I Miss Zipless — Are Nice Girls Retaking Romance?
By Alexa Day
A very sweet person almost talked me out of romance.
I don’t remember what she did for a living, but I think it was something that involved lots of nurturing. She was probably a teacher, surrounded by lots of small children. She didn’t date all that much, but at the same time, she was really upset that she wasn’t married by the time she turned 29. And then … well, I don’t want to speak out of turn … but she was a virgin. She’d never even seen a naked man before.
This very sweet person was the heroine of almost all the romance novels available to me when I started reading romance. She drove me crazy, and not in a good way. Then I felt bad about being frustrated with her. She was such a sweetheart. Didn’t she deserve happiness?
Of course she did. But you know who else deserves happiness?
I do. A non-nurturer who likes kids well enough, as long as their parents aren’t planning to leave them here with me. A woman who has dated long enough to reach a certain age without getting married. And while I’m sure not going to speak out of turn about myself, I don’t mind saying that I have seen a couple of guys in their birthday suits without falling in love with them.
Now before you say my mother was probably insulating me from the more provocative romances, you should know that Mom introduced me to Rosemary Rogers. THE INSIDERS and THE CROWD PLEASERS are both full of not-so-nice people who have been everywhere. Everywhere. Mom also gave me the copy of LOVE GAME on my keeper shelf, as well as the Helen Gurley Brown book, HAVING IT ALL. The onslaught of sweet heroines was not Mom’s fault.
Still, those nice girls almost put me off romance entirely. I don’t remember how I decided to start writing the heroines I wanted to read, the women who had been around and seen a lot of the world and certainly weren’t going to fall in love with the first dude they shared a bed with. By the time I started writing those stories, those heroines had begun to appear in greater abundance, and I was able to start reading with hope again.
Today, I’m concerned that the sweet girl is gaining a foothold in romance again. Even in my chosen genre, I see heroines with self-esteem problems. I see negative self-talk about their looks as they undress for sex with the hero. I see doubt in the strength of the relationship within hours of their weddings. I see heroines relying on duty to pack and species as a reason to get laid, despite their ladylike reluctance to pursue a good time.
I don’t think romance is guilty of slut-shaming just yet, but I do think the road to slut-shaming starts with slut-shunning, where heroines must have a specific reason to be sexual beyond the sheer, guilt-free pleasure of it. The road starts with stories that place conditions on pleasure.
There is hope. I still see heroines wanting to bring a third into their relationships, to stir things up or to get That Other Man out of their systems. I see heroines choosing one partner from many. I see heroines too busy getting their hands on their heroes’ amazing bodies to be freaked out about their own appearance. And I see all of that in contemporary erotic romance, leading up to the happy ending suitable for the characters involved in the story.
I just wish I saw more of that. As I write this, I’m asking myself whether I want to see a new subgenre: Slutty Romance. Well, I’m not sure. First, I’d like to see a definition of “slutty.” Right now, I live in a world where all the couples in the Trojan commercials (and the lotion commercials and mattress commercials and so on) are married, as if single folks don’t use condoms (or lotion or mattresses). If “slutty” means unmarried but eager to engage in sensual and sexual contact, then yes, I’d like to see more of that. Maybe we shouldn’t have to be shoved into our own subgenre. Maybe I would be more okay with it if we work on the name a little.
Am I overreacting? Am I missing a vast, untapped reservoir of sexually bold heroines? Let me know. I’m always looking for something new to read.
And for a good time, follow Lady Smut.