Want to Know What Consent Looks Like? Start Reading Romance Novels

When we’re writing these scenes, the author has control over every aspect: when, where, and what the characters are thinking and feeling. So we have the power to create something sexy, wonderful and totally consensual. All we have to do is pause, look at what we write, and make sure all the characters have real agency.

But it’s not just sex! A lot of what has been coded “hero behavior” in our brains isn’t cool anymore. Stuff like exerting control or the heroine, or following her home “for her safety” and “because he cares.” As authors we have a choice about what portray is heroic behavior, so we should use our power for good.

What do you wish that people who still think of romance novels as “bodice rippers” knew about what sex is actually like in romance novels today?

Rodale: I wish people knew that in romance we’re not ashamed. We’re really damn proud of it and we don’t feel guilty about it. And you notice these characters never feel guilty for enjoying themselves. Not to mention, that in a lot of [older] literature, the heroine dies after they have sex. There is some sort of punishment for a woman daring to enjoy herself. But with romance novels it’s like, “No. She’s going to have a great time and live happily ever after.”

Gallop: I would love romance novels to actually set the agenda for depictions of fulfilling and consensual sex in a way that no other area in popular culture is doing. Not least because every other era of popular culture is massively male dominated. There’s a misconception out there that consenting sex means stopping every two minutes going, “Is this okay? Is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I do this?” And of course that’s not it. I would just love to see many more people actively turn to romance novels to understand what really drives fantastic, great, fulfilling consensual sex.

Romance novels have come along way, but what do you believe still needs to be done to push the genre forward?

Rodale: I might be alone in this, but I think there’s a space for the characters to not have perfect sex the first time. People want sex to be perfect on the first time, but in reality it doesn’t always happen like that. I love [when writers] explore the process of two people learning each other. I think that’s sexy and romantic. Then I think we need more overall inclusivity and favorable depictions of nontraditional relationships. Romance is still very one man, one woman, who are probably going to get married. That works for a lot of people and that’s great. But I think that can also be kind of limiting. So I think it’d be interesting to read those stories and explore other definitions of happy ever after for people.

Samantha Leach is the associate culture editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @_sleach.

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