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?

9 thoughts on “Sex and violence – the science behind the trope.

  1. One job of the arts, not the only one, is to push boundaries (it can also express, persuade, enlighten, entertain, etc.). When you get people shaken up they think, they shout, they talk, they discuss. Then things change.

    So much of art is this. And Art and politics(religion too) can marry well or horribly.

    That’s my two cents. Ciao

    • Well said! I don’t care for fiction that has an obvious agenda, but I like things that make me think, see things in a new way, understand things I might not have understood otherwise.

  2. Recently have discovered that to put it mildly the erotic novels with BDSM and even a little bit with Dom’s and Sub’s push my buttons, in a GOOD WAY Charlie… I am very “allergic” to scenes of rape and violent sex but if done correctly a well described sex scene that is a little bit out of my comfort zone personally in a book works for me! I love the works that I have read of Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane, Megan Hart and Maya Banks… These ladies are not “hard core” in comparison to some others but they do push boundaries… Lora Leigh pushes them in the “Breeds” series that I love to devour, so does a few other authors of paranormal books but no one complains because we as readers are growing to enjoy more “spicey” reads that mix “vanilla sex” with the other type that involves a little “pain with the pleasure”!
    Okay 20 years ago would not have read any of the stuff that I now enjoy, however age and tolerance have both crept up on me! LOL

    • I’m with you in thinking rape is never entertaining. What made Willing Victim work for me was that there was never even a hint of real violence or inappropriate anger between the hero and heroine. The only time there was any anger at all was when the hero got mad because the heroine assumed he couldn’t care for her enough to want an exclusive relationship. And every time this blue-collar, Boston hero called the heroine ‘sub shop girl’ with a smirk in his voice, my heart melted a little.
      I think reading a book like this, which explores things I’d never personally want to experience, is a little like reading about life on Mars or in the Middle Ages. Nice to visit in a book, but I wouldn’t really want to go there. 😉

      • You penned it exactly Charlie, it is nice to visit in a book and no way on things I read and enjoy do I want to “go there” in my own life… However that is why certain authors never make it to my reading shelf and certain authors do, they appeal to my curiosity but not to my “Personal Taste” to want to “experience” first hand…

        Makes for some interesting heart palpitations on my end sometimes! LOL Now I need a cold shower!

  3. Different strokes for different folks. No pun intended. Who am I to say that someone who enjoys reading or writing BDSM is wrong? Just because it isn’t for me doesn’t mean it’s not acceptable.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, Rock on, Mice!

  4. There’s definitely room for boundary pushing, in my opinion. We all have different likes and different turn-ons. Life would be a snooze-fest if it was all vanilla, all the time! 😉

  5. Arousal is arousal. Throughout history, I believe the link between violence and sexual arousal has been noted – unfortunately because of the results – some very very evil acts of violence against helpless men, women and children.
    The trick is context and consent. Isn’t there something intriguing about having control wrested from us by someone we trust? That’s the trick…trust – someone who will not hurt us or do something to us we don’t want done.
    No, I don’t like rape. Women may fantasize about dominance, but does anyone really want to be raped? The reality is terrifying and it ain’t pretty. Rape is an act of degradation and violence, there is nothing affectionate or caring about it.
    As authors, I think we have to be careful about those fine lines.

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