“Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship...” -Bea Koch
The awakening is real. The time of concealment is over. And it's not just all those pussy hats making the rounds during the 2nd National Women’s March, or the unprecedented number of women running for office, or the relentless outing of formerly powerful men who used their positions to sexually violate others. The real news is how the conversation is being extended to discuss what has heretofore been off limits. In one Sunday afternoon reading, I was met with story after story about the meaning of intimacy, how it is learned, and when it is not. As a long-time writer on the concept of sustainable love, I am finally finding myself in a tribe.
Broadening our conversation beyond the anger and shaming of Me Too, isn’t easy. Emotions are high and we aren’t in a forgiving mood about the centuries of patriarchy that have evolved into the current explosion of failings and abuses of masculine power gone unchecked. Anyone who expresses the need for mediating the conversation, from Matt Damon to Catherine Deneuve, creates an uproar of both indignation and relief. There might not be another topic that has consumed our national conversation so intensely. It is a conversation in which everyone you know holds such powerfully strong opinions that as much as we all need to talk about it, it remains as challenging a topic as ever to approach.
David Brooks captured our collective body of pain when he wrote “If the power of loving touch is astounding, the power of invasive touch is horrific.” He went on to catalogue the life-long damages that victims of sexual abuse suffer. The younger the victim, the more violent the abuse, the more personal agency and self-esteem that is lost, making victims twice as likely to experience sexual abuse again… and again. As painful as all this is to read, at least we are reading about it in the New York Times.
And that’s not all. There is also conversation about the gray-area sex zone that almost everyone knows is being unpacked thanks to the widely publicized bad date of Aziz Ansari-- the kind of sex that runs rampant these days, where he thought everything was all good and consensual, while she left feeling dehumanized and ashamed. We are sharing in that conversation too, about where and how we draw the lines on what makes touch toxic- and how unfeeling and dehumanizing sex might not constitute harassment, but is definitely the source of lasting harm.
And if that’s not enough, there was also the article about discovering the powerful sex education occurring in Romance novels. And honestly, it's no wonder that Romance makes up fully one-third of the fiction market and generates over a billion dollars a year, when you consider that oftentimes the villain in these stories is the guy who disregards the woman’s pleasure. Deeper still, diving into the romance genre is how many women learn the language they need to ask for what they want and to expect pleasure as part of any sexual encounter that is worth having. It is through story that we learn how to live, and these romance stories describe the entire range of intimate moments, from the awkward to the funny to the very bad.
Not only am I starting to wonder how I never found my way to this section of the book store, but I'm also feeling remiss- as a long-standing advocate of sexual education- to have never acknowledged the power of storytelling to educate us on how to say the hard things about intimacy that we all need practice saying and to provide us with a road map, on the extremely bumpy road of relationships, to finding a satisfied erotic soul and maybe even a briefly contented heart.
Best of all, this is the news conversation of the day. We are changing. A new day is dawning.
Cover photo by lev radin.