I enjoy reading about people forming relationships. The better the relationship, the stronger it is, the more I enjoy reading about it. Don’t get me wrong I like other parts of stories but I read books because watching people form bonds with one another really makes me happy on a profound and satisfying level.
So it’s not really a surprise that I read romances. All books are about relationships on some level but romances are in a class of their own. The whole point of a romance is to have two people fall in love and commit to spending the rest of their lives together. Each book is all about a relationship/ relationships. Sure many of them bother to have plot and adventure and sex, but I read them to see exactly how the relationship comes together. I go in knowing the end. I don’t care that I know the end I just want to see how the author gets there.
Which is why some of the trends in the modern historical romance really bother me.
One trend is to have premarital sex. Historically premarital sex was seen as a sin. The woman was seen as not respecting herself, her family, God, and society. A woman like that was not a respectable character. This held true for men as well, any man who slept with a respectable woman without the benefit of marriage was a cad. Any man who disrespected a lady in such a fashion was not a hero. (I’m talking about the espoused ideals, not the reality because everyone knows that certain men got away with it)
I realize that in modern times, premarital sex is no big deal. People have the choice to have sex whenever they want to, and to insist otherwise is seen as intrusive. Perhaps modern historical authors are reluctant to write something that seems to lead backwards in time to more restrictive social mores. Or it could be that they see premarital sex as a convenient way to add dramatic tension. My cynical brain tells me that more of a monetary factor is at play, after all sex sells. All I know is that almost every historical romance I find these days has a respectable young lady and a gentleman having sex BEFORE they get married.
The problem I have with this is, the consequences of breaking the premarital sex rule were so profound I can’t forget about them and enjoy the sex. Sex is fun I will admit and its great while its happening but it only lasts an hour at most. Social ostracism lasts a lifetime. The effects of which could be devastating. Without society’s good opinion a person had no friends, no family, no money, no job and no home. It was a lonely scary place to be and anyone who cared about you would protect you from that. Only the worst sort of callous, selfish, person would have subjected someone to that treatment knowingly. And only an idiot would do that to themselves.
Which is why I don’t find it very romantic when a man in a historical romance kisses a woman in a closet, or draws unwanted attention to her, or makes her the subject of gossip, or indeed has premarital sex with her. It was called taking a liberty because it meant that her liberty was at risk. Honestly I don’t want my hero to be the kind of person who has no concern for his romantic interest.
In many of the historical novels I’ve read the author tries to make it okay by having the heroine ‘understand the consequences and not care’ because she is so overwhelmed with passion. Unfortunately I have trouble respecting a woman without the sense to protect herself from danger, if my heroine understands what the hero is asking of her when she agrees to have sex before marriage she has no sense of self preservation. Unfortunately the danger of breaking the rules is not just to her alone. If her reputation is damaged so is every other person in her social circle. To willingly choose to threaten other peoples security for a single night of passion is selfish. I mean momentary fun should never take precedence over other peoples safety, happiness, and security.
Every time I find myself in the midst of a historical romance premarital sex scene I can’t help but think how many other characters could be hurt, and how our protagonists lives could be torn apart by what they are doing. It makes me think less of them and then I realize what a prude I sound like. It’s hard to stay engaged with a book, much less be turned on with thoughts like that running around in your head.
I’ve read some great historical romances that have lots of sex in them and really enjoyed them. But they all had sex after marriage. I keep wondering why we can’t have more like them on the shelves. I’m not asking that all historical’s take out premarital sex just that there be more without it.