Five things romance writers should know about vaginas

If there’s one thing you’d think romance writers – who tend to be women writing for women – know about, it’s the workings of their own bodies.

After all, some of us write fairly explicit sex scenes, right?

Read My LipsThis week, though, I was surprised to discover how ignorant I was as I read the delightfully informative Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick, PhD, and Vanessa Schick, PhD.

This book, which will be released on November 14, should be required reading for everyone – women and men. It expels myths, builds confidence, and contains vital health information that would surprise many women.

And there are craft projects! I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so let’s just say I know what I’ll be dressing as next Halloween.

Luckily, Debby and Vanessa are giving away a copy of Read My Lips right here! (Details at the end of the post.)

For those of you who don’t write romance, please don’t feel you need to click away. Vulva knowledge is good for everyone – whether you carry one around all day or love someone who does.

First, a brief word on terminology. Vulva is used here to describe the genital region that can be seen from the outside (clitoris, lips, vaginal opening, etc). Vagina means the passage between the outside world and the uterus. But I won’t be anal about people using “vagina” to refer to the whole shebang.

Ready to learn about the mighty vulva?

1. All vulvas are different.

This might sound obvious, and maybe it is to people who have seen lots of naked women.

Then again, depending on where you encountered those women you might be forgiven for thinking most vulvas look the same. Apparently, most of the women pictured naked in magazines and online have a certain look: hairless or nearly hairless, with small inner labia that are fairly uniform in color.

But women are much more diverse. The authors say:

Painted lady statueThe inner labia (labia minora) are perhaps the most diverse part of women’s genitals. The color of women’s inner labia may vary greatly from one woman to the next. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, gray, black, or slightly purple (particularly as women become sexually aroused and blood flow increases to the genitals, as the inner labia are filled with blood vessels; inner labia also sometimes darken in color while a woman is pregnant). The outer ridges of the inner labia are often darker than the rest of the labia. Similarly, in one study, forty-one of fifty women (92 percent) had genitals that were darker than the skin around their genitals.

Now, a lot of romance novelists skim over this kind of detail when describing sex scenes, but some don’t. And if you write explicit scenes, then you might like to add a little more genital diversity. Not only will it make your heroine more interesting, it’ll make her more real.

Most importantly, though, it could encourage your readers that their bits are normal, healthy and sexually desirable.

Wikipedia has a set of drawings showing vulvar diversity.

2. The hymen is at the vagina’s entrance.

Continue reading “Five things romance writers should know about vaginas”

At first scent: exposing the secrets of chemical attraction

Couple nearly kissing
© Geber86/istockphoto

Romance readers are familiar with chemical attraction – that unmistakable yet intangible sensation when your body recognizes your soul mate.

For horror and suspense writers, the most important chemical reaction is different: the scent of fear and hint of danger the hero detects that lets him react just in time to save his own life.

These may sound like cliches, but they’re based on real-life reactions our bodies have to pheromones.

Earlier this week I went to a lecture by Karl Grammar of the University of Vienna, one of the few scientists in the world studying human pheromones. He gave us an insight into how humans react to the scent of pheromones, and I thought some of it might be useful, or at least interesting, to my fellow writers.

Let me preface this by saying that I didn’t take notes on the scientific nitty-gritty, so some of what follows here may be educational while other parts will just sound strange. Take what you will and store it away – surely it’ll come in handy for a pub quiz one day.

What are pheromones?

Dr Grammar began by saying that in almost all animal species life is controlled by highly volatile substances made by the glands. These are pheromones. We breathe them in, and our olfactory system takes these scents (which we don’t even know we’re smelling) straight to the brain.

In other words, people give off these super subtle messages which our nose takes to our brain for interpretation.

What do pheromones help us do?

Pheromones help us do things like recognize our relatives, select our mates, and be aware when someone scary or aggressive is nearby.

We have hundreds – possibly thousands – of different pheromones. They’re transmitted through our skin; since we each have a unique genetic epidermal composition, our pheromones “smell” different. This makes it easier for us to identify our kin, but it also means romance novels are right: we can identify that one person who’s special to us, even if we can’t see them.

Weird pheromone facts

Boar
© osmar01/sxc.hu

Humans have some of the same pheromones as other animals. For example, one of the pheromones men have is the same as a boar’s. Dr Grammar explained that when a female boar smells a male boar’s pheromones, she assumes the copulation position. “It doesn’t work like this for humans,” he said.

Women share a pheromone in common with wasps. Yep, women smell sorta like wasps, men smell like pigs, and no one knows why.

Continue reading “At first scent: exposing the secrets of chemical attraction”

More hot men are concerned about your breasts

I don’t usually drool and post pictures/videos of ripped men…unless I can find a way to relate it to writing.

Remember last week I shared that video by Rethink Breast Cancer? The one featuring hot guys showing you how to check yourself for lumps and also served as a great lesson on providing a unique twist on the same old content?

Mmmm…

Sorry – I mentally wandered for a second there. Well, yesterday stars from the British TV show Loose Women (basically The View) had the incredible opportunity to visit London rugby team Harlequins…and wander around the locker room where the players were nekkid.

For copyright reasons, I’ll be a good girl and won’t post the pictures here. But you can see them here. Don’t worry – the men have strategically placed balls.

Rugby balls, that is.

Good thing rugby balls are long.

I couldn’t figure out whether the photo shoot was related to Harlequins’ support for the charity Breast Cancer Care. They’ll be supporting the charity on 29 October at their Ladies’ Day match. My husband’s a season-ticket holder for their cross-town rival, and that’s our last day in London, so I won’t be going. I hope everyone who does will donate, though.

Whether the photo shoot is for a good cause or is purely gratuitous, it’s still great for me – I’m in the process of rewriting my contemporary romance featuring a London rugby player. These pics have inspired all sorts of ideas…which you’ll get to read if this novel is published.

How many ways are there to describe abs like this?

Places that make your imagination take flight

Lake Arrowhead village
Lake Arrowhead village

This weekend my husband, parents and I went to a village in California’s San Bernardino mountains that brought back a lot of memories for me.

Nearly twenty years ago, my parents took me and my rambunctious little brother to Lake Arrowhead for the first time. I was thirteen and totally embarrassed by my family – although, if I’m honest, they’re all a lot cooler than I am.

I spent that weekend engrossed in Harlequin romance novels, which I’d just discovered, in an effort to avoid thinking about the fact that I was a chubby pubescent girl with braces and a feathered mullet. That weekend, I was a confident career woman in my twenties who brought tycoons to their knees (figuratively and literally :)).

While we were there all those years ago, I also saw a stunning bride smiling for her wedding photos, and that cemented in my young mind the fact that Lake Arrowhead was among the most romantic places in the world.

Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead

My flirty twenties are now behind me, and I’ve been a stunning bride (if I do say so myself), but Lake Arrowhead still pulls at my imagination. Walking around with my husband and parents made me realize how important reading has been in my life – both to keep me grounded and to give me wings, to develop my empathy and soothe my sometimes aching heart.

Two things are the same, all these years later. First, I spent this past weekend reading Harlequin novels. Except this time, I read them as a reviewer instead of to escape.

Second, being in Lake Arrowhead filled my imagination with stories. Only now, they’re stories I’ll have the confidence to write down and share instead of keeping them private.

Is there a place that you strongly associate with reading? Is there a place you’ve visited that sparks your imagination, or a place you’d love to visit because you’ve imagined it so many times you feel like you’ve already been there?

Pride and joy in New York City

For those of us who spend our lives writing about and celebrating love, commitment and equality, this has been a beautiful weekend in New York.

The Marriage Equality Act passed two days ago. Today New York City celebrated during the Pride parade. The mood was jubilant, and the joy on people’s faces was almost overwhelming. I teared up several times.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the day. Congratulations, New York. A piece of American just became a little more free.