Polyamory, Menage, Erotic Romance, and Culture

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In this post, the word “menage” refers to a sexual activity involving three people, not primarily to a long term love relationship. I take it as obvious that one’s participation in a sexual menage doesn’t tell us anything about whether that person believes in monogamy, polyamory, or is against the idea of romantic love totally.

I’ve read five erotic romances which feature a menage (or more): Victoria Janssen’s The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover, Megan Hart’s Dirty, Broken, and Tempted, and Maya Banks’s novella Overheard (all but the last are Harlequin Spice). In three cases, the menage involved one hetero woman and two hetero men, was the fulfillment of the heroine’s fantasy, and readers were led to believe it was a one off (ok, a three off). In Broken, the menage involved the hero and two female strippers. In each book, it was pretty clear that the protagonist would end up happily satisfied in the long term with just one person, and it was clear who that person was. In Dirty, the heroine had virtually no relationship with the second man. In Overheard, the heroine was friends with the second man. And in Tempted, the heroine had strong feelings for both of the men, but was married to one of them, with whom she stayed. Although Tempted takes us into a gray area, all of these books stay true to the RWA definition of romance —  the two person (primarily one woman, one man) love relationship.

The menage may push the sexual envelope in romance, but it doesn’t fundamentally threaten the core RWA definition of romance as a two person romantic relationship.

In contrast to the sexual term “menage”, polyamory, or polyfidelity, is a term for a committed love relationship (which may well include sexual menages or quartages, etc., or may not) with three or more people. This is romantic love, not mere lust or friendly feelings. (Some think of polyamory as a gender identity, but in this post I am using the term to refer to a lifestyle.)

Some people use the term polyamory to refer to a situation in which two people are the primary couple “in love”, but consent to sexual relations — even long term ones — with others with whom they are not romantically involved. “Swingers” with regular partners might fall into this category. That’s not true polyamory according to my definition.

Polyamorous relationships are guided by a very similar set of ethical values and principles to traditional monogamous relationships: love, mutual support, respect, loyalty, honesty, and trust. Polyamorites contend that there is so much deceit and cheating that goes on in supposedly monogamous relationships that their lifestyle is not so much different but being honest about what actually goes on. (For example, over 30% of the people who use online dating services are married. There is a whole dating site, Married Secrets, devoted to marrieds who want to stay with their spouses but have secret sex on the side) (although recent research suggests most married are faithful).

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that menage is becoming more and more common in erotic romance. It seems almost “old hat” in erotica, and we see “mainstream” publishers like Harlequin publishing books featuring the menage.

An HEA among three or more characters (polyamory in the sense I am using it here) is less common, but seems to me to be following the same trajectory. (Of course, my data set is comprised entirely of web surfing, so feel free to prove me wrong. Polyamory could be getting less common and less acceptable). Romance novels that end with three (or more) people together at the end feature what I would call “polyfidelity”. I have only read one of these, the paranormal novella It’s Raining Men, by Crystal Jordan, but I know that polyamory is a specialty of Emma Holly, for example.

I find this very interesting, especially in these times when we are interrogating our cultural understanding of marriage. My own thought had always been that while we can have sexual desires for more than one person at a time, true romantic love could only be felt for one person at a time. I think this has something to do with my conception of love, as not just an emotion but also a commitment to a “we”, a union of two people (thus begging the question). Thus the question of whether you believe polyamory truly possible may hang in some part on your definition of love. I may pursue this in a later post.

I know the links between pop cultural products like erotic romance novels and real people’s practices and beliefs are multivalent, and are mediated by many complex social, political, historical, and psychological structures, but I also think it is indisputable that pop culture is sometimes influentially ahead of the curve on where the culture is going. to take a recent example, think of the discussion of the portrayal of black presidents in TV and film around the time of Obama’s election:

“Our research suggests that people really do in a lot of ways treat fictional characters like real people,” said Melanie C. Green, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In 2004, she studied more than 100 college students and found that fictional narratives had just as strong an influence on their beliefs as nonfiction.

“To the extent that younger people have grown up seeing images of black presidents,” she said, “it is totally understandable that they would think about it in a different way than an older generation would.”

Of course, a TV show like 24 has millions of viewers and is a lot more mainstream than a publication on an epress which maybe sells, I don’t know, a few thousand copies?

Let me be clear on what I am NOT saying: (a) I am not suggesting that folks who sometimes write a polyamorous HEA in fact practice or support polyamory in real life, or (b) that these authors intend in any way to promote the poly lifestyle, the way Minx is encouraging writers and filmmakers to do, and (c) I am not saying that readers of erotic romance in fact endorse or intend to practice what they find in its pages. Trust me, I do understand fantasy.

But my own view of fiction, in general, is very far from Wilde’s or Barthes’ asceticism (art for art’s sake). I don’t think the gap between fiction (even fantasy fiction) and life is that large. On the other hand, fictional worlds are not actual worlds. They are not even possible worlds, but more like the “continuous and vivid dream” John Gardner spoke of.  Fiction stretches our imaginations and encourages us to see old things in new ways and to behold things we many never have dreamt of. I am not going further into the question, but merely gesturing in this post to my own stance, which holds, with Gardner, that “we recognize true art by its careful, thoroughly honest search for, and analysis of values” (On Moral Fiction).

I am no expert on the poly movement, but even I know that fiction has been important to it. Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land galvanized the twentieth century secular poly movement (good discussion of Heinlein here). More recent influences are purported to be feminism (women can build the kinds of relationships they desire. Increases in rates of female infidelity may support this), and the internet.

Some polyamory supporters explicitly advocate producing narratives that challenge stereotypical views of polyamory in culture. In her keynote at this year’s Poly Living Conference (Powerpoint here), activist Cunning Minx explicitly advocated influencing pop culture via social media (blogs, twitter), and via the creation of images in books and film to combat the two dominant (negative) images of poly — the “swingers”, and the religious polygamists. As summarized by Alan of Polyamorous Percolations,

[Minx] told the crowd of about 100 that it’s time for the poly-awareness movement to start shifting focus: from education — explaining polyamory to people who’ve never heard of it — to culture-building — creating recognizable pop images of the polyfolk-world that represent us well, that we can be proud of, and that will appear in people’s minds when they think of us.

In romance, it’s not terribly uncommon for the hero or heroine to have strong romantic feelings for more than one person (any “love triangle”, Butch for V and whatsername in J. R. Ward’s Lover Revealed, Sadie for both her husband and Joe in Broken, or even a character mourning his or her dead lover, as Gabe does in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream a Little Dream). But in most mainstream romance, it is a mark of maturity and growth of the characters to pick one person and settle down with him or her. It is also the way we mark the flow of romantic narrative — when the second candidate for the hero or heroine’s affection has been removed, we know we are nearing the end of the book.

But creating a believable world in which three honorable, loving people live happily ever after — together —  is quite different and quite subversive, and I think this is true whether the setting is fantastical or not.

Does the RWA accept polyfidelity as within genre boundaries? Should it?

36 responses

  1. I didn’t know that Emma Holly was known for her polyamorous stories? I have only read one of hers that has a committed threesome and it was an old Black Lace. Since then I’ve read several menages and one thing that I don’t think authors of those stories navigate well is the meaning and implication of a committed threesome. How will the three spend time together; how will they have alone time; is there any jealousy involved.

    Rarely do the stories discuss while the polyamorous relationship is more attractive and when it is discussed, it riffs off the storylines introduced by LL in her Men of August series (bad childhoods made them unable to bond without their brother). Often the justifications for the polyamorous relationship sound like the musings of a abused child perpetuating illnesses.

    Part of this, I believe, might have to do with the fact that so little is known about a real polyamorous relationship such that everything in the stories is a fiction.

    I joked with a friend the other day that women barely tolerate their one husband and his physical demands let alone two or three husbands. I’ve not actually worked out in my mind why this fantasy is so interesting/appealing?


  2. I’m glad you distinguish between swinging and polyamory because they are two very different things emotionally and ethically.

    Though not poly myself, I have friends and acquaintances who are, and have done a lot of reading on the subject. I believe it’s possible to be deeply in love with two people at the same time. The challenge for the author is to convey that concept to skeptical readers. I’ve written a couple of novels with polyamorous relationships (one is coming out in a couple of months) and it’s a topic which in m/m has never been contentious. No one would ever tell me my stories aren’t romantic because there’s a threesome, and it surprises me somewhat that if a het poly relationship is depicted with depth and sympathy, why that wouldn’t be acceptable as romance to mainstream readers?

    While I really like well done poly stories, I find the idea of ‘menage’ fiction distinctly unappealing to write and to read. Not only is the choreography fiendish, without a true emotional connection, it cheapens the primary relationship, and makes the interloper look like a fool or an exploiter.


  3. My main frustration with menage stories is the forcedness of the 3-way HEA. I also find it curious that MMF is the most popular form of menage in erotic romance (or maybe romantic erotica?) when I’ve always thought that MMF is much more popular in practice in swingers clubs. (And the few swingers club policies/FAQs I’ve read have reinforced this idea.)

    I saw a documentary on polyamory last year, but unfortunately I can’t find the URL anymore (but here’s a pretty good review). My impression was that in both families featured the relationships seemed to revolve around just the 1 person, and in the MFM relationship I didn’t even feel like the two guys liked each other all that much.


  4. In Emma Holly’s MENAGE, the threesome evolved into a twosome. In STRANGE ATTRACTIONS, it was clear the three would get together again, but the primary relationship was between a pair. COOKING UP A STORM has a notable menage scene (heroine w/ 3 men whom she is not romantically involved) and there’s a short story sequel to FAIRYVILLE which is a menage. Am trying to remember if anything in VELVET GLOVE counted…I think so.

    Kate Pearce’s SIMPLY SINFUL, historical erotica from Kensington (SIMPLY series), fits your polyfidelity definition and is interesting in many other ways as well.

    Lauren Dane’s UNDERCOVER features true polyfidelity, and I believe some of her earlier work does as well, though I have not read the earlier books yet.


  5. I think it should be accepted as long as it means all characters in the relationship are a) committed to each other, and b) building a HEA for themselves.

    Maya Banks and Lauren Dane write really good, IMO, polyamorous relationships. My favorite part, I admit, is that usually is two or three men and one woman :grin:

    Jane, in both Lauren Dane’s Undercover and Maya Banks Be with Me the question of time alone/time together for each combination of couples was addressed–which added to the believability of the story for me.


  6. I wish authors would go back to using the term “menage” only to describe long-term poly relationships and “threesome” (“foursome”, etc) for short-term. As “menage” means “household,” it makes no sense to have a “household” of three (or more) as a one- or two-time experience for a few hours. /rant

    I don’t know why RWA and other “conventional” romance organizations refuse to accept poly as true romance. I could do without the forced HEAs and I don’t find most poly setups believable, but they’re really no less believable than werewolves.


  7. Perhaps growing up in a cultural with an not-too-recent-past in which polygamy was practiced and in which it is still often practiced, makes me rather prejudicial when it comes to notions of polyamory but I have the same reaction to people who tell me they are polyamorous as I do to college age girls who tell me they are lesbians “Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Of course you are.” -rolls eyes-

    It isn’t that I don’t believe that such an identity is true, it is more that I believe that the percentage of people who actually are polyamorous (in which they are emotionally capable of the loyalty, trust, love etc. rthat Jessica pointed out as beign required of a long-term relationsip) are not very thick on the ground. I think that in most cases the reasons people are polyamorous have less to do with identity and more with the fact that they are trying on identities to see if they fit (like the “I was a lesbian in college” women). Or conversely that they are involved in the polyamorous relationship because their partner wants it and they want to be with their partner.

    Loving (romantically) one person unconditionally is something I think most people can barely manage to achieve. What I think happens most times in polyamorous or polygamous situation is what Kat observed in that documentary: that the relationship revolves around one person and their needs and the multiples (wives, lover, what-have-you) become appendages, satellites to the prophet . . . er, I mean personage.

    My other big problem with the idea of polyamory is that it undermines what I think of as the “specialness” of the relationship. In a romantice monogamous relationship . . . a functional one obviously . . . you get to be chosen, special, the only one. As a child, you have to share your parents, as a friend you are one of many, but a lover is one of the few relationships we have in which we get to be the one and only. I think that sense of being chosen, of being special, of having a connection with another person that neither of you have with anyone else, is a very powerful human desire and one that I do not think gets satisfied by polyamorous relationships. Or at least, is not satisfied for all parties involved in a polyamorous relationship.


  8. @ Angela: Huh, your comment is now making me wonder whether polyamorous Romance is some kind of proto-feminist response to polygamy. That is, in Romance the heroine seems to be in charge rather than living at the whim of a male who forces her into a “sister-wife” or seraglio-type? situation.

    Hmmm, must do some thinking about this. Is it merely subversive of normative relationship expectations or of the whole harem/polygamy notions, as well? And would that link polyamorous Romance to sheik stories, as well?

    Back to the original question, though, I do believe that the Romance genre can accommodate polyamory, if not for individual readers, at least in its generic boundaries.


  9. I have been reading a fair amount of erotic romance in the past year or so. You have many writers using futuristic settings where males outnumber females so multiple partners are actually mandated by law. Kaitlyn O’Connor’s Cyborg Nation series, Mary Wine’s Alcadia series, and Jory Strong’s Fallon Mates series are prime examples. In Strong’s Angelini series, an urban fantasy series, the female Angelini MUST have multiple males mates to function.

    Lora Leigh explores all possible excuses/rationals in her Bound Hearts series, but the vast majority of those menages are temporary and it’s the central couple that matters. The exception is her Forbidden Pleasure, the first true menage book I read in erotic romance. In that story a pair becomes a menage because the husband needs it, but STAYS a menage because the wife ends up loving both men and won’t allow ‘the third’ to live apart from them. The husband is oddly content with it.

    In erotic romance, many readers – including me – differentiate between permanent menage and temporary ones. Siren seems to be making an effort to be the leader of the Menage Movement in erotic romance. I find much of their stuff just junk, but a few are very worthwhile. There is also a very interesting difference between those the share a common female in couplings with 2 or more males and those where multiple males effectively compete for the female’s time, often fighting each other. Cyborg Nation runs to the latter as does Wolfen by Madelaine Montague. Alpha Mates by Leah Brooks takes the other side of the equation with multiple partners and in books like the Fallon series it is only through menage sex that impregnation can occur.

    Like you, I cannot see one female serving multiple males sexually in comfort, but hey, this is fiction. (OK, I admit I always wonder about the laundry issue. I mean jeeze, the sheets alone must be a full time job!) Maybe this is just the ‘getting even stage’ of feminism where it’s the women with the harems. But yes, in most books, the group revolves around the female. Maya Banks did a wonderful look at a permanent menage 5 years later in Stay With Me. Banks is a wonderful writers, I just hate soe of her story line, like Sweet Persuasion.

    The one thing I find that always hits my peeved button is the BDSM issue. All too often, the alpphs type males think submission is required. I personally detest that, but could live with Lauren Dane’s mild version of it in Undercover, whereas Cheyenne McCray’s Wonderland series had me cross-eyed. By the way, Dane’s Witches Knot series is an excellent urban fantasy series and some of those books include menage, some do not. I think those books were better than undercover. I have them as ebooks from Ellora’s Cave.

    To be honest, I do believe many of the elements currently in erotic romance have already made their way into mainstream. I don’t think RWA does themselves any favors by limiting their concept of ‘love’ to 2 people. That said, it’s fantasy. If you can have sexy vampires, dragons and werewolves, menage is not exactly a stretch.

    I do a monthly Erotic Romance review on my book blog and I also review various full length erotic romance books throughout the month, along with my mysteries and thrillers and mainstream romance, but the most read posts are almost always the erotic romance roundup. :-) There are very few books that come close to the views of the erotic romance ones, but I’m a VERY small blog, so that might not be a fair cross-section.


  10. PS – most of my favorite erotic romance stories have one thing in common – a sense of humor.

    Here Kitty, Kitty by Shelly Laurenston
    Accidentally Were? by Anne Douglas
    Witch, Vamp, Were? by Anne Douglas (a menage dictated by magic)
    Velvet Ties by Susie Charles (contemporary menage)
    About a Dragon by G. A. Aiken (Shelly Laurenston)
    Deception by Jenny Penn (contemporary menage)
    Mating Claire by Jenny Penn
    Enforcer by Lauren Dane
    The Witches Knot series by Lauren Dane
    The Mane Event and the whole Pride series by Shelly Laurenston, especially Christmas Pride

    The other thing they all have in common is a solid story. There are some very good writers doing erotic romance.


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  12. Back to the original question, though, I do believe that the Romance genre can accommodate polyamory, if not for individual readers, at least in its generic boundaries.

    I agree, Robin, and it seems to me that the summary RWA definition of romance

    Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

    is much less restrictive with regard to the number of participants than the expanded version:

    A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

    An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

    Jennifer Crusie’s got an essay on her website which describes the process of creating the short definition:

    A romance is a love story that has an emotionally satisfying, optimistic ending.

    And that’s the definition we sent to the board.

    but I’m not sure when/how the expanded one came into being.


  13. I share Angela’s cultural heritage AND I’m writing a government-mandated polyANDRY book as a juxtaposition to the church’s history (and to explore a few other social and historical hotbuttons). (BTW, the males aren’t exactly friendly, and they’d rather not share the heroine, but they learn to work together for the good of the bigger family involved. Over time, they come to see each other as brothers, if slightly antagonistic ones.)

    I had much to say on this topic, but spent it all in email.


  14. Interesting essay, but I’m not sure how the ending of Gone With the Wind is ‘satisfying and optimistic.’ I’ll buy the satisfying part, certainly Scarlett deserves what happens to her, but optimistic? hummmmmmmmm On the other hand, I’d say Casablanca DOES make the cut and I’ve been told it’s a love a story, not a romance because of the ending. Maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.


  15. Wait a minute, RWA says “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. ”

    Well, I guess that wipes out BOTH GWTW and Casablanca.


  16. I rarely do menage/permament threesome books set in a contemporary world. Mainly because I don’t think they work very often. Occasionally I’ll read one I think works, but unless issues of time and attention are dealt with and some discussion of the realities of the situation is had, I can’t buy into it, fiction or not. How do you deal with family? Society? Work? In a contemporary world, these are REAL issues and I don’t think they can be skirted around and still make the story seem whole.

    They’re easier to fit in a futuristic or paranormal world because I can bend/shape the reality to make it work out.

    As for whether or not it should be considered romance by the RWA? Why not? As long as the parties have a HEA and everyone knows about everyone else, I think a menage/permanent menage romance is just as much a romance as a couple can be.


  17. “Poly” can mean so many things and can cover so many different variations of sexual arrangements. And I know many people in various types of poly relationships and some work and some don’t, but that’s true of “normal” relationships too.

    Mistress Matisse’s blog is a fabulous one to follow about this. She’s got two primary partners, but one of them is married to someone else. And many secondary partners. And according to her blog, at least, manages to pull it off and to do so happily and to everyone’s satisfaction.

    I love the idea of poly romances as feminist revenge fantasies–it’s all about the women. But to read, I love the books that are about full m/m/f triads. Or m/m/m. I’d recommend Lorelei James’ “Rough, Raw, and Ready” for m/m/f, and Chris Owen’s “911” for m/m/m. I think they both do a great job of dealing with the emotional issues as well as the physical. There’s another one I read about recently (that might be Violet Summers’ “Daniels’ Surrender” but I haven’t read it yet).

    Fascinating topic, Jessica!


  18. Despite how polarmoy can be exploited as solely a sexual kink (or a three-some), it is entirely possible to love more than one person at a time. There exist many people involved in long-term polyamorous relationships who achieve their own HEAs. I understand that it might be difficult to build a romance involving polyamory without losing wary readers, but similar to how homosexuality is as much as legitimate form of sexuality as heterosexuality, polyamory is as much a legitimate form of a relationship as monogamy.

    And that was a terribly convoluted sentence. I hope I made some sense. Thanks for posting this, Jessica.


  19. Great post! I haven’t read a lot of (re: any) polyamorous books. I tend to like my romances more traditional: girl meets guy, guy loses girl, etc. But I do agree that the idea of polyamory is subversive.

    And actually, what it reminds me of is The Bachelor and Bachelorette. You know, when they always say, “I’m falling in love with 15 guys! What am I going to doooo? I want them all to stay!” And I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh bitch please.”

    I don’t doubt that polyamory can exist, but I agree with Angela that in real life I don’t think it is very common at all. Most people can only be devoted or in love with one person at a time, if that. Yeah, people cheat on their spouses, but they probably only pay attention or show devotion to ONE of their partners while the other person/s are neglected.

    As a fantasy plot element, however, I think it’s interesting. And it’s entirely possible that it could influence sexual relationships in the future–who knows. I don’t there’s any reason for the RWA not to recognize it as part of the romance genre other than prudishness.


  20. You know, “not common” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. Being gay is “not common” if you look at statistics, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Polyamory, in all its many many incarnations, exists. And can be wonderful when it works. Maybe it’s not common because we’re forced into our heteronormative mono-normative little boxes from before we can speak (Can I say how much it bugs the crap out of me that my 20mo son is the “boyfriend” of a girl in his daycare class?! Drives me freaking insane!). Maybe if we were all trained a little differently by society, poly would be a lot more common.


  21. I so appreciate all of these thoughtful replies. I had no idea the RWA definition came in collapsed and expanded forms!

    I wanted to address two things:

    1. The question of numbers: I think (a) it’s hard to know because, as was the case 25 years ago with homosexuality, people who are polyamorous may not be self-aware or may not want to disclose this on surveys, and (b) it’s irrelevant to the questions I am interested in, because, as far as real life goes, in a just democratic society (unlike the RWA, apparently) we protect minority interests from the tyranny of the majority, and as far as fiction goes, the numbers of straight women reading m/m shows that what sells doesn’t necessarily reflect who is reading it.

    The second issue I wanted address is the question of whether polyamory can only work as “fantasy”. I hate to disagree with a published author like Lauren Dane on this, because she certainly has walked the walk, but here goes: to my mind, every time I read a romance in which a Duke marries a former whore, a street beggar turns out to be an Earl, a billionaire marries the nanny, a wealthy heiress marries the landscaper, a courtesan or widow is a virgin (!!!), a hetero couple –even the man — achieves multiple simultaneous orgasms every single time, great sex helps someone overcome a lifetime of sexual abuse, etc. etc. I am reading fantasy. I guess I don’t see why this is different.


  22. So how does the polyamory romance differ from a more mainstream work where one character, e.g. a wife, carries on a fulfilling affair, without the husband’s knowledge? I’m thinking of Kate Lehrer’s Confessions of a Bigamist, Nikki Gemmell’s Bride Stripped Bare, or Chloe Zhivago’s Recipe for Marriage and Mischief by Olivia Lichtenstein. Aren’t books like these suggesting that one doesn’t need a sci-fi/fantasy setting to make multiple relationships work?


  23. LOL, well that’s okay, plenty of people disagree with me. But I didn’t say it could *only* work as a fantasy. I said I found it easier to write in a futuristic or paranormal context because I can shape the world to fit it better.

    In every day, contemporary life, for the most part I don’t believe it works very often. Of the poly people I know, only one grouping is long term and stable and they pay a great deal of attention to keeping communication open and working all the time. So whenI read it in a book, I want to see it handled with some care and sadly, a lot of the time it isn’t.

    I’ve written a contemporary menage. I tried to address the things I find glaringly absent in most contep menages – how do you deal with time? How do you deal with attention and jealousy? How do you deal with what your family may think? Are you “out” in public? At work? To me, these things are as important to the world in a menage as are things like how a vampire gets blood in a paranormal.


  24. I have been following this discussion with some fascination. I don’t have much to add, but am impressed with the knowledge and information that all of you present. Very interesting topic.

    I will admit to both loving to read m/m/f stories (especially when the males are involved with each other and the female) and being baffled as to how a relationship of this type would work in the real world. I don’t doubt that you can love two people at the same time, but how society accepts and responds to it – that is a whole different issue.

    As for RWA’s defination of a romance – call me obtuse, but I fail to see how a HEA is the standard for romance novels. Just because a love story ends, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a romance. Romeo and Juliet, Scarlett and Rhett, Tristian and Isolde, Buffy and Angel, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard – no HEA, but romances all.


  25. What I found interesting about Lauren Dane’s observation is something that I’ve felt but not actively recognized. Contemporary menage is harder for me to believe than paranormal/futuristic. On a subliminal basis I automatically impose constraints on contemporaries that I don’t on the other formats. It’s just easier for me to indulge the fantasy part. Perhaps that’s why my favorites list above had all of the menage books in futuristic or paranormal/urban fantasy genres. I’m am either less critical, or the overall story just makes more sense within the alternate context – for me.

    I’ve noticed on various forums, including Amazon’s Erotic Romance forum, that there are two distinct populations – one that prefers the contemporary menage with it’s angsty storylines, and the futuristic/paranormal/urban fantasy group. A point worth pondering.


  26. @ daisy:

    I fail to see how a HEA is the standard for romance novels. Just because a love story ends, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a romance. Romeo and Juliet, Scarlett and Rhett, Tristian and Isolde, Buffy and Angel, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard – no HEA, but romances all.

    The happy ending is expected for romance genre books. None of the books you named are in the genre, although they’re often talked about as romance stories (in the non-genre sense). There are many romance genre readers (myself included) who’d strongly argue that there’s nothing romantic at all about tragic endings, and mislabeling a non-HEA book as romance genre will often cause quite a ruckus.


  27. I could care less what RWA defines as romance.

    But polyamory is definitely not a fantasy for me.

    It comes largely from my cultural background. Polygamy was the standard practice in China up until 1949 and I’ve always thought it sucked, just absolutely sucked. Raising the Red Lantern, anyone?

    I don’t see how flipping it around–i.e., one woman, more than one man–makes it any better.


  28. @ Sherry Thomas:
    Looking at polygamy through a historical lens, as a feminist, things look very bad indeed.

    But theoretically, I am no longer sure why we restrict marriage to two people. Or rather, I am not sure if we still have a strong enough social interest in encouraging certain familial units to incentivize them via the institution of marriage.

    As for the RWA definition, I sense that the RWA is waning in influence somewhat like the AMA. But I would think its definition is still one important indicator of what the romance community defines as “romance” novel.


  29. I’ve been hanging around the Jo Beverley review clearing my throat. Whining and rattling the screen commences now. Next up: throwing small objects.

    Comments are closed? On one of my favorite authors? This doesn’t seem like you. There must be a trick.


    • No, comments should not be closed. for some reason, whenever I update (edit) a post, comments close automatically, unless I manually re-check the open comments box. I often forget. Opening them now, and sorry for the mixup! thanks for letting me know!


  30. I’m glad to find more and more blogs covering polyamory and ménage as well as erotic romance. It’s interesting to discover what bloggers and readers want and expect in their romance books.

    Natalie Acres


  31. Excellent topic. From a strictly storytelling perspective, stories about three people being in love together are really just three love stories in one. The challenge is convincing the audience that it makes sense, considering social, political, economic, and religious resistances; How do I tell my mother that I’m in love with two people? How are we going to manage our household with three people? Will the government take our children away? Do we have to hide ourselves from everyone else? Is it all worth it? Turn to “Big Love,” for a television show that confronts all of that stuff.

    Polyamory is just really foreign. It’s not even recognized by the spell check. Most of us were not raised with good models in monogamous marriages, so we can barely imagine a long term poly relationship working. Those, like Minx, want to see more good examples available, so that it’s a real choice and not something that seems too ALIEN to consider. It doesn’t have to be a fantasy–just good storytelling that causes the audience to invest in the characters and see from their eyes long enough to want the same thing. It’s coming, even if I have to write it.


  32. @Jane:
    Jane wrote: “I joked with a friend the other day that women barely tolerate their one husband and his physical demands let alone two or three husbands. I’ve not actually worked out in my mind why this fantasy is so interesting/appealing?”

    Well, if the relationship is a true triangle, and the woman feels that she’s does not have the sex drive of a guy, it’s actually the perfect solution. She can go and read a book and let her boyfriends have it out. =)


  33. Has anyone mentioned Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter or Meredeth Grey series? In both she explores “reverse harem” themes – A MMMMMMM….F relationships- I think at one point both Anita and Meredith have about ten lovers each, who they don’t share with any other females.

    The thing I like about her romances (Aside from the paranormal romance) is that she actuallys gets into the relationship side of a polyamorous relationship instead of just the threesome-sex qualities (though she does have a lot of those). Jealousy, possesiveness, liking one person over the others and the dynamics of it… LKH addresses a lot of these ideas in her stories.


  34. Small correction : Joe had sex with 3 women in Broken. It’s Kitten, Barby and Candy. It’s one of my favorite books, I reread it so many times… Great post.


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