How Romance Novels Almost Ruined My Marriage…In Bed

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

Just a one sentence theology lesson apparently

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.

If words paint pictures for the mind, this is the picture of a woman’s climax that’s painted by the romance author.

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

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One Catholic’s Opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey

NOTE:  I’ve revised and amended my opinion of these books based on conversations and a quote from Pope Benedict I found.  Feel free to read through this post, but then go check out my second opinion.

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Well, I did it.  I read Fifty Shades of Grey .

I had been hearing a lot about it.  I saw an SNL skit about it and heard The Today Show talk about “mommy porn.”  I’ve encountered Twitter debates about the morality of the book, and seen my Facebook friends post all about it.

As a high school youth minister I’ve found myself reading and watching things I never would have chosen myself just because I want to be able to talk to teenagers about their faith using stories and examples from things they love.  That’s why I read Twilight and Harry Potter, it’s why I watched Glee (though I only made it through 3 episodes) and Jersey Shore (not even one full episode with that one).

Then, my husband sealed the deal when he came home one night begging me to read this book.  I love to read and I can be a bit compulsive and addicted to it – sacrificing things like making dinner or doing housework in favor of a good book.  My husband is not a fan of my reading addiction – he even has a special eye roll and sigh that he pulls out when he sees me sitting in the recliner with a book – so when he came home asking me to read something, I jumped at the chance for some uninterrupted and non-badgered reading time.

I knew very little about the book before I read it – just that it was a modern romance novel with some pretty explicit sex scenes in it.

The New York Times describes the content of the book saying, “The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship.”

That’s putting it mildly.

The sex scenes certainly are beyond steamy – some of them are pretty kinky and a few are downright freaky.  Let’s just say items like riding crops, rulers, floggers (whatever those are!), and the like are not within my comfort zone – they’re not within a lot of people’s comfort zones.  So why are these books (they’re a trilogy) sitting atop the NYT’s Bestseller List and showing up on SNL?

The Times says quotes one married woman who says:

“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

It certainly worked for one friend of mine.  Her husband texted my husband telling him that he had to get me to read this book because his wife read it and they were definitely “relighting a fire” in their marriage (now I know why my husband was so eager for me to read it).

For the record, they do a lot more talking about tortuous sex than actually doing it. And yes, the writing is really that bad.

On the other hand, the book has quite a few critics.  It’s slow moving plot and overblown prose won’t win it any literary awards.  Then there are those who object to the bondage and dominant/submissive content of some of the scenes saying its degrading to women.  There’s some weird stuff in the female main character’s head about her “inner goddess” and her “subconscious” who play basically play the role of her id and superego respectively.  But the criticism that’s engaged me the most is from the Christians I know who are warning their friends off of them saying that it’s basically pornography and is would be sinful to read it.

I’m not sure I agree… Read More