While in the process of releasing The first book of the Rakes and Roses series, I have been pondering this question of what my line is. There are a lot of lines in the Romance genre overall, such as sub-genre lines, readership, paper versus electronic, traditional or self-publishing…The list goes on. But I’m talking about moral lines.
Not a lot of romance authors like to talk about the gray world in which we write, but it’s a prominent issue that is everywhere if you are a prolific reader of romance like I am. Where is the line when it comes to sexual content in a romance novel? There are books that barely describe a single kiss, and then there are books with entire chapters describing sexual intercourse between characters. Either way, you can tell where the author has decided their “line” is based on the content they choose to include or exclude.
Now I’m positive that many authors don’t have any sort of moral dilemma when it comes to content, whether because they choose not to skirt the line at all or they have a world view that doesn’t see any lines at all.
I wish I was one of those.
It would make this all so much easier. But I’m not. I wrestle with this every day.
One of my friends recently espoused the view that romance novels are simply dressed up pornography, and I can understand that point of view to some extent, especially with reference to the erotica genre. However, here is why I am opposed to that opinion, having read many a romance novel and now having written them as well:
If you exclude the erotica genre, which is actually a different genre altogether and shouldn’t be lumped in with romantic fiction, then the romance genre doesn’t fit the definition of pornography at all. For one thing, the intention of romantic fiction is to tell a love story, not a sex story. Within love stories, there is (realistically) some physical attraction and exploration of that attraction. Even for most conservative people out there, physical intimacy on some level was a part of the courting or dating process. Therefore, to expect all descriptions of physical interaction and attraction to be completely left out of fictional love stories would be both unrealistic and unfair to the beauty that is romance.
Another reason I believe the romance genre should not be categorized as porn is due to the ratio of sexual description to other content. Romance novels usually have somewhere between 5-20% of their content as descriptions of sexual contact. And this content ranges from a simple touching of hands to actual intercourse, so much of it may not even “count” in some people’s books (pun intended). My point is, if a romance novel averages 15% sexual content, then that is little reason to count the intention of the genre as sexual in nature.
Speaking of intentions, let’s be real for a minute. The intention of porn is to invoke sexual responses in the watcher or, in this case, reader. I will admit that some scenes in romance novels do the same. But there is a huge difference between the two being that one is intended to bring someone to sexual release, while the other has no such intention and has included such descriptions for multiple other reasons. Character and plot development, as well as intimacy issues, are addressed in these scenes, none of which would be addressed in porn. These books are actually intended to help people understand intimacy and the issues that can arise in this area of relationships. I know that I have learned about lots of relational issues from romance novels, many of which stem from intimacy issues. The effect these novels have on the relationships of the people who read them cannot be discounted. With porn, numerous studies have shown the detrimental results of regular usage on relationships and marriages. Romance novels, on the other hand, do not develop these same issues in their readership.
Another consideration is the reality of people’s involvement in porn versus romance novels. Romance novels do not involve showing real people having intercourse. They do not develop unrealistic body and sex expectations. On the contrary, most romance novels contain very flawed people who don’t always feel like having sex! I can remember various times when reading a novel thinking, “Oh, maybe that’s why…” or “Finally! Someone with a stutter being taken seriously in the bedroom!” I mean, aren’t we all flawed and in need of reminding that everyone deserves to be caught up in romance?
If we’re being honest, then the same factors that make romance novels porn should also make cinematic romantic comedies and other romantic movies pornographic. They show kissing, touching, and even more in most cases. Yet most conservatives don’t have issues with this format and applaud it as a love story. In my opinion, the misconception in the differences lies in the ignorance of those who haven’t read much, if any, romance at all. If they did, they would probably come to the conclusion that they are very much alike in their intention and presentation.
When attraction and admiration lead to love and marriage, it is quite satisfying and exciting to experience that journey in all of its facets, including the physical. If you’ve ever been in love, you understand what to what I’m referring. That spark that happens when you meet your soulmate shouldn’t be shameful- it should be celebrated and reverently described as part of a genuinely healthy and deep relational development. Even the Biblical Book Song of Solomon has a myriad of beautiful descriptions of sexual attraction. The Bible, widely considered the most conservative text in history, addresses sexual immorality as anything that causes a person to look outside of marriage for sexual gratification, more specifically to look for that in another person. Personally, and from many conversations with romance readers, it is obvious that romance novels do not cause people to go hunting for affairs or casual sex- quite the opposite. Most romance novels address sex as something that should only be done within the bounds of a marriage or marital intended relationship. In fact, casual liaisons are actively discouraged and exposed as the shallow and damaging things they are in such novels. Love, commitment, and keeping one’s marriage intact is emphasized throughout the romance genre.
So that leaves me with the question: Where is my line?
How much intimacy should be shown in a novel? For me, I am torn. On the one hand, I don’t believe that it’s advisable to be reading about intimate encounters that are purely for titillation. But on the other, I enjoy reading about and describing the wonderful feelings that people have when they are attracted to each other and are falling in love. I believe the difference lies in the intentions of the description and the effect it has on people. If the description causes the reader to want something unrealistic or sexually immoral, then it shouldn’t be included. If, however, it causes that swell of giddiness and excitement at experiencing two people struggling to figure out love in all its manifestations, then I believe physical intimacy within the romance genre should be anticipated with the purity it deserves and appreciated for the beauty that lies within such interactions.
So where is my line?
My line is the line that leads to long-lasting love and commitment. If my characters have to find their way to that state with some steamy interactions just like in real life, so be it!
I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue as well! You are welcome to leave comments below.
Happy Reading, Friends! – Win