Monday, April 03, 2006

Romance novels: All sex, all the time?

Yesterday's Romancing the Blog post by Nell Dixon began this way:

Fashions in romance, much like fashions in everything come and go. At the moment it seems that romantica, erotica and the spicier forms of romance are the flavour of the moment. I have many good friends who write and sell spicy romance, and I know many who enjoy reading it.

I cater for a different market, I write and read sweet romance. Most of my stories stop at the bedroom door. This is a readership that rarely gets media attention these days, yet this is the core of romance....

She concludes:

So what do you think? Is sweet romance being trampled in the rush for hotter stories that push more and more boundaries?

This post interested me because it suggests what many of my romance-reading friends have feared for some time: that the genre is headed toward a single channel that will broadcast all sex, all the time.

I'm not worried.

Listen, sex is great. But as a person who believes God meant it to be (enthusiastically!) enjoyed only within the context of marriage, it's difficult for me to root for a couple who is only casually acquainted when they hop into bed together. Also, I'm no voyeur. Even if my next-door neighbors are married, I don't want to know if they're making out in their hot tub; neither do I care to "watch" the same thing in a romance novel.

Believe me, the couples in my own romance novels are now happily married and having the time of their lives when they get naked together. But my stories aren't about marriage and sex. They're about getting there; that is, falling in love.

I write "Christian" romance novels, but I suspect that even writers of the secular "sweet" romances hear the same thing from readers: I am so tired of reading steamy books. Thank you for writing love stories I don't have to be embarrassed about reading.

Not everyone believes as I do, and that's why we have all kinds of romance novels. The spicy ones have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years, but anyone who assumes erotic stories are going to corner the market on romance simply hasn't been paying attention to the huge and still rapidly growing market of inspirational romance. (I have no knowledge of the markets for the other "sweet" romances.) According to a recent RWA survey, a whopping 31% of all romance readers enjoy inspirational romance, which is strictly a "no sex" subgenre. Erotic romance isn't a distinct subgenre, so RWA provides no figures on the romance readers who enjoy spicy stories. But clearly, even if we look only at the inspirational books and not the other sweet romance lines (Harlequin Romance and Signet Regencies, for example), there are an awful lot of readers out there who don't believe couples should have to test their sexual compatibility before joyfully committing themselves to each other for life.

If you're an individual who doesn't want to read about sex in a romance novel, there are still plenty of alternatives out there.


Praying for your Prodigal said...

You go girl! A romantic evening to me....these days..the kids tucked safely away in their rooms, hubby laying down on the bed with me...the remote in his hand...and he says..."You wanna do it-or should I!"...meaning...wanna surf the channels! Ah--peace, quiet, uninterupted adult time!

Can't beat it!


Nell Dixon said...

Hi Brenda, glad you enjoyed my post. It seems to have sparked an interesting debate.

Brenda Coulter said...

Nell, thanks for stopping by.

Uh, Diane, I was going to say that a TV in the bedroom isn't exactly conducive to romance. But then I remembered that there's rarely anything good on TV, so....


Bonnie Calhoun said...

I was never interested in romance novels until I read Brenda's...and those are the only ones I care to there! LOL

But as for an opinion on the rampant sex things in books these days....TOO MUCH INFORMATION!!!LOL

Not only hasn't anyone invented a new way to do it, but I don't want to hear about the ones that can do the old stuff BETTER than me!!!!

Thanks for the visit, Brenda!!!

I've been so busy with singing practice for my solos and Easter...that I've barely had time to post the little dittys that I prepared in advance, let alone visit...Goodness gracious...I'm really hooked on this blogging thing! I've really felt like I was missing out!

pacatrue said...

I haven't read the original post yet, only your synopsis of it, I think we do have to be careful of drawing too firm a line between stories with sex and stories that are sweet. I am well aware that for lots of people sex is about being naughty and pushing boundaries. Of course, it is also, for many people, a way of expressing feelings - either of great depth or a simple pleasure. Either way sex can be the sweetest, most tender thing imaginable, and yet be fully present, i.e., detailed, and exciting. Sex is sweet too.

Brenda Coulter said...

I think we do have to be careful of drawing too firm a line between stories with sex and stories that are sweet....Sex is sweet, too.

Pacatrue, "sweet romance" is a distinct subgenre of romance novels. They are traditional love stories, either historical or contemporary, in which the characters are never depicted making love. Any other kind of romance--paranormal, historical, suspenseful, etc.--might contain varying degrees of heat, from kissing to explicit depictions of every kind of sex act. When we talk about "erotic romance," we might be referring to any or to all subgenres except sweet romance and Christian romance, neither of which ever contain anything beyond kissing.

Clear as mud, right?

I was never interested in romance novels until I read Brenda's...

Bonnie, I didn't realize that. I'm honored to have been the one who convinced you to take the plunge!

Gina Burgess said...

When I was growing up I spent my entire allowance on books. I never found erotica in any book (I chose all kinds from romance to action adventure to mystery to gothic) Then along about the mid-70's to mid-90's romance hit the porno level. I tossed all those erotica books, turned over a new leaf and suddenly I find more books without erotica than with.

My conclusion is that you get what you look for...

Mom Nancy said...

I write inspirational and wholesome fantasy novels, but I read a lot of different things. I have yet to buy a book that I know is erotica (I got a free copy of a book from Ellora's Cave at a conference), but some of the books I do have can be pretty "open." I tend to skip or skim those parts and have never missed any of the story.

I hear lots of writers say they write those books, but I don't hear a lot of people saying they read them. Someone is buying them, but lots of people tell me they want to read "clean" books.

Alessia Brio said...

From the other side of the coin, I totally agree with you! I know of no writers of erotic romance who aspire to "corner the market" in the romance genre. Just as romance writers are routinely snubbed by the broader writing community as not "real writers," we writers of the erotic continually struggle to find a niche where we truly fit (and are welcome). In my opinion, as I commented on RTB, the erotic belongs in every genre.

I'm all for readers having a broad selection, and I'm all for writers doing what they do best.

Peace & Passion,

~ Alessia

Brenda Coulter said...

Gina, Nancy, and Alessia, for some reason, I just now saw your posts. Thanks for commenting.