I wrote this short ‘splosion-on-a-page about the appeal of polyamorous romances and group sex for Romancing the Blog a while back, and I find it immensely flattering that they will occasionally re-post it as part of their “Best Of” series. The responses to this article seem to fall into one of several different categories:
1. OMG YES WOO DAMN HOT
2. It all depends on the author.
3. Not for me, but vive la difference!
4. Cheating is not romantic, and I don’t want to read about infidelity in my romances.
5. It’s neither romantic nor sexy because it’s immoral/pornographic.
6. It’s neither romantic nor sexy because it’s too unrealistic/the dynamics make my head hurt.
Responses number 4 and 5 I find somewhat…well, puzzling is not the right word, but it’s the closest I can come up with right now. (Hey, I misspelled “challenge” just a few days ago, and just last night said “national” when I meant “natural,” so cut me some slack right now, OK? Brain faculties still not operating at 100%. Or even 75%.) Response number 4 is just plain misses the point, in my opinion—infidelity by definition involves lying and breaking one’s promise to be faithful, whereas consensual group sex and polyamory involves the informed consent of all parties. Two entirely different things, though I can see how many people still wouldn’t view group love as either sexy or romantic.
Answer number 5 bothers me quite a bit in a myriad of different ways, and it’s related to a rant I’d written months ago about the definition of romance. It has to do with the way people identify something they don’t like and attach a myriad of other judgments to this distaste. Instead of saying “This grosses me out,” the conclusion they reach is, “This grosses me out, therefore it’s wrong and doesn’t belong in romance novels.”
In short, it bothers me when people seem to automatically judge something they find kind of squicky as immoral.
Now, obviously there’s some overlap in terms of squick and immorality. Pedophilia and bestiality are probably the two clearest examples of sex acts that are both squick + immoral. But that’s because when it comes to sexual immorality, my gold standard is “Was informed consent provided?” If all parties are adults and able to provide informed consent, I don’t think of it as immoral, even if the practices push hard against my squick barrier. Anal fisting, for example, makes me go “BLEEUUUURRRGH,” and I’d be able to point out some of the more obvious health risks involved when engaged in such sexual practices, but I don’t think it’s immoral, and hey, if it turns somebody’s crank, then bully for them; may their bucket of Astroglide never run dry and may the colorectal prolapse be averted.
However, it’s a very human impulse to view sexual practices that deviate from the norm (whatever the fuck that norm may happen to be) as immoral and wrong. Centuries, hell, millennia of effort have been poured into delineating what’s acceptable and not acceptable sexual practice in cultures all over the world. Sex is a scary force, it seems, and regulating it has been of tantamount interest for a very long time, despite its ultimate futility—let’s face it, you can tell people teh buttsecks is wrong to engage in all you like, but once the doors are closed, there’s no telling how that ass be tapped, and you can bet on the fact that if something feels good, people will always find a way to sneak around proscriptions. The persistence behind sexual mores puzzles me somewhat, I admit, and once I feel more clear-headed, I may be able to provide more opinions (read: inchoate ramblings, but you regular readers pretty much know that already, right?) on this. It all ties into issues of control, of course, but there seem to be other undercurrents at work as well. Any social scientists want to pipe up about this?
Another point of interest was brought up by Miss Black, who wrote in the comments:
Personally, I have nothing against sexual fantasies. They are great. But they need to be in a genre of their own. Not the romance genre. It’s confusing to readers.
Romance novels are about the emotional needs, the idea of commitment, despite obstacles. It’s about love. Sexual fantasies are part of it, but not the whole.
Now, personally, I enjoy reading about emotional and physical intimacy in great detail. Thus far, romance novels have focused largely on the emotional intimacy, but with the advent of erotic romances, physical intimacy and the part sex plays in a romantic relationship have taken on a much larger role.
I can understand that some people don’t necessarily enjoy reading sex scenes, and I can also understand that some people have vastly different tolerance levels when it comes to the degree of explicitness they enjoy. What I don’t necessarily get is the (to me) artificial separation of sex from love. To me, sex is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for romantic love to flourish. (On the flip side, romantic love isn’t necessary for sexual attraction to prosper. That, however, doesn’t change anything about my premise that sex is an integral component of romantic love.) Attempting to separate the sexual component from love fantasies doesn’t necessarily remove it; it merely drives it underground so that it becomes implicit instead of explicit.
I also don’t buy that romance readers will be confused by the presence of sexual fantasies in romance novels. What is there to be confused about? How easily confused ARE we, anyway? I know that I’m (usually) able to distinguish love affairs from affairs that involve only sex, both in fiction and in real life.
I didn’t want to take over the RTB comments with these musings of mine, hence this short (for me!) ramble on this space. What are your thoughts? I’m going to invite Miss Black over here and hope to hear more of her perspective.