Let’s Talk About Sex, II: Fantasy (and) Literature

I realize that parts of this post may come off as dictating what and how writers should write and readers should read. I’ve thought twice (or ten times) about whether to post this at all. If you read it and your view differs, I hope you comment. My intention is to open a conversation and talk about my own experience, not to pronounce from on high.

In my post on sex words in romance fiction, I mentioned that lately I’ve noticed some romance readers wondering whether (some) romance is porn, a charge they usually defend it against. The most notable example is Jane Granville’s All About Romance post, which asks whether “hot” books with more plentiful and graphic scenes are porn–a question she ultimately answers in the negative.

I don’t think romance is porn. Nor do I think the kind of erotica read by romance readers (which is often written, openly or secretly, by people who also write romance) is porn. Sex scenes in these books may be intended to arouse, but they’re also intended to do other things, like show character development.

I don’t think “graphic,” concretely described sex equals porn, either. Detailed description can help convey the intensity of such moments, the narrowing of one’s focus to physical sensation. The fact that there’s closed-door romance doesn’t mean opening the door is automatically gratuitous. It’s a narrative choice like any other.

I don’t think it’s bad that romance sex scenes can arouse readers. Explorations of sex and desire shouldn’t be ceded to porn. We accept that art should arouse other kinds of feelings (tears, laughter, pity, fear), so why not desire? I don’t think eroticism is bad or trashy or should be exiled from “art.”

All that said, I’ve been thinking lately that there are ways romance is, or can be, like porn. And that bothers me. (some not-too-graphic but adult stuff after the jump)

Genre romance, like porn, tends to depict a standardized fantasy version of sex. 

Romance is a huge genre, and generalizations about it have a lot of exceptions. I can think of plenty myself. But any romance reader can list the standard sex scene features: for example, the dominant man with a giant, every-ready penis; the hero who loves to perform oral sex but is too gentlemanly/desperate to get inside her to expect the heroine to swallow, if she goes down there at all; the penetration-only female orgasms; the simultaneous and multiple orgasms. I understand the appeal of these fantasies, some of which work for me, and that these things happen sometimes in real life. It’s their omnipresence that bothers me. The uniformity of sex scenes is one reason some longtime readers skim or skip them (eh, page 120, time for the carriage sex). I sometimes do, and I once skipped to the “good parts.”

Can this standardized fantasy have negative real-life consequences for female readers and their partners? Can it make them feel inadequate or have unrealistic expectations? I don’t know, and I’m not really concerned with that here. I don’t think it harms me, unless the occasional spurt of annoyance is harm. But I became a romance-reader in my sexually confident middle age. (It can have positive real-life consequences too, as many a reader has attested). Author Jill Sorenson recently did a great post on why she tries to bring a little more realism about women’s sexuality to her books.

But what interests me here are the literary consequences of these fantasies. All genre fiction has an element of fantasy, because it all originates in medieval Romance; it tends to feature somewhat larger-than-life or archetypal characters, a “hero” and “heroine,” however flawed, whom we can root for.  But a focus on standardized fantasy sex makes romance less a literary fantasy than a sexual wish-fulfillment fantasy. (I’m using the term “literary” here in the sense Ursula LeGuin does in her fantastic post on literature vs. genre fiction).

There’s overlap between the two kinds of fantasy, certainly. All art comes, in part, from the writer’s unconscious, just as private fantasies do. And art may nurture a reader’s private fantasies, too. But I don’t want to read a pure wish-fulfillment fantasy. I can make my own sexual and romantic fantasies, thanks. What I can’t do is write fiction.

Slippage between one kind of fantasy and the other is obvious in some of the ways the romance community talks about books. Heroes get far more love and discussion in Romancelandia than heroines. When people talk about “waiting for X’s book” in a series and hoping X gets paired with someone “worthy,” X is almost always male. When there are discussions about rape in romance, they almost always are, in part, discussions about women’s rape fantasies, as if fantasy were unmediated by the acts of writing and reading. A blog post asking (even tongue in cheek) “what is the best color for a romance hero’s hair?” can only exist in a world where authors get told that they can’t make the hero a red-head because “that’s not sexy” to a big enough audience, and where that audience wants a hero to match their private fantasies.

My manifesto (seriously, I’m in a manifesto mood):

I don’t want the stories romance can tell me, and the kinds of people they can be about, to be limited by the need to appeal to the most common sexual and romantic fantasies. Right now, to some extent, they are. And I think that’s partly why, outside the genre, romance doesn’t get much respect. If its fans don’t talk about it as literature, why would anyone else?

What do I mean by limitations? For example, romance heroes, like female porn stars, tend to conform to a certain rigid (heh) body and character type: big, super-muscled alpha. But real-life women, like real-life men, manage to find a much wider variety of people sexy. Real-life men can be submissive, and they somehow find women who want to dominate them. That’s almost never shown in romance or erotica read by romance readers. You get the picture. What I find “sexy” is a story in which the author shows me that the characters are aroused by what they’re doing, even if it’s something that isn’t part of my own private fantasy repertoire. I read to get out of my own head.

The characters should drive the fantasy, not the other way around. I haven’t watched all that much porn, but I’ve seen enough to know there are standard kinds of scenes. Romances, too, can read as if there’s an editorial checklist somewhere writers are filling out. That can mean scenes that seem to be there because they’re required, not because they work for those particular characters. I once read an anal scene where the sheltered, socially isolated heroine–she hasn’t dated much or had a serious relationship–suggests it. In a parking lot. Because she’s done it before and likes it. Really??? I felt it was there only because erotic romance does anal these days. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t feel the author did either. But hey, checked that box!

Writing, reading and talking about women’s desires and sexual experiences is great. But right now romance is limiting itself to a fairly narrow area of that topic. What I’d like to see is more great sex that doesn’t conform to a particular script, just like the great sex real people have. I’d like to see sex scenes, like everything else, be less bound by genre rules. I want less under-crafted mass-produced sexytimes, more variety of good stories about falling in love, with or without graphic sex scenes in them. On good days, when I’ve read a formula-busting book, I’m confident that’s where romance is headed. Other days . . . I wonder if porn for women is our future.

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27 Responses to Let’s Talk About Sex, II: Fantasy (and) Literature

  1. I’ve read more erotica and porn in my lifetime than I have romance; I watch it too. So that’s what I’ll comment on. I’m a little skeptical about any internally coherent genre distinctions, although I respect the perspectives of others. It’s just that people use the word porn in so many different ways:

    – meaning ANY sexual content
    – meaning “bad” and/or “stupid” and/or “inappropriate” sexual content
    – meaning any work that has mostly sexual content intended to sexually arouse (say about 50% or above, although people’s bars will vary dramatically)
    – any work with high sexual content, intended to sexually arouse, marketed for an audience of predominantly men (of any sexuality)
    – any work with high sexual content, intended to sexually arouse, with a simple narrative arc and pacing designed for ease of physical masturbation
    – meaning any content intended to arouse primal emotion, not just sexual (e.g. torture porn)

    I think visual porn, especially lesbian porn but including straight porn, does have quite a lot of variety when it comes to women’s bodies. The tiny waist/huge implant ideal is there, but some of the most popular performers don’t fit it.

    I agree about the standardization of scenes. But it’s what the majority of the market wants; cash rules.

  2. anna cowan says:

    Excellent list, Violetta! That’s always my first thought, too – what IS porn, when we’re trying to figure out whether romance is or not?

    I love how you say, Liz, that art shouldn’t exclude arousal. I absolutely agree. I’m always a little stumped when my husband finds out I’m reading yet more fan fiction and rolls his eyes because “It’s porn”. He’s partly just winding me up, but it always makes me check myself and go – do I just spend hours and hours reading porn?

    This is where Violetta’s list comes in. Because my first reaction is – no, because I don’t read it to get off, I read it to enter these worlds and characters I love, and watch their relationships get all turned around in interesting ways.

    But then I look again and start wondering whether we’re using the same standard of art excludes arousal when we talk about porn. Is it necessarily a BAD thing to say romance is porn? Is it just that our ideas of what porn is to date are pretty one-track? (And how many times can I write the word porn in one paragraph?)

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You’re both right that in trying to say something about romance I’ve evaded a definition of porn. I’d agree that genre lines are impossible to draw here.

      I guess what I mean by “porn” in this context is what I think romance readers mean when they say “romance is not chick porn.” I mean mainstream visual porn aimed primarily at straight men. I’ve seen other kinds, but even less of them. And I mean porn as in “primarily intended as masturbation aid.” I don’t think romance is that.

      In a way, I’d say, no, it’s not bad if romance is porn. There’s nothing wrong with material aimed at helping people get off. The issue I see is when that wish-fulfillment/sexual-fulfillment purpose (or use by readers) limits what the genre can do.

      I get the argument about market forces. But if the market is driven by “tell a great love story,” heroes don’t have to be over 6 feet with rock hard abs. If the market is driven by “give me a sexual fantasy guy,” maybe he does. And since what I want most from romance is a variety of great love stories, that makes me kind of sad/mad/disappointed.

      I think my other point is that romance-readers, as a group, are conflicted (though on individuals may not be). On the one hand, they say romance is not porn, on the other hand, they often talk about it kind of as if it were. As if the main thing they want from it is a particular kind of emotion or pleasure.

  3. VacuousMinx says:

    I love this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I feel as if books and stories are being recommended primarily because of the emotional reaction the reader has, rather than as a package of emotional and other kinds of rewards.

    – meaning any content intended to arouse primal emotion, not just sexual (e.g. torture porn)

    I use this definition when I think about books as “emotion porn,” but I’d amend it slightly, because I think it’s as much about the reception as the intention. To use a different example, what one person calls “house porn” isn’t necessarily house porn to someone else; they may actually be able to afford some of what is on display. “House porn” is the right term when you’re looking at houses or furniture or whatever that you aren’t going to follow up on, but it makes you feel all tingly. That’s the main purpose of looking.

    With reading emotion porn, the purpose is to conjure up particular emotions and revel in them even if the book doesn’t offer any other rewards, like good writing, plotting, or characterization.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, you and I need to sit in the ranty corner together for a while. I just realized how self-contradictory this post is. I start by saying I’m not pronouncing and end with a manifesto. I’ve been mulling these issues for a long time, but some of my tone has to do with my own mood.

      I agree that reception is at least as important as intent (which we can’t always be sure of). Readers talk about plenty of well-crafted books with lots going on in primarily emotion porn/sexual porn terms. I think there is a feedback loop, too. If that dominates the reader conversation, authors and editors may be more likely to focus on giving us books that focus on that.

      I think the rise of self-publishing plays a role, too. It seems to me a lot of readers don’t expect more of a 99¢ self-published short than a string of “hot” or emotional or both scenes. So that’s what we get, or all some authors know how to give us. And the success of that kind of book means publishers start looking for more of that (I’m not thinking of any One Book here. There are lots.) Personally, I want more kinds of payoff than that, especially as a lot of emotional porn/hot books DON’T provoke those responses in me (maybe I’m a porn outlier of some kind). If a book has other rewards, that doesn’t matter. If not…I’m left with nothing.

      • I’m a fan of porn-as-porn (at least the sex type)… but when it comes to sex in writing, I think there’s at least one consistent CRAFT standard that can be applied across the board: does the sex fit in with the character/relationship arcs and the story arcs? If it doesn’t, then I personally don’t see the point. I mean, I’ve read and greatly enjoyed a science fiction MMF menage story (The Slipstream Con) that had sexual tension, but no sex at all. None. In 90k. And I’ve read other books that i thought were excellent that had something like 90% sex. From a writing perspective, I think the best criteria is that the characters have to end the scene at a different emotional stage than when they begun. Something about them, or the relationship, or the story, has to have changed in a meaningful fashion. If you can take the sex scene out and everything still makes sense, it shouldn’t have been there to begin with, or it should have been fade-to-black or told in passing.

        That comes up in erotic writing discussions a lot… how many sex scenes? How long? What do readers want? And there’s always a tension between publisher expectations and reader expectations and writer expectations and craft considerations. I’ve heard anecdotally that publishers aren’t pushing as hard for extra sex scenes in this last year. But that might swing back with the success of you-know-what.

        I love sex in books, whether it’s in romance or not, and think there should be more of it, and better written. But I really really really hate extraneous sex scenes, too.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          I really agree on the craft issue. And I’m not anti sex in books! Though I do like variety. If every book were 90% sex scenes, a lot of stories couldn’t be told. I don’t want a push for hotter to crowd out other things (I think this can be an issue in m/m which some readers and publishers seem to equate with erotica).

          Erotic scenes require a kind of world-building of their own, I think. Some writers have difficulty pulling off erotica + other world-building (history, sci fi, whatever) and I’ve read too many books where something cracked under the strain.

  4. willaful says:

    Great post; you’re right on the money as far as I’m concerned. When a romance hero seems like a standardized fantasy sex object, that’s when romance feels porny to me. And I don’t think I feel that way just because the standard romance male is not one that especially appeals to me.

  5. anna cowan says:

    okay, I feel like I can move on somewhat from the obvious question of romance/porn (the big word derailed me in my first response!) to what you’re saying here. I admit there’s a kind of reaction in me like: If romance isn’t the unrealistic sexual fantasy, then what’s the point/is it romance? I find this reaction baffling, because I feel like as a writer I’m constantly trying to push what romance can be and, hello, my hero wears a dress.

    So in a way what you’re talking about also challenges the romance-as-escapism thing. Which I also didn’t think I agreed with until I had that reaction to your post. Tres interesting!

    I’m not massively into buff guys, so it’s odd that slimmer, smaller men don’t read as sexy to me on the page the way a bigger, more buff guy would (again – weird, given my hero is the first). This makes me think I agree with Willaful (again – *waves*), and a certain male type reads as a fantasy sex object. So maybe when I’m reading for the hot rush you get from simple archetypes it’s more porny. On the other hand, sex without good character context does absolutely nothing for me.

    (My A-type brain is freaking out right now at the NO RIGHT ANSWERS thing, LOL)

    • VacuousMinx says:

      If you want to explore how a romance novels works as a romance in the absence of the (explicit) unrealistic sexual fantasy, just go read a bunch of books that stop at the bedroom door. Those were the books I grew up reading, and I kept reading them long after I could pursue whatever sexual fantasy interested me in my own life. Sexual fantasies are only one part of romance. Books used to emphasize interesting conversations, external conflicts, character changes that affected the relationship, and all kinds of other factors that affected the way the characters interacted and felt about each other but did not involve sex. And those books were total escapist romance.

      I miss those things. I read a book a while back by a new-to-me author. It had all these features and it was a wonderful reading experience. I skipped the two or three obligatory sex scenes because my mind was having a wonderful time and I really didn’t want my body distracting me.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I agree with Sunita. I’d add that of course I look for emotional response when reading romance. And maybe sexual response if you include in that the feeling that reading great tension between the characters can bring (it gives me a thrill in the pit of my stomach). I’ve found closed door romances can create those responses as well–sometimes much better–as a book with sex scenes.

        I think that Angela Toscano, in her paper on cliché in romance, talks about the hero’s size as representing the way he looms large in the heroine’s life and fills her vision (I’m trying to think of the more positive side of the formula). There are reasons/arguments for all these sexual clichés but for me we’ve reached the point where too often they’re used thoughtlessly and ineffectually, not symbolically.

        ETA: not exactly on this topic but Angela’s paper is interesting on the force of repeating a cliché.

      • willaful says:

        When I read Layton’s The Duke’s Wager a few years ago, I remember thinking that it was a book that couldn’t be written today, because the requirement for sex in romance — but only sex with the hero — meant that a genuine love triangle could never be achieved. I also find I enjoy older Baloghs, in which sex happens if it’s important and makes sense, not on schedule.

      • anna cowan says:

        I was surprised actually that the longer I worked on my novel the less I wanted to include a sex scene. I tried as much as possible to only include what was essential to their relationship/development, and I think the scenes are important, but i definitely felt some (imagined?) market pressure to have sex in there. This is making me consider things… On the other hand, I find sex super fascinating, and worth exploring.

  6. I do you think you bring up excellent points, particularly hero-centric romance can be. I get a bit exasperated when I see romance authors & readers posting naked & half-naked men all over their social media outlets because I find it incredibly vacant. I have no problem with the naughty corners of Romancelandia (like the EC models who were an RT staple, or funny sex games at RomCon, etc), since the genre is about self-expression and gives women a place for their sexual desires, but is that all the genre is about? Because then, the reading experience is not about loving the romantic and sexual relationship unique to the h/h, but creating a general, generic experience that allows the reader to insert themselves into the story. Though I’m a heroine-centric reader (and writer), it’s rare to find a book on my keeper shelf where I didn’t love the heroine and the hero, because it’s not the story of me and the hero, or the hero by himself, but the characters as a couple. If that isn’t the point of the journey to a HEA, then maybe romance can be porn.

  7. jillsorenson says:

    Juicy topic alert! So excited.

    First, thanks for the link. I should have linked to you from that post and I said so in the comments over there. Sorry about that.

    I’m puzzled when the same readers who get insulted by the romance vs. porn debate turn around and squee over hot man ass. I feel like women are saying, “I’m not masturbating! I’m not aroused! It’s all about the emotional connection!” As if there’s something wrong with getting aroused. Or maybe female arousal isn’t recognized in the same way. When men look at porn, their level of arousal is obvious and visual, not a subject of debate. If they don’t get aroused or masturbate, it’s still porn. But maybe women are thinking that looking at naughty pics/reading erotic romance isn’t as sexually charged because 1. they don’t masturbate after 2. the emotional content trumps the sexual content.

    You’ve made comments here (and other places IIRC) about the limitations of romance, its rigid standards, common fantasies, and fantasy figures. Readers sometimes say “it doesn’t matter if I think this is hot as long as the characters do.” I don’t quite understand, or read that way. It might be a placeholder issue. The layers are deep…

    There are some fantasies I won’t find hot no matter what (I think). A woman being treated like an animal and fed dog food isn’t going to work for me. I’m not even going to try to read that. Most of the “common” romance fantasies are acceptable to me, although I’m not a fan of the doormat heroine who needs a man to make decisions for her.

    I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface here and I wish I had time to go deeper. I’ve thought before about an issue I call “once-removed.” I invented it, so bear with me. I can read and enjoy f/f and bdsm separately, although both are somewhat foreign to me as a straight vanilla reader. When an author puts these two together, I’m out. It’s twice removed from the familiar. Another example is f/f/f. I read one all-girl menage once, and it was a romance, but I just didn’t get it. My fantasy brain doesn’t understand. F/f/m is great. I even read an m/m/m/f that I liked. So maybe certain types of menage are fine with me because of this once-removed idea. Some m/f + menage = okay. An all gay menage is too unfamiliar for me.

    Hope that made sense. I’ve been wondering if my sex scenes will all read the same if I only write material that I personally find sexy. I need to think more on this.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Are you sure “we” don’t masturbate after? 😉 I mean, no one talks about that. I think the link between book fantasy and sexual fantasy is probably not that direct most of the time, but who knows.

      Yes, I don’t find anything hot the characters do, and there are some things I have no interest in reading. I didn’t put that very well. I think what I meant was more, if a book is a fully formed romance, not an excuse for formulaic sex scenes, then it doesn’t really matter whether I find the sex scenes hot, because the book is giving me other kinds of emotional and intellectual pleasure. Balogh is one example. Her sex scenes really mostly aren’t sexy (and I’m not alone in thinking that) but they do mostly work for the plot/characters and her books are still emotionally powerful.

      I wouldn’t want every book to be like that, though, because sometimes I DO want a book that will make ME feel hot and bothered and where I find the sex scenes to be an appealing fantasy. I don’t think that response and desire shouldn’t be part of the genre at all! I just don’t want it to be everything.

      • willaful says:

        My husband was genuinely surprised that I didn’t read romances for stroke material. He certainly thought that’s what they were for. 🙂

  8. Diana says:

    Damn, that’s why I can’t have a Manifesto! I dither and waffle all over the place, sometimes in the mood for unapologetic porny “badly written” stuff and other days I crave sublime prose. The more blogs I read decrying this or that aspect of romance fiction, the more I appreciate you as one of the more thoughtful and open minded bloggers.

    Back in the day I had a remarkable tolerance for bad tv — terrible made-for-tv movies, Dynasty, Dallas, Melrose, daytime soaps. With the glut of creepy reality tv I’ve lost my taste and tolerance for it. But I am an adventurous reader willing to try just about anything. It’s going to be a long time before I can construct my own Manifesto. 🙂

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You know, I’ve thought about the fact that I have (or had) a higher tolerance for bad TV. I wonder if it’s because I don’t understand the craft as well as I do with fiction. or maybe I’m just a book snob.

      I sometimes want porny too. I just don’t want porny to define the genre.

  9. I can’t help but wonder if you’re actually making a distinction between poorly written Romances and Romances that aren’t. There are authors out there who write sex scenes you can’t skip because those scenes matter to the story and the characters. That is craft and talent at work, not anything inherent to romance as a genre.

    Take any now-cliche romance trope mentioned in this post and in the comments and there are authors who can make that trope gripping and remind us all why it works.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      The quality of writing is a big part of this, yes. Those clichés are clichés for a reason and they can still work. Despite the fact that some of them really, really annoy me, I’ve read books where I’ve loved all of them, because they were done well.

      I suppose a big part of my concern is that when reader conversations focus on hotness/emotional response, I worry any impetus for better craft will be lost, as Violetta says above. I already see writers saying “readers don’t care about writing, just story.” Um, not all of us (and I don’t think you can completely separate those things). My other question is why we have to see so much of the same. I think good writers can sell us on a wider variety of hotness.

  10. Jorrie Spencer says:

    Coming in late here, but it is a fascinating conversation. I do think a sense of sameness is an issue (for any genre, actually) but that it can be separated from how well executed the story is. Well, at least to some degree, because I suppose part of execution is bringing something fresh to the table.

    For example, and this is an innocuous example. But when I came back to reading romance over ten years, I found that so many heroines were observing the hero upon first meeting them and noting their height, their broad shoulders and their narrow hips. This description just became really, really repetitive in my reading, so that I’d start to roll my eyes (and obviously be distracted from the story) when I came across it. Now maybe this was just a weird coincidence regarding my reading, but nevertheless it did illustrate to me that variety is a good thing. (And as time passed, hero descriptions I read seemed to become less uniform.)

    So, anyway, I don’t think it’s just execution, but I think that’s one important aspect. That is, a good writer who loves working with certain tropes, even if they’re well-used, can do very good work.

    But I guess that’s not really what you’re frustrated with. It’s more trying to find something outside a certain script. The one somewhat outside-the-box area I really like is “difficult” heroines. I don’t think I actually write them, but when I read them, I am sometimes thrilled that I’m getting something different than I’m used to. I don’t necessarily read the heroine for placeholder value—though I can, how I read seems to vary from book to book—so I like someone who delves into a heroine’s psyche and makes her fascinating to me.

    God, I’m all over the place here. And long! Sorry about that.

  11. Kaetrin says:

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments yet – will have to come back later for that. The two best books I’ve read in the past week or so were both YA/”new adult” stories. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (no penetrative sex at all, they barely get blow the waist) and Easy by Tammara Webber – sex scenes but not terribly explicity. I thought they were both very steamy reads and very satisfying because the author had hooked me with the characters and I felt the depth of emotion behind the physical acts. Or something like that anyway. I was actually surprised that the Katie McGarry book satisfied my “need” for some kind of intimacy to be displayed in romance books – I’m generally not a fan of closed bedroom door books – there was enough in the make out scenes (and they weren’t prolific, just appropriately placed) for me to feel emotionally “satisfied”. (does that make any sense at all???).

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I somehow missed this before. Yes, it makes perfect sense to me. I want to know there’s attraction and desire and yearning between the characters, and often that (and emotion) are conveyed better via tension than via more explicit scenes. You want to believe the sex is going to be good, but a writer doesn’t *have* to show it to you to make you believe.

      • Kaetrin says:

        I think it’s something about the connection between the characters too. Sometimes a simple kiss can be so erotic and emotionally charged if I believe in that connection.

  12. Kaetrin says:

    Okay, I’ve read the comments now. I, too, would like more variety in hero/heroines, even though the tall and muscular, with the broad shoulders appeals to me personally. In reading the comments, it struck me as odd that, given my preference, my favorite romance novel (if I was forced at gunpoint to pick one) is (probably) Mary Balogh’s Heartless. Balogh’s doesn’t write stroke fiction that’s for sure! Luke is not very tall and on the slender side but he looms large as the hero in the book. The best sex scene, IMO, in the book isn’t remotely sexy but the emotional payoff for me was huge.

    Like many commenters here, I read a variety of romance novels, some are more explicit than others and it depends on my mood as to what I’ll read next. But I’d be sad if they were all the same. Vive la difference!

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