The Truth About Romance Novels & Real Life Sex: An Interview With An Expert
When I met a sex & relationship coach at an event on romance novels, you can just imagine how I bombarded her with questions. We (okay I) talk a lot about how important it is that romance novels depict female pleasure and sexuality in a positive way and provide a safe place for people to explore their desires. But I was really curious about how this played out in the real world or rather, real bedrooms. Since I didn’t think that was necessarily an appropriate question to post on Facebook, I asked said coach Kait Scalisi to answer my burning questions about the sex lives of romance readers. Here’s what she said:
Maya: I have heard—though I haven’t seen it confirmed by legit studies—that romance readers have more sex than non-romance readers. What’s your impression on this?
Kait: My initial reaction is, “OF COURSE!” It wouldn’t surprise me if this is true. Of course we can’t determine the direction of the relationship. So is it that romance readers have more sex or people who have more sex are more likely to read romance novels? Undoubtedly though, there’s some connection between the two.
I did some quick research on this (hi all I’m a geek!) and though I didn’t find much, what I did discover is interesting. One interesting tidbit is that novels have the ability to increase positive attitudes towards safer sex and intent to use condoms. The fact that they’re able to change attitudes and intent is really huge and demonstrates that they may have a lot of influence, maybe more than we give them credit for. I also found a small qualitative study in which the participants report having more loving feelings as well as being turned on by romance novels. Taken together, this implies that there’s definitely a relationship there and romance novels do impact their readers ideas, attitudes, and behaviors (since intent is the biggest predictor of behavior).
How do you see romance novels, particularly the sexy bits, having a positive impact on real life relationships?
So many ways. They help you get in the mood, they give you new ideas, they inspire fantasies, help you de-stress, and normalize a wide range of sexy fun activities.
One my of my recent coaching clients just told me how the novel-that-shall-not-be-named (that’s 50 Shades) gave her the idea to have sex in a semi-public place. Now the book had many many problems with it, and isn’t really romance in the technical sense, but it’s a great example of how this genre can impact the general public. Beyond this one client, the general shift I’ve seen since that novel is that women are more open to talking about sex and their questions are more nuanced and detailed. And these are the types of questions I’ve almost always gotten from women who tell me from the start that they’re big fans of romance novels and erotica.
Let’s be real: romance novel sex scenes can be over the top (in a fabulous way). Do you ever see this leading to unrealistic expectations or disappointment in real life?
Absolutely. Where I see this most play out is around orgasm. So many people think that all orgasms are these earth shattering, mind-blowing experiences. While those certainly do happen, part of the fun of orgasms is how much variety there is. [Female orgasm varies so much in their strength and length]. This means that some women who think they haven’t or can’t climax already have. And it’s their expectations, from romance novels, women’s mags, etc, that need to shift. It’s really fun when this happens because it means we get to celebrate her orgasm and, if she wants, go straight to talking about how to have a stronger one!
Similarly, romance novels make it seem like coming at the same time as your partner is super easy and happens all the time. That’s actually not the case because it requires both partners have pretty good control over their orgasms. So this can lead to disappointment, resentment, and performance anxiety if it’s not happening. I’ve also heard that when it does happen, it’s not nearly as amazing as the books make it out to be.
I also feel like a lot of romance novel sex scenes support this idea that penis-in-vagina sex is the best and “real” sex. That’s not to say there aren’t often scenes where they do other stuff but that other stuff – like oral sex and hand jobs – is usually part of foreplay leading up to vaginal intercourse and not written about in as much detail or with as much pomp and circumstance if you will. I personally love seeing mutual masturbation scenes or ones where one partner focuses exclusively on the other’s pleasure and vaginal intercourse isn’t necessarily the outcome BUT both partners are just as satisfied.
Since I mentioned safer sex above, I do think it’s worth noting the lack of condom use and discussion about safer sex practices in romance novels. It’s definitely a bit troubling since there aren’t many places people see safer sex modeled in a sexy fun way. I think romance novels are the perfect place to show that having safer sex, whether it’s talking about your STI status or putting a condom on, doesn’t have to ruin the moment! I’d love to see more novels feature STI-positive characters, regular condom use, and conversations about safer sex.
Lastly, when it comes to relationship expectations, romance novels perpetuate this idea that the right partner will always know exactly what to do and say and when. In reality, in most relationships, this level of intimacy takes time, if it’s even possible. Whenever two or more humans come together with all their life experiences and traumas and histories and baggage, it’s not always the case that they instantly know how best to show love, comfort, and respect for the other(s) in the relationship, I’d say for most couples, this comes with time and having those sometimes difficult conversations about what you need, how you like to be loved (physically and otherwise), etc.
What do you think are some takeaways for men and women about sex and/or relationships from romance novels?
This is going to sound wicked cheesy but quite simply to not give up when things get tough. While I don’t think that all relationships are meant to last forever, I do see romance novels as a great reminder to not give up hope even when it feels like everything has gone wrong.
Lately I’ve also noticed an influx of kick-ass, feminist protagonists and I hope this will become increasingly main stream. I’m talking females who stick up for themselves and who ask for what they want both in the relationship and in the bedroom. And men who ask first, listen when their partner says no, and embody that masculine energy so many women are attracted to while still being super consensual, supportive, and sensitive. Fun side note: a study came out showing that men who are more empathetic have more satisfying sex. So you know – just something to explore!
Do you ever suggest your clients read romance novels?
Absolutely! I’m a big proponent of reading about sex and relationships for a few reasons. If you have a lower sex drive, you might find that once sex is on your mind more, it’s easier to get in the mood.
Secondly, stories about sex and relationships are great tool for starting a conversation about these things with your partner. I’ve written about this a few times (here, here, and here) but basically they allow you to say, “Hey babe I was reading about x and am wondering what you would think about trying that.” In a perfect world we’d be pros at talking about sex and not need a reason or excuse. But just like with safer sex, we don’t often see convos about sex happen. So using romance novels, blog posts, and articles are perfect.
Lastly, romance novels are great places to get sexy new ideas and to normalize your desires. Especially if you read a range of romance types, you realize there is a whole big world of things that turn people on and get them off. They’re great for exploring what you might be into and knowing you aren’t alone in liking whatever you do.
Who are your favorite romance authors?
This is slightly embarrassing to admit but most of my romance reading is done in the form of fan fiction. Fanfic has gotten dragged through the mud thanks to the novel-that-shall-not-be-named but there are actually a decent number of good writers out there who do amazing things with characters I already love.
Not to suck up too much but I totally fell in love with your books as well, especially the Wallflower trilogy. The mutual masturbation scene in the third book is basically everything I ever could have wanted in a romance novel since I truly believe we as women can use pleasure to take back our power and your character did just that.
Thank you, Kait! Dear Readers, what do you think? Discuss!
Kait Scalisi, MPH wants to live in a world where sex is no longer a dirty word and every woman has the intimate, adventurous, and satisfying sex life she desires. As a sex and relationship coach, she teaches workshops throughout the US and has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Elle, Redbook, Teen Vogue, and GirlBoner Radio. She’s also the Director of Education and Training at My Secret Luxury, one of the top online retailers of only body-safe sex toys. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching about sex and pleasure, you can find her having epic dance parties in her living room, wandering NYC with a latte in hand, or fangirling over her favorite TV shows (like Dr. Who). Discover how to have better sex and a stronger relationship at PassionbyKait.com.