"His gaze flickered to my lips. I got that. He was once again furious with me and once again perfectly ready to have sex with me. The conundrum that was Barrons. Apparently it was impossible for him to feel anything as far as I was concerned without getting angry about it. Did anger make them want to have sex with me? Or was it that he always wanted to have sex with me that made him so angry?"
--Shadowfever, by Karen Marie Moning
So I’m looking back over the "Psychology of Attraction" series, and so far we have fear, uncertainty, and now aggression. Which makes me think I should clarify some things before y'all stage an intervention. This series is not meant to be a picture of how healthy relationships work, or even how the majority of relationships work. They’re interesting tidbits that might be useful for a novelist. As often is the case, the healthy cases don’t always make interesting stories.
Actually, that's an interesting thought -- that the pathological makes for more gripping stories. Is it true? Is it desirable? Which dovetails nicely into today's post.
When I was researching the article on fear, I ran across some old studies exploring the relationship between aggression and sexuality. The basic idea was that the experimenters made test participants angry and then tested them for sexual arousal.
In one case, the experiment was conducted in a class on the day a midterm was supposed to be returned. The instructor told the students that almost everybody had failed and then went on to lambaste the class on their bad performance. Then, a visiting lecturer from a prestigious Ivy League university gave a guest lecture in which he was very condescending toward the students in the class. (The students were enrolled in a less prestigious institution).
After the anger manipulation, students were given pictures and asked to write stories based on the pictures. As you may have guessed, the angry students had more sexual imagery in their stories than students in a control condition.
Now I'm not sure if there's anything special about aggression and sex. It could be, that any strong emotion (like fear) will cause an increase in sexual drive. However, as a storyteller and a reader, I still thought it was worth discussing.
Many stories mix aggression into their romance threads. In the Fever Series quoted above, Jericho Barrons and MacKayla Lane have a very combative relationship, which increases the sparks when they finally get together. There are so many other examples: Katsa and Po in Graceling, the fight scene turned sex scene in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. My own novel features a conflicted relationship between my main character Kyra and “dangerous-yet-intriguingly-sexy-assassin.”*
So how do I feel about this? Well, on the one hand, it's clearly effective -- I found all the examples above to be very compelling.
On the other hand, I'm of glad that the YA genre doesn't tend to take this too far. Because while situations like these may seem sexy on paper, many women (and men) do learn the hard way that the aggressive and unpredictable alpha type is not so sexy in real life.
So, readers, I turn the question to you. How do you feel about the mixing of violence and sex in literature?
*BTW, it's ridiculously hard to write co-ed close-combat scenes in a PG way. I got so many fight scenes back from my writing group with phrases like “It’s ridiculously hard” circled, and “Lol!” scribbled the margin. Hence, the inspiration for this post.
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Barclay, A., & Haber, R. (1965). The relation of aggressive to sexual motivation1 Journal of Personality, 33 (3), 462-475 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1965.tb01398.x