Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Two-Minute Orgasm in Romance Novels

The numbers vary, but it's widely agreed that women need upwards of 20 minutes to achieve orgasm in a sexual encounter with a man. (Masturbating to orgasm can be much more efficient, taking on average just a few minutes.)

By contrast, men take far less time to reach their climax in a sexual encounter. I heard numbers as low as 3 minutes, but let's just say it's way less time than women take. According to a colleague of mine, his friends had a routine to deal with this: the husband would send his wife up to their bedroom early to "get started" without him. I have no idea if their marriage survived but that approach sure wouldn't cut the mustard in a romance novel.

I'm reading Ava Young's confection of a Victorian romance novel, An Inconvenient Seduction. Absolutely delightful, and pleasantly sprinkled with some plausible Britishisms. But it includes two "quickie" climaxes for the heroine even before the hero gets her horizontal. That got me thinking about the two-minute orgasm for women, even virgins. And that got me thinking about how there are some ludicrous conventions in our genre that NO ONE complains about.

Men are idealized in romance novels, and yet no man writing to complain about romantic fiction ever cites that as a reason to decry the genre. You'd think they'd at least mention it in passing: "Yes, it's smut written by women for women, but what really revolts me is how far off the mark the heroes are. Taller than average, with more hair and more muscles but less of a beer-gut, romance novel heroes ask for directions, listen to their beloveds, and can fuck for 30 minutes without stop, just to ensure that the heroine has her third orgasm. It's grotesque!"

Similarly, while there are copious complaints by readers, reviewers, and pundits about any number of inaccuracies in romance novels, no one seems disturbed by the two-minute virginal orgasm, except to complain about virginal heroines generally. That's because, just like our male counterparts with their 30 minutes of stamina, we see nothing implausible about being able to orgasm in short order. Surely WE all do that in real life, right?

The presumption is that WE are all well-primed for pleasure. WE are the highly-evolved, sexually-adept women who don't need 20 minutes, even with a partner for the first time. WE are the ones taking very little time at all to achieve orgasm with our partners because only ninnies need longer. (Silly cows.) So when romance heroines, even virgins, merely need the hero's fingers in a couple strategic spots, we nod sagaciously and murmur, "Sounds about right."

My question is this: Okay, so WE are all in the top 1 percentile on this chart, and maybe all our friends are too, but aren't there women out there who...how can I put this delicately...need more than a few fingers and a couple minutes? Particularly their first time?

(I won't even discuss women who can't orgasm the first time; they surely don't read romance novels. Probably they read only collections of 19th century sermons on the evils of fornication. And women who can't orgasm except when masturbating? They must not read at all.)

If we acknowledge that some women might fall into the "needing more" category, and if we believe (and we really do) that magic woo-woo sex with the hero is particularly powerful, might we not demonstrate this by having the heroine need a bit more at the beginning, when she and the hero are just starting their romance? (Yes, of course, if they only have sex at the end of the book, or off-stage entirely, then we may safely assume that the sheer fact of falling in love has endowed the heroine with sufficient sexy skills to achieve the speed-gasm.)

That way, we could see what he does and what she does and how they do it to get her to sexual NASCAR-levels of efficiency. Because that's what I'm waiting to read: how the sexually jejune heroine becomes a fine-tuned orgasmic champ. We're treated to all sorts of other "makeover" stories: she learns to dress better, she accomplishes long-strived-for professional success, she finds & falls for her man...but there's no character arc for sex.

Seems a missed opportunity. But I guess it makes sense that none of us is writing about that. Because it's "write what you know" and none of us has ever had that problem. Nope. Not ever.


  1. Ha! Maybe someone could write a romance anthology based on that TLC show, Strange Sex.

  2. Jennifer Crusie often gets this right. I think it's in "Faking It" that her heroine, in the middle of the mutual-assured-seduction scene, decides she has doubts about the hero and so just switches off, mentally and physically. He notices, puts on the brakes, and they bicker about it for a few chapters before she decides to give him a chance.

  3. I was just thinking about this and my search brought me here. It is kinda odd that I don't hear many fans talking about it.


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