Rom-coms (romantic comedies), sexy, glittering vampires and smutty clichéd romance novels — you know exactly what I’m talking about. This genre is often dismissed as fluff, as nOt rEaL liTeRatURe, as books to entertain bored housewives.
That is a horrendous misconception. Romance slaps!
There always seem to be some testosterone-filled Andrew Tate (British professional boxer and known perpetrator of toxic masculinity) types acting like they don’t understand the allure of romance novels. But I think most people grasp the notion.
According to independent news outlet The Ithacan, romance literature accounted for 23 per cent of all adult fiction book sales in 2021 and pulls in over a billion dollars annually. The genre is built on stories about sexy, six-packed dudes running from the ocean onto the beach and gorgeous ladies walking down staircases in flowing red ball gowns, or so I’ve been led to believe by cover arts.
Tropes, clichés and sex appeal
Some clichés about romance media are true. There always seems to be some dude running through the rain to beat a taxi to the airport so he can tell his true love that he’s head over heels for her (Ross from Friends comes to mind). According to tvtropes.org, this is the “Race for Your Love” trope.
Romance tropes don’t stop at plot points, they also encompass characters. Case in point, the gorgeous office girl who, in my humble opinion, would be best played by Emma Stone. This character is usually in a toxic relationship with some executive on the top floor. Of course, she’s saved by the a-dork-able protagonist who whisks her away from the crushing yolk of capitalism. And then there’s the most notorious of the clichés and tropes: sex, sexy sex and more sex!
The Notebook, 50 Shades of Gray and even the young adult vampire romance Twilight (the final films at least), feature sex on screen and in their books. Steamy sex can make it very awkward to read in a public place like the bus or on campus.
Part of me believes the frequent use of sex is designed to hold the eyes of those with short attention spans. It’s hard for the human brain to look away from well-performed sex (unless your parents are watching the movie with you. That’s a whole other thing).
Getting down and dirty with romance
My preferred argument for the use of sex in romance media is that men, women and everybody in between are lacking good sex. Sex is so incredibly subjective and muddled up with self-doubt, freaky desires and uncertainty. It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds and miss all the fun.
Unfortunately, I think women are more likely to understand this than anyone else. The orgasm gap is horrendous and a lot of men don’t even know about it (I’m not going to cover it. Google the term). However, people all across the sexual spectrum are having less these days, all while romance sales continue to boom. A recent study mentioned in a Scientific American article says there has been a decline “in all forms of partnered sexual activity” between 2009 and 2018.
I suspect the romance boom and the sex drop fill a market niche, giving some substance to masturbation. Choking the chicken, flicking the bean or otherwise pleasuring yourself is great and all, but it’s only one dimension of sex.
Watching a 20-minute video (or 20 seconds for some) is fun and all if you just want to get off. Tragically, most of us seek more than that. We want to be held, told it’s all going to be alright and have our hair played with. That’s where the romance media comes through in glorious fashion. Romance movies, novels and shows fill that yearning in our hearts while we look for the real thing.
One of the most common criticisms of romance media is that it’s filled with clichés. To that I say, celebrate the clichés! As a very smart Marshall from How I Met Your Mother once said: “A cliché’s a cliché for a reason. It’s comforting.”
Clichés are proven successes. Whoever heard of not enjoying a picnic in the park on a sunny day, absolutely loving birthday sex or the most clichéd act of all, scarfing down a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day? Exactly.
The redemption of romance
I rest my case for the redemption of the romance genre. Clichés are awesome. Sex in romance media is fun and exciting. It reminds us that despite all the selfish lovers out there (looking at you, Kyles), fantastic sex is possible and we should strive for it.
Romance novels and movies don’t stop at sex. They treat you right, reminding you the world is good, being loved is important and everybody deserves a good morning text.
Best of all, there’s always more being written. Emily Henry is taking the scene by storm with her recent books. If you want to dip your feet into a sexy pool of clichés and sappiness, I recommend Book Lovers, her newest publication.