How Romance Novels Challenge Slut Shaming And Change The Way We Think About Sex

From its focus on women and women's stories to its inclusion of female desire and pleasure to its portrayal of powerful heroines, romance is a truly inspiring genre for women. But one of the most empowering — and perhaps surprising —characteristics of the genre is how romance novels challenge slut shaming. In books that are primarily written by and for women, there's no room for judgment of other people's sexual choices, history, or preferences.

Every day, women are criticized and stigmatized for their sexual choices. Women are criticized for the age they lost their virginity, for their number of sexual partners, for the clothes they wear. But making women feel badly about themselves for being "slutty" (ugh, don't you just hate that word?), is more than just insulting — it's controlling, too. The worst part? This kind of oppression is in just about everything we do — from the way we talk to one another to the TV shows we watch to the books we read.

But when you think about what makes a romance novel a romance novel, it becomes clear that they're the exact kind of books that leave no room for such a hurtful, harmful, and sexist practice. After all, they're part of a genre that celebrates female sexuality and sexual empowerment — the kind of books that openly and enthusiastically embrace sexual pleasure. Romance novels allow women to orgasm (multiple times!). They feature women having sex, sometimes with multiple partners, without being banished, shunned, or cast out from their communities. They star women who are ravished, with their consent, chapter after chapter. Romance novels feature women who like sex, who enjoy sex, who embrace sex, and in turn, who are not horrible, vile women.

I know, can you even believe it?

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Still, there are some troubling tropes that still exist, even within a genre about open sexuality. Some authors do a better job than others of writing sex-positive romances. Like in every genre, the good comes with the bad. But overall, romance novels have all the right ingredients to challenge the slut shaming standard. They have powerful women who take charge of their own lives and desires, they include a cast of women who can be supportive of one another's sexual choices rather than judgmental, and let's not forget the biggie: they have sex in them — hot, steamy, nothing-to-be-ashamed of sex.

There are already dozens and dozens of books and authors who are using these ingredients and challenging slut shaming right now by creating spaces where women can be sexual beings without judgement or punishment.

There are plenty of reasons to love romance novels — for the romantic love story or the steamy sex, for the kickass female characters or the hunky heroes — but the way romance novels change the way we think about sex, the way we think about women having sex in particular, is all the reason I need.

Beginning on August 1, Bustle will host Romance Novel Month, a celebration and examination of the romance novel genre. But don't worry, romance readers: the coverage won't end in August. We're proud to support romance novels, and we will continue to do so all year long.

Images: Cristian Newman/Unsplash; Giphy (2)