Yesterday, I blogged about one of my main frustrations with romance novels – the unrealistic expectations they foster about who men are supposed to be once they fall in love. My second huge problem with romance novels – and one of the reasons I stopped reading them – is the unrealistic expectations they set up about sex.
Disclaimer: Some folks are going to be uncomfortable with the discussion that follows because it’s about sex – and I’m talking about it in public (though I don’t think it’s quite as scandalous as the Fifty Shades of Grey discussion). If you have slightly more puritanical sensibilities, I recommend you skip this blog and read this one by my friend Rebecca instead.
Let’s talk about Sex, baby
I’m not going to get into a whole theology lesson on how these romance novels fail to uphold our Catholic understanding of sex as a sacramental experience of grace that reflects and imitates the Divine Love of the Trinity when it is expressed within the context of a marriage and is free, total, fruitful, and faithful.
No, my big beef with the sex in these novels isn’t that it often takes place outside the marriage bed and with contraception making an often intrusive appearance. No, my beef is that as soon as the male lead falls for his lady, the sex becomes incredibly unrealistic.
Suddenly they are having marathons in bed with multiple orgasms on everyone’s part and never a single question about physical needs (food, shower, sleep) or even stamina. The man will never, EVER think about reaching his physical peak before she has – at least 2 or 3 times – and she will never, EVER think about turning him away if he indicates he’s interested.
Let’s not forget THE moment.
The woman’s physical peak (which again, comes 2 or 3 times every time) is described with some of the following phrases:
- dizzying explosion of feeling
- erupted in dazzling undulations
- frenzied explosion of exquisite sensation
- frenzy of simultaneous explosions
- glorious waves of splendor
- riding on a wave of frenzy
- wave after wave of rapture
Seriously – those are right out of a few romance novels I still have lying around. I know these authors are wordsmiths and probably have whole thesauruses dedicated to just romance novel sex scenes, but it all gets a little ridiculous. These women and men literally experience fireworks – and they experience those fireworks every single time – multiple times.
That’s not to mention the post-coital glow. In these novels the couple spends time after sex glowing about how great it was, staying intimately connected throughout the night and then one partner falls asleep on top of the other while the other (choose your own adventure here)
A. strokes hair or face
B. watches them sleep
C. listens to heartbeat
always thinking about how much they love each other. No one ever has any kind of clean up. No one makes any sort of rude bodily noises (not even snoring unless it’s “light” and therefore “cute”). No one gets hot and rolls the other way because his back is dripping with sweat. No one talks about who’s picking the kids up from school the next day or who is going to do the grocery shopping. It’s all this lovey dovey cute sugary sweetness – all the time.
Now, I’m not about to get into the personal details of my sex life (my husband would kill me and it’s just none of your beeswax), but I feel like I need to explain to all the women out there that the unrealistic expectations these romance novel sex scenes are creating for you have a devastating impact on your marriage – or your future marriage if you’re not yet married. (Don’t believe me? Believe the psychologists… Or the researchers.)
You’re missing out
Sex inside a marriage is not always “glorious waves of splendor” or “wave after wave or rapture” but when it is free, total, fruitful, and faithful, that sex is something so much more – it’s an experience of grace.
Sex was created by God which means it’s not only good—it is something sacred and holy.
This is the point the romance novels are missing – the sanctity of sex. It’s the point I was missing when I was reading these novels and wondering why my experience didn’t always match up.
See, marriage and sex have been about since the very beginning. Since God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper like himself” (Gen 2:18) sex has been about being people created in the image and likeness of a God who is a perfect relationship of Love – a Trinity of persons from whom love is given and received and flows so perfectly that they are One being. When we have free, total, fruitful, and faithful sex within our marriages, we experience the grace of imitating and reflecting the Divine Love of the Trinity.
Your Grace Is Enough
That grace doesn’t offer fireworks or “dizzying explosions of feeling.” It doesn’t offer harmonious post-coital glows staring into each others eyes for hours. It doesn’t offer fluttering hearts, eyes, stomachs or any other non-winged part of our anatomy. It offers the strength and courage to daily choose to love and be loved by our partner.
No matter how well matched [or in love[ they are, [no matter how much sex they have, no matter how compatible they seem to be]: it is not easy for any two people to live together day in and day out, year after year, with their inescapable faults and personality defects grating upon each other. No matter how selfless a couple may be, it is not easy to face the prospect of responsible parenthood, with all the sacrifices that entails.
If ever there was a state of life which called for grace, marriage is it.
When we read romance novels and get caught up in the characters and the perfection and the dizzying emotions and physical experiences we can miss the incredible supernatural gifts we have right in front of us.
That’s why I stopped reading romance novels – not so much because they set up unrealistic expectations about love or because I wanted my husband to look like the bodice rippers – but because every time I escaped into the world of the romance novel, I was missing out on the graces and pleasures I had right in front of me. I was judging the state of my marriage on fictional and self -centered criteria … which invariably left me disappointed, frustrated, and more and more self-centered.
I still read romance novels every once in a while – but maybe only once or twice a year. And now, when I start reading I tell myself I’m looking for one thing: maybe a scene or a character quirk or a situation that leads me to fall a little more in love and appreciation with my husband. More importantly though, I’m making sure that I’m reading non-fiction books that help me rightly ordemy and reflect upon my own marriage.