Saturday, October 04, 2008

Revenge Sex

Why is revenge sex so prevalent in romance novels? Maybe because it sparks the interest. I am no hypocrite. I am often attracted to books with revenge sex. Does that mean that my interests are depraved? I certainly hope not. If asked why I read those books, I would have to say that it makes a romance a lot more interesting. Some readers don't like revenge stories. I do. It's intense, it's edgy, it's powerful, if done by a good storyteller.

This is a challenge for an author: to take a couple who are brought together through a vendetta of one of the people, whether it be the hero or heroine. How can one go from hate to love? Well the old saying is that hate and love are opposites of the same coin. Passionate emotion is not always positive, but it is definitely tempestuous. It makes for good conflict in a novel.

The overwhelming amount of books that I read with revenge sex come from one line: Harlequin Presents. And most of the time, it is on the part of the hero. He is mad for some reason, so the first thing he thinks about is taking the heroine to bed to "teach her a lesson." And it's not going to be rape, because he will seduce her body and steal her soul until she is his, until he is done with her. Only he doesn't feel done when it's over. She gets under his skin, and it must be love. Sound familiar? It probably does if you've read more than ten Harlequin Presents romances in your life.

When the woman is the perpetrator it seems to backfire more quickly. Again I am likely to be accused of sexism. But I fervently believe that most women are not wired to isolate sex from love. I am not saying that some can and do have sex without love all the time. But I don't want them in the romance novels I read. Again I guess I am a sexist. But to be honest, I don't like heroes who have sex with women they don't and cannot love. The heroine is exempt because she is already in there, so to speak.

Women use sex as a weapon all the time, but generally not the romance heroine in the books I read and like. I know a lot of women love Sex and the City, but I hate it because I don't agree with that sexual attitude. Yes I said it. If you don't like it, we can agree to disagree. So back to what I was saying. Most romance heroines cannot go through with using sex as a weapon. At least not succesfully. I have read very few romance heroines who were able to do this. And I am not sure I would like a romance heroine who did. Fundamentally, I need to have some degree of respect for the heroine, even if I hate the hero. If I don't respect the heroine, it practically destroys the book for me. When I have read books with the heroine as the "revenge sexer" she usually cannot go through it with the hero. She either values herself too highly to take this step, or she is love with the hero by the time they finally have sex/make love. The exception to this rule is the assassin heroine. She might do this and it is done for the mission. I don't like it (too much like prostitution) but I can live with it. I usually stand up and take notice if I read this in a book. And there are times when I really like books that challenge my notions. But for a heroine to do this merely for revenge, it feels wrong because it goes against her nature. Evolutionarily speaking women are wired to seek a safe and lasting committed union with a man. It would be a disadvantage to accept any man who would not give her this as a lover. This wiring is deeply entrenched and that is why I think it goes against most women's natures. Again you may call me a sexist, but I am a scientist and this holds up scientifically. This heroine who does have sex for revenge has put herself at a disadvantage to be used and abused. Heroes who are stupid enough to use revenge sex deserve to have it blow up in their faces, as it always does.
Now that I have probably infuriated any person who reads this blog, lets move on to the next point.

Why would you want to take someone who you clearly despise to your bed? That is a question I have never been able to answer. I wouldn't even want to spend time in the same room with someone I can't stand. But these men definitely want these women in their beds. Of course there is the matter of a sexual attraction between them, no doubt intensified by the apparent so-called hatred they feel for these women. What really bugs me is when the hero is not even mad at the heroine per se. It is her father, brother, step-father, uncle, grandfather, you name it. I guess the hero doesn't want to do time for murder and wants to get some sex with an attractive women in the bargain, so off to bed with you. It's laughable when you think about it. That doesn't make me avoid these books, unless I get burned out. Sometimes I read one where the hero is particularly idiotic, or the heroine is doing her impression of a doormat, and the unavoidable urge to throw the book against the wall surges within me. Then I have to take a time out from the good old revenge sex books. But when I get over burnout, I pick them up again. It's a great catharsis, it's not my life, but fiction. And at the end of the book, all is well.

It sounds crazy, doesn't it? Well maybe I'm crazy too, because I find myself reaching for these books first, if I want to read a romance that packs a punch. Well second, anyway. First of all, I reach for the tortured, scarred, virgin heroes. (Smile). It's not pretty or nice, but for the hours I am reading the story, if it is told well, I am far from bored. And if the author does her job well, I am wowed at how I got from point A to point Z. An excellent example of this is Comanche Moon. Hunter hated whites. Loretta hated Indians. By the end of the book, true love was felt on both sides. So it is very possible.

The revenge angle is also used quite a bit in historical romances. In the past, it was not so unusual for a woman to be claimed as a spoil of war. In the medieval times, often the women left behind in a siege were taken as wives or mistresses or worse by the conquering party. I certainly don't mean to stereotype men, but I believe it is part of the nature to conquer, and to take women. It's a residual urge from the times when life was short and brutal, and the biological imperative to reproduce ruled. When the average life span was less than 35 years of age, whether the woman liked you wasn't really that important. Now men are not alone in primitive urges. It is a visceral part of a woman that responds to an aggressive, masculine man. If you don't believe it, look at the top-selling romance authors nowadays. Most of them write stories with strong, sexually-aggressive, alpha males who claim the women they want, and usually with little delicacy.

Is revenge sex rape? It's a kind of rape. If you make somebody feel things they don't want to feel, is that not rape? Sometimes I feel very unsettled when I read a romance with a hero who is determined to seduce a heroine who doesn't want to have anything to do with him, but might feel a reluctant attraction to him. This is not even necessarily occurring in just revenge sex-themed romances. I think that attraction is a visceral and carnal emotion that doesn't necessarily translate at the higher brain and mental levels. The sexual urge is powerful, but as rational humans, we have learned to control and sublimate those urges. So it is not fair to prey on a person's "lower urges." Especially when you make it clear you don't like her, and she'd be a fool to like you. Usually though, the heroine is halfway in love with the hero by this point. And if there is a past between them, she never stopped loving him.

Do I have you intrigued? Or are you merely scratching your head, wondering what I and many other romance novel readers and writers are smoking? Life is complicated. Life isn't pretty. Life doesn't read the book. Neither should romance novels. Some do, but for me, the most compelling romance books throw the books out the window. I can say no more to defend myself. If you have never read a romance with revenge theme, I challenge you to read one, and find out for yourself if you see the appeal of these books.


Tanya Hanson said...

I love this subject! I do not myself care for themes of revenge SEX. Revenge, maybe. I don't think they have to be the same. But I think Presents is big on "revenge stories" however they turn out.

Danielle said...

Thanks for the post, Tanya. Revenge sex is really a strange thing. Not so good, most definitely.