Alcohol in romance novels?

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kssmith626

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I recently received criticism on one of my stories regarding alcohol consumption, and I'm curious what your thoughts are. In my story, the MCs are at a party where they have some champagne, and then they go home together. This reader said that any sex act that follows any level of alcohol consumption was a big no no.

On one hand, I can understand that because of trying to avoid problematic situations. But on the other hand, most of my MCs are the type of people who I imagine would have a couple drinks at a party.

This was honestly something I hadn't even really thought about until the reader pointed it out.
 

lonestarlibrarian

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I remember some of my grandma's old bodice-rippers, back from the day when "consent" wasn't quite as stressed as it was nowadays. Sometimes you'd run into authors who would deliberately impair their heroines/their heroines' decision-making abilities with alcohol for plot purposes. So it's possible that part of the criticism isn't necessarily from the teetotaler pov (where there's also a good overlap with the no-sex-before-marriage pov as well, and so it's unlikely they'd be your target audience), but perhaps more in the "are the hero/heroine capable of consenting if they've been drinking? would they have done the same thing without the champagne?" etc.
 

Jan74

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Oh jeeze really? You can be completely shit faced and give consent to having sex, that is just absurd. However, being passed out and having sex is rape. The pendulum has swung wayyyyyy to far if a drunk woman can't have sex. A woman may regret having drunk sex but that doesn't mean the man did anything wrong, it means sometimes we make poor decisions, however it was a decision and regret is a part of life.

I say have your characters falling down drunk sex and to hell it. Can you imagine Sex and the City without all the booze? Sorry but the reality is woman and men do things when they are drunk they may later regret however its still consensual. Now if the woman is so drunk she can't open her eyes, has no idea where she is and can't speak and isn't participating that is different. But just being drunk doesn't mean a woman can't consent.
 

StoryofWoe

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Unless you're getting consistent feedback pertaining to alcohol and consent among your characters, I wouldn't worry about it. It sounds like this is just one reader's very black-and-white opinion. Lots of adults drink moderate amounts of alcohol and then go have sex. As long as your characters are aware of their faculties and actively involved in the hanky panky, I think you're fine.

Representing healthy relationships has become a point of contention in Romancelandia, but let's not forget that this is fiction. We know the characters are consenting because you tell us they are. That's the beauty of POV. Also, if the goal is to represent real-ish people doing real-ish things, sometimes real people do dumb things or make poor choices (not that having a few drinks at a party and then choosing to go home with someone is necessarily a poor choice). You know your characters want this. Just make that really clear and you'll be fine. You can't please everyone.
 

taraesque

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I would also say that two people having a drink or two, and both parties are okay with heading home together is normal and relatable. There is a big difference between that and someone being sloppy drunk and passing out, and not knowing where they are, let alone being able to consent. That makes me queasy as a reader, because it doesn't feel right.
 

blackcat777

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You can be completely shit faced and give consent to having sex

There are people who believe two intoxicated partners having sex is mutual rape or nonconsent. There is also a lot of education on college campuses these days promoting the same idea. I'm not arguing for or against your point, I just want to point out that there are people who adhere strongly to different opinions. I'm sure these situations can be triggering for some people.

Me personally - I love pushing boundaries, provided there is an intelligent exploration of consequences. Consequences are interesting, the meat of the story. I would only find a boundary-pushing situation offensive (more disinteresting than offensive) if the consequences were ignored, minimized, or overlooked, because it destroys the credibility of the situation. I believe the exploration of consequences is a powerful thing.

That being said... the situation in question doesn't sound like any variation of the extremes, just standard fare romance mirroring everyday life.

To the OP - there is always someone who will be offended by something. Everybody's buttons are pushed differently, and ultimately, I think staying true to your genre, and having the book marketed accurately for its content is the best you can do. When someone has an opinion vastly different than your own (one of the reasons I love posting here ;) ), it's always good to take a step back and self-reflect, examine the scene from another point of view. It doesn't mean anyone is right or wrong.

There are ways to signal responsibility in a situation that involves alcohol, like calling a cab, but I don't personally believe the purpose of EVERY scene containing something potentially offensive to someone is to preach morals or responsibility. If your purpose is to stimulate the reader to ask deep questions about morality, IMHO, there are FAR more interesting ways to achieve this than a few simple lines of preaching. Sure, it also serves many characters and situations to do things that are considerate, respectful, or self-preserving, and the story could likewise feel weak if courtesy was ignored.

I feel like this is an issue similar to the use of birth control before sex. Some authors believe they should always write that one line where someone whips out a condom. I personally think it's something that needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some readers will care, some won't. There are so many variables to what an author can be trying to achieve that it's impossible to make blanket statements about "what people should do." Sometimes I prefer ambiguity to let my imagination fill in the blanks - I'm allergic to latex, so I'd rather assume heroine took her birth control in the morning, and I don't need to dwell on it.

You can look up any bodice ripper with great reviews on Amazon and see the same thing with complaints. If you scroll through the reviews for long enough, there will always be the occasional one-star rating for rape. Are the reviews fair? If the book is marketed like a sweet romance, yeah. If the book has a trigger warning for dubcon inside and is marketed as dark romance? That's not enough to stop some people from complaining. And trigger warnings themselves are a dicey rabbit hole...

The person who complained is not your target audience. It's impossible to please everyone. Does what you're writing align most clearly with the storytelling goals you're trying to achieve? If yes, move on.
 
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Jan74

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There are people who believe two intoxicated partners having sex is mutual rape or nonconsent. There is also a lot of education on college campuses these days promoting the same idea. I'm not arguing for or against your point, I just want to point out that there are people who adhere strongly to different opinions. I'm sure these situations can be triggering for some people.

Me personally - I love pushing boundaries, provided there is an intelligent exploration of consequences. Consequences are interesting, the meat of the story. I would only find a boundary-pushing situation offensive (more disinteresting than offensive) if the consequences were ignored, minimized, or overlooked, because it destroys the credibility of the situation. I believe the exploration of consequences is a powerful thing.

That being said... the situation in question doesn't sound like any variation of the extremes, just standard fare romance mirroring everyday life.

To the OP - there is always someone who will be offended by something. Everybody's buttons are pushed differently, and ultimately, I think staying true to your genre, and having the book marketed accurately for its content is the best you can do. When someone has an opinion vastly different than your own (one of the reasons I love posting here ;) ), it's always good to take a step back and self-reflect, examine the scene from another point of view. It doesn't mean anyone is right or wrong.

There are ways to signal responsibility in a situation that involves alcohol, like calling a cab, but I don't personally believe the purpose of EVERY scene containing something potentially offensive to someone is to preach morals or responsibility. If your purpose is to stimulate the reader to ask deep questions about morality, IMHO, there are FAR more interesting ways to achieve this than a few simple lines of preaching. Sure, it also serves many characters and situations to do things that are considerate, respectful, or self-preserving, and the story could likewise feel weak if courtesy was ignored.

I feel like this is an issue similar to the use of birth control before sex. Some authors believe they should always write that one line where someone whips out a condom. I personally think it's something that needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some readers will care, some won't. There are so many variables to what an author can be trying to achieve that it's impossible to make blanket statements about "what people should do." Sometimes I prefer ambiguity to let my imagination fill in the blanks - I'm allergic to latex, so I'd rather assume heroine took her birth control in the morning, and I don't need to dwell on it.

You can look up any bodice ripper with great reviews on Amazon and see the same thing with complaints. If you scroll through the reviews for long enough, there will always be the occasional one-star rating for rape. Are the reviews fair? If the book is marketed like a sweet romance, yeah. If the book has a trigger warning for dubcon inside and is marketed as dark romance? That's not enough to stop some people from complaining. And trigger warnings themselves are a dicey rabbit hole...

The person who complained is not your target audience. It's impossible to please everyone. Does what you're writing align most clearly with the storytelling goals you're trying to achieve? If yes, move on.

^^^great post.

I too like the idea of a trigger warning, which I will most likely do for my own novel and agree it is very dependent on what type of romance you are writing.

Defining what rape is has definitely changed over the years. I think if you have a sober person having sex with a woman who is falling down drunk and can barely open her eyes and is on the verge of passing out...that is most likely rape, but if you have two falling down drunk people who manage to stumble through and have sex...then that isn't rape in my opinion. A woman passed out that is rape.

Or if a man is completely inebriated and can barely open his eyes and is completely clueless and a woman who is sober has sex with him(it does happen) that too would be most likely rape also. The man is the one who's been taken advantage of, so it goes both ways.

The thing about alcohol is sometimes its a great way to let loose, I know how I feel after having a few glasses of wine, and my husband isn't a drinker, so if I'm buzzing or drunk and we have sex that isn't rape.

Maybe it depends on the relationship too. If you have a couple where one person is drunk and the other is sober and they have sex I think its fine...however if that couple just met then maybe its not fine and he took advantage. My husband having sex with me while I'm drunk isn't him taking advantage of me, but I can only speak for my marriage and another wife may disagree and have a boundary set for that.

So complicated for sure. The thing is we are individuals with out own ideals of what is ok. And that's ok too :)
 

MaeZe

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First, every fiction story doesn't need to be a campaign for social justice.

There are times and places when it matters. For example, my protagonist is the antithesis of the YA character whose main accomplishment is having the best boyfriend.

And I think the Bechdel test for movies is an eye opener. Society needs better female role models in literature and movies. And we need more attention drawn to these issues.

But the no sex after a drink or two is on the extreme end of the social justice warrior mission. Consent is important and we can have a very long discussion as to where on the continuum alcohol and sexual consent should be drawn. There's no reason, in my opinion, even with today's #MeToo revelations, that we need to be so extreme it becomes ludicrous.

Not every sex act with alcohol involved is about a predator male taking advantage of an incapacitated female.

I like sex (more so when I was younger). I drink alcohol. I've never woken up in the morning and thought, shit, I was tricked into sex. Doesn't mean I didn't have a couple #MeToo incidents. What it does mean is, I'm not that fragile. #NotAllMen are that threatening.

No sex after one or even a couple of drinks? Puhleese, aren't we women more intelligent than that? Are we snowflakes that need to be protected from all those men that can't keep it in their pants?

Sorry, I get carried away when respect for women moves so far down the continuum it's insulting to women.
 
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LJD

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As a romance reader, I would have no problem whatsoever with the characters having a drink or two and then having sex. I wouldn't think of there being consent issues because someone drank a glass or two of wine at dinner. I'm sure I've read this situation many, many times in romance novels, but I can remember any titles because it's such an unremarkable event. I wouldn't worry about it.

I do, as a romance writer, avoid having characters sleep together when one (or both) of them is drunk. In one of my WIPs, the hero refuses to sleep with the heroine when she propositions him while she's drunk, and one of my beta readers said she really appreciated that he didn't say yes and respected him more for it. But the heroine was drunk...not puking and passing out, but much more than a glass of wine with dinner. I avoid these scenes because I want consent to be very clear, especially in cases where hero + heroine are sleeping together for the first time or haven't been together for long, and also because, well, in my personal experience sober-ish sex is better than drunk sex, so it just feels like a more ideal sex scene to me, IDK. My personal preference.
 
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morngnstar

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I don't really think alcohol impairs consent, at levels where you can still walk without stumbling. If anything I think when your drunk you do what you really want to do. It might be inadvisable to do, because of the consequences, but in the moment, you want to. If you're at the point where you don't know where you are, then it's a problem.

But let me come at it from another angle. It's possible your reader found the romance unconvincing. Therefore they concluded the only way he would have got her in bed is without consent. Sometimes the problem beta readers report is not the actual problem.
 

morngnstar

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I do, as a romance writer, avoid having characters sleep together when one (or both) of them is drunk. In one of my WIPs, the hero refuses to sleep with the heroine when she propositions him while she's drunk, and one of my beta readers said she really appreciated that he didn't say yes and respected him more for it. But the heroine was drunk...not puking and passing out, but much more than a glass of wine with dinner. I avoid these scenes because I want consent to be very clear, especially in cases where hero + heroine are sleeping together for the first time or haven't been together for long, and also because, well, in my personal experience sober-ish sex is better than drunk sex, so it just feels like a more ideal sex scene to me, IDK. My personal preference.

I agree on both counts.

I'd say consent followed by morning-after regret is still consent, but if you value the relationship, it makes sense to be extra cautious to avoid regret.

Drunk sex and non-drunk sex can both be fun, but if you want it to involve complex emotions, sober sex is the way to go. So I definitely respect your hero for saying, "Let's do this right."
 

kssmith626

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Thanks for all the feedback! I really appreciate the thoughtful responses. You guys are awesome and really help put things into perspective!
 

Jan74

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Thanks for all the feedback! I really appreciate the thoughtful responses. You guys are awesome and really help put things into perspective!
Glad we could help :)
 

sunandshadow

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My personal opinion is that if you make it clear that the heroine wants to have sex with the hero before she starts drinking, then drunk sex is fine. But drunk sex would be underwhelming as a first time; it works a lot better in an established sexual relationship.
 

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