Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 193–212 | Cite as

“She Exploded into a Million Pieces”: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Orgasms in Contemporary Romance Novels

  • Christine CabreraEmail author
  • Amy Dana Ménard
Original Paper


According to the Western sexual script, orgasm for both partners is the ultimate goal of every sexual interaction and the most important marker of normal, healthy sexuality. Nowhere is this belief more evident than in romance novels, which enjoy widespread readership: in 2009 alone, 9,089 new romance titles were released and 1.36 billion in sales revenue was generated. However, despite their popularity, very little research has been done on depictions of sexual behaviours in romance novels, and none at all on depictions of orgasms. Therefore, the goals of this investigation were to examine the frequency and context in which orgasms occur and to determine whether these depictions have changed over time. The sample consisted of books that had won the Romance Writers of America award for best contemporary single title romance from 1989 to 2009. A quantitative analysis revealed that female characters were significantly more likely to be depicted experiencing an orgasm during a sexual encounter than male characters. Also, orgasms experienced by female characters were more likely to result from manual stimulation and penile-vaginal intercourse whereas male characters experienced the vast majority of their orgasms from penile-vaginal intercourse. Thematic analysis of the orgasm depictions resulted in three overarching categories: 1) factors that bring about orgasm (e.g., male agency/female receptivity), 2) qualities of the orgasm itself (e.g., violence and death imagery, orgasm as a shared experience of love), and 3) effects of the orgasm (e.g., physical transformation). Each of these larger categories also contained a variety of more specific themes. The implications of these results for sex therapy, sex education and further research are considered.


Orgasm Sexual scripts Romance novels 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OttawaOttawaCanada

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