Monday, April 30, 2007

Sex in Fiction

I'm writing mostly fantasy now, but it's romantic fantasy, and it could as easily go the other way, to fantasy/paranormal romance. I got my start in romance, writing Harlequin/ Silhouette/ Mills & Boon series books. Those of you who've read the Rose books know they have sex in them. I don't think I've written anything without it--I know I haven't published anything without it. Some of the books I've written have more than others. I was surprised when I got through New Blood and only had one sex scene in it--but that's because of who my characters are. They have issues. A lot more issues than Kallista and her crew ever had.

I've found it interesting that most of the male-written fiction has a lot less sex in it than that written by females, despite the stereotype of the sex-crazed male, and the ones that have sex tend to do more "closing the bedroom door" than female authors. And while I haven't done any real statistically significant studies (which seem to me to be impossible anyway, since quality of writing is a pretty subjective thing), most male writers don't seem to write sex scenes as well as women writers. There are some who do. And most of them write romance. (Harold Lowry, who writes as Leigh Greenwood, and K.N. Casper are two good ones.)

I'm heading in a round-about way for my point. In a rather scholarly discussion of the romance genre begun by a Princeton University class in "American Best Sellers" on Romance by the Blog a couple of weeks ago, someone asked about romance and porn and the difference between them. And some of the respondents got into a discussion about whether romance gets labeled as porn because it is, at least in part, about women's sexuality, which can be threatening to some people. One of the respondents (Robin) had this to say:

IMO the vast majority of women are conflicted *in some way* about our sexuality. I don't know how much of this is a function of patriarchal assumptions about gender roles and how much of it is some kind of policing mechanism among women that is only *partially* informed by patriarchy (at what point do we take responsibility for our own agency as women?!), but I think the ambivalence emerges within Romance fiction ... and I'd even go so far as to say that much of what shows up in Romance is some effort to grapple with this ambivalence, to put it out in the open and to work it out somehow.


I quoted this, because I couldn't say it better myself. I do think a lot of the "policing" in romance fiction--and in other fiction by women--is done by women.

My Rose books are out of the mainstream when it comes to the relationships between the characters. They've had some pretty harsh reader reviews at Amazon because of that. (I haven't read any of them since I saw the first one--why inflict them upon myself?) I won't say the reviews were all by women, because I don't know. But I'd wager most of them are. The men who've read my Rose books (guys tend to want more bashing and gore than most fantasy books have--though the Rose books have plenty of swordfights and such) have liked them. Still, given the current uproar in the romance-reading world over rape in romance, and the letters I've received on the sex in my books--all anecdotal evidence to be sure--I'd say that women are the quickest to react, and to condemn when a (female) writer steps outside the "zone" to explore these ambivalent areas that make us squirm.

I won't be buying or reading the "rape" book (You'll have to go elsewhere to find out what I'm referring to.) because it's not one of my fantasies. Nor will I be reading any more books in the Silhouette Desire series because the heroes have gone too close to that abusive edge for my comfort even though my first published books were Desires, and I have a lot of good friends still writing for them. I hate that I won't be able to support them any more, but I don't buy books I don't read, and I just can't read those books any more. I hate that editorial/ marketing decisions have transformed what was once one of my favorite lines into something I just can't handle. But this is a personal issue.

Just because I don't like very "alpha" heroes doesn't mean I think nobody should write them. Just because I don't care for submissive-female erotica doesn't mean I think they should be banned. Obviously more women prefer that sort of erotica than the other way round, because several of the erotica publishers won't even look at stories with dominant women. And if someone wants to write rape-fantasy stories, I'm not going to say she shouldn't. I'm not going to buy them, because I don't like that kind of story, but I don't like really scary romantic suspense either, and that's certainly not going away.

I guess my point is exactly like the points made by lots of other people. If you don't like whatever sexual episode might be in a story, don't read it. If you do, and if you decide to post a review about it, try to be cogent in your reasons for disliking the story. But under the fiction umbrella--whether it be romance, fantasy, mystery or literary--an author should feel free to write about whatever kind of sex he/she wants to write. It's a way to explore part of what makes us human, and the mixed-up feelings that go along with something so important.

2 comments:

meardaba said...

I couldn't agree more, thank you for articulating what I've been wanting to say for days.

Anonymous said...

I think that was well said. *shrugs* Personally, I happen to like your Rose books and will continue buying them as long as you write them. I'm kind of apprehensive because this next one says one of the chosen die. I think that's going to be a very depressing moment but I'm also curious to find out who as well. ^.^V

Carol D. aka Shadowfox13
Shadowfox13@comcast.net

P.S. Then again, I like unique fiction and I happen to like alternative romance such as ones including the Poly scene (i.e. Triads that are trinogamous or quads, etc)