Sex is like any other element in fiction. If it is not organic to the story, it just gets in the way. Sometimes the sex in a romance novel works exceedingly well and propels the story forward; other times it feels tacked on and unnecessary.
Like most things in life, it boils down to execution.
This tends to be a heated discussion for romance readers. Some of us need the sex. Sex is a natural progression in any romantic relationship, and if the sex isn’t there, or doesn’t work, it doesn’t give one much faith in the happy-ever-after. But for some readers, the sex is almost incidental. We don’t really need to see it on page to buy into the happy ending. That’s where all the emotional play between the characters comes in. Or more simply put? Tension.
I’m a romance reader who will read all over the map when it comes to sex. I adore well-done erotica, but I also enjoy stories that employ “just-kisses.” The latter is the foundation on which the Harlequin Romance line is built. It’s all about the tension. It’s all about developing the emotional relationship between the hero and heroine. It’s all about showing two people navigating the romantic waters all while not putting sex on the page. The bedroom door is firmly closed.
What I enjoy about this particular brand of category romance is that not only does the author have to make me believe the romance without any bedroom gymnastics; they have to do it in one of the shorter word counts in the Harlequin universe. These stories clock in at fewer than 200 pages. The author needs to sell the romance, sell the happy ending, and sell all the sexual tension, without employing any naughty bits to illustrate the point.
This all leads to the misconception that the Harlequin Romance line is “old-fashioned.” Yes, they’re gentler love stories. But “gentle” does not automatically make them irrelevant to today’s modern reader. It’s all about the voice, and many of the Harlequin Romance authors employ a very modern voice. They write about heroines who I might personally know. Heroines I could see myself being friends with, having coffee with, chatting about life, love and books with. They’re real women, with real problems. They just don’t broadcast their sexual exploits for the entire world to read about.
For that reason, I call this line the “multi-generational” line. These are books you can recommend to any reader, and feel safe in doing so. Whether the reader is thirteen, a college student, a Gen-X professional, a retiring Baby Boomer, or an extremely conservative grandmother, there’s something in the Harlequin Romance line that will appeal to all of them.
Despite it being the oldest line of books in the Harlequin canon, with book number one launching in 1949, it’s a line I just personally discovered. Like many, I slapped the “old-fashioned” label on them without having read one, but discovering these good, solid stories, wrapped up in a small package, featuring real heroines with real problems was like finding a long lost gold mine. They’re a great way to unwind, relax, and get an emotional charge that all romance readers look for in the genre.
Wendy Crutcher, Fighting For Truth, Justice and the Right to Read What You Want