LESSONS IN SEX AND ROMANCE
“Love is the strongest and the most fragile thing that we have in life.” Vanessa Paradis
Do you read romance novels? Erotic romances? I do.
I confess: I was a snob. Until recently, I had long looked down my nose at the romance novel genre and when I found some great authors I was pleasantly surprised.
Stories written by women for women can be smart and sexy and well written?! Why should this be a surprise? As for any genre, be it noir thrillers or mysteries or romances, you can find excellent, good, and crappy writing. Superficial smut, fun funny fluff, strange sci-fi erotic romances as well as deeply satisfying novels whose characters stay with you long after you read the last page.
The best of these novels give me insight into the human heart – and sexuality! Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.
LESSON # 1: LOVE IS BIGGER THAN ROMANCE.
Romance novels and stories reflect what’s important to women.
In her book Vagina, Naomi Wolf writes:
<<Women indeed take love, sex, and intimacy seriously, not because women, intimacy, and Eros are trivial but because (…) the need for connection, love, intimacy and Eros is indeed bigger and stronger than anything else in the world. A culture that does not respect women tends to deride and mock women’s preoccupation with love and Eros. (…) Should we not, rather, be proud of who we are? We should be proud.>>
Love is far greater than romance and sex, it’s also about friendship, family, community, connection, self-love and making a life for oneself, with a partner. Love is about life!
I read Madly, by award-winning writer Ruthie Knox, in the plane back from Paris recently, shaking in my seat with silent belly laughs, squirming and blushing too! I reread it again a few days ago. Madly touches on many themes related to being a woman in the world today and how others see us, but the main theme, of course, is love.
The author explores not only the love that is expressed in a sexual romantic relationship, but also the love between sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, and between brothers. She examines what the hero and heroine learned from the failure of their past marriage and almost-marriage. Ruthie Knox deftly delves into what vulnerability means to relationships.
LESSON # 2 LOVE IS ABOUT VULNERABILITY, & WE’RE TERRIFIED OF IT.
Love makes us vulnerable, because the only way to be truly known is to be vulnerable. Opening ourselves to be truly seen, warts and all, is terrifying.
When we sexually and emotionally open ourselves to another, we can be wounded. We fear the pain of rejection. We fear hurt and heartbreak and loss. We deeply desire being seen and loved for who we are, and yet we fear it, because we’re human. Imperfect. And so many of us feel unworthy of love.
Loving and being loved is scary. It’s a big risk, every time. Being vulnerable, choosing to open in love over closing down in fear is the only way to keep our relationships truly alive.
LESSON # 3 : SEX CAN CRACK YOU OPEN, IF YOU LET IT.
In many erotic romance novels, sexual moments are a path to greater intimacy. Great sex is about more than sating lust and fulfilling desire. Sometimes fear comes up, or overwhelming emotions. I loved Madly because, daring to be vulnerable, the heroine and hero experiment with a new sexual paradigm.
Together they redefine what they really want to experience through sex. Their shared moments of reinvention and exploration are touching, inspiring, and very sexy.
To be vulnerable, open, out of our armors, is to be deeply alive. Sex and vulnerability can crack us open into a much deeper connection with ourselves and our partners.
LESSON #4: LOVE IS UNPREDICTABLE.
The romance novels I prefer do not have perfect, happily-ever-after, “let’s get married next week” endings but more like hopeful, happy-for-now-and-the-future-looks-promising endings.
Romantic relationships involve transformation. The unpredictable. The unexpected. The best novels gently subvert the expectations of the genre, to reflect the complexities of relationships and all of life’s uncertainty and beauty.
The best romances contain imperfect yet lovable characters who feel like real people and contain hot, emotional sex scenes that also feel true.
They teach me about love. And about sex, of course!
Here are some of my favorite authors of contemporary and erotic romances. You might want to take a plunge into their worlds:
Ruthie Knox (Truly, Madly)
Ainsley Paton (Grease Monkey Jive)
Cara McKenna; (After Hours, Curio)
Charlotte Stein (Doubled, Curveball: Away we go)
Roni Loren (Call on Me)
Penny Reid (Neanderthal seeks Human)
Also Christina Lauren, Megan Hart, Delphine Dryden (kink and sexy steampunk!), Alice Clayton (romantic comedy!), Jill Shalvis (Lucky Harbor contemporary romance series)…
And let us not forget the great Anaïs Nin!
I’d love to hear from you – let me know if you fall in love with some of these novels, authors or characters!