Continuum of romance

From the virgin to femme fatale to the predatory cougar, media often portrays women’s sexuality as dangerous or nonexistent. Author Nicole Peeler explains how popular romance represents a place where women can explore ideas about sex and sexuality and expect satisfying, empowering resolutions.


What is the appeal of popular romance?

I think the continuum of romance fiction that we see nowadays ranging from the evangelical to the BDSM, represents, to a certain extent, I think, the fact that women are much more vocal about their own sexuality and the fact that it can’t be contained just in this, you know, “Lord so-and-so wants me, so he will ravage me, and I will be, no, no, no, and then he will say, yes, yes, yes.” The next thing you know, we’re married. It represents a far greater range of female desire, female sexuality, female interest, and female fantasy, because I think that’s a huge part of it that people don’t understand.

Just because a woman reads BDSM doesn’t mean she’s a collared submissive at home. Oftentimes women are just exploring ideas and exploring things that they’re interested in sometimes intellectually. I know a lot of women who say, “I don’t understand why people are really into this cowboy stuff.” [laughs] Next thing you know they’re with a cowboy romance and they look at those tropes and they either react to it or they don’t, and then they go onto the next thing in the continuum.

I’ve become a romance reader since publishing. I’ve become a paranormal romance reader. And they’re just, they’re so satisfying in the sense that it’s a perfect story arc and one of the things that I think I didn’t understand before I started reading them was I didn’t understand how you could always have a happy ending. I read this literature where it’s anything but happy, and you sort of know everyone’s going to die. [laughs] I just picked up the new Sarah Waters book, and I was like, “Everyone’s going to die by the end of this,” and sure enough, they were. So I was like, “How can it be satisfying to know what you’re going to get?”

And I think that is part of the appeal is you know it’s going to end well and so few things in our world, especially in today’s environment, end well. It’s nice to see people overcome issues. They’re so empowering for women, and they’re so empowering for women’s sexuality, and I think that’s a huge reason they’re so popular is everything we have in our society is very questionable [laughs] when it comes to what it says about female sexuality, and romance books are really strong and positive. And yet they’re in a sort of palatable package where you know you’re going to have that sort of marriage at the end and the happy-ever- after. So they raise issues, at the same time you know they’re not going to leave you gasping for breath in the way other kinds of literature do.

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