6 Reasons Why I Want My Kids To Read Romance Novels
I remember clearly the very first time I read a romance novel. I had stolen it from my mother’s top shelf, and hid in my closet to read it. I was fascinated by what I discovered on those well-worn pages. I was still in junior high, and while I giggled along with my friends about sex, I honestly didn’t understand how it all worked. That was probably age-appropriate then, but if it hadn’t been for romance novels, I would’ve still been woefully unprepared when I finally did become intimate with a partner several years later. Sure, they taught us the biology of the act (and that we must abstain) in school, my mom mentioned birth control and condoms, and I had seen some porn online at my friend Sam’s house, but none of that began to cover the complexities and insecurities that come with doing the real thing.
Now, I'm a mother, and it’ll one day be my turn to make sure my son and daughter are prepared to tackle sex, love, and romance with honesty, bravery, compassion, and vulnerability. I’m confident that one of the best places for them to learn about intimacy, identity, and sex is between the pages of a romance novel. Here are just a few of the many reasons I hope my kids read "filthy" romance novels when they’re ready to learn about love:
1. Romance novels model consent.
Modern romance novels don’t just model consent, they make it sexy, and that’s what young people need to see. The more they experience how consent should be clearly, affirmatively, and enthusiastically obtained, the more they will expect and encourage that for themselves.
Explaining consent can be stiff and awkward. Modeling consent makes it easier to understand how it can be a series of nonverbal signals and dirty talk that also serve as foreplay. Here are a few exceptional books that model consent:
The Beyond Series by Kit Rocha
A post-apocalyptic bisexual love army kicks ass when they’re not having kinky orgies in The Beyond Series. In Rocha's gritty, brutal world, the consent is striking because the stakes are so high, there are many types of relationships to navigate, and the characters have experienced so much trauma. It’s handled masterfully, and without ever pulling the reader from the story.
A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole
In this novel, Nya finds herself in numerous hilariously compromising positions with Johan, the Tabloid Prince, but Johan’s decency means that even with a fake engagement between them, the consent is crystal clear (and unbelievably sexy!) every step of the way.
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Alisha Rai can always be counted upon to write books sexy enough to melt your e-reader, but she still manages to model consent in a way that’s thoroughly relatable. This one addresses issues young women need to hear — like dealing with unsolicited dick pics and navigating boundaries in the complicated world of dating apps.
2. They give readers high expectations for pleasure.
There are far worse things than approaching sex with the expectation of your partner giving you multiple orgasms and being enthusiastic about your pleasure. I want my daughter and son to read books that center female pleasure and make it clear that everyone's satisfaction matters. The complaint that romance is unrealistic is usually brought up in reference to hetero relationships with men, so instead of pandering to the patriarchy, let’s send young women and men out into the world with high expectations for themselves and each other.
Here are some of my favorite books that set the bar appropriately high:
Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn
In Beginner's Luck, a heroine with a career in STEM has won the lottery, but she loves her job too much to give it up. Meanwhile, a high-powered recruiter must convince her to come to the dark side of corporate materials science in order to achieve his own dreams. Ben initially fails to charm Kit, but once things heat up between them, their intimate scenes are phenomenal. Their chemistry is smoldering.
Trashed by Mia Hopkins
In Trashed, Eddie — also known as Trouble — is recently out of prison and trying to sort out his priorities when he falls for smart, tough Carmen, a successful chef from humble beginnings. The love scenes between them are delightfully raunchy, yet tender and loving. Hopkins does a great job of capturing both the vulnerability and the passion of sex in her writing.
Reverb by Anna Zabo
This rockstar romance reworks the bodyguard trope in a lovely exploration of strength and what it means to take care of someone. Mish is a tough as nails rock goddess and David, who is a trans man, is the bodyguard she doesn’t think she needs when she winds up with a violent stalker. The love scenes between them are a reminder that trust can be a turn on and power comes in many forms.
3. They show characters with agency over their sex lives and love lives.
Depictions of women who seize their own destiny are particularly important during those formative years for young women learning to assert themselves in a world that doesn’t always value their voices. In romance, my kids will see women from all walks of life who have agency, chase their dreams, and learn to embrace their own sense of self as they fall in love. In romance, there are no limits placed upon the ways that women can achieve a happy ending — domestic bliss and motherhood aren’t seen as less than dreams of a career (and vice versa), but the common theme is that the characters are autonomous and find support from their love interest.
Some recent favorites with badass heroines:
Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean
“The Bareknuckle Bastards series [is] about three brothers bound by a secret that they cannot escape — and the women who bring them to their knees.” This is Sarah MacLean at her absolute finest and Hattie. Is. Everything. A historical female protagonist who is determined to take charge of her life, but not without experiencing pleasure first, she goes head to head with the ruthless, grunting hero and refuses to back down.
Some Like It Scandalous by Maya Rodale
Rodale manages to make something as seemingly mundane as makeup subversive and empowering in this Gilded Age historical. Daisy is bright and ambitious, and she refuses to give up her entrepreneurial dreams for a loveless marriage. The hero must grow to be worthy of Daisy as he helps her achieve her lofty goals.
A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Two whip smart heroines fall in love while fighting the dismissive patriarchy of historical astronomy. Waite deftly handles conflicts of duty and class without ever diminishing her heroines, always allowing their inner strength to shine through.
4. They show that Happily Ever Afters are for everyone.
I have no idea what struggles my children will face or who they will fall in love with, but in romance, they can see satisfying outcomes for characters of all different backgrounds. Romance demonstrates that the right partner(s) will love and support you exactly as you are.
Here are some of my favorite examples:
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Khai thinks he is defective, but actually his autism means he processes feelings differently. His mother, tired of waiting for him to get married, travels Vietnam and brings him back a bride — Esme, who comes from the slums of Ho Chi Minh City and is willing to face the unknown for a chance at pulling her family from poverty. The takeaway from this charming story is that everyone is deserving of love, but it might not look quite as you expected it to.
Hook Shot by Kennedy Ryan
Lotus is a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, but that doesn’t define her as a character. She embraces her undeniable connection with NBA player Kenan, and takes the difficult first steps to confront her past so she can begin to heal. He supports her without "fixing" her in this gorgeous, moving tale of finding trust after trauma.
One and Only by Jenny Holiday
This novel manages to feel like a light romp in which a bridesmaid must keep the groom’s brother from derailing her best friend’s wedding, but it has nuanced depths that make it about more than wedding shenanigans. Cameron is a veteran struggling with PTSD and Jane makes him feel safe enough to address it, while he pushes her out of her comfort zone into a place where she can grow. Bonus points for featuring a hero who is supportive of sex toys!
5. They give them a safe space to explore their identity.
When I first began reading romance, I found that the stories were always about cis gendered, heterosexual characters. But in more recent years, I’ve read far more novels with queer and gender nonconforming characters, though LGBTQ+ authors and characters are still egregiously underrepresented in the genre as a whole, and that needs to change.
Reading romance novels has allowed me to understand my own gender and sexuality better. If I’d been reading stories in my youth that showed love in all the colors under the rainbow, I think I would’ve struggled less and felt more comfortable with my identity sooner. I would’ve felt less alone and known that love and identity aren't black and white concepts. I hope my kids learn those lessons quicker than I did.
Here are some books that have helped me on that journey lately:
Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
I was floored by this fearlessly told historical tale with a nonbinary main character. Robin turns the heroine-dressing-as-a-man trope on its head and the delightfully grumpy hero accepts and adores her (Sebastian uses a feminine pronoun) precisely as she is. I identified so much with how Robin felt about her gender, and it was reassuring to explore that knowing there would be an HEA.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
The absolutely charming story of the son of the (female!) American President falling for the Prince of Wales. It’s a queer modern royal love story that blends humor and angst as the two are first forced to pretend to be friends for the press, but end up with real feelings for each other.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
In this historical romance, two elderly lesbians run out of effs to give and reclaim their power by getting revenge on Mrs. Martin’s Terrible Nephew — all while falling in love. It’s the delightful lady rage book you want to be reading in 2019.
6. Romance novels can be a healthy intro to kink.
As the children of a former dominatrix, my daughter and son may find all things kinky patently uncool, which is their prerogative. But if they want to explore some kink without having to discuss it with me, the romance genre has so many books that model healthy BDSM in all its glory. Mainstream or porn portrayals of kink can be heavy on the stereotypes, but in romance, we get to see all the kinky fun and catch a deeper glimpse into how it helps the characters learn to love and trust one another.
Here are some of my favorites with BDSM:
Desperate Measures by Katee Robert
This book brings to life some of my deep, dark fantasies in a healthy way, all with amazing world building. Ever had fantasies about Disney villains being hot and kinky? This one turns #HotJafar into Daddy Dom Jafar and it’s scintillatingly filthy but still emotionally compelling.
American Queen by Sierra Simone
The first book in this modern retelling of the legends of Camelot follows Greer, who is in love with both the President and his Vice President. This ménage story features some of the best portrayals of authentic BDSM I’ve ever seen in fiction, managing to accurately portray the feelings of sub, Switch, and Dom.
Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon
In the first installment in the Beards and Bondage series, a grumpy nature photographer helps a city girl fashionista when she stumbles into the safety of his mountain home while on the run from a killer. It’s a wonderful exploration of recovering from trauma and how the deep bonds of trust forged by BDSM can lay the foundation for that healing.
Reading romance was a revelation for me in so many ways, and I believe we should be encouraging young people to explore the genre for the very reason many protest that they shouldn’t be: Because they are books that feature sex. Most young people will seek knowledge about sex, and I want my children to know that there are books available that model healthy relationships, empowered characters, and love for all.