10/04/2013 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Where Is the Love?

By guest blogger Maya Rodale, writer of historical tales of true love and adventure

Someone wrote to me recently with a really excellent question: What is the appeal of books like 50 Shades of Grey, and why do so many women want to be treated that way--with violence and domination instead of passion, tenderness, and freedom? With books like these being read by millions of readers, and far, far, far too many stories in the news about rape, violence, and abuse, it's a serious question with real implications. Where is the love?

First of all, there are so many books like 50 Shades of Grey that feature an alpha male, a heroine, sex, and a love story. There is a range in quality of writing, kinkiness of sex scenes, types of heroines, setting, and so forth. But, having read many of these books, spoken with their authors, and surveyed readers for another article I'm writing, I stumbled upon an unlikely answer...

These books aren't about domination at all.

In 50 Shades of Grey, Anastasia never signs the contract Christian gives her to confirm his right to dominate her. Defying the stereotype that women are timid negotiators, she negotiates the hell out of it until it's an agreement she could be comfortable with, but she never signs it. That whole strict dom/sub relationship never actually happens--instead, there's a messy, complicated romance between two people who explore each other's boundaries together. If one reads the book -- and doesn't just skim to the kinky sex scenes (which I know a lot of us did)--one finds that most of the sex scenes didn't feature whips and ties, but actually a lot of sweet and lovely "vanilla sex."

Not to limit it to just 50 Shades. In all of these books, there is a range of sexual kink explored and no judgment. Every heroine has a choice about what she wants to do and how far it goes. The games can stop at any time. Sometimes they do. More often (in fact, always), these heroes realize that mutual love is much sexier than simply dominating.

But it's all well and good for me to explain the nuances of a certain fiction genre in a blog post likely to be read by open-minded people. What worries me is the possible perception that it's acceptable to treat women as "submissives" with violence and domination -- and that they may like it because they read romance novels with some kinky sex scenes (I don't think the reader who wrote to me believes that, but I worry other people do). I worry about it because the cultural conversation is often about the violence and not the love.

Perhaps it's a misunderstanding.
Perhaps if more men read romance novels...
Perhaps if the nuances of these books were taught in English literature classes...
Perhaps if we talked about love more and violence less...

Question: Do you see the love or the violence in kinky romance novels?

Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master's degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book is Seducing the Single Lady, a historical romance based on Beyoncé songs. Learn more at


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