In Bare to You by Sylvia Day, we have the hero trying to persuade the heroine she’s a submissive even though she’s telling him otherwise; and even though he’s a refined billionaire, he keeps referring to her vagina as cunt.
In Bang by E.K. Blair (which I loved for other reasons), the infuriated hero beats up the heroine with a belt; later he urinates inside her to “mark” her as his. In Echo, the sequel, he’s enraged and brutally rapes her in the ass even after having learned that she was sexually abused during her entire childhood. She’s also raped by another character with the handle of a gun.
In Echo: A Dark Billionaire Romance by A. Zavarelli, the blurb reads: “He says he owns me. And it’s true … I’ve signed over complete control of my body and life for six months to a man I don’t know … He likes to hurt me. I love to let him. He brings me to life. He sets me free.”
In Owned by M. Never, the hero says, “I like you collared, baby. I like you naked, I like you mine.” He drugs her, and she wakes up in a cage to be raped every day until her will is broken, for her own safety because he’s “protecting her” from a terrible danger.
I also remember reading the synopsis of a novel where the dominant hero for some reason could only experience pleasure through anal sex, so the girl went along with that. I didn’t read the novel, but I can imagine all the lust and backdoor activities happening on a regular basis.
Do we see a pattern here? Keywords: submission, property, rape and, of course, anal sex all over the place. Some of the details in the books I’ve mentioned are so out there I won’t even comment on them, as I don’t mean to be harsh. My only goal here is to detect elements in those stories that connect to porn. And keep in mind that there are gazillions of similar novels in the mainstream market.
The problem is also that, just like porn, many erotic novels portray actual-life role playing—in which no actual harm is done—as the real thing. So they glorify sexual violence I remember watching the 2014 documentary Kink about the homonymous BDSM porn site kink.com. The pain is real, but they’re all very professional and respect the performers’ boundaries. There are two things, though. One, performers feel they have to endure as much pain as possible. Two, there are rape scenes in some of the films. The usual yada-yada, the rape occurs and in the end the victim enjoys it (I am so sick of repeating this over and over, it’s past getting old).
When you see the shooting, it’s clear no harm is done. But when you watch the scene, even though you know it’s a performance, it sells you the idea of the real thing: that rape is normalized as something acceptable because it’s exciting and the victim likes it. It also reinforces the notion that when a woman says no, she actually means yes because she will eventually enjoy forceful sex. So those films are not selling a fantasy, they’re selling an idea. The same goes with erotic novels. And that can be very dangerous.
Even novels without blatant violence such as Burning Offer by Audrey Parker reveal a strong porn influence. Here the heroine literally drenches her panties just by looking at the hero. A couple of characters have sex on cue and the guy penetrates her in a rough way (apparently, it’s the only way to penetrate a woman these days). A girl screams she wants the guy to come all over her face. The hero ejaculates on the heroine’s back over her dress, and later he threatens to stick his cock down her throat and fuck it until she learns to listen.
To fuck a woman’s mouth. How sweet. As I remember, fellatio used to be a way for a woman to express herself and actively pleasure a man all the while having pleasure in the process of giving. Now, thanks to porn, it has been reduced to “mouth fuck,” meaning the woman is again a passive hole and gets nothing out of it except for a sore throat and a very unpleasant chocking session. What was once a sensual expression bonding a woman and a man turned into punishment creating distance. That’s how fucked up porn is. That’s how it fucks up our sexuality.
Have we become so colonized by male porn that romance authors are compelled to write that kind of stuff and readers are compelled to love it? Just like male porn molded men’s sexuality, it seems erotic romance finished the job by molding women’s sexuality. Research shows that, unlike men, women don’t enjoy extreme porn. But now extreme porn comes to women in the form of books sugarcoated in romance, and it desensitizes them just as filmed porn has desensitized men.
I highly doubt women would enjoy watching a film with a heroine being painfully raped in the ass, but in writing there’s a whole backdrop to that scene, the hero is hot and has a thing going with the heroine, and he will inevitably root for her at some point, so rape becomes acceptable and readers forgive it—some simply brush it off and forget about it in face of the happy ending. While the violence becomes ingrained in men’s brains through sexual gratification, in romance books it becomes ingrained in women’s brains through a romantic backdrop. In both cases, violence gets inextricably linked to sexual pleasure and titillation.
When you sexualize violence, it becomes invisible.
My personal experience
Even review submission forms in romance blogs sometimes state that the staff won’t accept books with rape perpetrated by the hero but “forceful seduction” is okay. What the hell does that even mean? Forceful is forceful and is NOT okay. It implies that a man is entitled to a woman’s body no matter what. I have a confession to make, though. After reading books of that kind, I myself fell into the trap once. I’ll share my personal experience to illustrate how easy it is for that to happen.
After reading those books, I questioned for a moment if my novel RED wasn’t too tame. Although graphic, it didn’t include anal sex, and the BDSM in it was light and not too detailed, focusing rather on pleasurable foreplay and emotional connection. Now I’m actually happy it stayed that way.
When I wrote a Fifty Shades of Grey spin-off for a contest, however, I knew it would have to be very steamy, so I created a scene where the attraction between the main characters had the hero immobilizing the heroine and fingering her while she protested: he aimed to prove that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. I was aware the scene was over-the-top but it felt tongue-and-cheek to me, since there was humor in it. The copy editor, a middle-age man who obviously has never read erotic romance, pointed out that that was rape. I dismissed his comment, as readers raved about the story and I had no time to rewrite that whole scene. I opted for the easy solution of stressing how much the heroine was attracted to the hero, conveying she was sending mixed signals to him—which is a dangerous notion nonetheless, as interpreting signals is subjective, in which case any man could force himself upon a woman with the excuse that she had sent him mixed signals.
If I were to write that story today, I would do the scene differently.
Before reading contemporary erotic romance, the inclusion of rape in one of my plots would have never crossed my mind. But on another occasion, I caught myself considering a rape scene—or “forceful seduction” if you will—for a short story. It would be a disguised role play session, so the hero wouldn’t be actually forcing the heroine to have sex, although the unaware reader would have that impression. It seemed to me like a way of adding tension and excitement to the plot. It’s a common gimmick: include rape in a story, and you’ll immediately create conflict, interest and empathy. Then all alarms went off in my head. Why on earth would I resort to a rape scene to promote sexual titillation through a non-consensual act, even if it wasn’t real rape?
There you go. In spite of all my preaching against that sort of message, I almost fell into the trap. Authors, like everyone else, are not immune to cultural indoctrination.
On my next post I’ll talk about something that is becoming the norm in mainstream erotic romance, just as it is mandatory in mainstream porn: anal sex. I read somewhere that it has turned into the “new virginity” in erotic romance. Let’s take a closer look at that butt, shall we? I will not be discussing romance further: on my next post I’m going strictly anal—for your reading pleasure.