Clean Romance: Old-fashioned Idea or New Trend?

(Warning: I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to get on a fairly large soap box.)

Why does everything have to be sexualized? I’m sick of it!

Last night, our family went to the Detroit Pistons game (basketball game for the non-sports people). It was such a riot and a blast, and I was having such a great time. Until . . . the dancers came out. Their moves, their outfits, their fake bodies. Everything reeked of sex and I was cringing with my five kids next to me, including my teenage boy and girl. (I would have been cringing without kids.) My husband’s company offered us great seats and as such, there wasn’t much to miss. I kept saying, “Hey, you guys want some popcorn?” “Hey, look at the mascot over there? He’s funny, right?” “Wow, look at all the pretty lights!” just waiting for the songs to be done.

FYI, I will be writing a letter to the Pistons staff because I write letters when I’m offended. Part of me believes it makes a difference, because I once sent a nasty letter to Google about an offensive ad and next thing I knew, I was emailing back and forth with one of their Senior Board Members. I haven’t seen the ad since. But even if my letters fall on deaf ears, I have no business complaining unless I speak up and try to do something about it (like I mentioned in a recent post). Watch out Pistons management, Mother Bear around the corner.

But I digress.

I’m sick of our sexualized culture. I’m sick of feeling like a Mother Bear all the time. Movies. Books. Video Games. Radio. Even harmless websites have harmful advertising in the sidebar. I mean, come on people!

Enough already!

Interestingly enough, I’m seeing a trend in the book world. There is a large group of people that are running to the Young Adult (teen) market. Readers and writers. Why? I think that many, like me, are sick to death of the of this over-sexualization in our culture and are hoping to find less prevalence in the teenage world. I say “less” because the YA genre is not free from sex. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH THIS WORLD? Hmmmm, deep breath might be warranted at this point.

*Deep breath*

Okay. Back in control.

This new ‘clean’ trend in the YA is awesome, but…what if I don’t always want to read about teenagers? No offense to that group of people, but I already live with two teens. Do I really have to read and write about them too? I have friends who turn to the Christian market to find clean romances to read, but really, do I have to read cheesey religious books now too? No offense to religion or religious books, especially because I consider myself very religious, and SADIE has religion in it (although my next book doesn’t). Hopefully you are understanding my point, though.

There has to be a place somewhere that I can read about engaging, quirky, fascinating adult characters without muddling through the smut.

So here’s my plea to everyone out there.

I write romances. I write clean romances. But I can’t read my own stuff all the time. As much as I might like my stories, that’s lame and dumb. So please writers, PLEASE give me some reading with grown-up characters that’s safe for my 13-year-old girl to read. PLEASE! And it’s not just for me. I’m telling you, there’s a whole market out there that few are tapping into. Readers are running in droves to the YA market because they feel like it can’t be done in the adult world. It CAN! It has to for my sanity!

*Another deep breath*

My last point.

  1. Why is Jane Austen considered the greatest romance writer of all time? Her books are super squeaky clean. You might get a kiss out of the main characters. Maybe. But we totally and completely adore them–at least I do.

2. Why were 9 out of the top 10 grossing films of 2011 PG-13 or less, when over half (at least) of movies in theaters are rated R?

3. Why are people running to the YA market?

4. Why don’t authors and Hollywood understand this?

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT.

Enough ranting.

And if you haven’t heard about it, commonsensemedia.org is a great website for parents or non-parents who want to find out what content/smut is in movies and books. It isn’t all-inclusive, but it has the major ones. You can check out some of their book reviews here. Big thank you to them!!!

I’m still waiting for goodreads to come out with a rating feature so people not only rate how much they like a book, but where it would fit on the PG-XXX scale. Maybe someday.

(UPDATE: there is a new book website called literrater.com which rates books on content. Check it out!)

Okay, I’m done. Stepping off the soap box now. But I’m really hoping you’ll weigh in on this.

Do you agree with me? Disagree? Am I old-fashioned or could this be the new trend? What are your thoughts as a reader, writer, movie goer, music listener? As a parent? As a non-parent? As a consumer? 

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

8 thoughts on “Clean Romance: Old-fashioned Idea or New Trend?”

  1. Loving your rant! It made me smile because, for the most part my WIP is almost a completely clean adult romance. There is a little sexual content but it was put there because it seemed like the right thing to do for those characters at that point in the story (wow, that sounds lame lol). My point is, I don't write sex scenes unless it feels like it is necessary. There are several points in my WIP where there could be more adult content, but I choose not to go down that road most of the time. I'm pretty sure I could manage to write something completely sex-free! :D

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  2. I agree that there should be more clean romances, even in the YA market. People may disagree and say, 'this is what teens face all the time'. Duh, I know that. But I really don't want to read something similar to Katy Perry's Last Friday Night because besides the fact I'm totally immature, whenever I read something I like, I want to tell people about it. And when I have to give a disclaimer, then I'd just rather not recommend the book. If that makes sense.I realize I'm a total hypocrite too because I've written some heavy subject matter, dealing with sex, alcohol… yadda yadda. And thanks to a very understanding cp, I was able to gear that story in a direction that coincides with the message I was eager to share.

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  3. I both agree and disagree, I think. Sexualization just for the sake of making things more sexual (like the Pistons dancers or the risque advertisements) is unnecessary. Same thing when there are gratuitous sex scenes (and violence) in books, with certain exceptions that you'd definitely know about before buying/reading the book (because there's definitely a place for pure smut too).But–and I say this with no kids of my own–I think parents do their kids a disservice if they try to shield them too much from sex. Books (and television and movies) are how kids and teenagers learn about what's acceptable not. After all, if they don't know what's healthy, how can they know what isn't? A lot of times the messages are subtle, but just seeing a healthy relationship between two teenagers in a book gives teens another good role model. Which would be a nice change, considering the role models they see in celebrities around them.

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  4. I totally agree with you! I know that there is a lot of things our kids have to face out there, but that doesn't mean we have to let it into our homes or our families. I really believe that you can teach kids the lessons about what not to do without showing it to them. I know my parents did and they did it well. We never even had a PG-13 movie in our home. I don't know that I can be as good as they were, but I'm certainly going to try. Just because the world is changing doesn't mean that we have to change our standards. I believe that sex is a private, sacred thing and shouldn't be shared in any media. I won't let my kids think that I believe otherwise by letting any smut into my home. A lot of people have told me I'm crazy, and that's fine by me. I don't want to argue about it. We all get to make our own choices and I hope people respect mine.

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  5. Sexuality and sexualization are two different things, but I agree that there's too much sexualization in today's culture. If a sex or heavy makeout scene is in a non-romance novel, it should be there for a reason and not just to titillate or raise eyebrows.

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  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I still maintain that there is a whole group of readers out there who don't want that stuff in the books they read, regardless of how good the reason is to include it. I know this because I'm one of them. With this post, I'm hoping to find other authors who can recognize this and maybe tap into this potential market. I don't want to read trite, silly stories by any stretch of the imagination. I want moving, powerful stories that change me and how I think about the world, without compromising my ability to share it with every member of my family and friends. I don't think that's too much to ask, is it?

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  7. well, the reason it’s in everything is because sex has been verbotten for, well, several centuries. Now we get to have it back, and because, let’s face it, sex is great, people want more of it. If you don’t like it, then, well, do as queen Vicki commanded and “lie back and think of England.”

    to answer your questions:
    1) Why is Jane Austen considered the greatest romance writer of all time? Her books are super squeaky clean. You might get a kiss out of the main characters. Maybe. But we totally and completely adore them–at least I do.

    answer) Because she was one of the first. She made a lot of the Romance genre’s Tropes. She managed to make engaging characters. She got a leg up by being one of the first on the market, thus she’s been around longer, and schools have shelled out her books. No dis to her, but a lot of people find her books boring and unoriginal (though this may be a case of Seinfeld is Unfunny.)

    2) Why were 9 out of the top 10 grossing films of 2011 PG-13 or less, when over half (at least) of movies in theaters are rated R?

    answer) this is two fold. Part of the reason is that people under 18 can’t get tickets to R rated movies, but can to pg-13 movies. The other part of it is that movies like the Hunger Games and Avengers (whoot!) are not just more accessible to audiences, they’re more original and appeal to the things we’re dealing with. Hunger Games appeals to Teens need to feel power in an increasingly uncertain future over which they have no control (and love the trickster who can play the system) and Adults who have teens and feel that urge every day of wanting to watch them suffer and die. Avengers lets us feel extraordinary, and have heroes, that a group of individuals can screw government control and take charge of their fate, and embrace that most dismissed and derided of things: Being Old Fashioned.

    3) Why are people running to the YA market?

    answer) for much the same reason Hunger Games and Avengers have been doing so well. They have orginal story lines. Adult literature suffers from being super cookie cutter. It’s all the same, and all based on what came before. there’s, by and large, not a lot of new stuff. And that which is new, original, is often stuff that people have trouble getting into (sex, for example) and so they avoid it. YA lit isn’t as controlled when it comes to ideas. You can literally write about anything in young adult lit, in terms of who the players are, what the setting its, etc, because YA still have their imaginations and look for something cool.

    4) Why don’t authors and Hollywood understand this?

    answer) Authors write what they want to write, and what publishers will publish. No sex in an adult book? that’s been done for decades. Why more of the same. Sex sells, people like sex, give the people what they want. And with the economy hitting hard and book stores closing left and right, they have to put out what they hope will sell. They can’t take the chances they’d like to to explore new markets.

    Hollywood is ruled by politics and it’s political masters. They have an agenda. They want to sell movies, and they will make movies like those that sell. They won’t experiment, and they’ve pretty much crushed the indie market. It won’t risk letting some other political movement take over the market, or even be heard.

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