Explain This To Me

Barbara Vey -- June 22nd, 2010

Something that has been bothering me for a while now is the casual way extremely rough unwanted sex has been portrayed in mainstream books.  I’m talking about what I consider rape.

Now I’m not speaking of the game of “Yes, no, yes, no.”  Or the unwanted kiss that ignites all the passion.  I mean the flat out angry man who feels he’s been taken advantage of (in reality or his imagination) going after the heroine and forcing her to have sex and not because he feels that she really wants it, but because he wants to punish her.  And yes, the man is the supposed hero of the piece.

He chases her, grabs her and has his way with her.  Of course, she really wants it because she has (or had) feelings for him (or so it is implied in the story), but all her mannerisms (pushing him away, fighting, clawing) seem to have no effect and the deed is done.  Usually, our hero feels terrible afterward, but is that enough?

After reading a particularly brutal account, I talked to my adult son about his thoughts on this.  He asked me if the heroine ever actually said the word, “No.”  I reread the passage and even though she thought it, the word was never verbalized.  My son reminded me that some sex games are played out that way, but this didn’t feel like a sex game.

While I’ve seen this in more than one book, I do have to admit that other than the one scene, I’ve enjoyed all the books.  I’ve read others by these authors and will continue to do so.  But isn’t there another way to set up the relationship?  Is it really needed to move the story along and show how tortured our hero is?

I can’t imagine being a rape victim and reading an account like this.  It must feel horrifying.  Am I overreacting?  Is there ever an okay kind of “rape” scene?  Does anyone else notice this?

Bottom Line: “Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”  ~ Robert Heinlein

32 thoughts on “Explain This To Me

  1. Edie Ramer

    That bothers me, too. I try not to read books with scenes like that, and I certainly wouldn’t write that kind of sex scene.

    I’ll come back later on and read the comments. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who feel this way.

  2. Sheila

    I thought those rough and unconsensual rape scenes were more prevalent in the 70s and 80s? Is that right? Good topic, Barbara.

  3. Cathy Clamp

    I’m not a fan of rape scenes, unless it’s to highlight the viciousness of a VILLAIN. But the *hero*? No, not at all romantic to me, or even acceptable. I’ve read a lot of erotica where it’s common though. Might be that BDSM is bleeding into mainstream. I don’t get offended, but mostly skip over such scenes and refuse to write them.

  4. Debbie Kaufman

    I wish we didn’t see those any more. They just sicken me.

    Generally, if the sex in a book is more than I am up for reading, I’ll just skim ahead to get back to the actual story. But, these types are Tsuch a turnoff to me that I often won’t finish the book at all. I definitely won’t buy that author again either.

    I’m not real fond of the “forced into a sexual contract” stories either. You know the ones. Be my mistress or lose the family farm stuff.

  5. Sherry

    I don’t like it either. I have dealt with rape victims in my job and I am sure that none of them would find this “romantic” at all. We all know rape is about power and submission and not love. I wouldn’t read the authors myself as I believe in equality in a relationship. This would be a turn off for me.

    Interesting, thought provoking post, Barbara.

  6. Lori Foster

    Was this in an erotica novel? Or a historical?
    I can’t imagine it in a straight contemporary, but erotica pushes the boundaries, and in historicals, when the mindset of the man was superior, it was likely more common and acceptable.
    I’d like to know more about the book you read it in. Time period, setting, etc…
    No, rape is not okay – unless it’s a fantasy in an erotica novel. Know what I mean?

    I hate to offer up an opinion without knowing more.


  7. Dianna Love

    I agree with the comments above. I don’t find anything honorable about a man who is forces sex for any reason. IMO – intimacy occurs because the two people are drawn to each other in loving and compassionate way. Romance is supposed to be about developing a relationship based on trust. How do you trust someone who has reacted aggressively in the past and not worry it will happen again down the road when life is difficult and he’s angry or frustrated?

    Interesting post, Barbara.

  8. Nancie Burtch

    I agree with Lori. I’d hate to give a blanket opinion. But, that being said, I usually won’t read a book with a rape scene with the Hero in a romance. I don’t agree with that at all. I will, though, if it’s integral to the plot in other types of fiction.

  9. Christine

    That type of scene seemed a lot more prevalent in historicals (once upon a time at least)–it was certainly something I was happy to see go out of fashion for the most part. ‘Masterful’ hero, my tuches, although my tolerances have changed as I’ve gotten older. Didn’t realize it was making a reappearance in contemporaries–except in BDSM. He’d better be a lot more than remorseful–of course I would be getting my sharpest kitchen knife and threatening his privates afterwards but that’s just me. Although why the female character in the book was only thinking no and not screaming it out loud, I don’t understand.

  10. Barbara Vey Post author

    Actually, I found different versions of this situation in three different books. Lori, the one referenced to in the blog was a paranormal (and no, they weren’t in animal form at the time), the other two were a historical and a contemporary. None were erotica.

    The rape word is never used and the hero and heroine always end up together in the end. The woman seems to “understand” the reason the man had to be violent with her and forgives him later in the book because she loves him.

    Christine, the only reason I can figure out why the female didn’t scream out loud was because there was no one else around to hear her.

  11. Kathy Crouch

    I agree with you Barbara. There has been an influx of aggressive rough sex scenes in books and/or movies lately. I don’t think it’s necessary to have this type of scene just to present a tortured alpha male. It doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t connect or sympathize with this kind of character in any way. I think that there are other more profound ways of showing the deeper levels to a hero. It also doesn’t leave us feeling too confident in a heroine who falls for this type of hero. I like rough yes no type of sex scenes, but in no way are they even close to being considered rape scenarios. My heroines always want the hero. They just don’t always want to want the hero. :)

  12. Lori Foster

    Hmmm. I’m curious. YOu know, I LOVED (luved, luved, luved) Mackenzie’s Mission by Linda Howard, but I was a conference where she did a workshop (years ago) and an audience member asked her about that scene, referencing it as a rape scene. To me, rape was never an issue because she was with him every step of the way. She loved that he was so desperate to have her, to “claim” her as his own. She was very clear-headed and onboard with the love scene, and I thought it was hawt. :-)
    So maybe it’s a perspective thing. So much can depend on the scene, the motivation, the characters themselves, what they’re thinking and feeling – both of them. I don’t like to ever diss a book (even if I don’t know the title. LOL) without knowing all the angles.

    Off to write – no rape scenes, I promise. LOL
    Happy reading all!


  13. Mary Teatime

    Just a quick word from a BDSM practitioner (and writer and editor). One of the key tenets of BDSM is *consensual* violence. If there’s one thing BDSM tends to be (contrary to popular belief), it’s nerdy and overthought. While “rape play” is definitely a thing, the amount of discussion, negotiation, processing, and aftercare that occur would probably strike most “vanilla” people as too much work. (“Okay, so in the scene, is it okay if I pull your hair?” “Yes, I like having my hair pulled, but only from the nape of my neck. No pulling on the sides.” “Okay, what about flinging you on the bed?” “That’s great, but be careful of the headboard, it’s a bit rickety.” That sort of thing.)

    And while I enjoy BDSM play, and BDSM-themed literature, I absolutely agree with your key point. In the BDSM community, someone who plays the “top” because thy genuinely dislike or want to physically or emotionally hurt their partners doesn’t take long to be ostracized. *Pretending* to be mean = sexy. *Being* mean = being a jerk. That’s all from the pervert contingent!

  14. Christine

    As an aside–and this is definitely meant as a rape scene in a mainstream mystery/thriller–but Missy Schwartz in “Entertainment Weekly” (6/25/10 issues, pg. 42) discusses the ‘male fantasy’ and extreme violence towards women in Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Of course, as she points out, Larsson isn’t around to debate his ‘ostensibly feminist agenda’ but since the books are international best-sellers, I’m wondering how other women readers are handling the scenes? [No, I haven't read the trilogy.]

  15. Kathleen

    I agree that the forced sex scene is not hot. I don’t think it takes the word “no” to make it rape either. But because women realistically do get raped it should be a topic that is dealt with. Just not with the ‘hero’ doing the raping because at that point he’s just an abusive loser.

    I have to say that I thought Patricia Briggs is doing great job with dealing with that type of rape in her Mercy Thompson series. The rape fit the villian, the rescue was worthy of the hero, and Mercy didn’t get over it in a day (or even in just one book). Because the scene and aftermath was realistic, I didn’t have a problem with rape being part of that series.

    By the way Lori, I thought Mackenzie’s Mission by Linda Howard was hot also. I didn’t think it was rape, especially since Joe explained the whole control issue and the fact that he had been abused.

  16. Christina

    I guess I am rather hesitant to make a blanket judgement in saying that all such scenes are without value. Others have brought up the historical novel context, and let’s face it; as unsavoury as the prospect of rape goes, it happened and unfortunately still happens. In historical novels (I particularly in a world where women were chattel, and in some cases had less value than the goats her husband or father owned. I think Diana Gabaldon handled the rape scene of Mary Hawkins in her novel, “A Dragonfly in Amber” particularly well, given the context of the story. It was relevant to the plot. It is when such scenes are just gratuitous that I tend to object to their inclusion.

  17. Jeannette

    I read Larsson’s triology and I did have a problem with one on the scenes in the first book and I almost walked away from it. The scene in, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was clearly rape but it was not portrayed as anything other then what it was. Having said that, I did finish the triology and enjoyed them all very much.
    Forced sex scenes are a definate turn off for me.

  18. Christie Craig

    I think rape and seduction are two different birds, but sometimes the way a writer plays out a scene the line can be blurry. I love to read and write macho men, but I hope my scenes never come off that way. For me, I always make sure the heroine is on board and the reader knows it.


  19. Brenda Burchard

    A very interesting and thought-provoking post, Barbara. As a publisher of books dealing with sexual abuse prevention and treatment, I’m glad to see readers and authors talking about non-consensual, forced sex in books. Does including this content, especially when it’s not labeled rape and has no consequences for the victim, encourage us a society to think this is normal and acceptable behavior? Thank you for having the courage to open this discussion.

  20. Lisa Marie Wilkinson

    The thing that puzzles me with regard to this topic is the fact that a forum discussion about whether or not a certain scene is a rape or a “forced seduction” will invariably boost the sales of the book being discussed. Any novel that inspires controversy for whatever reason is likely to enjoy improved sales, which I find interesting in and of itself.

  21. Julius Lester

    I’m coming late to this discussion but thought it important to say that
    the Swedish title of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is “Men Who Hate Women.” Knowing that put an entirely different slant on the book when I
    read “…Dragon Tattoo”. Larsson’s Swedish publisher hated the title, but
    Larsson refused to change it. From what I’ve read about him, his commitment to feminism was very strong.

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