Romance Novels and Naughty Bits

the-new-york-times-300x240I've been quiet for the last two weeks, reader, despite being rather in a pique. You see, two weeks ago, the New York Times Book Review published a "Sex Issue" which included, as far as I can tell, no reviews of romance novels or erotica. On top of it, the Book Review of Record interviewed 15 authors about writing sex scenes. Get this: Not one of those writers is a romance novelist.

The closest they got to a romance novelist was Jackie Collins.

I know. Right?

So, suffice to say, I was miffed. I emailed my husband. I texted Sophie Jordan. And I drank entirely too much caffeine. And then I sat down, channelled my grandfather, and crafted a strongly worded letter to the editors of the book review.

Because, while I tend to be irritated when people look down their nose at a genre I love, I get really annoyed when we don't even get consulted on the thing we (arguably) do best and (definitely) do most -- write the naughty bits. I couldn't share the letter here until I knew whether or not it was going to be published by the Times, and yesterday, it was.

So, today, I'm sharing it with you. With a little side note:

Thank you. For reading romance and loving romance and respecting romance.

And for being generally awesome.


To the Editor:

I was dismayed to see that of the 15 authors asked to discuss writing about sex in the “Naughty Bits” roundup, none write romance novels — the genre best known for its naughty bits.

Romance holds a huge share of the consumer market, with more than $1.4 billion in sales in 2012*, so the omission is surprising. The lack of romance authors is especially glaring when one considers that each week, the mass-market, e-book and combined best-seller lists compiled by The New York Times include dozens of books from this far-reaching genre: historical, contemporary, paranormal, erotic and new adult.

A romance novelist would have added a special perspective on the questions “Why is writing about sex so difficult?” and “What makes a good sex scene?” because writing about sex is a large part of what we do. And our readers — all 75 million of them* — expect us to do it well.

Writing about sex is a challenge for the same reason sex is a challenge. Because it’s complicated. Because it doesn’t always make sense and it isn’t always perfect and it’s sometimes awful and it’s sometimes hilarious. But underneath all the clever wordplay, it’s about hope. Hope that someone will see us, and accept us, and perhaps — after all that — choose us. It’s the barest we will ever be. The barest a character will ever be. That’s why it’s difficult.

As for what makes a good sex scene, a romance novelist would have told you that when done well and with a skilled hand, the best sex scenes can at once arouse and empower. Sex on the page gives readers the freedom to explore their own sexuality, their own pleasures, their own identities. With hope. And without judgment.

I hope you will consider including the romance genre in your next “Sex Issue.”


The writer is the author of historical romance novels. Her next book, “No Good Duke Goes Unpunished,” will be published in November.

* All statistics in this letter are from Romance Writers of America.