NEWS FLASH! We romance writers have been vindicated. According to none other than the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times: “Romance Novels Are The Best Sex-Ed”
Seriously, this is news. The January 21, Sunday New York Times featured a sensational article by contributing opinion writer Jennifer Weiner titled: “We Need Bodice-Ripping Sex Ed.” In a clever, insightful article Weiner claims that she got a smidgen of information about sex from her well-meaning parents. Another sliver came from junior high sex ed classes that named body parts and detailed all the bad things that can happen to you if you have sex. (Think hideous diseases and of course, the ultimate curse, pregnancy.) Fortunately for Weiner, like a lot of us, she was a reader. And what did she read? Yep, you guessed it: Romance novels.
Weiner throws a bone to the likely readers of the NYT when she concedes: “The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance, erotica or popular novels about love and marriage.” She adds, “Romance novels come in for an extra helping of scorn. Critics sneer that they’re all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, unrealistic, poorly written and politically incorrect.”
Not so, says Weiner. In the central theme of the article, she insists as an information-hungry teenager the romance novels she read, “for all their soft core covers and happily-ever-afters, were quietly and not so quietly subversive. They taught readers that sexual pleasure was something women could not just hope for but insist upon. They shaped my interactions with boys and men. They helped make me a feminist.”
WOW! True vindication for those of us as teenagers hid in the closet gobbling up everything from Gone With the Wind (You know the scene on the stairs when Rhett apparently has his way with a blushing Scarlet…) to Judith Krantz, to Erica Jong etc., etc. Without understanding that we were being “brainwashed”, we romance readers came to believe that female pleasure was a must, something that we should insist upon.
Weiner explains, “Because these books were written for and consumed by women, female pleasure was an essential part of every story. Villains were easy to spot: they were the ones who left a woman “burning and unsatisfied.” She cites “Shirley Conran’s “LACE” that features a heroine telling her feckless husband that she used an egg-timer to determine how long it took her to achieve orgasm on her own and that she’d be happy to teach him what to do.” Weiner adds with what I’m sure was a grin, ”At 14, I never looked at hard- boiled eggs the same way again.”
Weiner takes her argument in favor of romance novels into the political issue of the day, the #Me Too Movement. She quotes Bea Koch, the co-owner of the Ripped Bodice bookstore who says, “Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship….In some instances it can be a literal roadmap for how to bring up difficult topics with a partner. They give a roadmap to people wanting to experiment with their sexuality, or even get on touch with what they want and need in a sexual relationship.”
Are romance novels “just porn” as so many reviewers sniff? Given the rampant availability of porn, that is a worthwhile question to ask. One recent study found that “79 percent of men and 76 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 30 look at a pornographic website at least every month, another study says that three out of 10 men in that age group were daily viewers.” In contrast, those of us who read and write about a range of intimacy know that while “sex might be easy, relationships are hard.” Comparing romance novels to porn, Weiner says, “The book has the ability to paint a deeper picture. A 400 page novel can teach you more about relationships that any X-rated clip.”
In the current climate where so many people, men and women, are wrestling with crossed wires and mixed signals, Weiner concludes, “If we want men and women equally empowered to form real connection, to talk honestly and openly about who they are and what they want, there are worse places to start than curling up with a good book.”
P.S. If you like your Bodice Ripper books with no holds barred, check out: JUDE: The Justice Brothers Series. Trust me.These guys and gals don’t need egg-timers.
Available from Amazon