lovers closeup

I want the publishing industry to develop a rating system for romance novels so that you don’t inadvertently¬†buy porn.

In my search for a Christmas gift for my mother, I found that a good clean romance novel is hard to find. My mother is 91, but she is a voracious reader. It is one of her few remaining pastimes. It gives her great joy to cozy up on the couch and read until she falls asleep.

So, looking for the perfect cozy romance at the grocery store, I read the back covers for clues.

Angelique is hired as a maid at the estate of the notorious rake, Sir Jason Amberson. She spurns his advances until she realizes he has a heart of gold.

That sounded good. I flipped through the pages until my eyes caught “his fingers brushed against her nipple.” Nope, not that one.

I perused the other titles. I picked up another. 

Gerold Remington, scarred by a fire that destroyed his ancestral home, is spurned by the women of his class. He retreats into self-pity and isolation until Regina Breverton, the curate’s spinster daughter known for her innocence and piety, appears at his door to demand that he take care of the tenants who live on his estate. Their mutual hostility turns to love as they learn that scars are only skin deep.

I liked the sound of that. I again flipped through the pages and discovered that Gerold ravishes Regina. The description was graphic and disturbing.

I grew more anxious and frustrated. How was I to choose a good clean romance when there was no indication of the sex scenes within? I didn’t trust the back cover descriptions. I had been burned before.

The year before, I just grabbed some interesting titles at the grocery store, wrapped them up and put them under the Christmas tree, waiting for her to smile when she unwrapped them.

Imagine my surprise when I found them after a few weeks stacked up and set aside. I began noticing that she was rereading all her old romance novels. I finally got the nerve to ask her, “Hey Mom, didn’t you like the books I got you?” She looked away, embarrassed. I repeated my question.

“Well, there was just too much sex. I don’t like reading stuff like that.”

I was horrified and asked her to show me. She leafed through the pages and pointed. I read a graphic sex scene. This was not just the usual bodice ripping, with heaving breasts and passionate kisses. This was porn. It couldn’t be more explicit. I felt terrible. How did I not know that romance novels sold in most grocery stores are filled with sexual content?

The Romance literary genre makes up 55 percent of the paperback market in North America. According to Simba Information, romance fiction generated 1.36 billion dollars in sales in 2009. That’s a lot of people reading romances, nearly 90 percent women. There’s no doubt about it. Romance fiction is HOT!

With the meteoric success of Fifty Shades of Gray, a rash of romance erotica flooded the market, hoping to cash in on this change in the literary taste of American women. Love scenes became sex scenes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with women reading soft porn and erotica. It is obvious many find it quite enjoyable. Personally, when I read one straight through I found it rather dull. As a fiction writer, I am more interested in plot and character development. The book I read was long on sex and short on plot.

However, my mother loves romance novels, but she wants love stories, not erotica. I object to the fact that there is no rating system to help the consumer make good choices. I suggest that there be a rating on the cover to indicate graphic sexual content. I think the publishing industry should print on the back cover something like “contains 10 graphic sex scenes” or “contains unusual sexual positions” or “contains kissing and petting.”

After all, I am buying for my mother.