Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Romance, or Abuse?

I thought today I'd talk about content in our books, and a somewhat disturbing trend I've been noticing in some. Romance, as a rule, empowers and enchants the audience, which we know is predominantly female. However, in a lot of books recently, and I'm speaking of mainstream romance not sub-genres, there seems to be a leaning toward heroines who want to be hurt by the hero. In a few cases I can think of, she actively provokes the "punishment" which invariably involves her being humiliated, and having rapturous orgasms while being essentially abused by the hero. I don't know about others, but that bothers me not only as an author but it really makes my skin crawl as a woman who respects herself.

Fantasy is a hugely important element in what we write when we choose the field of romance, and while everyone has less than romantic fantasies, is actively asking for humiliation and abuse the kind of message that should be accepted in our work? Romance, at its core, is about positive passion, acceptance, and the celebration of the most common desire the average person has - the driving need to not only find love, but to then experience it and share it with someone you are supposed to trust more than anyone else. When did it get to be about playing mind games, hurting someone on the deepest levels of their psyche, and then turning that into sexual domination? We, as readers, are being asked to accept that this is love/passion that is born in ultimate trust. Is that what I'm missing, that if you trust someone that much, it's acceptable for them to use your trust to hold you prisoner to sexual pleasure?

We preach sexual responsibility to our audience and publishers are now asking for it to be plainly visible in our work. I agree with that completely. But what about the emotional responsibilities that come with our work? It doesn’t really matter who your write for in terms of an audience, we ALL have young fans who are discovering romance books for the first time, and they are impressionable and seeking to learn to trust their budding instincts and desires. They want to know what love is, and how it works. Is it time to create yet more subgenres and warnings, or is it time for us to look a little more closely at what we’re presenting to our public, and then ask ourselves if there is a positive and loving message there? I don’t think anyone could in good conscience suggest that humiliating heroines is heroic… and by the same token, neither is abusing your hero.

A book that explores a traumatic experience is not what I’m referring to, in case anyone’s ready to take that stance in defence. What I’m talking about is the kind of story that presents us with a supposed loving relationship, then when the bedroom door opens, we have a domineering hero who uses sex to control his heroine – and we’re asked to believe that’s what she wants because she deserves it, and it’s a huge turn-on. Unless you back that with a damn strong back-story, I think most women would agree that being used and made to beg is not really a huge turn-on.

The floor is open, I’d love to hear your thoughts? Is this kind of story really romance, or is more accurately a psychological and emotional abuse?


  1. I think that is a really tough question. There are so many sub-genres of romance today and everyone wants to market in a best selling category.
    We sure see heroines go back over and over to a distant and emotionally abusive hero. Some equate violence and domination with sex but does that make it love or romance?
    Is it the true form of the romance genre we grew up with...maybe not. Is it something I would read, no. Sounds like another sub-genre to me.

  2. Thanks, Jodi. I agree, it does seem to be more subgenre, but I'm seeing it so much in mainstream now, and I really find it unsettling. If you choose to read the subgenre, that's a conscious choice, but if you read mainstream romance, a domineering hero and a heroine with self-esteem and self-image problems is not really the positive message most of us go for, is it? And it certainly does NOT make the average woman feel desired in a positive way.

    Thanks for dropping by and offering your thoughts, much appreciated!

  3. This sounds like the pardon-the- expression "bodice ripper" we were criticized for in the eighties. Is a trend returning? I don't know. I think of this theme applying more to erotica than to mainstream.

  4. Hi, Miriam. I think the old-fashioned bodice rippers were a bit it titillation, and often times were very tame compared to what I've been seeing recently in some of the books I'm reading. A little forced seduction is one thing, the physical domination and derision that is evident in some of the mainstream stuff goes far beyond forced seduction, and right into that grey area of abusive in many cases.

    Thanks for coming by!!
    Hugs, D

  5. Some of the so called 'romance' in a few books I've read recently had been anything but romantic. I'm a realist, and know that it isn't all champagne and rose with soft lighting and satin sheets. Sometimes it's harsh and bright and a shock to the system - but never, and I mean NEVER - deliberately cruel, to either hero/heroine.
    Sex and intimacy means different things to different people, but for me, unless there is love and trust intertwined with the lust and passion, then that's NOT romance. It's not something I would want to read about, and certainly not something I would want the younger members of my family to read either.

  6. I agree, Lisa... and that's more or less what prompted this question and post. I realize it's a personalized distinction, no two people see the same thing the same way, but like you, I don't think breaking someone's spirit is romantic...

    Thanks for your thoughts, as always.

  7. Interesting topic and great comments.
    G W Pickle

  8. Thank you for stopping by, Gary. Nice to see you.

  9. Interesting topic.

    I think the key is trust.

    Not saying that humiliation should be glorified but if both partners agree to it and have established just how far, then thats the key.


    S.Lira aka Michael mandrake


Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.