SIORR: Episode 4: Writing Consent in RomComs
Hello everyone and welcome back! My name is Aanu and this is Sorry I Only RomComs. Before I jump in, can I say thank you for the love on the first 3 episodes, my favorite thing has been the commentary, the oh-my-gosh I can relate to this, or i was just thinking this! To be honest, I was very nervous sharing it, but the feedback, even the ones that don’t agree, was encouraging. So thank you. So let’s dive right in, this movie popped up on netflix sometime back and it was pretty much an old school romcom coming back to life, where words like “taken” was supposed to be sexy, as in, “I’m going to take you and …” (insert some sex act the man is going to do to the woman), before she responds, he proceeds to “take her” and then the author throws in gasps and physiological reactions and soon she orgasms and he says “I knew you wanted this”, but did she though?
Sometimes, the woman goes as far as saying “no” and he smirks, walks up to her and says the famous line “your mouth is saying no, but your body is saying yes”, and thus the “taking” begins again. Hmmm, and we are wondering why we are still talking about the need for consent in 2020? No surprises there! So today we’ll be talking about Writing Consent in RomComs.
In this historical romance novel I read ages ago, you know the ones that scalp the villagers (what up with that by the way?) Anyway, the leader of the army kidnapped the lady and fast forward to a couple of weeks later, sparks flew. Now the interesting thing was after they supposedly had sex, he found out that it was her first time and he asked why she didn’t tell him, she said “if you had allowed me to talk maybe I would have”, then I was just like “yeah, she’s angry” he should have allowed her to tell him, now I’m like “wait he did what?!” I didn’t even know that this was an ongoing conversation but I googled this topic and I found that In 1985, women at the Romance Writers of America conference — the largest meet-up for romance writers in the world — walked out to protest sexualized rape scenes. Which I think is the perfect way to describe these scenes.
So why is this a problem? 78% of the total readers of rom coms are women, often they start reading this, wayyy before their sex life begins and if you’re anything like me, you were told, life isn’t like those books you are reading, implying that books are the ideal situation and real life is flawed, but if in the “ideal situation, consent isn’t sought; how will be expected?!” Do you get the point I’m trying to make or am I reaching?! I feel like I’m not. Now I’m not saying that sex education lies solely in the arms of the writers, I do think its a collective job though. Actually if you’re writing about intimate partnership, yes to hot and steamy scenes, we like it more please, but it will be irresponsible if you don’t sprinkle a bit or a lot of consent. And there are many ways to make this organic. On twitter, people were mocking the idea of asking for consent (can you imagine people were actually mocking the concept of consent) and they started saying things like signing a consent document showing that both parties agreed to it, forgetting that consent can be withdrawn.
So I decided to hunt down some books where I feel like the author did a good job of including consent in the sex scenes, maybe you can look out of that in the next book you read, find inspiration in the stories you write and maybe in your next steamy scene as well (wink wink).
So this is a verse by Elizabeth Acevedo in The Poet X, this one is particularly important because the genre is focused on young adults and that is such a good time to learn about consent, so here we go:
… And when his hand brushes my thigh
And then moves up -
I know why island people cliff dive
Why they jump to feel free, to fly,
And how they must panic for a moment
When the ocean rushes toward them.
I stop his hand. I pull my face from his kiss.
He is breathing hard. He is still kissing me hard.
He is still bumping up against me. Hard.
“We have to stop”.
I wait for him to call me all the names
I know girls get called in this moment.
But he only pulls my straps up and
Snaps my bra closed. Hands me my t-shirt.
I know this is how it works. You put out or you get out
So I surprised when instead of my boots
Aman hands me his own T-shirt.
Sighs, isn’t that lovely? By the way Elizabeth Acevedo is my all time favorite young adult author, she does a mix of poetry and fiction in her books that I love. I think it’s the poetry that sells it for me, if not I’ll be like what are these young people doing? So check her out.
The next author I want to highlight is more on the adult side, this one is a bit aggressive but that can be sexy, if that’s your thing, so here it goes, this is an excerpt from “IN DEVELOPMENT” by Rachel Sprangler.
“Cobie said seriously. “I want you very much right now, but I need to know you feel the same. I need to know you want this too.”
“Really?” Lila asked, both amused and mystified. No one had ever stopped this far in to ask such a thing of her.
“Yes,” Cobie said.
She caught hold of a belt loop on Cobie’s pants and pulled it forward. “I thought I’d made myself clear.”
Cobie nipped her ear lobe. “I want you, Lila. I want to make love to you until you can’t see, can’t move, can’t think.”
A shudder raced through her body as the words washed over her.
“But I won’t take something that’s not being offered.”
Cobie sucked hard on her neck and practically growled. “Say it.”
“I want you,” she said in a rush of heat as she clawed her fingernails across her flat stomach. “God, Cobie, I want you so much I can’t stand it. Don’t make me wait.
I love love love the “say it” part, because clarity is so key and it’s sexy you know. I think we particularly have a lot to learn from the BDSM community when it comes to negotiating boundaries in sex, I love how the language is there for it in whatever form, red means stop, yellow means this, and all that. The way safety is prioritized and communicated both in books and I assume in practice is everything, definitely something authors of “vanilla romance” can just pay attention to.
Now here are some grey areas that I want to get your feedback on, in terms of talking about consent in books:
- Scenes where both parties are drunk and just one of them remembers about the doing the nasty (why do we call sex the nasty though)
- Scenes where there has been build up so when they are ready they just dive in, no questions asked. You the reader know that this was going to happen, but in cases like this, is asking still necessary? I’m throwing that out to you, send me a dm or a voice note.
- Body language in place of a verbal yes. I think of this in terms of court cases where they ask, but did she say yes, did they say yes and you say well she placed her hands on my boobs or they opened their legs. Does this count? I guess we read the inner monologue of the character here and we know that they want it. But is it enough, should there still be a push for verbal feedback? I want to see a YES before the yessss begins (if you know what I mean)
Anyway, that’s it for today, please drop your thoughts on the voice note on the anchor app, or send me a dm on instagram and twitter, I am @helloaanu (i.e hello a-a-n-u). I look forward to talking to you next week, byeeeee.
Listen to the episode here: