The role of restraint in romance

His jaw subtly tightening…

His hand clenching into a fist at his side…

How he swallows hard and works to constrain the need in his eyes…

The way he forces himself to leave a scene while he still has control over his desires…

The internal monologue that tells us exactly what the woman before him is doing to his body and his brain and his heart, even if he’s too damn proud or scared to admit any of that out loud…

Oh. Oh. Oh, how I love these moments in a romance novel. Those moments when a male character feels a powerful and all-encompassing flare of desire and he decides not to act on it.

At least not yet.

Why might a male character not act on his desires in any given moment when he feels them so greatly? Lots of incredibly good ones.  He may still be getting to know his partner. He may have emotional or sexual baggage that makes him worry that he’s not yet ready to handle that kind of connection. His partner may not have yet echoed his desires or given clear consent.

This dynamic is one of the reasons I write dual perspective romance novels. Also known as alternative point of view writing, this is when different chapters are told from different characters’ perspective. So if Chapter 1 is told from inside the heroine’s mind, Chapter 2 is likely to be told from inside the hero’s mind. This also allows us to understand what’s happening “behind the curtains” for both halves of the main couple in a romance novel, and to better understand how they’re each interpreting the events that are unfolding, as well as their growing desire for one another. This allows the reader to be omniscient, meaning that we know what’s going on in the brain of a character’s crush, even if he or she doesn’t, creating a really delicious tension.

Importantly, this intentional restraint in the face of overwhelming lust is surely not limited to male characters (nor to heterosexual romances; writers of m/m and f/f books have to take these dynamics into consideration, too.) The women I write want. They lust and desire and burn with the best of the men they’re dealing with. Navigating how and when they communicate their desires and proceed to a physical connection with the men they’re desiring needs to be just as thoughtful and considerate as I try to make it when I’m writing from a male perspective. As I’m the first to admit, my books aren’t perfect, but this is something I try to be incredibly intentional about in my writing.

WMIW Promo box 3-01.jpgThis was an especially important consideration in my latest release, Warm Me in Winter. Widower cop Carter has only been with one woman. Sexually empowered Bree is thrilled for the chance to reawaken him to the pleasures of a woman’s body. As their intimacy increases, Carter finds his body ready to advance far more quickly than his brain and his heart, and though it physically pains him to do so, there are times he needs to put on the brakes until he can fully and clearly wrap his head around what’s happening.

When handled thoughtfully, this transparency of restraint also carries an important message about consent that couldn’t be more timely.

To desire, and then to demonstrate restraint in the face of that desire, is not only one of the sexiest elements of the romances I read and I write (because: delayed gratification!), but it’s also one of their most important elements. In light of the enormous momentum of the #MeToo movement, in the way that so many brave real-world victims have spoken out about their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, in academia, in sports cultures, and beyond, some have begun to push back on the movement. Some say that attraction is now forbidden, or that the movement is rooted in some sort of “hatred of men and sexuality” where even complimenting and flirting are banned. (BBC’s The Mash Report had a brilliant skit highlighting the absurdity of these extreme interpretations of the movement.)

Desire is not the problem here. Unchecked desire is. Non-consensual acts of desire are. And for good reason, with one in six women (and three percent of men) being the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their life.

With these horrifying statistics, and the continued aftershocks of the #MeToo movement reaching new corners of our society every single day, one might say that writing men who carefully and considerately and consistently manage their own desire is aspirational.

To which I say, you’re damn right it is. And that’s exactly why I plan to keep striving to write books that do just this, and support other authors who do, too.

REVISED FINAL book cover WMIWFinal create space cover front page onlyWhen Jess Vonn isn’t writing romance novels, she’s reading them (way past her bedtime.) She writes spicy but romantic books with sexy, playful men and quirky, funny women and wonderful groups of “found friends.” She’s the author of the smalltown  “Love by The Seasons” series. Her books are available on Amazon, and via Kindle Unlimited. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! She’s on TikTok, too, though in all fairness, she has no idea what she’s doing on there…

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