I am a reader, y’all. I don’t mean that in an insufferably pretentious way, suggesting I read nothing but classics and historical non-fiction about World War I. I just mean I read… like all the time. I read news articles, empirical studies, classic novels, Wikipedia articles on any number of random subjects. I thought Jake might break his jaw from yawning the night I attempted to regale him with facts about the Hollywood sign. I was giddy the day he admitted that my Pablo Escobar/hippo anecdote had helped him in an online quiz. I read horror, fantasy, and even bestsellers, though I rarely enjoy the latter. I’m currently rereading a favorite young adult series and a classic. At any given time, I’m also making my way through any number of romance novels.
I discovered the romance genre with paranormal romance, when I was around 24. I had always loved fantasy and supernatural TV shows, specifically obsessing over the relationships in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Roswell, Angel, Charmed, and Vampire Diaries. I just felt like the intensity and drama of the pairings were more justified in a world with fewer limitations. Imagine my overwhelming joy when I discovered a literary genre in which the romance was the primary focus and the plot was secondary. In the last 10 years, I’ve branched out to other genres, but romance remains a favorite comfort read. There’s just something so cozy about knowing that no matter what a couple goes through, ranging from a crazy ex-boyfriend to a supernatural apocalypse, they’ll live happily ever after. What can I say? I grew up on 90s Disney.
As comforting as I find my romance novels, I do admit that the suspension of disbelief is high in the genre… so high, in fact, that many romance readers refer to the world in which these stories take place as Romancelandia. In the Real World, the men of history rarely cleared 5’10”, likely had an assortment of venereal diseases, and considered women property. In Romancelandia, Renaissance men admired sass and wit. A Scottish brogue was simply accented modern English peppered with a few archaic phrases. Contemporary men are all ambiguously wealthy 6’4″ powerhouses who love curvy girls. Indeed, Romancelandia is a delightful place, where even some fairly severe ailments can be cured by The Pene, such as…
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – as featured in Dark Desires After Dusk, by Kresley Cole and Beard in Mind, by Penny Reid
Obsessive compulsive disorder is like a gluten allergy, in that for every one hundred self-diagnosed victims, you will find one legitimate sufferer. This one person is easily identifiable, because if left untreated, their symptoms are utterly crippling. While this particular mental illness has not touched my life, I do find it pretty eyeroll-inducing when I read about a heroine who can’t even exist in society if her surroundings aren’t perfectly grouped into sections of threes… that is until she gets some of that dick. While I haven’t heavily researched OCD, it’s my understanding that treatment involves a relentless combination of behavioral therapy and medication, not a prescription of The Proper Schlong.
Anxiety/PTSD/Sleep Disorders – as featured in When a Scot Ties the Knot, by Tessa Dare and The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn
I actually have struggled with anxiety and PTSD. During Covid-19, I had so much trouble sleeping for more than an hour at a time, I ended up having a mental breakdown. While I wouldn’t say my husband has acted as a cure, he’s certainly been a balm. In Romancelandia, however, heroes act as a miracle remedy for an entire range of mental illnesses. Women who can’t even function in crowds can suddenly tour the world! Those suffering from horrific flashbacks at the sound of rain, can dance in it without fear! The once exhausted victims of frustrating and even debilitating sleep disorders are refreshed and have a bounce in their step! No lie, the Magic Member is better than the very best medical marijuana.
Infertility – as featured in Until July, by Aurora Rose Reynolds, The Friend Zone, by Abby Jimenez, Virgin River, by Robyn Carr, Beautiful Sacrifice, by Jamie McGuire
The titles I’m citing are not meant to comprise an exhaustive list. The romance genre is liberally peppered with all of these, none so much as penile infertility cures. Having suffered through the devastation of infertility, myself, I understand why this one upsets readers so much. Personally, I find this to be a more accurate representation of my perfect fantasy; going so far as to include Free Babies when the heroines previously thought they’d either never have children or would have to pursue medical intervention. Regardless, there’s no denying that fertility issues are rarely cured by Supernatural Semen, let alone at the rate they are in romance novels.
Sexual Trauma – as featured in Rock Chick Regret, by Kristen Ashley, Pleasure Unbound, by Larissa Ione, and Shadow Flight, by Christine Feehan
These hyperbolic romance blunders don’t usually bother me all that much. I just don’t personally believe that an author is responsible for assigning every tough topic exactly the weight it deserves as a societal issue, when the primary plot is romance. In fact, I’ve read books where that’s clearly been the intent and they’re not really romance anymore, focusing instead on the issue in question. Even I admit, however, that sexual traumas are probably one of the most disturbing ailments for even fictional penises to heal. Sexual assault victims can struggle for years before they can comfortably be intimate with another person, if they ever get to that point. Wrapping that recovery up over the course of a few failed attempts spanning six weeks is… insensitive, to say the least. I have read novels where the recovery takes place over the course of years, montage style, as seen in Shadow Flight, by Christine Feehan. If the intent is to give a happily every after to someone who’s experienced such horrific trauma, I think this might be the best way to go.
Childhood Trauma – as featured in The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn and Dream Spinner, by Kristen Ashley
Childhood trauma is another recurring theme amongst romance novel heroes and heroines, likely because so many readers relate on some level, even if it isn’t personally. I find this plot device far less repellent than sexual traumas, however, since the characters have usually already dealt with the damage, to some extent. Sure, Simon didn’t want children in The Duke and I, because of his father’s abuse, but he’d overcome his developmental issues and made quite a name for himself in society. This trope mostly veers into the obnoxious when the problems persist in a way that impacts the characters’ day-to-day life. We often see women with abusive mothers or fathers, who interfere and disrupt their lives on a regular basis… that is until the hero swoops in to save the day with a stern talking to and a therapeutic orgasm. Suddenly Mom and Dad are on their best behavior and all those insecurities and unhealthy coping mechanisms have been replaced with a new self-care regimen and some yoga.
Physical Injuries – as featured in Rock Chick Redemption, by Kristen Ashley, Lucian, by Bethany Kris, and Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Of all the afflictions I’ve seen cured by phallic means in romance novels, actual physical injuries are probably the ones that take me out of the story the most… yes, even more than sexual trauma. Theoretically, I suppose the root source of someone’s OCD, anxiety, PTSD, or personal traumas could be improved by the addition of True Love. It’s eyeroll-inducing, sure, but it doesn’t completely take me out of the story. While fertility can’t be restored with a fantasy phallus, people do get pregnant when they’ve been told it could never happen. My son is proof. Under no circumstances, however, can you have sex a few days after getting a major head injury, Anastasia Steel. You can’t have sex after someone’s cut a tattoo from your body. You can’t have sex with freshly broken ribs. You can’t have sex right after childbirth, no matter how glorious the dick. I don’t care who’s responsible. That is some bad damn writing. Your happily ever after could have just as easily taken place three weeks later!