RfP has found a very interesting article, published in Macleans this month, titled "Harlequin thinks unsexy thoughts" and subtitled "Impotence is just the start: the new romance novels put the 'fun' back in sexual dysfunction". The journalist, Patricia Treble, found that
in this month's Harlequins was Sandra Marton's The Greek Prince's Chosen Wife, about a woman learning to trust after being sexually abused in foster care. It's not a character or subject that most people expect to find in a happy-ending-in-200-pages serial romance. But today's Harlequin authors are increasingly devoting swaths of their books to upfront discussions of such serious sexual issues. Last month, Annie West's For the Sheikh's Pleasure focused on a woman struggling to be physically and emotionally intimate after being drugged and raped during a night out. And plots such as these are prominently displayed in the bestselling Harlequin Presents series, not tucked away in one of the publisher's more marginal lines.I mentioned Monroe's novel when I discussed the ways in which romance novels can provide sex education. Something I found particularly interesting was the fact that the authors of the Harlequin Presents/Mills & Boon Moderns which tackle these difficult sexual subject matters have solid evidence that their readers appreciate them:
Though sexual problems have been in HP books for years, they were often "alluded to, talked about euphemistically," explains Tessa Shapcott, executive editor of HP for 13 years. "Now we're just reflecting the fact that people are freer to discuss such intimate things. People are far more honest and open about suffering." For Shapcott, the breakthrough sexual dysfunction book was Lucy Monroe's Blackmailed into Marriage. Its entire plot revolved around vaginismus, a condition that causes vaginal muscles to involuntarily contract shut.
today's authors, who all closely monitor their individual book sales, haven't seen a dip in purchases when the reading gets difficult. [...] I don't think it's a conscious thing but some part of you says 'Oh, I can go there' and the same thing is reflected in the publisher's overall sales." The financials are buttressed by the fan mail. "I think that women who do read our books know damn well that they're going to get something that could be light but could have some meat to it," Marton says. "They are not just perfectly happy getting that -- they're interested in getting that."Works like those by Monroe, Marton and West may deal with some of the more harrowing problems which can make it difficult for a woman to achieve sexual pleasure, but rather than being aberrations in the Presents/Modern line, they are simply among the most explicit in tackling a theme which, as I found when I did my research for the paper I presented in Newcastle, is often present in novels in this line, namely a woman’s right to experience sexual pleasure without fear or shame or, as Monroe puts it, "I wrote this book for the tens of thousands of women who suffer in silence believing there is something wrong with them. [...] healing is possible. I hope that if you are one of the women suffering in silence, [...] you will realize that it’s not your fault.
I'd encourage you to read both Patricia Treble's article and RfP's analysis of it.