Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sex and Guilty Pleasures in Romance

Two posts at two separate blogs caught my interest today: Maili talks about why readers read romance, and thinks it is partially for the sex. And LLB talks at RTB about Guilty Pleasures, particularly related to her new interest in Harlequin Presents.

Both posters are, in my opinion, among the interesting thinkers about romance online, but it is not so much their comments as the comments of some of their guests that caught my attention. Maybe I'm just being argumentative today, but I really disagree with some of the things said by those visitors/guests.

On RTB, there are a number of people who proclaim that they have no "guilty pleasures" in reading, and that if they feel "shame" about reading a particular book, they won't read it, and that no one should feel guilty about what they read. I think these people are suffering from a couple of problems:

1 -- They either haven't heard the expression before, or they interpret it very narrowly. "Guilty pleasures" is a very popular expression that doesn't mean someone feels ashamed of the thing in question, but more that it isn't something they're out proclaiming to the world. I read a lot of books. Some are appropriate to talk about with certain people and audiences, and some are not. "Guilty pleasures", IMO, refers to those books that one doesn't necessarily feel compelled to talk about, to recommend to friends, or even to put on the keeper shelf. These are the books that we read and enjoy, but that we recognize have flaws, or hot buttons, or poor writing, or bad characters, or cheesy lines, or unoriginal sex scenes. There's not anything wrong with us for liking them, but we recognize that they aren't necessarily the best or most enjoyable thing we could spend our time with.

2 -- These people are being a little bit self-righteous. Are they saying there is not a single book that they read that they wouldn't talk to anyone and everyone about? Heck, I have lots. I even have some I won't necessarily talk to my husband about. There are some things some people just won't understand. Everyone who writes and reads romance is so used to being run-down or made fun of for it that saying a little thing like "guilty pleasures" brings out all the people who feel they must be on a crusade for romance. If you want to stand up for romance, why try to make fellow readers feel bad. Go after someone who actually runs the genre down.

So, in thinking about this talk of "guilty pleasures", I think it has a lot to do with sex. The things most readers call guilty pleasures are books that either have a lot of sex, or purple prose, or premises that are based on sexually-unequal situations (sheiks and harems, captor/captive stories, etc.). In America, especially, people are uncomfortable with talking about sex, and even with enjoying it. Some visitors over at Maili's said they skip the sex scenes in romances. Now if they skip the sex scenes because they are poorly written or are the same thing as the last five sex scenes a person has read, then I understand and I skip for those reasons myself.

But if people (particularly women) skip sex scenes because we think they're bad or immoral or because we think they "ruin" the romance, then I think that's pretty sad. Admittedly, I am still young, but I haven't yet met a couple that is truly happy with each other that doesn't have an active sex life. A lot of people aren't comfortable talking about sex, but when one or both members of a partnership is unhappy or unfulfilled sexually, it will become apparent in their relationship.

I've always thought that their are two things that are the most important for a good marriage/companionship/love relationship: friendship and sex. You have to actually like the person you are with, and you have to enjoy sex together. When I read about couples and relationships, I want to see both of those things explored. Without the sex, the relationship seems incomplete and unbalanced. I can't help but think, in a "sweet" romance, "What's this girl going to do after she gets married? What if he's lousy in bed? Or doesn't care about her enjoyment?" Is she going to divorce him? Spend the rest of her life in a marriage with a guy that doesn't sexually care for her? I can't help but think that those poor heroines are really missing out on a lot of what makes love.


meljean said...

Yep, I totally agree -- I couldn't skip over a sex scene not only because I like them, but because they reveal (or should, anyway) a lot about the characters' compatibility. A big part of a relationship takes place in the bedroom, and if that aspect of a romance is skipped over, it loses some of the ... I don't know, not realism, but maybe the believability of the HEA.

As for guilty pleasures -- I had the same reaction to some of the posts that said they don't have any. To me, that means either the reader never steps out of a narrow box and takes risks in their reading, tries something new, or they are so defensive about the genre that they can't accept something that isn't quite perfect about it. It isn't a matter of being ashamed at all -- just a matter of finding something you enjoy that surprises you, because it seems like something you wouldn't. For me, it is things like forced seductions or TV shows like "Blind Date" -- those are guilty pleasures for me.

Sam said...

Realistically, sex is a huge part of any marriage, and to pretend otherwise is - well - a fantasy.

jon said...

We are trying to find good movie clip to take the kids this weekend. Good movie clip reviews are hard to find

I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL