Sunday, February 6, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex

Today's world of contraception  and sex-education has made sex more of a fun thing to do when you're bored than a big, meaningful event.  Age, both very young and very old, is irrelevant. Marriage is not a requirement by any means for anything (except for shared health benefits).  Modern Western culture is as much an anything goes society as any in the history of the Western world (except for maybe Ancient Greece in regards to homosexuality).

I think I can objectively say that these are modern sexual mores as presented by the media.  The stakes, in regards to sex, are not high.

Given the prevailing openness about sex, even among adolescents, never ceases to amaze me when those sneaky Puritanical values that occasionally give us guilt or the perception of a right to be judgmental rear their intolerant, bonnet clad head.

Recently a young lady of my acquaintance shared that she was expecting.  She is over 18, a high school graduate, and on the way to developing a career.  She is a capable young adult.  She and the father plan to marry, which was their plan in the first place.  Now, I'm sure even she would acknowledge that the situation is not ideal, but it's not terrible or anything worthy of scandal.  The buzz amongst the younger crowd, however, is quite different.

I don't know if the fact that she's pregnant is what makes it rumor worthy.  Since she's not showing any sense of shame or embarrassment, that should have squashed the rumor mills in the bud.  But it hasn't -- which leads me to think that the titillating factor is that the pregnancy is evidence that she's sexually active.  I cannot believe, in this world that these adolescents wish to be a part of and claim to be mature enough to participate in, that they care that an adult is sexually active. Really?

This goes on to debunk the media's portrayal that our society actually believes that anything goes.  Apparently the stakes are still high.  Parents still opt to have their children excluded from sex education and abstinence is the preferred method of birth control.  Perception of being sexually promiscuous (which apparently means sexually active) is just as big a deal now as it has ever been.  And marriage counts for something.  I mean, I don't think the buzz would be nearly as exciting if I, a married, 35 year-old, mother of two, announced I was pregnant (I'm not, btw). In fact, the young people would probably be grossed out.

This is where I seguay to writing....
I write historical romance.  The most popular historical romance genre is Regency.  During the regency era and the ensuing Victorian period, sex was a very private thing.  There were strict moral codes.  Judgement was high.  The stakes for being sexually active outside of marriage could be life shattering.  In a way, this makes Regency romance that much more exciting.

I write about the Elizabethan era.  Sex was, well, rampant.  Obvious.  In poorer communities, life was still almost feudal, and generations of a family would share one home without having their own rooms.  Sex was not private, nor was it illicit or sinful.  It was a normal thing that happened between a couple (especially since England was experiencing a mini-Ice Age at that point).  Sex outside of marriage may have been a bigger deal to the lower classes, but among the nobles it was commonplace.  In fact, a betrothed couple would sometimes not marry until the woman was pregnant in order to ensure that she could breed.  If a woman got pregnant outside of a betrothal, she'd go and have the baby in the country, then come back to court.  She also had the option of taking a 'herbal remedy,' and many women did.  The idea of being ruined by lack of virginity happened much later.  Virginity was not all important -- what was important was that the blood lines be preserved. 

This said, raising the sexual stakes in an Elizabethan romance is difficult.  Of course, modern readers put their own perceptions of what life was like 'back then' and attribute values to things that were not valued -- so they put their own stakes on the event.  So far, my stakes revolve around other aspects of the story.  Sex is part of it, of course, in that it goes to grow the characters and the relationship.

In my current w.i.p., I am making a point to make the stakes on sex high.  Jane is a sexually promiscuous widow -- sex is not be a big deal for her.  She has to change her ideals when she decides that she want to marry again and she wants to marry well.  If she is going to marry the Earl of Kingsley, she should not give in to her desire for the tutor, despite the fact that he was her first, innocent love years ago. This time I'm going to withhold sex for quite some time and see if the tension is enough to titillate through the story.  The problem I see with this is when they actually do come together, I had better deliver that scene with an intensity that makes the wait worth it.

Of course, these are my plans now.  Who knows what the characters will decide to do, if the want to abide by my outline or not.


Myne said...

I love historical romance though I don't write it myself. All the best with your book.

NinjaW234 said...

Good luck with your book. I am highly anticipating reading it. I wonder how sex education differs in seperate parts of the world.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I'm not a huge romance reader, but the way you describer your books, with all the historical elements, does intrigue me.

Good luck and keep us posted. I would like to read one of your books. You have a good flow with your writing that is very appealing to me.


Susan Kane said...

I love your forthright honest assessment of today and of back then. Thanks.

Kathleen said...

I actually saw a man at Barnes and Noble perusing the romance section...He was about 50 and ordinary looking....he was actually taking books out, reading the back covers, putting it back or into a pile he was collecting, etc. Maybe he was shopping for his wife....who knows? I wonder how many men read romance novels?
BTW: I love the idea of having a romance heroine who already loves sex when she meets her man...that is counter to the usual formula that I know so well!

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