It should be noted that, once again, they base their conclusions about romance-novel-sex on "books that had won the Romance Writers of America award for
best contemporary single title romance from 1989 to 2009." They acknowledge that as a result "This study was subject to a few limitations, the most obvious being sample size (i.e., 16 books and 91 depictions of orgasm)" and potentially significant differences between contemporary single title romances and
novels from other romantic subgenres (i.e., historical, paranormal, romance/erotica); it is possible that novels from other genres might show greater deviation from the traditional sexual script. This sample included multiple novels from the same authors [...]; therefore, it is possible that results may have been influenced by the biases or preferences of said authors.Perhaps the most intriguing part of the article is the section in which romance-novel-sex is contrasted with real-world-sex:
Studies of the real-world sexual script tend to show that male orgasm is privileged over female orgasm. [...] Sexual behaviour surveys have shown that men are significantly more likely to have experienced an orgasm during their last sexual encounter than women (Richters et al. 2006). These results are contradicted in the present investigation, where the orgasm of female characters was prioritized and female characters experienced significantly more orgasms than male characters. The contrast between the central role of female orgasm in romance novels compared to their more marginalized role in real-world sexual experiences may have several explanations. For instance, romance writers might be creating an idealized, feminist re-imagining of the script to privilege womens’ orgasms over mens’. Or, authors may be producing material designed to give readers an enjoyable vicarious experience (similar to camera angle selection in pornography).Whatever the reason, the prioritising of female orgasms in these novels would seem to contribute to a positive experience for female readers. However, there are aspects of romance-novel-sex which Cabrera and Ménard suggest may be less positive for certain readers: "Readers are likely to be impacted differently but it is possible that a portion of readers may derive unrealistic expectations or beliefs about their own sexual experiences from these novels."
Analyses of romance novel descriptions show that the orgasms of female characters were likely to be triggered by penile-vaginal intercourse or manual stimulation whereas the orgasms of male characters were almost always the result of penile-vaginal intercourse. This finding reflects the frequency of this behaviour in the general public, where penile-vaginal intercourse is the most commonly-endorsed behaviour in sex surveys (Herbenick et al. 2010; Richters et al. 2006). However, real-world women are unlikely to orgasm from penile-vaginal intercourse alone but also require oral and/or manual stimulation (Richters et al. 2006); this experience is not reflected in romance novels and may lead to false expectations and frustration, if these expectations are applied to real life sexual scenarios.Another possible source of disappointment for anyone believing that real-world sex should always resemble that depicted in romance novels is the nature of the orgasms:
A large proportion of all orgasms occurred simultaneously for both sexes (45 %). While simultaneous orgasms are idealized in Western culture (Colson et al. 2006; Ellison 2001), many couples may experience difficulty with creating this scenario (Greenberg et al. 2011). Again, this may lead to false expectations andand although
many women report feeling shame or a sense of inadequacy due to their difficulties with orgasm (Lavie-Ajayi and Joffe 2009) and difficulties with orgasm are the second most-commonly reported problem by American women (Laumann et al. 1999) [...] rapid and frequent orgasms for female characters in romance novels are considered the norm. However, rapid orgasms were never connected with male characters, most of who had significant control of their orgasm and could withhold orgasm for a significant period of time (during which the female character would experience multiple orgasms). Again, this stands in stark contrast to survey data indicating that rapid ejaculation may be a problem for some men.Finally,
The lack of variety in method of achieving orgasm and type of orgasm amongst male characters limited our analyses but was also an interesting finding. This result is inconsistent with findings within the sexual behaviours literature, which show that many men experience orgasm from receiving oral and/or manual stimulation from their partners (Herbenick et al. 2010; Richters et al. 2006). The absence of manual and/or oral stimulation of male characters in romance novels exemplifies female sexual passivity and traditional gender roles, suggesting that women may not experience pleasure from stimulating their partner and that the ideal male orgasm occurs though penile-vaginal intercourse.As a result of this and the finding that
Male characters were frequently described as being responsible for bringing about their partner’s orgasm. This theme was present in 29 % of orgasm descriptions. [...] Far fewer descriptions reflected agentic behaviour on the part of the female character with respect to bringing about her own or her partner’s orgasm; only 3 % of extracts included this theme.the authors suggest that
Traditional gender roles, i.e., male agency and female passivity, are reinforced within the sexual scripts for orgasm in romance novels. This may lead some readers to experience conflict between their own authentic sexual desires and those mandated by romance novels.They are aware that they only studied romance novels and not their readers. Their hypotheses regarding the potential impacts of romance novels on certain readers are therefore unsubstantiated and they conclude by observing that areas for future
study might include readers’ introduction to romance novels, novel preferences, and the impact and influence of these novels on their sexual attitudes and behaviours. This would inform the ongoing debate regarding the influence of romance novels, i.e., whether they function to entertain readers, educate them or both.
- Cabrera, Christine and Amy Dana Ménard. “'She Exploded into a Million Pieces': A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Orgasms in Contemporary Romance Novels.” Sexuality & Culture, Online First™, 10 July 2012.
- Ménard, A. Dana and Christine Cabrera. "‘Whatever the Approach, Tab B Still Fits into Slot A’: Twenty Years of Sex Scripts in Romance Novels." Sexuality & Culture, Online First™, 3 April 2011.
The "O" images were all taken by chrisinplymouth and were found at Flickr. They are all used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. The images, from the top row to the bottom (starting at the left and ending at the right of each row) are:
1a 2a 3a 4a 5a 6a 7a 8a 9a
1b 2b 3b 4b 5b 6b 7b 8b 9b
1c 2c 3c 4c 5c 6c 7c 8c 9c
1d 2d 3d 4d 5d 6d 7d 8d 9d
1e 2e 3e 4e 5e 6e 7e 8e 9e
1f 2f 3f 4f 5f 6f 7f 8f 9f
1g 2g 3g 4g 5g 6g 7g 8g 9g
1h 2h 3h 4h 5h 6h 7h 8h 9h