Friday, January 9, 2015

What I Learned from Romance Novels: Is the Sex Always Better When You're in Love?

The question for this month's "what I learned from romance novels: fact or fiction?" has to do with the relationship between sex and love. Almost without fail, when protagonists of romance novels engage in sexual acts with the people to whom they will declare their love at novel's end, they find that the experience is far better than any other sexual encounter they've ever had. Conversations with two of my best friends in recent months suggest that for them, at least, in real life this is not the case. One friend remembers having great sex with a guy she ultimately decided not to stay with, while her current sex life with the man she loves was not nearly as satisfying. Another remembers a woman he dated for only a short time, a woman with whom he had nothing in common intellectually or emotionally, but one who certainly floated his boat when it came to fooling around. He eventually broke up with her ("all we ever had in common was the sex"), and married another, but still recalls those sexual experiences with her as some of the best of his life.

So, what are your thoughts? Is genre romance's promise that sex with someone you love is always better realistic, or simply a part of the fantasy of the genre?


  1. It's both! Some people are sexual dynamos. Sex with them is going to be better than sex with most people. Has nothing to do with love. But sex with someone you trust, can be totally vulnerable with, and have a relationship and friendship outside of sex may have an advantage, in the long run, over sex just for the sake of sex.

    Life is full of tradeoffs. Amazing sex (from a technical standpoint) is something that's often traded off for other things. What becomes problematic is when there's something that is really important to one person sexually that the other doesn't like or can't provide or just a basic sexual incompatibility. Then you have a situation like the setup for the latest Dom Project book. It's a major reason for the existence of sex work.

  2. Sorry, just wanted to add: What gripes me is the presentation in romance novels that love equals great sex as opposed to showing the tradeoffs. That's more of the genre reinforcing societal beliefs that are harmful to women (and men). Showing how things actually work is far more interesting to me any day and might be truly revolutionary and revelatory for readers as well. The market for totally fantasy romance is never going to tank; why keep feeding it ad infinitum?

  3. Short answer to your question - I think it's simply a part of the fantasy of the genre.

  4. The act of sex may not be better with someone you love but there is the added benefit of not being self conscious and open communication. I often tell my son that waiting to have sex with someone you love is better because you don't have that sex "hangover" like you can have with someone you don't know as well or don't love. The hangover is all those negative feelings that can creep in.
    I believe the act is often awkward and not necessarily perfect no matter who your partner is but if it's someone you have a good relationship with - you can ask for what you need more easily.

  5. It's definitely just part of the fantasy of the genre, and I cringe whenever I get to that part, both because I think it's a damaging myth and because it's often unrealistic to the specific sex scene I just read -- like, sometimes, I'm sorry, what the author describes to me is just not something I can consider likely to be someone's best sex ever unless they've had really limited experiences, and I'm talking about the hero and not the heroine (who usually is presented as having had limited experience, so it's more realistic in her case). It's usually unnecessary, too.

    I actually disagree that the improved connection and communication that comes from having sex with someone you love necessarily makes it easier to ask for what you want, because you care more about their opinion of you. If you're on the kinkier side, and the person you're banging is someone you're only with for the sex, you have absolutely no reason to care what they think of you, and that can (in my experience, anyway) be emboldening. If you're worried that your partner will think less of you if you tell them what you really want, that can inhibit you.

    The best sex of my life was had with this one guy with whom I had absolutely no other connection with whatsoever, but my God we were incredible in bed together, and I think both of us got to explore the edges of our sexualities in ways we hadn't quite managed with anyone else. We couldn't really communicate outside of bed at all, but in bed we communicated extremely well. (I kept seeing him for much longer than I should have because it was just that good.)

    On the other end of the spectrum, I once ended a relationship with a wonderful guy (whom I'm still very good friends with) because, although we connected in all sorts of non-sexual ways, there was no sexual connection between us at all, and it just didn't work. Ultimately that would have been problematic.

    I think there is a minimum threshold of sexual compatibility you need in a relationship. If you meet that threshold, and you connect well outside of sex, you can build on that compatibility and hopefully the sexual connection will improve over time.

    1. Thanks, everyone, for adding your thoughts & experiences. I'm really intrigued by anonymous's argument, above, that it love and communication doesn't necessarily make sex better, because you have more at stake and so you might be more wary/cautious about expressing your sexual needs & desires. Would be so interesting to see this play out in a romance novel...