The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance or erotica or popular novels about love and marriage. 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.
….The books not only covered blissful sex but also described a whole range of intimate moments, from the awkward to the funny to the very bad, including rape of both the stranger and intimate-partner variety. Beyond the dirty bits, the books I read described the moments before and after the main event, the stuff you don’t see in mainstream movies, where zippers don’t get stuck and teeth don’t bump when you’re kissing; the stuff you don’t see in porn, where almost no time elapses between the repair guy’s arrival and the start of activities that do not involve the clogged kitchen sink.
Sex might be easy, but relationships are hard. And a 400-page novel can teach you more about them than any X-rated clip. Fiction has time to draw a deeper picture, covering the getting-to-know-you stuff, the starts, and stops and circling back that take boy and girl from the first date to first kiss to the moment where they’re both naked and hopefully into what’s going to happen next.
“Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship,” said Bea Koch, the 28-year-old co-owner (with her 25-year-old sister, Leah) of the Ripped Bodice, a bookstore in Culver City, Calif., that exclusively sells romance titles. “They highlight conversations about consent, birth control and myriad other topics that people generally find difficult to talk about. In some instances, it can be a literal script for how to bring up difficult topics with a partner. They give a road map to people wanting to experiment with their sexuality, or even just get in touch with what they want and need in a sexual relationship.”
When did you first learn about sex?
For me, it was through my mom’s tenant who rented the unit above the servants’ quarters. Her window was right across my window and every time her boyfriend, a married man whose daughter was in my class, came over, my brother and I were regaled by the sound effects of their trysts.
But sound effects don’t give one a full look at sex education other than one can really be noisy… and I guess it was good? But my aunt did take me aside when I was about fourteen or fifteen and said, “Virginity is like a bubble. One prick and it’s gone.”
It would take me a few years to figure that one out and say, “ohhhh! I get it!”
Reading Harold Robbins’ The Adventurers and The Pirate didn’t help matters. They were far from romance at all but I did learn that apparently, cocaine had interesting effects in one’s private parts.
But there was hope for me yet.
At sixteen, a local magazine serialized Johanna Lindsey’s Captive Bride and A Pirate’s Love and I was hooked. I would take the jeepney all the way downtown to get the copies of Women’s, Woman Today and a third weekly magazine I can’t remember the title now. My mom would have me buy them from the local newsstand that would have all the magazines and newspapers laid out and I’d start reading each chapter while on the jeepney headed home. Not even my wallet getting picked one weekend would prevent me from going back to get the next issue.
Romance novels, I realized then, were definitely different from the other books I’d read before. And unconsciously, in addition to Rosemary Rogers and Diana Gabaldon years later, the genre would dictate what I would eventually write and publish. I wouldn’t learn about the other aspects of sex like power exchanges until much later but I guess with me, like everything else, it’s a gradual thing.
What about you? When did you first learn about sex?