I just finished a book with a more serious theme than you normally find in a romance, and it got me thinking whether or not it affects the way I read, or what topics I do or don't enjoy reading about in my books. Here is what triggered this line of thought:
The book I finished is "The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain" by Lucy Monroe, and I absolutely loved it, for many reasons. I enjoy how Lucy can make me hate a character, in this case the hero, yet by the end of the book redeem him so much that I end up falling in love just like the heroine does. In TSMB, she discusses a topic that affects many women: endometriosis, a painful condition that can leave 30% to 40% of women infertile. I have a friend who suffers from this - if not for her, I would never have heard of this condition. She's been through many surgeries and has suffered with a lot of pain. There is no cure for endometriosis; the cause is unknown, but there are treatments that can make it more bearable. Reading about it in a romance really was an amazing discovery for me because it affects such a large part of a woman's life. In Therese's situation, so much so that she came to a life-altering decision because of it. It was a very emotional story, one that wouldn't have affected me as strongly if the subject matter had been less serious.
Another book she wrote, "Blackmailed Into Marriage", delves into the issue of vaginismus. Vaginismus can be defined as an involuntary contraction of the muscles surrounding the entrance to the vagina, making penetration painful and/or impossible. The predominant muscle group involved is called the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle group. It is a condition that is treatable, actually self-treatable. But also one that can be extremely embarrassing, and without understanding, can have a woman withdraw from her partner in shame. Lia believed that she couldn't be a true wife to her husband Damian, but with his compassion and understanding, they were both able to find fulfillment in the marriage bed, but also to find a love that would never have been possible without the care and consideration of both Lia and Damian. It was a beautiful story that still stays with me.
These are serious and valid conditions that affect millions of women, yet not a lot of them talk about it. I think talking about them is rather taboo, especially when it comes to any aspect of a woman's sexuality. It's recently become more acceptable to talk about women's fantasies, but people still aren't ready to hear about possible sexual problems or dysfunctions. These conditions can potentially lead a woman to feel inferior, or feel at fault, when that really isn't the case at all. I commend Lucy for bringing these issues to light, and my personal feeling is that I have had a stronger connection to the characters because of how they are handled: with care and sensitivity, but also an awareness that these conditions exist and do not miraculously disappear at the end of the book, because that's not always how it happens in real life. Fortunately there are support groups for each of these conditions that hopefully will provide answers and help women lead a more positive and fulfilling life.
My belief is that reading romances which discuss these topics do offer an important benefit to readers, and I, for one, do not have a problem if an author decides to delve into these serious and sensitive subjects, especially if they pertain to a woman's health. Some people feel that they want to escape when they read a romance, and I agree that I do that sometimes, too. But I also think romances are a wonderful format to bring these subject out into the open, where women may be suffering from these conditions and not even be aware of it. These specific books did not come across as preachy or condescending, but rather offer answers, and provide hope.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever read about a condition in a book that you've never heard of before but discover you know someone who has it? How has it affected your reading?