the “first time” fallacy

I’m sneaking into this gap in the guest posts, to address something that bugs me: Why does it always hurt, the first time a woman has sex in a romance novel?

I know that for a lot of women it is an uncomfortable experience, for one reason or another, but losing your virginity isn’t inherently uncomfortable. But in all virgin-romances there’s this moment –  whether she’s into the sex or not, as soon as he’s “fully sheathed” it suddenly stops feeling good, and goes on being painful until he moves in just the right way.

I have two problems with this:

1) The first time I had sex was transcendental. Nothing had ever felt that good. Sex has been a lot more interesting since that chaste, naive thing, but almost never so completely good, so completely transporting, so completely free of anything but sensation and wonder. And I was 16, so it’s not like I was experienced, or even understood my own body or all the mechanics of sex;

and 2) When sex is uncomfortable, the man moving around all up in there rarely makes it less so.

Of course, sex is a highly subjective thing, so that could just be me. But as it’s highly subjective, I wish more female characters got to have more varied experiences. (And I’m not even touching on the Unalterable Truth that sex is always, always amazing for men.)

Why always this moment of discomfort? Is it to mark the transition from virgin to not-virgin? The pang innocence makes on its way out of the body? Is it because sex should never, ever be a purely pleasurable thing, and we must first pay the price for it?

Also – do you have any idea how hard it was not to put the ‘ph’ into that heading?

Note: every comment puts your name in the hat to win an accidental housewife e-reader cover!

Comments 62 Responses

  1. Ruthie

    Yes! This. And I want to touch on that always, always amazing for men — I knew a guy once who had never come. He’d always faked it–because he was young, because he was uncomfortable, because of high expectations. I want to see HIM in a romance.

    Hmm. I guess that means I have to write him.

        1. anna cowan Post author

          Apparently Japanese boys watch porn together to brush up on their sex skills. Because there’s a clear sex partner role – boy “does”, girl “has done to” – the boys have to be able to “do to” really well. It’s expected. What Western boy ever worked at his sex skills??? (Apart from Jason Stackhouse, of course.)

        2. Kaetrin

          What disappointed me about that book was that the heroine wouldn’t have sex with him unless he could a) get hard without viagra and b) orgasm. I would have loved to read a book where she takes her pleasure (willingly given) and he receives pleasure from that. The emotional arc would have worked for me better I think. I think I would have bought the miraculous recovery better too. I enjoyed the book, but I felt it was a missed opportunity.

    1. Cindy

      I hope you write that!

      As for me, I was older when I lost my virginity and was very deliberate about it, so waiting until it MEANT SOMETHING sorta acted to really make it anti-climactic.

      My boyfriend was aware of this (frankly I probably drove him nuts waiting) and he tried hard to make it pleasurable, but it wasn’t really. It was emotionally enjoyable to an extent, even if it wasn’t at all satisfying physically, but it did hurt & there was some blood, though not as much as I had expected…

      I’m skeptical when I read that heaven and earth moves for virgins. This mainly because I suspect something more like my more experience is far more common: tender, romantic bonding opportunity for a loving couple, but completely lacking any fireworks for at least one naive & inexperienced partner.

  2. Liz Mc2

    Yes please, Ruthie! Plus it’s not like once you get it “right” it’s always transcendent. But I guess that’s a post HEA story.

    Since we’re (over)sharing, I was older than you and nervous and it did hurt, so maybe I don’t notice this in books as much. What I hate is the magic hymen/virgin detecting penis, where he gets in there and suddenly knows. Give me a break!

    Pretty sure I’ve read loss of virginity scenes without pain, though of course I can’t think of one now. I totally agree that people’s experiences are incredibly varied, and I would like to see more of that in romance (I think you could still keep the fantasy element despite having more variety). I suspect you are right that there is something archetypal or symbolic about this moment of pain–and about the detectable misplaced hymen halfway up the vagina. It’s a way to mark the occasion. But why do we lend it so much significance, still?

    1. Isobel Carr

      I’ve only written one virgin heroine (RIPE FOR SCANDAL), and I didn’t write her first time as painful (mostly because I don’t personally remember it that way, so I really don’t know what it would be like). I do know women who say it was painful, and that there was blood, but among the people I know this is fairly rare (it’s also a distinct minority of women per the studies I’ve read).

      One of the major things that drives me batshit crazy in romance is the anatomically mysterious and incorrect internal hymen. Makes me want to buy a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves for every author who makes this bizarre mistake.

      1. anna cowan Post author

        I have the same approach – I didn’t experience the pain, therefore my first instinct is not to write it that way. I do wonder whether readers would find it unrealistic, or “escapist”, given how ingrained it is.

        Although @Jodi’s thoughts below on vulnerability as a substitute for virginity make me realise that I generally want the sex to be significant in some way, and am much more likely to make it about emotional penetration/hurt.

      2. Erin Satie

        Okay, so this reminded me of something and it bugged me so much I went to dig up the source. It’s a chapter of a book I read, The Soul of Medicine by Sherwin Nuland. Every chapter is sourced from a different doctor, about that doctor’s most unusual cases.

        In “The Family Physician’s Tale” there’s a story about a woman with a – I searched it up on Amazon and I am going to QUOTE – “unusually thick and leathery” hymen who, though married could not have sex with her husband, because he could not break through the thing. She and her husband had actually given up on having sex & started to adopt a baby when she finally got this exam & found out she could have the thing removed via surgery.

        True story, y’all.

  3. Brie

    Maybe the pain is the new hymen? Because first time sex scenes must have a virginity marker. It’s not enough that we get the heroine’s POV where she clearly mentions her virginity, we need tangible proof. It used to be the hymen, but now that (some) writers know anatomy and understand that hymens aren’t thick barriers, the pain is the one in charge of letting us know that she was a virgin. Also, if she doesn’t stop breathing for a second, or cringes or whatever, then how is he going to know that she’s a virgin? They are not going to talk about it before they have sex because that would be crazy, right? Right?

    Honestly, it doesn’t bother me, because my experience wasn’t as pleasant, so the initial pain matches my reality. But these scenes are always exactly the same. A bit more authenticity and diversity would be so nice. *sigh*

    1. Kaetrin

      Yes I think you’re right Brie. Pain is the new hymen!

      Speaking of (over)sharing a *friend* (not me of course *shifty eyes*) during her first time said “Please” and when the guy said “Please what?” she DID NOT KNOW THE ANSWER. In the romance novels she was reading at the time, the hero just knew what it meant! I’d be so embarrassed if that were me. I’d never tell anyone.

      1. Jen

        HOMG. I love this too!!! I’ve written about my annoyance with this before, all of the damn pleases!! Stop it! Nobody says that ever, except misguided romance readers, apparently. Poor unfortunate souls. :(

        1. Kaetrin

          To be fair to my friend, she was quite young and it was about 30 years ago when Old Skool ruled. But, after hearing her story, I did begin to question the appearance of such scenes in books. :)

          1. Jen

            No offense to your friend. I was rather embarrassingly naive myself when I was younger so…*ahem*
            Although I have to say – I haven’t read a lot of Old Skool romance but I feel like “Please” is pretty prevalent in the new releases that I’ve read recently.

  4. anna cowan Post author

    @Ruthie – Yes. Please.

    @Liz – that’s one of the number one fantasies of romance, isn’t it? Sex with The One is always mind-blowing. Always. But then pretty much all of popular culture insists sex is always mind-blowing, whatever, whenever, with whomever.

    @Brie – I think there is some deep cultural marker that insists on the moment of pain. My friend just pointed out to me that when women write m/m sex there’s the same thing. I reckon there’s something about sex not being allowed to be unalloyed pleasure. But your idea that the hero needs a sign the heroine’s a virgin (when his peen doesn’t tell him – thanks Liz!) got me thinking. I think that’s part of what I don’t like about it. It’s such a moment of power difference where he has the knowledge about her body she doesn’t have. “Don’t worry, it will only hurt for a bit.” Don’t they always say something like that?

  5. Liz Mc2

    “It’s such a moment of power difference where he has the knowledge about her body she doesn’t have.”

    I have all the thoughts about this–too many for a comment. I think this is very, very common in romance. Heroines are often quite passive and “done to” during sex. I remember reading one (good) book where the hero says “that was the best sex of my life,” and I’m thinking, “Dude, why? She was just lying there!” It was an eye-opener to me when a male college friend said how he liked it when a girl didn’t just lie there and he knew she was into it, because the image of the woman as passive object is so pervasive in the culture.

    And I get this as a fantasy. For a lot of women, pleasure during sex takes some effort, at least some of the time (even if it’s just the effort of not thinking about the laundry or worrying if that sound you just heard is a kid out of bed). So the idea of someone who knows without asking how to give you pleasure is very appealing. I love the dock scene in Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation where Phin says “I’m going to give you an orgasm you don’t have to work for.” That book gets some things about this aspect of many women’s sexual experience spot on.

    On the other hand, I am sick of skilled rakes and virgins, omniscient Doms who “just know” at a glance the heroine is a sub, etc. I am always thrilled to find romance scenes where women take control, know what they want, direct the hero, enjoy exploring his body, are active in giving as well as receiving pleasure.

    1. Kaetrin

      Crusie also has some great scenes where things don’t work so well at all – in Faking It for example, the first time the h/h get together it is not a success for either of them.

    2. Mary Ann Vadnais

      To the 10th power, Liz. Partners, versus Penetrators. Great love isn’t easy, neither is great sex–both require a lot uncomfortable and awkward feeling (and looking) intimacy.

  6. Jodi

    This is something I have thought about a LOT in the course of my PhD studies! I think you are right that it is the Official Signal of De-Virginisation, but there’s a lot more that can be read into it. There’s actually a really long literary history of pain (and blood) at virginity loss – you can see it really obviously in the allegorical medieval romance Le Roman De La Rose, for example, and that was written in the 12th century. It’s also really, really common in Victorian pornography – if you read some of the stuff from The Pearl, it’s repeated over and over again.

    Modern romance is different because of the subjectivity of the heroine (ie. we get the point of view of the virgin as well as the deflowerer during virginity loss scenes), but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s informed by this literary history. I think it can also be read allegorically: I have this theory that virginity loss functions as a textual sacrifice that ultimately makes the romantic happy ending inevitable, and pain and blood definitely feed into this language of sacrifice. The anatomically incorrect iron hymen also becomes a literalisation of the barrier between hero and heroine, a symbol of whatever is keeping them apart. There’s a lot of discourse around the virgin as an enclosed castle or fortress or garden or whatever: it’s the language of conquering, which the romance has borrowed from its literary antecedents.

    (I will stop here, otherwise I’ll end up writing an epic essay about this! It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind a lot.)

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I was totally going to ask you – and this is why! :-) The idea of a sacrifice is really interesting: how that plays out within a modern context, and with modern women. I wonder if the sacrifice can transfer to something that’s not virginity, or whether romance is somewhere the question of virginity and what it represents can start to be questioned. Great stuff!

        1. Jodi

          The way my (nascent) theory currently runs is that virginity loss episodes in romance sit somewhere on a spectrum between “sacrifice” and “confirmation”. If a scene sits more towards the confirmation end of the spectrum, then it is more a character function: it serves to bind the characters together – a consummation of their relationship, I guess. If it sits more towards the sacrifice end, then it’s more a plot function: the heroine’s virginity is textually sacrificed in order to drive the plot forward. It’s definitely a spectrum, because I doubt there are any scenes that are purely one or the other.

          And I think the hero has to make textual sacrifices too, but they’re usually not as explicit as the virgin heroine’s. Obviously because I’m an academic Heroine Addict, I haven’t thought this hero theory through as much, but he often has a sort of psychic virginity loss moment when he lets the heroine in emotionally. This often happens at an “I love you” moment – not necessarily, but it’s a simple example.

          1. anna cowan Post author

            I was thinking about where vulnerability might come in (when you break into the other/are broken into) and I think you’re right – more of a hero moment.

        2. Merrian

          I always have two thoughts about the way virginity is presented in the genre
          1. By clearly being a virgin and having that shown through these vignettes the first time sex happens in a way that doesn’t make the heroine damaged goods (like those other girls) so it is slut shaming by implication.
          2. How much the genre is about the desire to get a relationship right, to not have to take the risk of failing and mistakes and disappointment. Stories where the heroine is a virgin (or a fated mate) short-cut all that messy life stuff out and implies that she has no or limited emotional baggage that will be present in the relationship between her and the hero.

          1. Jodi

            I think you also have to remember that – as we all know – the romance genre is not a monolith and that virginity is treated very differently in different books. There are some that can be epically slut-shamey, with the heroine all, “la la la, women that have casual sex are disgusting, I would never lower myself to that level”. In others, virginity is just a really convenient shorthand. You get this in category a lot, I think – you have an unawakened heroine, and her experience of sexual desire is a simple textual signal marking the hero as The Hero ™. And then you have the damaged heroines, who haven’t gone near a man because of some trauma in their past, and… yeah. There’s lots of different kinds. I learned very quickly that making generalisations about “the romance genre” was a dangerous practice!

          2. Isobel Carr

            There are a lot of us who don’t write (or very rarely write) virgins as well. My fifth book comes out in a couple weeks, and out of six women in the books, only one was a virgin (because that was what the story called for).

    2. willaful

      There’s an especially interesting example of this in Let Me Be the One by Jo Goodman — the heroine is not a virgin but has pain (possibly even some blood, don’t remember exactly) because the hero is rough, and she sees this as appropriate — like she owes him pain and blood. (She’s pretty messed up.)

      I can think of other examples in which there’s some pain, even when the heroine isn’t a virgin, though none are so direct about its symbolic meaning. It’s just “been a long time.”

      1. Kaetrin

        There’s a Lucy Monroe category where the heroine has vaginismus and the hero has to use a series of … can’t remember the proper name, so we’ll call them devices (they get progressively bigger and start off really tiny) to relax her vagina enough for penetration. He does it in a very sexy way and she enjoys sex for the first time. But her enjoyment was a result of them discussing her (medical) condition and work on it together. No magical peen.

          1. Kaetrin

            Yes, I thought it was more a product of category length. But her vagina didn’t magically open for him – the devices and patience were needed. Agree it was quickly sorted though. :)

  7. Mary Ann Vadnais

    I got to talking with Natalie at Radish Reviews this last week about why the sex in Grace Burrowes’ Regencies works so well, and it we seemed to agree that it had to do with the intimacy she evoked between the h/h, that is, the acknowledgement that sex is an expression associated with bodies and how they respond in real life and real time. Her scenes have an unchoreographed quality, they move along under the power of two people getting to know how their bodies work with the other, and sometimes these bodies do somewhat awkward or selfish or unexpected things to each other in the pursuit of pleasure. What’s more, the atmosphere of her books is very intimate–there is lots of nonsexual but familiar touching (including amongst men), menstruation is discussed, there are little conversations in private moments.

    More than pain or hymens or gasps, what I can’t abide is virginity presenting a barrier to emotional intimacy or to equitable partnership. It’s a good bet a book will be a DNF for me if a partner is reluctant to “deflower,” if tension is created around the partner resisting due to the fact of virginity, if there is “god no, oh no, what have I dones” surrounding the act of penetrative sex with a until-that-moment unknown virgin. First of all, the idea of penetrative sex representing sex is uncomfortable, contemporarily. Second, I am over dealing with virgin/whore dichotomies as anything remotely resembling an argument or support for plot. Finally, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. If two adults are hot for each other and want to do it, and presumably everyone’s a “virgin” at some point anyway, and this couple have likely engaged in multiple sex acts prior to penetrative sex, to have there be anything associated with the situation but “thank good christ” puts a value on virginity that perpetuates misogyny. What I would like to see more of, actually, is a gilding of consent–the melting of emotional and physical barriers when the h/h give sexual and intimate consent to each other (which is why I can’t abide when the adult virgin character has given enthusiastic consent to penetrative sex and the penetrating partner withdraws sexual intimacy, often with straining physical difficulty, because he has decided he cannot “take” or “sully” or what have you–thus devaluing the desires and consent of his partner and pedestaling something that is not representative of the worth of his partner).

    I also rarely care about the sexual history of the h/h, and if it is explicated in the story, I really need a reason that serves the story, argues for the story. Heroines (especially) who have had a lot (or little) of lackluster sex “done to” them is a very tired device to set up a worthy partner, now worthy because he can “do” good sex “to her.” Of course, all of us have read lots of great discussion about the ridiculous magical hoo-ha, capable of transforming a cold fucking machine into a mind-melding and soulful lover. I’m a little tired of obligatory details re: the h/h pasts of how long and how many and how good, because these details are attempting to argue for a love story that, after all, is in the *right now.* Sell me on this couple for better reasons than who they have or have not fucked in the past.

    I would say that I would ask for more real sex, too. How real I buy the sex is has a lot to do with how well it represents the h/h at that point in the story. As Anna pointed out, sex at any time and point can be fantastic, and it can suck (in the bad way) at any time or point for a couple. If a hymen, and lately pain, is representative of barriers between the h/h, I guess I am more interested in the story letting go of devices and just going after what the real barriers are.

    *as a sidebar, I’m a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and trained to do forensic medical exams to document and investigate physical and sexual abuse, including the use of coloscopy (hymenal/perianal exam aided by scope magnification). I probably know more about hymens and their variations and have seen and taken pictures of more of them than the average person would be strictly comfortable with. I’m pretty crazy glad we’re not seeing a lot of hymen out there in Romance Land anymore because, yeah, that was a regrettable mess.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Yes, the hero who sacrifices his own desire to withhold what the heroine has freely consented to…isn’t great. I guess in historicals this can make him an honourable, good person – but a heroine could understand her position as well and make her own decisions? Yeah, either way it irks me, too.

      I just read Courtney Milan’s Unraveled, and she dealt with exactly this in the most fantastic way. Her heroine’s virginity didn’t – as you point out – make her any less of a person, any more naive generally etc. It just was. And the hero realised he would need to take a bit more care, but no way was he going to not have sex with her. Um, *spoilers*.

  8. GrowlyCub

    Count me in with the ones whose first time hurt. And there was blood. Although I don’t recall the act so much as later walking to the bakery and being sore. :)

    I suspect we come at this from our own experience. I find very little weird about painful/bloody/noticed deflowering scenes, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t subtext. I do, however, think occasionally we are looking too hard for hidden meaning.

  9. Nicole

    Saw this link on Twitter and this is something I’ve thought about since starting to read romance. I remember this old Nora Roberts book where hero and heroine have sex on a cliff, and hero has that magical “aha, you’re a virgin moment” then is furious she didn’t tell him.

    I was like, dude, you do not get to be furious, that is so her business. So, I hate that element, which you see a lot, the oh, why didn’t you tell me?

    And, as long as we’re all over sharing,, I had read so many painful virgin sex scenes that when reality came along I was *shocked* it was only kind of uncomfortable. Not painful.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Yes, the betrayal of withheld virginity is pretty extreme in romance. I guess none of this is to say that your first time shouldn’t be significant, or special, but I guess that’s pretty much up to you, and not something your partner owns.

  10. Brie

    This is why I would love to see bad sex in romance. Let’s give the sexual relationship its own arc. How can you have two damaged characters and not have it reflect on their sex lives? Or even if they have great chemistry and no daddy issues whatsoever. Imagine a scene where the hero and heroine have the bad sex conversation. The potential for incredible, authentic conflict is huge. Someone write that, please!

    1. Mary Ann Vadnais

      Yes! And think of the pay off when the sex comes about and is good for both of them. Like a mutual post-grovel scene.

      The thing is, talky sex scenes are my favorite. Why should the reader have to sit around in the POV’s head? More interesting to see what happens when partners say what they’re thinking.

    2. Jodi

      I find it interesting that in the really rape-tastic old skool romances, virginity loss is nearly always horrifically painful for the heroine and she doesn’t enjoy it at all. I have a theory that sex scenes actually got more unrealistic as the genre developed and sex-positivity became more influential. The heroine didn’t have to textually “pay” for her virginity loss: she got to enjoy it right off. (And in a way, her multiple orgasms were a sort of reward for her waiting for the right man.)

      But that’s an allegorical/archetypical reading: in terms of a pure literal reading, I’d LOVE to see more bad sex in romance!

  11. Erin Satie

    I’m split between GrowlyCub & Jodi on this one. On the one hand, my first time was pretty painful. I’d mythbusted & self-educated enough that I was really shocked about it, too. Obviously there’s a range, one person’s experience can’t be generalized to cover all women, so on that count I’m happy to go along with whatever’s presented. I’ll never forget reading that deflowering scene in The Bell Jar, when Sylvia Plath bleeds like crazy.

    On the other hand, romance novels are books and the sex in them is a plot point. You can’t dismiss the way it’s portrayed in novels as a quirk of how one body differs from another, as you can in real life. And I think that plotting sex on a spectrum that veers from sacrifice to confirmation is pretty smart.

  12. willaful

    I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember my first time. I remember how I felt the next morning — absolutely awesome, very grown up — but almost nothing about the experience itself.

  13. Jill Sorenson

    Smart Bitches had a pretty good thread about hymens and virginity loss IIRC. I commented there at length. Let’s just say that my first time was miserably painful and the second was just as bad. I’ve read far more romance novels with easy first time intercourse, maybe a twinge of discomfort before ecstasy and rainbows and multiple orgasms. Vaginal orgasms, naturally. So I feel as though my experience hasn’t been represented ever.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      It’s true that what comes *after* the pain of penetration is mostly wildly inaccurate. Even in my lovely, dream-like first time there wasn’t even the faintest sniff of an orgasm. I would also like to see an actual painful experience properly represented. I kind of touched on this in my second point which has been a little lost under the first: heroes tend to be able to fix any pain by moving the peen in a magical way. Um, no.

  14. Fiona Marsden

    This is really interesting discussion because I like to write virgins. Not so much because of the shamey slutty thing but because I like to think that sometimes you get things right first time. Not necessarily good sex, but finding the right person before you make that physical commitment. Because I do believe that physical intimacy does create a bond.
    I am going back to review my first times after reading all this useful stuff. On the topic of bad sex. I’m working on a story at the moment where the hero goes with someone else and is impotent, then with heroine is premature. I love destroying male ego in the bedroom. #sickpuppy

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Virgins obviously serve some purpose in romance. (@Jodi, have I just made you weep?) I like your description of why you use them. Also – “castrating” your hero? Seems like fun! ;-)

  15. Sarma Burdeu

    Fascinating discussion everyone. Some thought provoking comments. Personally I won’t read a virgin story as it just doesn’t do anything for me, I guess b/c I write erotic romance and prefer my heroine to be experienced and know what she wants. That being said, I do find the fascination with virginity in novels intriguing.

    Great topic Anna – as usual

  16. anna cowan Post author

    For me, a virgin isn’t necessarily at odds with erotic experience or knowledge – but yes, she’s normally positioned in opposition to it. I like a virgin heroine, I guess because we get to re-experience that moment of first experience, but it means deciding what that experience is going to be, what context it’s in for her – and whether it hurts!

  17. Koe

    Hi, I’m here from S. U. Pacat’s LiveJournal and hope it’s okay that I’m butting in. Just wanted to add my own variety of the tale. More over-sharing ahead:

    I’m fairly aggressive sexually and usually “loose myself” when it is good. So I kind of “woke up” right in the middle, when pain penetrated my horny daze and remembered “Oh s***! I’m a virgin!” I bit my teeth, not to upset the rhythm of things. He got off and helped me do the same. And then after, when we we’re cleaning up, he asked very tentatively: “You’re bleeding?”
    “Yes, you’re my first.”
    “Oh. I didn’t realise. You should have told me so we could have taken things slower.”
    “I was much too horny and forgot everything about it. But didn’t you notice how inexperienced I am?”
    “No, I thought you seemed very experienced.”
    “Really?”
    Teenage hormones are amazing things. *laughs* It also hurt, and I bled, the next two times, even if we took it a little slower. I have always been thankful for having an amazing start though and never regretted one second of the experience.

    And I, of course (?), love first-time descriptions. Especially the ones where desire conquers rationality. The details of deflowering aren’t as important as the tension leading up to it. This is also what I look for in m/m romance (where hymens are a signal to backbutton like crazy).

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I wanted to respond to the rest of your comment, but the male hymen has made my brain stop working momentarily… (I’ll just put it in the same cupboard as the leathery hymen and never open that door again.)

      Please butt in all you like! You may notice we’re not exactly a shy bunch ;-)

      Teenage hormones *are* amazing. I like how your story points out the way desire and pain interact, and how body and mind can seem at odds. (But Cat and I were just discussing how the body tends not to be able to lie about the unconscious, which is its own thing.) I think romance tries to explore this a bit, but it rarely feels very nuanced, or even necessarily very hot, to me. I also love the sense of choice and agency in your story, despite discomfort.

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