At Lady Smut today we had a guest post by Jill Sorenson which focused on sex workers as heroines in romance fiction. My mind is exploding with responses to this fascinating topic.
First of all, someone in the comments sections said: don’t sex workers deserve an HEA too?
*Of course* they do! Yet as Clint Eastwood said in UNFORGIVEN: “It ain’t about deserving.”
A great romance is about more than just a happy ending. THEORY: a great romance is about the specialness that a couple (or threesome) finds in each other, and the intimate connections they discover and build upon, until their love is strong and enduring.
Years ago, I got a final ‘no’ from a big publisher after getting close to a ‘yes’ with the editor. Those crushing moments are always really motivating for me. I realized I didn’t know what the f*** I was doing when it came to writing erom. My husband suggested get my heiny down to a bookstore and start doing research. I ended up getting an armful of erotic romances and THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE. Here was the first thing I learned:
A) Reader’s don’t like promiscuous heroines.
B) It’s okay if a heroine has been sleeping around BEFORE she meets the hero, as long as she’s miserable. But AFTER she meets him no more nookie with other men.
And–the same rules apply with the hero (or heroes as the case may be).
At first I was huffing with disapproval. It seemed an un-feminist attitude at the least. And they didn’t discuss WHY — they just said, ‘hey readers don’t like it, so boom!’
Not everybody read this book, of course. You can find TONS of erotic romances out there that breaks these rules. Yet I soon learned that when a book breaks this rule and has a promiscuous heroine I don’t like her.
I’m not talking erotica, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. I’m talking romance.
On the other hand, I don’t like promiscuous heroes either. If anything, I’ve been jonesing lately on Charlotte Stein’s sexually repressed heroes. She paints a portrait of the nice guy who needs the dirty talking girl to strip the nice off of him, and let his inner, filthy, lustful desires come whiffling out. A virgin guy, a near virgin guy, a nice guy–I like ’em all!
The man-whore who sleeps all around and up and down? Him? Not so much.
Yet in the end I think it has little to do with a lack of feminism, little to do with ‘well, that’s just people’s preference, what can you do?’ and much more to do with the building blocks of romance.
It goes back to that special and intimate ideal.
A woman happily sleeping with a lot of guys and then after she’s met the hero sleeping with a lot more? Where’s the special in that?
There’s a word scientists use — fungible. That means exchangeable. Replaceable. When the heroine is sleeping around–it doesn’t mean she’s a slut. Maybe she’s a free spirit, ya? But it probably means the hero is fungible to her.
But we don’t like being considered fungible as humans. We want to believe we’re unique and irreplaceable.
On the other hand, if a hero or a heroine has slept around trying to scratch that itch, whether physically or mentally –but no one does it for them? Then suddenly THE ONE comes along–THAT’S special. THAT works. That person is giving them what no one else could, and it makes that person unique.
Same goes with intimacy. When I read a book where the hero and heroine have boinked, you know, the whole world, or had five spouses between them, etc, it’s hard for the author to establish intimacy through sex. Why? Well, they’ve been there, done that. What are they saying that they haven’t said before?
Okay, so what’s an author to do about this? I say what if the hero or heroine was still sleeping around, but there was some OTHER way in which H/h were special to each other? Some other form of intimacy that they bonded over?
You could show it in other ways. Soldiering together could do it. Hurting/caring for each other is a stable trope in fan fic, and it’s divine. I think that would work. Whatever — just as long as the erotic romance authors who violate the promiscuity ‘rule’ makes sure to nail down that special and intimate thing between the two of them in some other way.
These ‘friends’ are learning to view each other as unique. They are having special intimate moments no one else can share. They are building a powerful bond–even without sex.
THAT’s what romance is all about, in my book.
There was this great moment in the movie HER where the main character is in love with an A.I. (an artificial intelligence operating system) named Samantha. They can’t have sex, they can’t physically be together, but it’s okay ’cause they’re in love, and they’re emotionally intimate with each other. Until…
*SPOILER ALERT* Samantha reveals that she’s in love with, oh, 641 other people as well as him. Ptank goes his heart. Not so special or unique is he? They’re intimate–but she’s intimate with many, many, many others as well. He’s not so special after all.
SO. Bring on your sex worker heroines. If she’s forced to do it (like in some Skye Warren books) then it de-facto makes all the men she’s sleeping with un-special and all the sex not intimate. So that’s not really promiscuity, is it? It satisfies the miserable with others rule.
If she is gonna boink others cause that’s how she makes bank — then sex isn’t special to her and they’ll have something else they do with just the two of them together, in private. Something that matters to them both. Something that makes them very close to each other – so close that they’ll never be able go back to just being lovers or just friends.
Then you’ve got a romance cooking, mah friends, and I’d read that puppy, no problem.
I wince a little, because you may not have an erotic romance at this point — unless the sex they have together is radically different and special (or so satisfyingly kinky) compared to the sex she has with other people.
But I mean, it’d have to be different to the point where the sex she’s having with others doesn’t even seem like sex by comparison, like it might as well be fly fishing or something.
Yet I think it can work. In the same way we like the repressed male stripped of his repressive covering, we like the shut-down-miserable-worm heroine who has numbed herself out and removed her mind elsewhere to feel herself suddenly respond, suddenly come alive. We want to see her helplessly reveal herself–her passions, her intimate desires to someone. You CAN do it, I believe, but you just have to do it the right way.
Source: The Hawt Men From U.N.C.L.E.
Yes, the obsession continues — click link to read all about Armie Hammer’s movies and all about how Charlotte Stein used his movie roles to inspire her most awesome work! Source: Getting Hammered With Charlotte Stein
Originally posted on Lady Smut:
Our guest today is Leah St. James. Leah, a long time romance buddy of mine, is just the sweetest friend. By day she works in a news room, by night she’s an indie author and head of her own publishing company. As a valued member of our romance community, she’s organized romance panels at various book festivals around Virginia. Welcome to Lady Smut Leah!
LEAH ST. JAMES: Thanks so much for hosting me on Lady Smut! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for several years, and I’m excited to share a little about my stories with you.
MADELINE IVA: Tell us about SURRENDER TO SANCTUARY.
LEAH ST. JAMES: SURRENDER TO SANCTUARY is a romantic suspense about two FBI agents assigned to solve the murder of a young…
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A quick note — Over at Lady Smut, Alexa Day posts her blogs on Sundays. My responses to her posts are often the length of full blog posts, because she puts these really great profound topics out there, and there’s just so much to say in response. So, f*** it, I’m just gonna start posting my responses here. Why not, right?
Okay, so this week Alexa Day posted on
In which she advocates for them, and bewails America having issues with a single woman who only wants to get it on, yo.
Yeah, I agree with her, a single woman who’s got the itch to boink and wants a one night stand should be able to do so, and walk away without taking a hit from society. I also agree that the neurotic complex America has around women and one night hook ups is multi-layered and profound. Here are FOUR REASONS WHY society shakes it’s heads over women and one night stands:
#1 WOMEN WHO BOINK UNDER FALSE PRETENSES CAUSE THEY REALLY WANT MORE:
Some women don’t really want a one night stand–they want more of a connection with a guy but they’ll boink right off the bat simply to get his time and attention. This I’ll-take-what-I-can-get-and-hope-for-the-best happens perhaps out of loneliness, or perhaps on the oft-deluded hopes that the sex will be so ravingly wonderful the guy WILL call them the next week, etc. So when their secret hopes are disappointed, then chagrin, upset, and scorned-fury follows. Men sometimes experience this too. At any rate, I think some tsk-tsking over one night stands is due to feeling that some (most) women are setting themselves up to be hurt, to get the short end of the stick, etc. It’s a protective response.
Men and women like this should just stay away from the one night stand world–clearing the field as it were.
QUESTION: is it the man’s or woman’s ethical responsibility to appropriately vet partners and avoid the women/men above who deep down — or not so deep down are expecting/wanting more? The real conundrum is this: would the vetting time it takes to ethically clear someone take longer than one night, thus defeating the purpose of a one night stand?
At any rate, a lot of guys and some women know they’re gonna get burned with the false pretenses kind of one night stand partner mentioned above, and yet they never learn. Sigh.
#2 SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT MORE, BUT THE BOINKING STILL ISN’T ABOUT SEX
Then there are women and men out there having one night sex for other reasons. Competitiveness is one I think. The younger generation often wants to show she’s bad-ass. She wants to show that she can f*** just like the guys do. That she can f*** just like her girlfriends and earn her equal bragging rights. She wants to show she’s not all talk and no action, so she sucks it up and puts it out there. But that doesn’t mean she’s getting off, and come Monday even though she’s bragging she’s not cringing a little on the inside. I’m not saying all women go through this, but I’d bet at least 25% do. Guys too. The worst of the worst is having to have sex with someone because your wing-girl/guy has dragged you along, and you’re stuck at someone’s house over night in someone’s bed, and there are expectations on the part of three other people that you’re going to put out and you cave rather than make a fuss for everyone. This makes me cringe.
Alexa would greatly benefit by all these women just clearing the field. Another problem Alexa mentioned is safety. But there’s a problem for one-night-standers that lies somewhere between the perfect one night stand experience and escaping a serial killer. I’m talking the skeeze-ball in hiding.
#3 THE PROBLEM OF MR. SKEEZE:
You connect with a handsome guy over pricey drinks –a single doctor no less, and a liberal, animal-loving, beemer-driving stud. But the next morning you wake up in bed with a married, part-time car salesman,who doesn’t remember your name much less what political party he said he voted for last night, and asks you to crawl out the door past all his hunting trophies before his wife comes home with the kids from visiting her folks. Next week you get a call from him next week because he’s got an STD and passed it on to you. Yes, I’m talking the Mr. Cringe. Some of us are more sensitive to Mr. Cringe than others. Some no doubt, see Mr. Cringe as merely the price of doing business.
#4 YOU DRANK THE ROMANCE COOL-AID:
Finally — I myself just never reached that place of sexual sophistication, maturity, and self-sufficiency until looooooong after I was in a committed relationship to handle anything like a one night stand. I mean, some people–like me–just can’t handle it. We’ll walk away feeling empty.
On top of that, I’ve yet to be able to contemplate physically wanting a guy to the point where I didn’t care what he was like on the inside. Fantasizing about a guy’s outsides is one thing, actually rubbing my sensitive bits against him when I don’t know what’s going on behind those eyes is another. I’m too over-sensitive and overly vulnerable to handle it. (Which is not to say that people who have one night stands aren’t sensitive and vulnerable. Just not in this way.)
Nor have I ever reached a place where I don’t care that a guy doesn’t care what I’m like on the inside. Back when I was available I had a perception problem. I felt like I was SO different on the inside from what I looked like on the outside, that a guy being attracted to me based on my looks just left me cold.
Now I see that sometimes people can be cool and humane with each other and boink just for boinking’s sake and that’s enough. But ultimately, I’ve always been challenged with simple interactions like that.
I’ll admit that I’ve drunk the romance cool-aid, ladies and gents.
I’ve been talking about Anne Calhoun’s LIBERATING LACEY here lately — which folds right into this discussion. In this book, Lacey, goes out to have a one night stand and boy does she ever — with a younger guy who’s a cop. But she wishes it would go on, and it does! Then she wishes it would go even further–and it does! Then she hits that point where she realizes that a) she’s never going to be able to have another one night stand–clearly she’s the kind that needs attachment to go through with sex and b) she worries that if the relationship doesn’t continue to grow and deepen, she’ll get really badly hurt.
Not to fear — because this is a romance fantasy and this guy wouldn’t begin to dream of letting her go. LURV IT! The book’s resounding popularity speaks to the fantasy I mentioned above–where the guy who has a one night stand with you and just can’t quit you cause the sex is so hot. The book’s success shows this fantasy is alive and well throughout the heartland. The more people realize this IS a fantasy and act accordingly in their best interests, the better.