Sex and Romance Writing by Nancy Brophy

Sex sells. Visual sex truly sells. In the 1940’s and 50’s there were “Detective Magazines” with covers of women mainly in bondage poses. Women in distress stories, I assume, but certainly the covers appealed to an element of society, which conflicted with our Norman Rockwell view of America post-war.

I have never read one of the magazines, but probably would if one came available. Although, I have found a titillating cover frequently disappoints. Either the inside story is too raw or too sanitized, which may be a result of sex being written by men. Men and women need different stimuli.

Bodice rippers as they were known in the 70’s and 80’s also had interesting covers. Fabio made a career out of blowing hair and a rippled chest. The thing that always puzzled me was the woman with bodacious ta-tas barely contained, was faced away from the hero. Turn around, honey. Things will go better, I promise.

In both of these examples, the woman was usually an innocent victim, never the one in charge of her fate, while men were portrayed as crass, cruel and unknowable. Granted, there were other stories as well, but the overall image of the genre was that of sex-driven stories or porn for women, if you will.

The genre changed. Women are in charge of their destinies. Men have a point-of-view. And the sex is consensual and can be initiated by either party. Whoo-hoo.  And many of us still choose books to read by the covers. Now we still see a lot of torsos – mainly hunky men. Sex still sells. Why? Each generation believes they invented sex.

We write to encompass the human experience, which includes both emotional love and physical love. Despite the fact many of us mock the insert-tab-a-into-slot-b approach, others will always see our genre as porn for women.

But as writers we must tap into the universal experience – the one that marked us for life. The one that happened before we were smooth and practiced, before we expected to be disappointed in love and before we learned not to risk everything on a spin of the wheel, the toss of dice or a boy’s smile and whispered promises.

The writers I like to read capture those moments of desperation. They convey the longing and insecurities we’ve all experienced. They bring back golden memories. But more importantly, they reconfirm everything I believe. That the bad get punished, that risks have payoffs, and in life there will be a happy ending.


Posted on July 17, 2011, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I do still look at covers, but I look for something more than sex on the cover–something that catches my eye and hints at the plot or the mood of the story. Then I read the back cover blurb. In the case of ebooks (which is mostly what I buy these days for my Nook), I read the blurb on B&N or at the publisher site.

    Usually the blurb will get me to buy it. If I’m still not sure, then I want to read a chapter and see if the writing is any good. If a chapter is not available, then I might wait and see if anyone else makes a recommendation. I’m a member of Good Reads, so I’ll see what my friends are recommending.

    This probably sounds like a lot of thinking, but I figure I always have at least 10 books in my e-reader to peruse that are either by authors I know and trust, or friend’s books I’ve purchased. That means for me to spend any more money, I want to be sure it’s worth it. 🙂


  2. Taking a break before doing the last bit of polishing on my current almost-finished project, because I love this question. I chose a recent book, solely based on the fabulous cover and the back cover blurb. Check out LADY OF DEVICES by Shelley Adina. Wow. This story was well worth picking up the book.


  3. Maggie’s comment has me wondering. How criteria do you use when you chose books to read?


  4. Being a “summer of love” girl myself, I know exactly what you mean. I used to own a catering company and some of my younger employees would come to work with red blood-shot glassy eyes. I’d have to take them outside and tell them not to come to work wasted. They were always surprised that I recognized the problem. Eventually I’d have to say something like, “Listen your generation did not invent sex, drugs and rock and roll. Mine did.” But during the casual let’s-do-it sexual revolution I formed a lot of my opinions about the inner connection of sex and emotion. And about how some itches that got scratched left me feeling worse the next morning.


  5. Of course all those generations are wrong, it was those of us who experienced the “summer of love” who invented sex. 🙂 I agree with you that the bad get punished and the good triumph in the end. That is why I read and write romance. As for the sex, for me it is all about connection. When the connection is emotional and physical it works–both in books and in person. When it is only one of those two parts it doesn’t. I am personally turned off by covers that are all male chest because I don’t believe the book will have enough plot, complication, or emotion. So, for me to buy a book with that cover I have to either know the author or get a recommendation. Yes, weird from a summer of love girl.


  6. “Each generation believes they invented sex.” So true, on so many levels. 😀


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