I can still remember the day I heard that men, in the old days—I mean, really old days, would bite the ear lobe of their lovers whilst de-flowering them. Sounds...barbaric.
But, if you think about it, men often do things that take us out of our normal, or push us into a different mindset. Like when he said he likes short dresses, so you go out and buy ten new mini dresses. At times, it’s not even what he said, it’s more what he made you feel while doing a thing, and the slightest insinuation can make you want to try something new. I don’t mean in a bad way, like encouraging a mate to do something dangerous, but in a way that is adventurous and outside of the traditional manner of doing things.
Since art imitates life, it’s no wonder that as readers we find outselves drawn to heroes that push the envelope on their heroines' ‘normal’, and thereby awaken something inside of these women that makes them feel more desirable, more confident, more open to new experiences. And if we put this in terms of, say, ice cream, these heroines go from vanilla to rocky road or wild cherry.
The book at the very top of my list of case-in-points would have to be the first novel I read in 2013 that made me pull an all-nighter: Vanilla on Top by C.J. Ellisson. In the book, nice girl Heather is encouraged by her friends to attend a speed-dating event, where she meets Tony. He’s hot, of course, and she is kind of hot, but she's not awakened just yet. Kind of like a lot of us, right?
There were lots of things about Heather to remind us she’s an ordinary girl. And a great deal of inner conflict over whether she could carry out some of her most suppressed desires with a man she considered out of her league. Tony is presented as being confident, with boatloads of demanding male libido. I loved him, and I would have definitely put on a pair of sky high stillettos for an evening for play with him.
Same for Gideon of the Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day, or Christian of the Fifty Shades Series by E.L. James. But how can a man make you lay down your good girl for one who is so, so deliciously bad?
Well, here’s my totally unscientific assessment of the situation. There are some men who empower you to be something more through acceptance, flaws and all. For instance, with Tony, he really didn’t tell or ask Heather to do anything. In fact, she liberated him to some extent. But in her quest to break free from her mistakes of the past, she feels the need to steal control of her relationships. In his silence, his refusal to tell her what she should do or how she should behave, he propelled her quest. He didn’t tell her it was bad. In fact, he encouraged her behavior—albeit primarily sexual titillation—that enabled her to blossom, even beyond the bedroom into her personal friendships and her professional persona.
In the case of Gideon (ohh, Gideon—you delightful, ‘O’-providing beast), he offered Eva safety from her horrible past, therefore setting her free to give him everything, and all of her. With Christian, his exploration of the naughty or taboo was perfect for Ana’s virgin self. She hadn’t explored anything, other than fantasies, and Christian enabled her to break free of her cocoon and become desirable.
In essence, it’s not that these men influenced the sexual empowerment of their respective mates, it was more that through their love for their women, they accepted and didn’t skew any of their desires, even when it was something new or different for the men themselves. It’s kind of like cultivating a bonsai tree (I’ve killed three, so I have yet to master the art). The care bestowed upon it should cut it down to nothing, but it should enable it to grow into its own beautiful, natural shape. I am thrilled with this trend in popular romantic fiction and hope that it continues to encourage women to dabble with their own wild cherry.