from the archives: March 2005
Or: Gird Your Loins
Or, as a certain someone said: I don't think that girding one's loins leads to orgasms unless one girds them WAY too tight or just keeps girding and ungirding, or something.
I have like 100 bamillion things to say as regards Romance, but here is just one. And though I was sorely tempted to write an essay on Why Leda Etoile, Heroine of The Shadow And The Star, Is NOT A Wimp, You Foolish Amazon Reviewer, I decided not to. Because if I've learned one thing from Romance novels, it's this: hurry up and get to the nookie.
The first Romance I ever read was a Harlequin, called Eagle's Ridge and it contains the first nookie I ever read. And it's not even nookie, it's just like second base. There is caressing of boobage. I do believe there may even be laving of said boobage.
(In the interests of accuracy, I am forced to say: I've just realized this actually this was NOT the first nookie I read. Because there were these, um, pornogrphic books. That my brothers had. That I got my little pre-pubescent mitts on. Another story for another day.)
After reading and thoroughly memorizing this Harlequin (and the one my childhood best friend got at the same time, same thrift store, titled Spring Girl) we moved on to historicals. And I've been in a love/hate relationship with them ever since. The first historical I ever read was a medieval called - ready for it? Touch Me With Fire.
Touch me. With fire.
This was the rollicking adventures of Marged Bowen and Rolf de Bretagne. A holy nightmare of a book and I LOVED IT. Now I can't get past page 20 of it, but that's okay - the nookie begins on page 14! (I think - I might be off by a page or two.) All Marged and Rolf did was fight and nook. And nook some more. And fight some more and then have make-up nookie. I read that book maybe 200 times, until I had every touch and its attendant fire memorized. I truly thought this was one of the greatest love stories of our time. I was 13 years old - maybe younger, actually.
In Eagle's Ridge - my first exposure to blatant sexuality in romance-novel form - the Great Big Giant Makeout Scene is by a lake because they're like in Australia and it's night and they're looking at egrets. Or some kinda birds, I dunno, it was all cooked up by the hero (named - ready for it? Tate MacEwen, cattle magnate) to get his sweaty paws on the heroine.
The scene is a kiss and a grope that lasts like FOUR PAGES.
Four pages, and every last second of the described action is dee-lish. For years ever after, the manner in which Tate expertly manipulated Helen's nipples was branded in my brain. Branded, I tell you, like one of Tate's prized cattle.
And then there was Rolf and Marged. Those two went at it like crazed weasels, of course, and every third page featured her world erupting in spasms of joy.
See, those who don't read or have never read Romance just have NO IDEA about how the nookie is described. I think it's better now, mostly, than it was in the 1980s when I was discovering the genre. Although it's still all laden with superlatives, the blinding ecstasy seems to be toned down to more reasonable levels. But when I was a little virginal girl, I was reading the stuff that - in my opinion, anyway - almost deserved to be called "bodice-rippers" and "porn for women." I mean, these people had orgasms that went on FOR PAGES. Hell, if the meek and demure virgin heroine turned out to be multi-orgasmic on her wedding night, it could go on for a whole chapter.
Because of this, I grew up (because I began reading them at a very young age) with this way totally warped expectation for all things remotely sexual. To say nothing of the generally romantic. This goes for kissing, too - I can remember my first kiss and thinking things like: um? Is that… all? I … I guess… he's not, well… he sure ain't no Tate MacEwen, that's all I'm sayin'.
And then there was actual nookie. Even though I was grown-up and logically KNEW there would not be fireworks and crashing waves and little putti singing and showering us with rose petals, I was still rather disappointed. So you know, practice makes perfect, yadida yadida, and I don't think this is headline news or anything, but real-life orgasm is really a FABULOUS thing, we all know this, and yet still, listen to me: it pales in comparison to the written description as given in romance novels.
In romance novels, it's not uncommon for the heroine - or hero, even - to actually faint with pleasure. Like, without the aid of drugs. Passed out cold because the orgasm was that good.
And then they IMMEDIATELY HAVE SEX AGAIN.
This, apparently, is how you can tell if it's true love.
This is also called "fiction," and reality was a bit of a let-down for a girl who gobbled up this stuff for years. I think my (rather hilarious) reaction to the real deal can best be summed up as: "Holy SHIT is that was a good time" And then a dawning realization and an overall feeling of - "It IS great. . . but it's only great? I mean, plate tectonics never came into play. I'm still conscious. The bedsheets are not reduced to ashes and no suns have gone supernova, from what I can tell… are you sure we did it right?"
I basically have no point, but I think I do blame purple prose for setting the bar way too high for both men and women. Or at least it did back in the day. Of course now I'm wondering why it was so overemphasized and exaggerated. Maybe because that's when the female orgasm began to be talked about as an important thing (thank you, Nancy Friday!)? And as more women became aware of what they might be missing out on, Romance novels began to describe it as The Promised Land? Maybe. Or maybe it was just new and transgressive and super-fun. to talk about. Kind of like how I was about sex when I was approximately 13 years old, so naturally I was fascinated with them.