Romance novels are a safe space for women to explore a rich continuum of emotional and physical experiences, says Sarah Wendell, romance community co-founder, from the very chaste to the overtly sexual, from the deeply emotional to the fleeting.
How do romance novels handle sexuality?
Well, there’s not a lot of airbrushing going on in romance novels, and visual pornography is not the same as a romance novel. They both may feature sexuality but, first, romances feature a very wide spectrum of the degree of sexuality you might get. They might hold hands and that’s it. They might kiss. There may be no sex at all. Kristan Higgins writes some incredibly romantic and sexually tense books. There’s no sex scenes. She closes the door. Dammit. And there are books that are extremely explicit. There are erotic novels where you think, “I didn’t know people could bend that way. Interesting.” Pornography is depicting sex. It is depicting sexuality. Romances are about emotions and relationships and courtships and there may be sexuality, but it’s not the same thing […]
[…] Whatever is your cup of tea, someone’s pouring it and if you are more interested in the emotional journey and the spiritual journey of the characters but you don’t want to read sex scenes, there’s a romance for you. And if you want to explore sexuality in the space of your own imagination in the privacy of your own reading space, there’s a romance for you to do that. There’s a way for you to explore just about anything sexual and emotional within the genre. So it’s quite empowering for women. There aren’t a lot of places for women to explore emotions and to explore different people and explore different sexuality.
Where does male/male romance fit in?
Male/male romances are an interesting phenomenon, because obviously they depict two men. And I remember reading an editorial when Brokeback Mountain was in theaters and people were just sort of fascinated by this almost mainstream movie that was basically a gay cowboy romance. And the person who was writing the editorial said a number of things that I didn’t agree with but one thing that she said was that it was sort of transfixing, almost, to watch men do all the heavy, emotional lifting. There was no woman to decode the emotions for them. There was no woman to figure out the emotions and how to process them. The men had to do all the emotional work, and particularly in current American culture men are not instructed or given examples of how to be emotional, and it can be transfixing to see men portrayed doing the emotional work.