Sex and violence – the science behind the trope.

Today I stray from my SciFi theme to talk about science fact and romance novels. Reader beware, touchy subject ahead.

Should we stop bashing those books we call bodice rippers?
Because of the work I do, I get to hear about the cool new research happening in the field of neuroscience. Lots of good fodder for SciFi. But a recent study on sex and violence seems to explain a trope that romance writers have been using for years. Okay, not only romance writers, but they certainly do use it a lot and often get bashed for doing so. Anyone heard the term bodice rippers? I have to admit that some of the older books don’t jive with my sensibilities as a modern woman, but today’s authors have gotten better at tapping into the sex and violence link in a more responsible fashion. Many romance authors, for example, use a brush with violence to explain why characters suddenly become more passionate and more likely to give in to those passions.

The science of the thing.
According to a study published in Nature in February 2011, researchers at New York University found that some of the same neurons in mice brains fired both during moments of violence and when they mated. More importantly, they saw that brain cells important for mating actually inhibited closely related aggression cells when the mice had sex. Hallelujah for that! And so the sex and violence link is explained. You can read more about it in a recent article at the Daily Mail.

Are women in the closet about what they like to read?
So, now that we understand this link does that make it more socially acceptable to mix sex and aggression in fiction? Probably not. After all, the media has been crediting women’s desire to hide what they are reading for the big boom in romance e-book sales.  But some writers aren’t waiting for acceptance. BDSM and D/s erotic romance has been selling well for years.

Recently, I read Willing Victim by Cara McKenna. This book is a short erotic novel that taps into this link between sex and aggression. It is a surprisingly touching story about consenting adults who like to explore a type of role-playing that many readers would find objectionable, but it is done so well it is hard not to adore this book. There is a great review for the book at Dear Author.

What do you think? Is there room in the marketplace for stories that push the boundaries? Can we embrace a little more aggression in our romance heroes and heroines? Or should we tell the mice to turn the lights out?

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