On Yale, sex, porn, and relationships *UPDATED*

It’s no big secret in the Bookworm Room that I like romance novels.  Someone I know calls them pornography.  He’s both right and wrong.

A large percentage of today’s romance novels have pretty explicit sex scenes scattered through the pages.  The language isn’t as vulgar as true pornography, but the sex is certainly graphic enough to fall under the heading of “erotica.”  It’s also dull.  There are only so many ways to describe “insert tab A into slot B.” Moreover, romance writers, because they’re aiming for romance and not hard-core porn employ no end of awkward and embarrassing euphemisms, all of which make the whole experience seem a little bit like peeking under the modesty skirts that some Victorians allegedly used to hide the legs of their Victorian piano.

Given my druthers, I read nothing but Georgette Heyer’s exquisite romantic comedies of manners, which might end with a chaste kiss on the last page.  Sadly, though, Mrs. Heyer died in 1974, and there are no new Heyer books forthcoming.  Even I, a most enthusiastic fan, can read her existing fare only so many times before feeling a bit of ennui creeping over me.  There are other writers out there publishing “traditional” romances (i.e., no sex), but they lack Heyer’s wit and erudition, making their books a poor substitute.  Moreover, many of these traditional books are overtly Christian, and that simply isn’t a genre that appeals to me.

So, as I said, my friend is correct that there’s an erotic element to today’s romantic novel market (which is, I believe, the largest segment of both the paperback and ebook market).  What he misunderstands is that the graphic–ish sex isn’t the “porn” that draws women in.  The real porn aspect of these novels is what I call “relationship porn.”

Relationship porn doesn’t have dialog revolving around body parts and sex acts.  It has dialog revolving around a woman’s real needs.  The following aren’t verbatim quotations from any specific book, but I guarantee you that you can find variations of these themes in any modern romance novel you pick up:

Lainey walked self-consciously down the stairs, aware that Caleb had never seen her in anything other than an over-sized sweatshirt and jeans before.  In the clingy black dress, she felt acutely vulnerable.  As she drew closer, Caleb let out a long, low whistle.  “My God, Lainey!  I could look at you forever!”

Safe for the time being under the sheltering overhang of the cave, Rob carefully checked Karen to make sure she was okay.  Her hair was hanging lankly around her ears, her pale face was covered with mud, and her clothes were drenched and ragged.  She had never looked more beautiful to him.

Brad turned to Victoria and said, “Don’t worry, baby.  I’ll take care of the dishes for you.  You just go to bed.”

Yup — there’s the real porn.  Our romantic hero, who looks good and smells better (unlike many of Hollywood’s most famous and narcissistic stars, both male and female), thinks that, under any circumstances, our heroine is the most gorgeous thing in the world and he helps out around the house.

What’s sad is that relationship porn didn’t used to be a niche market idea.  Before the sexual revolution  hit, popular culture encouraged men to appreciate and cherish their woman.  That is no longer the case, though, which may explain why women are so happy wrapped in the loving arms of a romance novel.

A young Yale grad, Nathan Harden, has just published a new book that reveals both a symptom and a cause of the unloving culture we’ve created for young American women.  The title pretty much tells its own story:  Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.  I haven’t read Harden’s book, but he spells out the premise in a recent Daily Beast post, descriptively entitled “When Sex Isn’t Sexy: My Bizarre Education at Yale University.”  That premise is a simple, and sad, one; namely, that Yale has become one of American education’s major sex purveyors, and that the sex it sells to students has nothing to do with romance, love, and respect, and everything to do with commerce and impersonal relationships:

When the average person thinks of Yale University, sex probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, in recent years Yale has positioned itself as a leader in a radical new form of sex education, complete with sex toy pageants, porn star lectures, sadomasochism seminars, and fellatio demonstrations. What does any of that have to do with the mission of Yale University? That’s the question I set out to answer in my new book, Sex & God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

[snip]

Yale’s cozy relationship with corporate interests in the sex industry—including numerous major porn production companies and some of the nation’s largest sex toy companies—has been the backbone of its infamous “Sex Week at Yale” event for the past ten years. Other elite universities, including Harvard, Brown, and Northwestern, have begun holding sex-themed events modeled on the corporate-backed events at Yale. Yale’s leaders say that academic freedom requires them to allow these activities. But I think they need to learn a basic business lesson: When a company comes into a classroom to market and sell its products, that’s called advertising, not education.

Yuck.  Pardon me while I go refresh my mind by spending some time with Lainey and Caleb, or maybe Rob and Karen, or perhaps I’ll ask the imaginary Brad to help me out around the house.

UPDATE:  Somehow it seems apropos to note here that the First Lady has found herself guest editing a website that includes her fitness and lifestyle tips alongside sex advice from prostitutes.  Michelle Obama, of course, has nothing to do with sex advice; it’s just that the commercialization of sex, and its uncoupling from romance (pardon that pun) is everywhere.

UPDATE II:  As Abercrombie & Fitch is discovering, in a market glutted with sex, even sex stops selling.  Maybe they should raffle off their male models with the promise that the guys will come to the lucky winner’s house and do the dishes.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

  1. Texan99 says

    In the ending-with-a-chaste-kiss department, don’t neglect the incomparable Jane Austen.  What could be sexier than Darcy remarking to Elizabeth that “We neither of us perform to strangers”?

  2. says

    You are right, Texan99, that Jane Austen is the best of the best.  However, she wrote so few books, and I have read them so many times (almost to the point of memorization) that I’ve had to shelve them for a few years so that I can go back to them refreshed.  In any event, when I wrote this post, I was thinking more of 20th and 21st century romance writers, of whom Heyer is the queen.

  3. Texan99 says

    I know what you mean about memorizing them.  Luckily, as I age, the time I have to let elapse between going back and re-reading the oeuvre steadily shrinks.  These days, a year will do easily.

  4. Simplemind says

    Whoa

    Are you saying that when a man or a woman uses an object to get something they normally can  only get out of a relationship that it is using porn?

    Men ===> sex
    Women===> validation?

    Relationship substitute = porn. 

    Most women think porn is only explicit sex – pictorial or written – and can’t have anything thing to do with objectification of human beings through means other than sex.

    Yeah that’s going to leave a mark.

  5. Charles Martel says

    Stripped to its fundamentals, porn is a sort of shorthand for each sex’s deepest (shallowest?) fantasy:
     
    Men’s porn: Gorgeous women with insatiable sexual appetites who burp beer and cheer football games in between shags.
     
    Women’s porn: Men who are BFFs with biceps. Keepers are good at worshiping, adoring, and pampering.

  6. 94Corvette says

    A wonderful takeoff on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is the Bollywood movie, ‘Bride & Prejudice’.  I forgot who it was that observed that a fully clothed woman can be infinately sexier than a naked one but it’s true. 

  7. riw777 says

    IMHO, the sense of porn is that make people into objects for sexual pleasure, rather than whether or not people are naked, what they’re physically doing, etc. Perhaps the relationship between the “modern romance,” and “real” porn is that one treats women as an object for physical pleasure, while the other treats men as an object for emotional pleasure…
    Jane Austen was as much a commentary on social ills as it was a romance –the the point that the people were cardboard cutouts, they were cardboard cutouts for a reason other than satisfying an emotional hunger. That we’ve turned the entire series of stories she wrote into “pure romance,” might say something about our shallowness as a culture, rather than her actual writing.
    Just a thought…

  8. Caped Crusader says

    Yale — Frank Merriwell and Bart Hodge would not recognize the place today and neither would fit in, much less be examples that would make young boys desire to emulate them.

  9. says

    Another great post, Bookworm.
     
    I’m probably one of very few men who have ever read ‘romance/romantic fiction’. In my case, not novels, but more or less substantial stories on the internet. What I read would fall under the category of “erotic fiction”. Yes, these stories contained – something pretty graphic – sex scenes. Besides the kind of stories I liked, I also came across something which I would distinguish from being erotic fiction stories, and would dare to call pornographic. It is really difficult to explain what I mean by this, and the distinction was probably more based on feelings than on anything rational. But I can say that, whenever I came across it, I was always dismayed and often disgusted by tales of what I would call non-romatic sex… sex without love, sex without romance or a relationship, promiscuous/non-monogamous sex, things like that. I have stopped reading erotica/erotic romance now… for many reasons. The fact that most readers of such are female does play a role; it could very well be unmanly.
     
    Anyhow, I do understand your uneasy feelings about sex, Bookworm. I really do understand why people wouldn’t want to read or see such scenes. I’ve grown more sensitive to such scenes as well. But I still feel like I might be a bit less, well, for lack of a better word, puritan than you and many (?) others. However, I understand the apprehension about sex scenes.
     
    As for the “relationship porn”… this made me think of something I read a while ago. What I read (and sadly, can’t remember where I did) was, basically, that women often desire in men an ideal combination of ‘alfa’ (leadership, initiative, ‘dominance’, sexuality/sexual agression in a good form, purpose, providing,…) and ‘beta’ (loving, talking, helping in the household, compassionate, good father, thoughtfulness,…) characteristics. I don’t know if it’s true or if it can be seen in romance novels, but I have a lingering suspicion there must be something to this.
     
    I agree with you on the pre-sexual revolution thingie. While I do think there have been bad attitutes to sex in the past, the one that is often represented today, and which I generally characterize as “sex without love” or “sex as a commodity”, is also bad – very bad. I really think sex should be seen in the context of loving, monogamous, long-term, romantic relationships, and preferably, in the context of marriage (for straight couples) or some form of commitment (for gay couples). I believe on an earlier topic, I already riffed on and criticized the depictions of sex and the approach to (sexual) relationships in TV shows and movies. To repeat: marital sex, commited sex and life-long monogamy are most ridiculed.
     

    The “tale from Yale” is gross. It is quite clear the approach to sexuality advocated at Yale has little to no redeeming values. I find this approach to sexuality disturbing, immoral, disgusting and potentially inhumane as well. Certainly such an approach is not exactly positive for women, and to my mind, not for men either. Hence why I think it is inhumane. Another thing: while I do believe that sex toys and fellatio can very well be part of a loving, romantic relationship (porn and SM clearly do not in my mind), I would definitely object to such events in public spaces or in the buildings of a University. It also, I think, clear that such events/activities could very well be rejected without breeching academic liberty in any way, shape or form. What the Yale officials are doing is yucky. After reading the article you linked and quoted from (a very good article, and also very disturbing), I too have to refresh my mind – and get rid of anger building up. The article did contain a quote which I find worth posting:
     
    The way I see it, a porn producer is about as qualified to lecture me on human sexuality as the CEO of McDonald’s is to lecture me on healthy food choices.


    Isn’t that true? Pornographers have nothing to teach about sexuality. The only thing they could teach is ‘technique’, and I doubt even that.
     
    If the “sex sells” thing is getting dull and stops working, that wouldn’t be bad. What of course would be even better, is people getting dismayed and turning away from this en masse, on top of just being dulled by it.
     
    Most women think porn is only explicit sex – pictorial or written – and can’t have anything thing to do with objectification of human beings through means other than sex.
    Not just women, I’d say. I’d say many men and porn advocated of both sexes also think or say this.


    Stripped to its fundamentals, porn is a sort of shorthand for each sex’s deepest (shallowest?) fantasy:
    There is no debt or substance in porn. Porn really is about shallow fantasies.


     I forgot who it was that observed that a fully clothed woman can be infinately sexier than a naked one but it’s true.

    I don’t know who said it either, but there’s definitely some truth to it. Women can be sexier in a business suit or in pants/long skirt with sweater than in a bathing suit. But there are some borders. I find that there is no way in the world that a women wearing a headscarve, veil or burqa could ever be sexy.


    Yale — Frank Merriwell and Bart Hodge would not recognize the place today and neither would fit in, much less be examples that would make young boys desire to emulate them.
    To stay with the sex theme, the current officials of Yale have raped Yale.


    This topic, in my opinion, also begs a number of interesting – and difficult questions regarding pornography, obscenities and erotica. Should we consider the “erotica” obscene, and are sexual scenes in literature in general unacceptable, or are we just speaking about a personal preference here? What is the difference between pornographic and erotic? Such a distinction can possibly be more easily made for visual art, compared to literature. What constitutes obscenity? Should it be considered unacceptable? And unacceptable enough to justify action through the law? Should the government even instate – and enforce – obscenity laws; I think we can all recognize the negative effects of porn and obscenity, but is it bad enough for the government to come in? Are there possible conflicts between such ‘censorship’ and guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of the press? What should be, as conservatives and/or libertarians think of this? I read that some (many?) Republicans would like to enforce obscenity laws, while libertarians don’t want to. Liberals don’t seem to want anti-obscenity laws either, which makes me wary, even though I’m generally on the libertarian side. These questions are interesting and difficult as well as not unimportant.

  10. says

    Thanks to those of you who wrote all these interesting comments about relationships.  Regarding the women want a beta and an alpha male, I think that’s true.  The ideal theory is that alpha is nature and beta is civilization.  In the old days, men were expected to be manly by nature, but good manners required them to be respectful and, possibly, loving.  In the new days, too many men, beaten down by a society that’s hostile to them, have become either all beta or reverted to being all alpha.  It’s sad.

  11. says

    By the way, regarding the manliness thing… I know an interesting site on manliness. It’s a blog actually, run by a man in his late twenties or early thirties and his wife. This website has tons of articles. My personal opinion is that it advocates men developing both alpha and beta characteristics. It has some nature and a lot of civilization.
     
    http://artofmanliness.com/
     

  12. Ron19 says

    The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man,, by Brett and Kate McKay

    This is their book that I’ve been reading off and on this year.

    I don’t agree with everything they say, but there is a lot of good stuff in it.      

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply