was in the back seat of a car in our teens, or when hubby came home unexpectedly in the middle of the day, baby's down for a nap and the timing's all right and the moment's all wrong?

Our heros and heroines have to take responsibility in this day and age for preventing STD's. What a scene it would be, them rushing out to an all-night drugstore, or he rushing out to an all-night drugstore; a calamity happening, running into an old flame while standing in line with a box of condoms in hand. And what about that time in a night-club, he runs his hand up her leg, gets things a little heated, she says, "Let's go, hon" and on the way out, he stops in the washroom only to find the condom machine empty! There are a thousand funny scenearios running through my mind (and possibilities for my own manuscript) that make me stop and say, we can't take the chance. It's not just an unwanted pregnancy any more; it's AIDS, it's STDS, it's picking up and being a responsible human being. And much as there is love involved, would we take the chance to have unprotected sex today. I don't think so.

It's time to ensure that the modern romance is being responsible to the times. It's also time to use funny scenes when the moment is ripe and the couple involved are not prepared. I've noticed in a lot of the smaller reads, like Harlequin and Loveswept that condoms are being mentioned and used, however, now it's time to really make it a part of the scene. Like what about the time you tried to roll it down and it wouldn't go; and 'he's' just there, sprung full of life and it springs away and . . . well, I think you get the gist.

As for words, I've mentioned this before, I hate the word lave! Yes, I am getting tired of sensuous being used like every third sentence. There has got to be more than 13 words to describe the moment, the instance, the idea. We have thesaureses, let's use them; and I don't just mean the one on your computer either. If you find a word in a book you're reading that you might like to use in your own, write it down. Some scenes are so well descibed, you almost melt in your chair. If you like the sound, feeling, texture of that word, why not use it. Your scene is going to be totally different from the one you've just read anyway.

Let's grab the condom by the package and write some great (and funny) scenes for people, and let's try and find those new words out there. There have to be at least a few and let's put it all to good use and make it work!

From Gail (Humminbrd1@aol.com:

I enjoy reading erotic love scenes as long as they are 100% consensual. I can not/ will not tolerate any "semi-forced" scenes in the books I read.

These types of scenes are a huge turn-off to me. When a woman says no, it means no. There continues to be an alarming rate of date rape among young people because young men often confuse this message. In the late 1990's we don't need to keep perpetuating this stereotype. I was completely turned off by Anne Stuart's A Rose at Midnight and haven't bought another of her books since.

In the case of completely consenting adults, I am all in favor of eroticism in the novels.

From Stephanie Tallman (stallman@mail.state.tn.us) :

I think when we discuss sex in romance novels, we must distinguish between "sex" and "lovemaking." Some of what I've read recently borders on the former. While critics turn up their noses at cliches, I find some of what I'm reading to be highly distasteful.

The most disturbing of what I've read recently was in Jennifer Crusie's book Anyone But You. Although sex in front of a dog is not my idea of romance, I believe some authors could have handled it well. But in this case, the hero turned to the dog and suggested he watch because he might get some pointers.

That humor is making its way into category-length romance is great. But to sacrifice good taste in the name of realism is simply inexcusable to me. I know The Romance Reader seems to disagree with my opinions - judging by the books you give good reviews and the ones you give bad reviews - but I find some of what I'm reading today downright offensive. Whatever happened to romance? To the absolute beauty of lovemaking? To candles and champagne and sexual tension so thick you could feel it? Am I the only one who looks toward the romance novels of the early 80s to find something that suits my interests?

Hope I haven't offended anyone. Like I said, this is simply my opinion - an opinion that apparently differs greatly from the current mainstream.

LLB responds to Stephanie: Obviously everyone's tastes are different, but there seems to be enough around so that those who like tamer romances can find it and those that prefer steamier stuff can find it as well.

We hope that by using our rating system of G through NC-17, we are helping readers in this area. My personal preference is for R-rated books, although I draw the line at sexual dominance that is as much psychological as it is physical.

Don't ever be afraid to make your views known - they are as valid as anyone's.

Stephanie responds to LLB: I wonder if everyone will misunderstand my meaning. In no way, shape, or fashion am I offended by steamy stuff. In fact, the steamier the better. It's just that I define my tastes in the arena of Sandra Brown rather than Jennifer Crusie. I hope most people who read my letter see that I meant the tastelessness of some of the books today astounds me. The heroines pant and writhe like actresses in porn movies. And the specific incident of sex in front of a dog was particularly offensive to me.

Sandra Brown's books are in no way tame. Maybe a bit less realistic, but definitely not tame. I didn't mean to insult Crusie, however, I was merely responding to the reviews I found on your page. Sandra Brown's book was considered too flowery and filled with "purple prose," while it seemed that Jennifer Crusie was treated as a genius. I was merely questioning which way the romance genre is going.

Anyway, thank you for including my letter on your page. I'm very certain it will cause quite a stir and I hope I haven't offended Jennifer Crusie. I didn't mean to insult her - just merely to provide the thought-provoking question, "Where is the line between romance and just plain sex?"

From Ann McGuire (mcguire@executone.com):

Reading everyone else's comments on the subject of sex and violence led me to wonder someone thing. Now, I'm assuming that The Romance Readers who bothered to make their views known are a fairly average representation of romance book buyers. More than half of the commentators regarded brutal force or rape as something they found a turn off. Then why, why, why, why, why in this day and age are so-called "Romance" writers putting this stuff in their books? They are propagating a dangerous, age-old sterotype (one created by men by the way) that shouts, "when a woman says 'No' she means 'Yes'."

I am sure I am not the only reader who refuses to read anything else by an author once I have uncovered incidents of rape in a book. Johanna Lindsey comes to the forefront. One of her books even has a woman raping a man! This is a turn-on? Obviously some of these writers aren't aware of, or could care less about, the alarming statistics on rape and violence towards women these days. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, logged over 80,000 this year alone! Hello. Now, in no way am I making a connection between the two - that would be absurd. But does the privelege of being printed come with any sort of responsibility? If the majority of the readers of romances are women, doesn't it also follow that these books would be outstanding vehicles towards guiding women away from the submissive attitudes that have led so many into positions where their lives are threatened? Why do certain authors insist on propagating this incredibly barbaric stereotype that women "want" to be dominated and "taken" in the face of such a national epidemic?

I know romances are essentially fantasies, and that many an average woman's fantasies can contain elements of violence. . . maybe these are the women buying these books. I don't know. I just think it's a shame that in an industry dominated by women that the sexual subjugation of their own should be so blatant.

From author Alexis Harrington (AlexisMH@aol.com):

I agree that simultaneous orgasms are a ridiculous, distracting work of fiction. No matter how well a love scene is written, or how transported I was in reading it, if I encounter such an event in the scene it's like a bucket of cold water. I never do that to my heros and heroines. As I once read in a marriage manual, when both people climax at the same time (as if it were a possible, common occurrence!), neither gets to enjoy the other's orgasm. In my books, each character gets their, um, due.

From Princess (scarlson@mail.llion.org):

 

I just finished reading many of the comments here and sexuality is something I have been trying to give a lot of thought to considering I am working on my first romance novel right now.

For me I think I often end up on the tame side of the fence. I can handle kinkier sex, even more harsh, if the characters love one another and it is consenting. Roleplay really can play into sex and sometimes being dominated is a real boost, just as much as taking full control can be. For myself I seem to feel most confortable writing tamer love scenes.

On the subject of mentioning condoms and other forms of birth control, if done realistically and romantically I love it. Sorry but I am one that does not put aside the diseases of today just to read a romance. Instead I worry about the characters, about their pasts, about protection and about love rather than just lust. Lust alone bores me. Believe it or not condoms can be used in a romantic manner, sensually put onto the man by the woman's loving fingers. . .things like that.

As for Marylin's comments about simultaneous orgasms in response to Lanita's comments, I tend to agree. Sure, maybe it's not earth shattering every single time, but speaking from experience it is possible for two individuals that are in tune with one another to orgasms simultaneously almost every time, and even to have multiple orgasms. Sometimes it amazes me to think that some women have never had one to begin with. I know it happens that way though. And as far as the h/h go when together, sometimes nothing is more exciting than being with the person you love for the first time and that alone is stimulating enough.

One more comment, on pregnancy. I love books with pregnant heroines and I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter. It's not all roses and sweetness, no. But the first few months aside from morning sickness the doctors even told me to expect a rise in libido. The only thing that had me worrying then during that state of feeling beautiful, carrying such a wonderful miracle inside of me was when I had to fear losing her. Now they do say the desire lessens off in the middle and picks up in the end, which can be true as well. . . but feeling like a house makes it difficult sometimes.

From Georgina Storey (georgina@magna.com.au):

In regard to condoms in romance novels, Marilyn Grall wrote, "I know about AIDS, but must we always assume that heterosexual non-drug using adults are carrying diseases? I certainly hope not."

I certainly hope so, Marilyn. One of the great myths of our time is that AIDS is a disease of homosexuality and drug abuse. Although the majority of HIV-positive patients fit into these categories, HIV is spreading into the "straight & clean" sections of our society, and the major reason is the one shown by Marilyn -- lack of condom use through either neglect or the belief that one's partner doesn't look like the kind to be "carrying diseases". Let's also not forget that before AIDS existed there were, and still are, a slew of mainly hetrosexual diseases out there, several of which can show no obvious signs on the infected partner. Why would any intelligent person have sex with a new partner without a condom?

Some will say that romance is pure fantasy, and that they read it to "get away from the world". I think these people need to accept that, for better or worse, AIDS and other STD's are here for the forseeable future. Every time we promote "true love" as being equated with "trusting your partner enough not to use a condom", we are being socially irresponsible.

As to condoms interrupting the mood; I suppose that depends on the author. Writers such as Jennifer Cruise and Candace Schuler make it seem such a natural part of love-making, such a natural part of love, that I find the condom enhances, instead of interrupts, the mood. These two people care enough to protect each other. That's true love, in my book.

From Lisa Brusadin (mrb@infinet.com):

I like a variety. I too like Garwood for the same reasons already stated (in Issue # 18). A little roughness doesn't bother me, ie. the scene in Coulter's The Heir. Justin thinks Arabella has betrayed him and that she's no longer a virgin so on their wedding night he "rapes" her. He didn't think it was rape and I'm not too sure if I'd call it that. And he did regret it afterwards. Clayton also took Whitney in such a manner in Whitney, My Love by McNaught. I'm not really into those scenes but reading them every now and again doesn't bother me. Virgina Henley does get a little kinky for me sometimes and I'll never forget the first novel of hers I read - my mother had given it too me to read - I still blush knowing that my 60 year old mom reads this stuff. I remember reading a Lindsey book once I think it was Warrior's Woman, it was set in the future and there was a scene where the hero spanked the heroine then made love to her. That really turned me off although the rest of the book was good. By the way I love your column so please keep writing it!!!

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 I
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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