May 26 2012 3:00pm

I Call Bullshit! Literally Damaged Heroes

The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail features a swordfight between King Arthur and the Black Knight. First Arthur severs the Knight’s left arm, who shrugs off his injury: “Tis but a scratch...I’ve had worse.” Then Arthur reluctantly continues their swordplay, cutting off the Knight’s sword arm. Though now armless, the Knight still refuses to concede, and by the end of the fight—when he is but a stump of a man—he suggests they “call it a draw.” By the time Arthur “rides” away (clip clop, clip clop), the Black Knight, belligerent to the end, taunts him: “Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!”

After my husband badly injured an already-bum knee, I realized that too many romance novel heroes are like the Black Knight, only with the self-awareness the character obviously, comically, lacks. They may masquerade as regular, albeit Alpha, men, but in certain ways they have more in common with the Zap!, Pow!, and Wham! of comic book superheroes.  Just as historical romances are impossibly riddled with Dukes, the number of heroes resembling SEAL Team Six members is way out of proportion, not just as skilled warriors and deadly assassins, but where their recuperative powers are concerned.

These are Energizer Bunny Heroes. They are able to ride for miles in the Medieval muck with an arm out of its socket to rescue a fair maiden. They can rip out their IVs after being felled by bullets in order to hare after the bad guy out to blow up the world. And as they recover from the Plague or Foil a Deadly Plot, they somehow manage to get aroused and Need Sex.

Unlike Schmidt in New Girl, however, whose painful erections (after breaking his penis having sex with a girl whose “vagina contains a right angle”) slows down his libido, Energizer Bunny Heroes’ constant erections don’t subside, even when recovering from mortal wounds. In fact, these injured Alphas are not only capable of getting aroused, they are somehow able to sate their erotic hungers.

I call bullshit. Pain—and painkillers—kill the libido. Thoughts of sex never even enter the mind, no matter how strong and stalwart you are, when you’re in a world of pain. When you require another person to help you shower, stand, or dress yourself, Sexy Time is not on the calendar.

Anyone who has ever nursed a loved one after a major injury probably knows this. I myself had shoulder surgery in December, followed almost immediately by a fall that broke my hand, which resulted in my sympathetic nervous system going kerflewy. Luckily, two injections in my neck while under heavy sedation arrested the pain syndrome, or put it in remission. It took me four months to be able to bend the fingers on my left hand enough to make a fist...and a week later, my husband wrenched his knee. Can I tell you that Doing the Deed has not been high on our to-do list of late?

While I was ambulatory and able to dress myself in sweats and hoodies, it’s been nearly three weeks after hurting his knee and he still cannot put on underwear without help. We figured out a way for him to shower a week after he zigged when he should have zagged, but my fastidious, very fit and healthy husband spent this entire past weekend on the couch because he was so exhausted from going to his office the week before, and in pain from trying to bend and bear weight on his leg so the swelling would subside enough for surgery, at which point we’ll be doing it all again.

Even the SEALs can’t always be up to it!Caring for him while he’s injured is incredibly intimate, and I know it’s at least—if not more—difficult on him to rely on me for so many things as it was for me to allow him to help me during my convalescence. He is a man, after all, in all his self reliant glory. And I’m the woman who loves him. I’m frankly so fearful of hurting him by driving over speed bumps and potholes now that I’m chauffeuring him to and from work that the thought of climbing on him to ride him like a cowgirl has not once entered my mind. Even if he were a Navy SEAL instead of a mild-mannered lawyer.

Please share some of the Energizer Bunny heroes you’ve read. Did you believe how Totally Awesome they were, or did you mentally call bullshit?


Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on goodreads, be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.

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Diane Farr
1. DianeFarr
Yes!! I recently had an otherwise-wonderful romantic suspense read ruined ... well, not ruined, but seriously impaired ... by a hero's disappearing broken nose, followed shortly after by the heroine's disappearing lacerated foot.
Pam B
2. Pam B
You say that pain will kill a libido I say not so. As long as there aren't pain killers involved the man will still be able and very willing. Hubby has been in the hospital three times in a very short amount of time and he was raring to go even while still in the hospital. He was in twice for his heart, stents the first time triple by-pass the second and shortly after the by-pass he was in for stomach surgury because his bladder connected to his colon and parts of both had to be taken out and everything had to be closed back up. He still wanted and his body was still responding even though he couldn't use his stomach muscles.
Pam B
3. CatW
My (least) favorite is when the hero gets shot, as in, with a gun, and keeps on going. Steve Martin in LA Story does a great, and much more realistic, depiction of getting shot: he goes down, immediately goes into shock, and wets himself. Bet you won't see that from an Alpha hero.
Laurie Gold
4. LaurieGold
On the flip side, not long ago I read an erotic romance featuring a heroine who replenished her paranormal power by having sex...wonder if there's a column in that.
Pam B
5. dick
I'm still trying to figure out how a six foot six inch hero has sex with a very short heroine and manages to do the deed while suckling her breast. Makes my back hurt and reminds me of the old joke about nose to nose and toes to toes.
But, at the same time, I still like to read about those guys who seem indestructible. I also liked Superman and all of his ilk, so there you go.
And I'm glad you're posting more often.

Robbie Thornton
6. Button
I call "Bullshit" loud and proud, and unfortunately, often. I read a book recently where the hero was being tortured. Full on torture, dungeon style. Getting flogged, having his feet beaten repeatedly, etc etc. At one point, he and the heroine have sex immediately in between tortures. That was bad enough, but as the heroine is helping him escape, she gets a deep slashing stab wound to her abdoman. Then (deep breath please) the next thing you know our hero, who has been suffering horrible torture for weeks in a dungeon, and our heroine, with her gut slashed open, take a break from the nasty business of escaping to have wild monkey sex. Later, our heroine nearly dies from her wound, so maybe it was some last attempt "once more before I die" sex or something. Whatever the motivation, I simply can't believe that sex would have even occured to me during a tense, violent escape attempt. Were I wounded in said event, the answer to any sexual overture would be "What, are you insane?" Did I mention these people were mortals? Mortals mortally wounded having sex during an escape attempt pushes credibility past the golden line for me. In short, I just don't buy it, and if I don't buy it, I start feeling like the writer is throwing a gratuitious sex scene at me. I like sex, and I like a believeable story, but don't abuse one at the expense of the other.

I know for me personally, pain and pain killers are deal breakers when it comes to sex. Pain is too distracting for me. People have different tolerances I suppose, but for me, there's just got to be a better time to get frisky than when one is in pain.
rachel sternberg
7. rae70
Thanks for the giggle! and thank GOD someone else notices this!! While in the extremely rare cases, i.e. Pam B's man... Its utter BULL-HOCKEY!I loved L.A. Story btw... :)
Pam B
8. Aryn
Bullshit, indeed. And both manage to actually orgasm while the bad guys are hunting them and are only a heartbeat away.

What is it that folks find torture sexy and pain entertaining? I have read several books wherein even the female protagonist is beaten, shot, stabbed, damaged in many awful ways and the next chapter gets more of the same and worse. Adolescent fantasy more than adult entertainment, eh?
Lana Baker
9. lanalucy
Well, on the other hand, there are some for whom pain IS an aphrodisiac, or for whom pain is such a constant that it just doesn't keep one from feeling aroused. We've all got our quirks, including sexual ones.

I'm not saying that all the situations in these stories are like that, because some of them are ridiculously not, but it's not complete and utter bullshit for some men or women to be in pain and also want, desperately, to have sex.
Pam B
10. Merianne
I'm with DianeFarr and dick. Wounds mysteriously dissapear (not just in paranormal books) and I'm too am still trying to figure out how they have sex they way they do. I have read a lot of what dick says...and in one where she was doing oral on him while he was laying down and she is, let's say really far and he just reached down to her womanly do they do that??? Is he from the Fantastic Four??!!
Ellen Hutchings
11. shadowmaster13
@Button: If they're going to do the deed mortally wounded they should at least finish escaping first/
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
12. tnh
I have a number of friends who get off on pain, but as they've explained to me more than once, not just any old pain will do. They can get quite irritable if someone makes a crack about it right after they've had their hand bashed by a closing car door.

I'm appalled by Button's mention of a hot'n'heavy sex scene right after the heroine's taken a deep slashing abdominal wound. No way. First, that kind of severe abdominal pain doesn't make you feel sexy. It makes you feel like passing out would be a really good idea, because the second-to-last thing you want at that moment is to be acutely aware of your body and its sensations. The last thing you want is to agitate the wound and underlying organs, and put stress on muscles and connective structures that have been slashed. The involuntary vocalizations that's going to produce are not the kind you want in a sex scene.

Book, meet wall. Wall, book.
Christopher Morgan
13. cmorgan
@Button Did the Hero at least duel the villian "To The Pain" at the end?
Robbie Thornton
14. Button
@lanalucy: Indeed, if pain is a constant, then one has to work around it, and people with that sort of pain are probably used to working around it in more areas of one's life than sex at any rate. Sex as a aphrodesiac is cool. I find reading some BDSM style scenes erotic, although personally, it's not for me in my bedroom. Still, I can see how some people would find it pleasurable. If I'm seriously wounded though, and my partner has just undergone serious torture at the hands of a master torturer..that crosses the line for me.

@shadowmaster : One would think so, but no. They simply hid for a bit and took a sex break before they finished escaping.

@tnh As a nurse, I was thinking the same thing regarding an abdominal wound. Oh, and did I mention, the blade that inflicted the wound was covered with poison? Yes, the more I tell, the more absurd it gets.

@cmorgan I read your comment and snorted my Diet Coke thru my nose. Certainly the good guy (and gal) triumphed over the bad guy in the end. After all, by the end of the book, the hero and the heroine weren't dead, they were only "mostly dead"......
Pam B
15. filkferengi

I married my mild-mannered lawyer hero, too! I hope yours feels better soon.
rachel sternberg
16. rae70
Yeah, I remember reading a book many years ago (I think it was a Rosemary Rogers) where the heroine has sex just after giving birth to her mans baby.. can we say HELL NO!?!
Ellen Hutchings
17. shadowmaster13
@rae70, never having had a baby myself I have to ask isn't there a reason why the doctors make you wait after a baby is born?
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