Has Free Sex Killed Romance?

Today, unlike two generations past, couples engage in sex without a commitment. But has free sex killed romance?

I’ve been noticing for awhile that they don’t make Dr. Zhivagobig romantic movies anymore. For decades, Hollywood made wonderful romantic films. Some of the best were Gone With The Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), Dr. Zhivago (1965), Love Story (1970). There was even that wonderful time  in the nineties that saw the production of When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), While You Were Sleeping (1995), The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and then more recently, The Notebook (2004). Since then, the romance genre has evolved into supposed love stories, where couples connect—kissing and fondling are fast tracked—and before long, they are ripping each other’s clothes off and having sex.

Films and books, reflecting our times, no longer tell stories of couples moving slowly towards commitment. The so-called courtship period seems to have vanished.

Nor are there many contemporary books that show a couple falling in love and taking time to consummate their relationship. In the fifties, magazine articles asked, “Should you kiss on a first date?” By the seventies, it was “Should you have sex on a first date?” Today, the magazines are explicit about orgasms, how to please your mate, oral sex, and whether Miley Cyrus went too far with her twerking.

bridges of madison countyThe recent number one bestseller was Fifty Shades of Grey. It was no Bridges of Madison County, where a photographer passing through a town falls in love with a married woman hungering for romance and passion. Fifty Shades of Grey is largely a sex story, with all manners of S & M propelling the characters and the simple plot forward. This book would’ve been considered pornography a decade ago, but with every sexual barrier between men and women removed, erotic stories have entered the mainstream.

But has all this free sex killed romance?  Is this why more than fifty per cent of young people are living alone? Do they need company if they can have sex without marriage? I’d love to know what you think. If you think romance still exists—more than on just on Valentine’s Day—why  aren’t films and books in recent years reflecting this more?

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    • Julia, as you say, sex is meaningless without context. I think that’s why I miss some of those older films that ended with a kiss. There was a build-up, anticipation of more, a look was enough to get your heart racing. In a way, it was a tease, but a delicious one.

  1. Depends on what one thinks constitutes romance? Dr. Zhivago, Casablanca and Gone With The Wind are in the Romeo and Juliet tradition of star-crossed lovers, while The Notebook and Love Story are focused on courage and loyalty in extremely trying circumstances. I think Romeo and Juliet slept together the first time they were actually in the same house, didn’t they? I don’t think instant sexual gratification has much to do with more of our children’s generation living alone than was the case in our generation. In the past few decades, everything in the western world has sped up, and role definitions have changed. Technology was supposed to speed things up in our working and daily-chore lives, but in fact I think it has slowed most things down. We spend a lot more time using technology than we ever did scrubbing a floor by hand for instance, and more people work 80-100 hours a week now than ever before, because they are linked to technology. Along with technology and expanding ‘opportunities’ has come a culture of constant change. The fact that females now have more opportunities to support themselves financially, and the confusion that comes with expanding roles for both genders, may actually have slowed a lot of them down when it comes to them choosing a life path, or a life partner, and developing a sense of necessary commitment to achieve one’s goals.

    • Jocelyn, you’ve raised some wonderful points, especially about females having more opportunities today in the workplace and the expanding roles for both genders. Also, the bit about Romeo and Juliet sleeping together the first night. However, there was the romance between them. Shakespeare got that right. The balcony scene. It wasn’t slam, bang, thank you ma’am type of sexuality that’s portrayed in many contemporary films and books. What I see missing today is the mating dance.

    • Thanks, Bryan I’ll look it up. As you know, I’m a sucker for romance. Glad to see Woody coming through. Of course, he’s from my generation. I want the young directors of tomorrow to not forget to include the spark that feeds us all.

  2. I could be wrong about this, but I think sex and commitment parted ways when the birth control pill came along. Instant gratification has become the norm in this fast-food, bed-in-a-bag, pre-prepped, pre-washed world we live in and that extends to relationships.

    But it’s not all bad. Foodies still appreciate great ingredients, sommeliers still appreciate great grapes and lovers still appreciate great romance. I’d like to think we can all appreciate the difference between wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sex and making love. They both have their place, but only one flows from courtship and romance. Hopefully that will never be dead.

  3. In one of the adult writing groups I teach, Diana, a darling older woman said her adult granddaughter wanted her to try writing a romance novel. She even sat down with Anna and went online, letting her read samples and choose a variety of books by different authors. She refused to try 50 SHADES OF GRAY after reading only the first few pages, but she did agree to try several other romance.
    Anna didn’t say anything more about it for awhile, and each week she brought other writing to be critiqued and edited, poems and short mainstream stories and two articles, etc.
    When one of the other writers finally asked how the romance reading was going and if Anna was going to try writing a romance, she shook her head. She said too much had changed, and if these were samples of what romance readers wanted, she’s decided she wanted out of the running.
    She said that somewhere along the way readers seemed to have lost the concept of real romance…and replaced it with heavy panting and moving body parts.
    She’s now working on another mystery. 😉
    Marylin Warner recently posted…TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESSMy Profile

    • Marylin, I couldn’t concur more. You’ve given a great anecdote, underlining how romance writing has changed. It’s still called that, but too often the sexual explicitness overshadows the romance. Perhaps writers are skipping the foreplay, because they think that’s what today’s reader wants. I remember seeing my mother, who couldn’t read, become enthralled with a movie that built up the romance. It’s as old as time, but it seems in many ways, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water, pardon the cliche. I was thinking that one of the reasons that John Green’s book, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, took off, is because it has a strong romantic element. Similarly, OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon. These books are well-written, and full of heart. Both authors captured what many readers hunger for.

  4. Wow, very interesting post. I think you might be right that this has caused a major shift. I haven’t read 50 Shades myself…I just don’t see the point. I do miss the days of Gone With The Wind where the handsome man sweeps the girl in his arms and carries her up the stares and then…fade to black. Honestly I think often these things are so much better when left to the imagination.

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy)

    Sarah Allen recently posted…How To Write In A New Genre (And 4 Reasons You Should)My Profile

    • Thanks, Sarah. Do you think this is a conversation that is long overdue? I think some of the impetus may be coming from Hollywood, though they’re not writing books. They certainly influence story. Screenwriters (on TV and film) are by and large male today, and men tell different stories than women. I agree that it’s often better to leave the sexual coupling to our imagination. A hint of what’s coming is enough to get the juices running. 🙂

  5. I so agree with this post. I miss the romance books that had no explicit sex, no profanity, no hop in the sack – we’re good together in bed – so we’ll get married in 20 years, and I miss where the man too the time to woo the woman. I don’t watch Hollywood movies much but from the “free” Kindle books I download that are supposedly romance, I see how much it has changed! I am always looking for authors who can tell a good story, describe scenes and what people were wearing, etc rather than tearing off the clothes (whatever they were since the author never described them)! I may be old fashioned but I don’t want to have to go to Amish books for romance and learn all about a sect’s religion just to get a decent book. Anyway, I’ll quite yammering on and go finish entering for your giveaway on Olivia’s Catastrophe…

    • Thanks for your great reply, Mare. I’m with you. When there’s so much explicit sex in books, I wonder if the writer trusts that readers have their own imagination. Not everything has to be spelled out. I feel that same way about how violence is depicted. I want a writer to lead me there, but also to leave something for me to think about. I’m hoping my book will be in that league, the one where readers can fill in some of the blanks. It’ll be up to the readers to let me know whether I’ve succeeded or not. Good luck with Olivia’s giveaway. And thanks for stopping by and giving me your comments.