Sunday, May 15, 2005

No Sex Please, we're Romance Novelists

The two hottest selling romance sub genres right now are inspirationals and erotic romance. I’m not sure exactly what this says about our country, other than we’ve got a collective split personality.

Inspirationals, of course, have no sex whatsoever – even kissing is iffy – whereas in erotic romance, we happily do whatever our editors and readers will let us get away with.

Now, being a Southerner, I understand the religious belief that sex is emotional nuclear waste, to be avoided at all cost unless wearing certain protective gear – namely a wedding ring. If that’s where your faith leads you, that’s cool.

What I have a serious problem with is the attitude expressed by certain letters to RWA Magazine lately suggesting in veiled terms that everybody who writes erotic romance is a slut who is only doing it for the money. It’s not just inspirational authors expressing this attitude, either – it’s the middle-of-the-road, no-sex-until-chapter-seven set.

THAT I have a problem with. It’s as though they’re saying it’s okay to write love scenes, but they must be sufficiently bland and mechanical as to avoid arousing either the writer or the reader. In other words, sex should be treated as a bout of diarrhea – a disgusting business that should be glossed over as much as possible.

Wait a minute – what are we writing, people? These are romance novels. Like it or not, the core of a romance is the formation of a profound emotional and sexual relationship between a man and a woman.

Sex, particularly sex between two people who are falling in love, is a profoundly powerful experience. In the act of making love, the characters express to one another and to us what their feelings are at that particular time. Stripping a scene like that of any hint of true sexual heat is the equivalent of having your hero and villain have their climatic fight off-camera.
Any act which is important to the characters and the plot arc needs to be shown on camera at its maximum impact. That includes the sex. Otherwise, you’re cheating the readers, the characters, and yourself.

Women read romance because they want to experience what it’s like to love this magnificent hero, and be loved by him. As a writer, I spend an great deal of effort setting him up in all his beauty and heroism, and detailing his journey to love with the woman of his dreams.

Yet I’m supposed to shortchange the ultimate physical expression of that journey because it’s somehow dirty? I don’t think so.

The standard argument for censoring sexual content is to protect children. But romances are in no way marketed or intended for children, and children do not read them. True, teenage girls have been known to get their hands on them, which is why we need to write sexually responsible characters. But it’s safe to say the vast majority of our readers are over 21.

Thus, there is no good reason to censor our work, other than the belief that "good" girls don’t like sex, and that if we write hot sex well, we are somehow "bad" girls. Well, I am not a girl of any kind. My primary responsibility is to my characters and the reader who plunks down her $7.50 for my book. My mother, my family members and any easily scandalized neighbors will have to fend for themselves.

If you don’t care to write sexual content for religious reasons, I respect that. If you are not comfortable writing sexual content because you are shy, that’s fine too. But if you do write sex scenes, don’t blast me because I don’t choose to hold back.

And given the current market, you might want to rethink whether holding back is a good move, either artistically or from a commercial standpoint.

For me personally, writing erotic romance has paid off handsomely. My new book, MASTER OF THE MOON is in its second week on the USA Today bestseller, list, having jumped 19 spaces from 87 to 68.

Angela Knight