I’ve been seeing a fair few online takes regarding female anatomy recently. Specifically, about female anatomy and male anatomy coming together for sex – and the utterly inaccurate thoughts in some quarters about ‘what happens then’. I freely admit several of these takes come from incel threads, where I do not love being and absent myself from as soon as I realise.
Leaving aside the personal amusement such takes have delivered for myself and many of my romance writer friends, I understand many of these outrageous conclusions and odd beliefs arise from too much online porn, and too little real-life shagging.
“That’s all very well,” one of my other friends – an incredible adult film talent - pointed out. “But don’t you romance author guys do the same?”
“I beg your pardon?” I asked in my best 'Lady Catherine' tone.
She wasn't the least bit put off. In her job, it pays to have nerves of steel.
“Isn’t pornhub to sex, what Jane Austen is to romance?” My friend pointed out the meme below:
Austen & Porn?
I fell silent (unusual for me, if you’ve ever seen me interviewed), because I considered this for the first time. Then, I also considered all of us. The romance writers – the creators of fictional loves and lovers, wielders of tropes and traditions that, honestly, pre-date Austen herself (though her novel book format dates from not much earlier).
So, do we promote ignorance in our novels? Do readers form unrealistic beliefs regarding a person’s ability to hear another’s opinion and look inward to evolve themselves?
Is love harder for romance readers?
Have we made it harder for people to love each other? This stopped me cold, because while I may not devote my existence to a single, overarching theme or anything, I do believe in love and the heart’s endless capacity to seek it, know it, treasure it, and overflow with it into another’s (or several others’). I also recalled that my own mum referred to my novels a literary porn (she still reads them though.)
Then I remembered why romance novels are so popular: because romance readers love celebrating love as much as romance writers do. I am not sure if this is the same with porn – am honestly not a huge subscriber so let me know if I’ve got the wrong end of this (and here comes a pop-up that’s best left to your imaginations).
I don’t think people suddenly grew wiser about choosing their lovers when Mr Darcy first appeared in print. True love, hearts that see each other, couples growing towards each other, etc…these themes have been around as long as people have. Romeo and Juliet was written centuries before Pride and Prejudice, and while there’s no happy ending, there is most definitely love. It ends in death, but then most of the great love stories did end in death.
It’s not a romance if this happens – we know that, but I can remember learning all the Greek myths. Plenty of ‘true lovers’ ended up as constellations so they could stay together, or be preserved nearest the deity who adored them, etc. Now, this may or may not be your idea of romantic, but it's perhaps an indicator of the ancients’ idea of love.
Love came first.
Before romance, and certainly before death, because love is inseparable from the human experience. Do we romance writers pretty it up? Yes. Are our happy endings for all our protagonists unrealistic? Yes – but no more so than any other myth.
We write fiction. The scenarios are rarely real and sometimes not even relatable. I’ve yet to be held on an opulent island by a millionaire with perfect abs and a mafia connection…
…but that’s the romance. Not the love.
Romance came afterwards:
Romance might be formulaic in the same way as sex can be mechanical, but love isn't either one. At least, I don't believe it is. I'm not sure when porn began (I am sure cave painting of boobies can't have been that hard to create), but I don't believe Love can be experienced this way, and that’s my defense of Austen in the face of Pornhub.