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‘Whatever the Approach, Tab B Still Fits into Slot A’: Twenty Years of Sex Scripts in Romance Novels

Abstract

In 2009, romance novels accounted for $1.36 billion worth of book sales, giving this genre the largest market share by a wide margin. However, despite their popularity, very little research has been done on the sexual behaviours depicted in these books or on the context in which these behaviours occur. The goals of this study were to gain an understanding of how sex and sexuality are portrayed in contemporary romance novels and to determine whether these portrayals have changed over the last 20 years. It was hypothesized that most depictions of sexuality in romance novels would adhere to Western sexual scripts (Gagnon 1977; Gagnon and Simon 1973; Simon and Gagnon 1986, 1987) and that this would not change 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 content analysis revealed that hypotheses were supported with respect to characterization of the male and female protagonists, characterization and context of the romantic relationships, and order and nature of sexual behaviours. The implications of these results for further research on depictions of sex and sexuality in the media are considered.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Peggy Kleinplatz, Ph.D., Rebecca Plante, Ph.D., John Hunsley, Ph.D., and Mylène Laforest, B.A. for their assistance in strengthening this paper. We would also like to thank the Romance Writers of America for their kind assistance.

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Correspondence to A. Dana Ménard.

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Dana Ménard, A., Cabrera, C. ‘Whatever the Approach, Tab B Still Fits into Slot A’: Twenty Years of Sex Scripts in Romance Novels. Sexuality & Culture 15, 240–255 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-011-9092-3

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Keywords

  • Romance novels
  • Sex scripts
  • Representations of sex and sexuality in fiction