I like sex. I like reading about sex. I like writing about sex. Sex is awesome.
But I don’t like sexual stuff intruding where it doesn’t belong (e.g. a professional space that has nothing to do with sex). I don’t like sexism. I don’t like rampant objectification. I don’t like anyone – men or women, straight or LGBT – being defined by their genitals.
I don’t read a lot of romance because too often I end up finding parts that conflict with my values as an educated, independent-minded, political woman. The tropes that tend to be associated with romance heroes – the bad boy, the rebel, the pirate, the power-hungry alpha male – thrilled me when I was fifteen, but I’ve since outgrown them in favour of reading about more introspective, three-dimensional, and emotional men. I’m not interested in any fantasy in which clothing is torn from me by a lusty so-called hero. Bodices are expensive, uncomfortable, and tough: I don’t want one ripped off!
Similarly, the typical romantic heroine tropes – the pure and innocent virgin, the seductress, the suburban mom with suppressed desires – also put me off. I’m none of those things. Most educated, independent-minded, political women aren’t. We have trouble imagining ourselves into any fantasy that requires us to shed the knowledge we’ve fought to gain, to use our sexuality as a weapon, or to pretend that we’ve repressed a secret desire to bang the UPS guy. We want the UPS guy to bring us our Amazon order, not rip off his little brown shorts and have at us on our couches, which are covered with too many books, toys, and unfolded laundry anyway.
I want to read about heroes and heroines who do grand things amidst torturous self-doubt, as any of us would experience if we were cast into plots of intrigue and adventure. I want both sides to be human: flawed and frightened but also bold and exciting. I want to read about awesome people doing awesome things and then having awesome sex. I want both sides fulfilled in joy and love. I want them to respect each other and take each other to new orgasmic heights not in spite of that respect, but because of it.
There are niche markets for romance to satisfy various religious or cultural values, so why not a niche for feminist values? I want to see my ethics, morals, and philosophy reflected in a torrid love story. I accept that those values are sometimes contradictory to traditional romance, but I want more authors to embrace that challenge and work with it. After all, if plenty of feminist women and men can manage to get it on happily together in stable, mutually-nurturing relationships, why can’t that be a staple of fiction? Take those educated, liberal lifestyles and set them amidst great adventures!
Surely I cannot be the only suburban mom looking at the rise of the mama-porn genre thinking, “Is there anything in that for me?” I don’t want to read about Christian Grey flavoured popsicles. I don’t want stark erotica either. If that sort of thing works for others, they’re welcome to it, but I want – no, demand! – something more.
Where are all of the college-aged women with healthy libidos who wouldn’t put up with sexist crap spewed by a guy in person and are equally put off by it upon the page? Where are all the horny suburban moms who have a healthy sense of self-respect, who used to be those college women debating mainstream media and cultural stereotypes, but now want to read an escapist fantasy instead of folding laundry on the couch? Where are all the second-wave feminist grandmas who fought for equal rights, who loved and still love sex but simply demanded not to be seen as sexual objects existing for male satisfaction alone?
Not just the women, either. Where are the men who want to read about sex where their manhood isn’t questioned for not being a bad boy in the first place, where there’s mutual love and respect and all of the sweet tenderness that goes with that?
Where are the nerds – both female and male – who want to read love stories that embrace their love of knowledge and science? Stories that don’t gloss over cool scifi concepts to hurry up and plunge into the zero-G sex tank, but in fact deliver on the nerdisms along with the passionate love scenes? I can’t be the only nerd who has been put off by sterile descriptions of dull, male-focused sex in science fiction. Why can’t we have our lust for science and our lust for lust equally fulfilled?
I know those people are out there. Many women like to read high-brow works by great feminist and humanist authors, but I’m convinced that some also want to occasionally delve into some good smutty fantasy that doesn’t demean them along the way. They have hearts that ache to swell at a longed-for first kiss between adventure-beleaguered characters. They have desires desperate to be stoked by well-written, tasteful-yet-detailed sex scenes. They have eyes that want to weep for angst and loss, lips they want to bite in suspense, and hands that want to tremble in both fear and longing. Most of all, they have minds eager to be engaged by elaborate stories with fantastic locations, massive political movements, believable science fiction, and interwoven complicated story lines rich in plot but devoid of exasperating loopholes.
That’s what I want to write. That’s what I try to write. I know my audience exists at least in this desk chair here: where are the rest of you? Do you fear being seen to read romance will mark you as insufficiently feminist? I do. Are you longing for recommendations of books with great sex scenes that don’t demean the women involved? I am. Are you writing these stories but having trouble finding your niche in a market that seems to reward precisely those elements which conflict with your feminist and professional values? Me too.
I say it’s time more of us stood up and demanded to see our values reflected in fun, sexy literature as much as we’ve been demanding that of other genres for decades. Who’s with me?