Sex-Positive Romance Means Sex Free of Stigma, Obligations, and Preconceived Notions

Sex free of stigma, obligations, and preconceived notions requires that we embrace what we don’t know and actively ask the other.

I saw a line drawing on Instagram of a female receiving oral sex from a guy. The caption read “maybe you should google it.” (@sheisangry). I laughed, immediately connecting to the experience of cis hetero male incompetence with oral sex. As the days passed, I thought more profoundly about the image, contemplating agency and emotional labor and responsibility for informing yourself, and came to the conclusion that I don’t agree. We shouldn’t Google what our sexual partners want. We should explore and communicate with each other. The sex I write about as an author is excellent for all parties involved and it requires consent, conversation, and effort in order to be so. 

I identify as a sex positive feminist romance writer which means that I understand sex as a natural and healthy expression of human connection. I don’t believe that all people have to engage in sexual acts to be fulfilled or that there is a “right way” to do sex. Positive doesn’t mean all rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that angst doesn’t originate from moralism about sex. I believe in choice and respecting others. The sex scenes in my debut novella, Courageous Lovers, are based on this belief. My characters don’t always have sex, (though they tend to have quite a bit) but they are always equals and sex is a joyful choice. 

“If you aren’t attracted to me, I won’t be offended,” she said. 

“I am very attracted to you,” I said. She gave me a wicked smile that indicated she knew as much. 

“If you have moral objections to casual sex, that’s fine.”

“I don’t,” I said.

“So what’s the problem?” she asked, pushing her bra over her head. “I’m an enthusiastic yes.”  

Engaging in consensual sex isn’t like being aware of others lived experiences or working on dismantling internalized racism/sexism/ homophobia/ableism. Googling concepts and terms about sex to inform yourself and not burden the other won’t equip you to engage with your partner and learn their individual preferences and needs. To do that you have to know yourself and be willing to share what you know. 

“Do you want it harder? Faster?”

“Never harder, baby,” I said with a raspy chuckle. 

He kissed my jawline as he asked “How then?” 

There is a socially accepted yet unspoken belief that being a good lover is about having excellent technique. In part this is why the alpha male trope resonates so deeply within the romance community. We expect cis males to know what they are doing and in romance they actually do. Sex free of stigma, obligations, and preconceived notions requires that we embrace what we don’t know and actively ask the other. 

“I unzipped his pants and pushed down the denim material, fumbling with his boxer briefs in my eagerness to get him naked. He put his hand over mine.

“Are you okay? We can slow down.” 

No man had ever shown such restraint and concern with me. Instead of coming across as unsure or annoying, it revealed an integrity that made me even hotter for him. “I’ve never wanted anyone more than I want you in this instant.” 

The power of fiction is that it allows us to imagine a world that may be distant from our own reality. It presents possibilities and provokes questions that we may not consider otherwise. Romance has the unique distinction and honor of being able to explicitly do this with sex. That said, romance is not a unicorn unaffected by the power dynamics present in society—the genre often reproduces the racist heteronormative ableist sexist binary water we all swim in. But there are those of us that work hard to portray a different world of love and happy endings. We don’t always get it right, but when we do it is so so hot. 

Toni Morrison is attributed with saying that all good art is political. I don’t use my art to teach a lesson and I didn’t set out to write a sex positive novel, but my principles and beliefs are reflected in my writing. In Courageous Lovers you will meet characters who enjoy sex without apology or fear and who show a deep commitment to mutual consent and pleasure. 

Here’s my recommended reading list of books that portray sex positively (a.k.a no whack power dynamics or lukewarm consent):

Let us Dream by Alyssa Cole

A slow burn historical novella. Technically the heroine is the hero’s boss, but their relationship is such a beautiful intellectual and cultural exchange, and both of their social standings so dependent on the will and prejudice of others, that there is no problematic power dynamic between them. While consent and communication aren’t explicit during the one brief sex scene, it is implicit. Sex work is treated with dignity and complexity. Women are portrayed with agency, not as passive objects. My favorite by Alyssa Cole. 

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

If you read one Victorian era historical romance, I truly hope it is this one. It’s beautifully written, the main characters are complex, and the flirtation is exquisite. There is masculine and feminine masturbation and a marital sex between two virgins, where the heroine teaches the hero how to bring her to orgasm. Later on they experiment with fellatio. He’s a duke and she’s not nobility, but their relationship is a wonderful and loving exchange among equals in every other way. Simply a must read. 

Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein 

The hero is a college athlete, very sexually experienced in all but penetration, and the heroine’s former high school bully. That premise seems unlikely for a sex/body positive novel, but that’s the wonder of fiction, it is just that! There are no shortcuts in building trust and consent in this enemies to friends to lovers story. The dialogue is entertaining and their discussion about a sexual double standard in film and what qualifies as amazing sex should be taught in schools. CW: detailed descriptions of physical/emotional/intellectual bullying and colloquial use of “insane/crazy”.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

The heroine lives with chronic pain and other illnesses that profoundly shape her daily existence. The hero attributes her coping mechanisms to a superiority complex and the two clash. The wonder of this book is in depicting how essential communication is to connection and health. Their mutual attraction is essential to the plot and while sex plays a lesser role, it is a manifestation of all that they consciously work to develop between them. It contemplates her physical health, his recovery from an abusive relationship, and their mutual pleasure. Sex is a natural result of what they create together and that most definitely is sex positive. 

Xeni: A Marriage of Inconvenience by Rebekah Witherspoon 

The premise of the book is an arranged marriage from beyond the grave between a bisexual kindergarten teaching witch and a bisexual bag pipe playing Scot. The attraction between the two is immediate and any hesitation to act on it is due to the context, not fear or moralism. The communication regarding sex and inclusion of bisexual identity during the act are fantastic. The hero is an excellent lover but that doesn’t stop him from asking, repeatedly, what the heroine wants and how the experience was for her. This openness allows for trust and exploration. Observation: there is colloquial use of “crazy” and for those, who like me, haven’t read Rafe or Sanctuary the number of additional characters referenced can be overwhelming. 

Reverb by Anna Zabo 

A pansexual cis female rock star and a former military trans male bodyguard hired to protect her from a stalker have immediate chemistry, phenomenal sex, and a well deserved happy ending.  Both protagonists are comfortable with their bodies and their identities when they meet. This allows for comfort and confidence during sex, with zero shame or stigmatization. My favorite romances are the ones that portray love as seeing and accepting the other as they are, while giving them the freedom to grow and change. The heroine and hero have exactly that, most clearly during sex. Observation: this is the third book in the series and while you can read it first, there are interpersonal dynamics that may be harder to grasp and unavoidable spoilers. 

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