Men like to watch random people having sex.
They'll pull up pictures of the act, watch one internet video after another showing a different set of people doing similar things. A whole genre of movies exists to cater to the male desire to watch generously endowed females wiggle, squirm, slither and squeal in high-pitched tones as the man gives it to her good. A few scenes later, the same man - we'll call him Dick - gives it to three different women (at the same time) and they enjoy it every bit as much as the first piece he left behind.
Women like to read about how Dick discovers Jane - the woman who makes everything in the bedroom so different that he'll change the way he lives after the orgasm's over.
Women want to see Dick meet Jane, figure out that Jane's going to be different, and watch Dick try to walk away from Jane. Women want to see Jane teach Dick that she's not so easy to leave. Women want Dick and Jane to struggle with any of a million different dilemmas before both of them realize that it's love and that's worth any cost. Women want to see Dick learn that the groans won't always sound better coming from a new mouth. By the Great Green Toad Frog, women want to see Dick find the one woman he won't - can't - leave.
Romance novels aren't about When Dick Leapt Jane; they're about When Dick Kept Jane. That's a fundamental difference in the way men and women see sex. And it's the lesson that Alan Elsner is too MALE to learn. It's why Mr. Elsner got it wrong in the piece he wrote for The Huffington Post. He's written a new book and because it has the word romance in the title, he said he was often asked if he'd written a romance novel. The piece is about what he discovered from checking out from the library - and ALLEGEDLY reading - a stack of recent romances.
The real thrust of Mr. Elsner's piece is a secret he reveals in the opening paragraph. He says that when people asked him if he'd written a romance novel, HIS INSTINCTIVE REACTION WAS NO. Then he says he hadn't read romance fiction "for many years" so he checked out a stack from his library to read and investigate. Guess what? I know, you're on the edge of your seat to discover whether he liked the novels or not.
No, you're not on the edge of your seat at all, are you? Because you're all smart enough to guess that he's a man so his investigation proved that he was right all along. He hadn't written a romance novel. He'd never write a romance novel. Because romance novels - unlike his book - have a predictable script and include too many graphic descriptions of sex. He concludes, in damnably patronizing fashion, that romances are "escapist fiction" and that women have "as much right to enjoy pornography packaged to their liking as men."
Well, thank you very much Mr. Elsner. Women appreciate your being gracious enough to recognize that we have rights -just like men do - imagine that! But you can keep the "right" to enjoy pornography packaged in any form or fashion. I'll just pat Alan on the head and say, "Poor thing, he's just a victim of his gender." Mr. Elsner read romance novels and DIDN'T GET what made them romantic.
Today's romances don't generally stop at the bedroom door. Once upon a time, on I Love Lucy, Lucy and Desi slept in separate beds. Today, Meredith and Derek on Grey's Anatomy don't just sleep in the same bed, viewers get to watch while they celebrate their relationship in that bed. Mr. Elsner points out that Jane Austen's Elizabeth and Darcy shared a physical attraction but the reader doesn't see them having sex. Elsner says that in Pride and Prejudice "the real romance takes place in their heads." He says that modern romance makes a mistake in opening the bedroom door. Personally, I'm guessing that if Ms. Austen wrote today, she'd open that door too.
Elsner says that the sex scenes in romances are "pretty much all alike" and rely on "an unfortunate mix of strained metaphors and graphic anatomical detail." After all, Elsner claims, one stiff nipple is pretty much like another" and this engorged penis is pretty much like that one. I'm not at all surprised that a man, like poor Mr. Elsner, would see it that way. That's why internet and movie porn exist, after all - for men who see sex as serving a physical purpose like pissing. And one toilet is pretty much like another - right?
In romance novels many authors will show the hero frolicking with other women - before he meets the heroine. That shows the hero as a typical man, finding one bout of grabbing and growling pretty much like another. What Mr. Elsner, the poor thing, misses, is that sex between the hero and the heroine shows the difference between random sex and sex that expresses love. Alan can't see past the stiff nipple or the engorged penis, but if he could, he'd see that sex in romance novels is about how the hero and heroine got there and it's about what this stiff nipple means to her and how much more this engorged penis matters to him. This act matters more because they matter more to each other.
And Elsner claims that in romance novels "love is expressed through sex and only sex." How sad that Alan read a stack of romances and couldn't far enough get past the male preconceptions about peaked nipples and hard ons to see that the most romantic acts in the book didn't occur in the bedroom. A former rogue turning down a trip to the bordello with his old running buddies is romantic. A committed bachelor who looks at a room full of ladies and sees only one is romantic. A man's gut-churning desire to beat his former cohort in debauch bloody for dancing with one certain lady is romantic. A rake known to appreciate the swell of a bosom yelling at the heroine for wearing a low cut gown is romantic. Poor Mr. Elsner sees none of that.
Perhaps it's just as well that Mr. Elsner doesn't write about sex. Men don't do it well because they dwell where their mind sticks - on descriptions of the physical. I guess that explains why the author who won the seventeenth annual Literary Review's "Bad Sex In Fiction" award is a MAN. The winner, Jonathan Littell for The Kindly Ones, compares a woman's vulva to a Gorgon's head and a "Cyclops whose single eye never blinks." If you read the description, you'll see that it describes the act, but never the emotions or the feelings. The passage almost denies the woman any personhood. It treats her like an object, and portrays her the same way that porno pictures, video or movies portray, or rather don't portray, women.
Elsner says he doesn't write romance and he doesn't write sex because he's more interested in love "and love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all of the other challenges presented by life." Well, thank the Lord that Mr. Elsner doesn't write romance. He can't even identify the right organ. He thinks love springs from the mind. If that were the case, then no one would love.
Love is not a choice reached through logic. It is abandoning logic to follow the heart. It obeys the soul rather than the limiting bonds of reason. Who would ever decide to fall in love? Who would voluntarily surrender their sense of self, their very happiness and give it over to the keeping of another? If love were about the mind and logic and reason, it would cease to exist.
Romance novels are about the triumph of the heart over the mind. Perhaps that's why they're best written by women who generally take more emotional risks than their male counterparts. Elsner says that romance novels do a disservice to other writers who want to tell a "real love story" about "real people grappling with real dilemmas." Poor Mr. Elsner misses the point of romance novels. The real dilemma at the heart of every romance is the surrender of the mind to the heart that changes "me" to "we." And I bet that if Jane Austen were writing today she wouldn't just know that, she would show it, inside and outside the bedroom.
If you want to watch how Dick Leaps Jane, then play a porno movie or read a "love story" by a male author who is courageous enough (or foolish enough) to write descriptions of sex. If you want to know why Dick Keeps Jane, then read a romance novel written by a woman who understands that everyone deserves happy endings.