A big part of being a romance/erotica writer often involves reading about romance/erotica in general. I know that sounds like common sense, right up there with mechanics driving cars to learn more about cars, but it’s not as common as you might think.
Now I confess that when I began writing years ago, I didn’t do much reading. I didn’t enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Trust me, it showed in some of my early work. Some of those pieces (which I hope never see the light of day) made it painfully obvious that didn’t read as much as I should on the subject.
As I’ve gotten older and refined my skill, I’ve done more and more reading. I don’t just read about erotica/romance. I try to read a bit of everything to get a feel for what it means to tell a story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 500-page novel or a 22-page comic like X-men. They still have lessons to tell.
At the moment, I’m reading a book called “Sex At Dawn” by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha, Allyson Johnson, and Jonathan Davis. Now this isn’t a standard romance/erotica story like “Skin Deep” or “Jackpot.” This is a non-fiction book that explores the hidden side of human sexuality, scrutinizing our assumptions about romance, sex, and the social norms guiding these forces.
It’s interesting to me because it gives me some insight into the lesser known aspects of romance/erotica. There are so many stories that try to fit the romance and erotic components into the same framework we, as a society, have always embraced without question. I’ve found it’s more interesting to step outside that framework every now and then.
Now I’ve just started this book so I can’t give my whole assessment just yet. However, the first two chapters do highlight an important component that’s worth bringing up. The authors call it “The Standard Model” of romance. That model goes a little something like this:
- Boy meets girl
- Boy assesses girl for health, beauty, fidelity, and an ability to sire healthy offspring
- Girl assesses boy for wealth, strength, ability to provide, ability to protect offspring, and a capacity to remain faithful and not stray
- Boy and girl pass assessment, enter into a series of formal and informal agreements to love, cohabit, and provide for one another
- Boy and girl enjoy early passion, begin a family, and grow together
- Boy and girl start to lose interest as passion fades, becoming less sexually satisfied even if love remains strong
- Boy begins looking elsewhere for other young, fertile women
- Girl begins looking elsewhere for young, virile men
- Constant struggle endures, straining relationship
I agree that this model is grossly oversimplified and somewhat formulaic. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of romances, real and fictional, that don’t follow this model closely. However, it’s a model that accurately reflects the ideals and principles that modern society has ascribed to romance and sex.
This book, however, dares to question whether these ideals and principles are actually viable. It also dares to question whether these ideals and principles are even natural to the human condition.
This definitely resonates with me because it fits into my frequent discussions regarding caveman logic, a phrase I love throwing around on this blog to explain the peculiarities of the human condition, both in and out of the bedroom. It also resonates with me because it helps nurture some of my ideas for future novels.
In addition to the inspiration, I also think that our assumptions surrounding this model need greater scrutiny, if only to better-prepare ourselves for meaningful romance. At the moment, the model doesn’t exactly have a stellar record.
In most of the industrialized world, divorce rates are over 50 percent. If a model isn’t working more than half the time, then that’s a clear sign that it needs tweaking. If a car broke down more than half the time, why would anyone drive it? Humans are great at building tools, but when it comes to updating the ways in which we love and make love, our ability to adapt is nothing short of glacial.
The Standard Model is outdated. That’s the primary message that “Sex At Dawn” sends during the first few chapters. It wasn’t adapted for modern, secular society. It emerged 10,000 years ago as a direct result of mankind’s transition from hunter/gatherer societies to sedentary/farming societies.
For the fast majority of human history, people lived on farms and toiled in the fields. That kind of work is less and less necessary these days, due in large part to industrialization and better technology. The Standard Model worked perfectly for that system because it meant keeping women focused on child-rearing while men did most of the work to provide food/safety. That system just doesn’t work as well in our current system of cities, cars, and Big Macs.
So if that system doesn’t work as well anymore, what do we do? Which system does work in a modern society where few people toil on farms and fields? That’s not a rhetorical question. That’s a real, honest question that is worth asking. It hasn’t been answered yet and I feel not enough people are daring to ask it.
I get that there are still those in society who wish to cling to the older ways, seeing the Standard Model as something traditional, moral, and ethical. That’s all well and good, but that’s basically the same as an opinion. It’s as valid as random tweet these days. We’re too diverse and erratic as a species. One model is simply never going to be enough to accommodate the needs and passions of every individual.
Every species, be it human or insect, needs to adapt their systems to a changing environment. The environment for humans is changing so rapidly that some refuse to even acknowledge that change, as if they’re worried about what it implies. There aren’t many constants to human systems, but the desire to love and make love is one of them.
For the sake of our future and that of our descendants, we need to adapt a system that will meet those desires. If we don’t, we’re all in for a cold, lonely, unfulfilled tomorrow. I’m not nearly equipped to create such a system, but I can offer some interesting/sexy ideas with my novels.