It makes me a little sad to admit that as I’ve grown older, my once passionate and committed relationship with novels has cooled to nothing more than an occasional daliance. Nowdays, most of my reading involve poetry, short stories, articles and blog posts. When I do delve into a book, it’s almost always non-fiction.
But I did grow up on a steady diet of fiction and romance novels were amongs my top picks. It didn’t matter that the characters, themes and plots were virtually identical, I was obsessed with them. They were a major source of drama and titilation, easy to digest and imminently entertaining.
These pulpy tomes also became my primer on sexual ettiquette. The protagonists were almost always female – women, or girls on the cusp of “womanhood” (it means “teenager”). Her role as focal point in the story necessitated that she be physically beautiful, intelligent, sweet and sexually motivated by her unwavering love for a paint-by-numbers dreamhunk of a man.
She was also capable of stimulateous vaginal orgasm. Harlequin has no time for clit-comers.
Often there was a secondary, antagonistic female, who was kind of as beautiful of the heroine, but not really – it’s just that the bad girl wore tight clothes and a shit ton of makeup. Her painted red lips were a sign of deeper contrivances. She was false, coniving, jealous of our heroine and emotionally damaged.
She also had lots of promiscuous sex. Because that’s what girls do when they’re emotionally damaged.
You probably see where this is going….
Emotionally driven, vag-focused sex + monogamy = Good
Objectified, pleasure driven sex + promiscuity = Bad. Also = Slut.
Pulp Fiction Romance + My Developing Adolescent brain – Other Models Of Positive Female Sexuality = Deeply Internalized Messages.
The problem was when I grew up, I wanted to be the beautiful, intelligent, accomplished protagonist of my own life. When I fell in love, truly in love, for the first time I decided I would have sex. Chronologically, I felt old enough. My relationship was monogamous. I wore little to no make-up on my face. I had avoided all the slutty, bad-girl tropes and now love would bring me glorious vaginal orgasms in tandem with my partner.
Or so the story goes.
The reality went another way. The reality was that I was truly in love with my partner. The reality was also that I just wasn’t ready to have sex. I had conflated love and sex, because I was a good girl and love is what drives good girl sex. I sincerely believed I was fucking in a righteous context and as such, my body would respond accordingly. It didn’t. Sex disappointed me. My body disappointed me. I disappointed myself by pretending to respond and faking orgasms (those of you who have heard ‘Clitoral Protestation’ know the tale). I was dishonest and uncommunicative with my partner, which is not okay and yet, I wouldn’t have known what to say. My options as I understood them were tawdry “bad” sex or loving “good” sex.
It was kind of all bad.
Over time, my sexual experiences improved. I discovered a broader range of stimulating activities. I found a straight up and legit orgasm. I found these things in the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship. And yet…I also found that love still wasn’t the catalyst for my arousal. At least not all the time. Perhaps not most of the time. I’d lock eyes with an attractive stranger, or see my partner’s penis. Sometimes it felt random, just a hormonal surge. But it wasn’t love. It was horniness. Sometimes I would name it love, so I could have sex with my partner while maintaining my “good girl” aura. Sometimes I wouldn’t name it anything, handle myself and wonder what to do about my trampy physical urges.
What I did, or rather what happened it that I stumbled upon my first sex-positive sex story. Not a romance novel. A short work of fiction about nice people…nice women fucking because they were horny and wanted to get their bounce on. Love didn’t factor into the equation, but their was mutual consent and lots of pleasure.
It was a short story, perhaps half a dozen pages long. Not a lot of space for background or character development, but I remember thinking very distinctly, that the protagonist seemed like a woman who respect herself. She seemed like she had her shit together and bore no signs of a troubled childhood. And she behaved like slut. I think that was the first time I considered the term “slut” in a non-pejorative way. It was fascinated by the notion of a character who could be bawdy and blatantly promiscuous while being ethical and admirable at the same time.
It was the beginning of the end of my love affair with romance novels.
Meanwhile, I am the protagonist of my own story. It’s a work in progress. There is a love story and a man of my dreams. Sometimes there are sex scenes, which are sometimes fueled by love, but often driven by my cunty, lusty physical urge to get laid. I still have a set of beliefs around what makes sex “good” but nowadays those beliefs centre more around things like consent, communication, honesty and self-awareness.
Perhaps someday I’ll write my own book. My heroine will be cute, funny and perhaps run a small t-shirt shop of some sort. She’ll have some good intentions and bad outcomes. Perhaps she’ll find sexual desire, but perhaps not. Either way, she’ll unleash the lion, negotiate her terms and conditions and have sex any damn way she pleases.
My love affair with the novel may be rekindled after all.