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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Guest post: "The value of the romance genre" by Ember Casey

The guest post series about the value of romance and erotica continues with a post by USA Today bestselling indie author Ember Casey, whose work I very much admire. Today Ember shares with us a personal story about her own struggles with sexuality and how writing romance has "played a significant role in reforming [her] relationship with sex." You won't want to miss this one.

"The value of the romance genre" by Ember Casey

What is the value of the romance genre?” is a heavy question. There’s a lot one could say about the genre’s role in society, pop culture, and gender politics, especially with the recent mega-success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey. For me, though, the importance of the romance genre is something simpler and far, far more personal.

Growing up, I had a very strained relationship with idea of sex. In my head, sex was something terrifying at best, and at worst, something shameful and evil. From the outside (if I’d ever had the courage to discuss this with someone else), my feelings might actually have been surprising; in spite of the fact that I grew up in a conservative part of the United States, my parents and teachers generally taught what many consider a relatively “healthy” view of sex.

If you’re going to have sex, make sure you use protection.
Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
Consider waiting until you’re in love -- sex is emotional as well as physical.


The truth of my relationship with sex is a long story—but suffice it to say, it was very much complicated by the fact that I suffer from what is commonly called “Pure O”—a form of OCD that often centers on shame-based anxieties. Sexual themes are quite common with Pure O, and the illness caused me to have a very complicated and often negative relationship with the ideas of sex, female sexuality, and other related ideas.

I am an unusual case, I know, but the sad truth is that in our society, it is not uncommon for people—especially women—to have similar negative and shameful feelings toward their own sexuality and desires. People will blame a number of things—religion, gender roles/cultural expectations, the media, etc.—but the cause doesn’t matter. The point is that, for all the progress we’ve made in society, there’s still a double standard when it comes to the attitudes and desires men and women are “supposed” to feel toward sex.

Which brings us back to the romance genre.

There are those who will accuse the romance genre of being too “idealistic”. Others accuse it—especially those books at the more erotic end of the genre—as being “porn”. It’s criticized for being little more than fluff or smut, but the truth is that the romance genre does something very important.

Romance novels are a safe space. They’re a place for women to explore their sexual (and emotional) fantasies without judgment, a place of potential sexual self-discovery.

That’s part of why I’m such a strong defender of the “idealistic” factor in this genre—the “fantasy” element is key to this. Knowing that the two main characters will ultimate find love and understanding in each other, know that there’s going to be a happy ending—these are things that contribute to that “safe” feeling. Romance novels are about readers experiencing the positive potential of sex and relationships.

Which isn’t to say that every reader who picks up a romance novel will experience some great new understanding of their sexuality. For me, romance novels (first in reading them, then in writing them) played a significant role in reforming my relationship with sex—so much so that the very first “sex” scene I wrote in my very first romance was actually a female masturbation scene, something I would have seen as shameful at the beginning of my journey. The experience of reading and writing romance novels was liberating in a way I still have trouble describing. I was allowing myself not only to see sex in a positive way, but to create sex—to explore fantasies on paper, both through other authors’ imaginations and my own.

But even those readers who have (and have always had) very healthy relationships with sex, or those who just grab a romance novel for a bit escapism after a long day—or anyone who never thinks past the pure surface enjoyment these novels provide—are still taking a very positive approach to their own sexuality by (*gasp!*) allowing themselves to find entertainment and pleasure in something that only a very short time ago would have been considered scandalous (and, honestly, is still considered scandalous by some). By allowing our imaginations to engage with these stories of love and sex consciously or no, we’re evaluating what we want (or don’t want) in our own relationships and taking the opportunity to acknowledge—and ultimately embrace—our own sexuality.

Author Bio
EMBER CASEY is a USA Today bestselling author who lives in Atlanta, Georgia in a den of iniquity (or so she likes to tell people). When she's not writing steamy romances, you can find her whipping up baked goods (usually of the chocolate variety), traveling (her bucket list is infinite), or generally causing trouble (because somebody has to do it).

You can connect with Ember Casey by email at ember.casey@gmail.com, on her website, by subscribing to her newsletter, through her Facebook page and on Twitter. Her first contemporary romance trilogy, His Wicked Games, is now available as a boxed set on Amazon, Amazon UKiTunesB&NKobo, and Google Play

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