Spice – In Defense of Romance Books (and writers!)

In my more recent years as a writer, I have heard differing opinions about sex in books.  More specifically, there seems to be a growing scrutiny against the romance writing community. To be even more precise, there is a divide between “clean” romance writers and “spicy” (or traditional) romance writers.

As someone who used to be a fundamentalist conservative, I have been on both sides of this coin. But as age, wisdom, and other life changes have come along, I’ve come to be a far less judgmental person than I used to be. I understand relationships (and healthy relationships) better than I used to, and I’m also free now to let my creativity flow and write as I please. I don’t take that freedom for granted.

The subject of including sex in books has long been a debate among writers and readers. Some are uncomfortable including sex in books, others thrive on writing relationships that are passionate. I personally include sex in my books. I think that it’s a natural part of relationships, and that if it flows with the story, then it makes it onto the page.

What I don’t understand, however, is the notion that there is something morally wrong or fundamentally devious with writers (like me) who include sex in their novels. That we write it simply for the sake of voyeurism or with some other agenda. I would argue that if that were true (as a friend recently pointed out) then the same could be said of writers who write any kind of violence in their novels. Someone stabs someone with a sword—surely the writer must be a very violent person who dreams of murder! Or what of bullies? A writer who can come up with such insults is probably a pretty awful person, right?

The answer: of course not!

Fiction is meant to entertain, explore, help us escape, and sometimes to make us think. Including sex as part of a novel is to explore one area of the human (or perhaps other-than-human) experience. Especially if you are delving into the topic of relationships, like in a romance. We, as writers, have the unique ability to translate those issues and craft them into stories that can speak to others in their own experiences.

There is still an unfortunate stigma around sex in our society. A woman’s worth is still determined by her sexual activity in the eyes of many (yet the same isn’t true of a man). It’s 2021 and women (even victims of assault) are still being shamed as being damaged somehow. That bleeds through into the way people single out the romance genre for criticism, specifically books written by women. We’re easy targets for society’s deep-seated aggressions.

I’ve heard some people say things along the lines of, “Well, I only write CLEAN romance! I don’t want to be associated with THOSE kinds of writers!” To that, my response would be, “Well, sex isn’t dirty!” I don’t write erotica, but I know plenty of amazing people who do. And they are some of the kindest, non-judgmental folks I’ve ever met. They are everyday people too, with spouses, kids, and normal jobs. They just happen to write in a different genre than I do.

We can’t fix the whole world on our own, but we can choose to be a kinder person and not make it worse. Something may not be your cup of tea, but don’t make assumptions about others who do enjoy that particular cup. 

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