“To strongly wish for or want something.” That is desire in a nutshell. And yet the definition does not come close to describing this emotional heavy-weight of the romance world. Sexual desire is one of the absolute givens in any romance novel—the heroine and hero must desire one another in order for the plot to be viable. One of the first pieces of advice I was given as a director was to be sure that there was a moment when the hero and heroine shared a look that told the audience they were interested in one another. That look of desire sets up all that is to follow.
But the dynamics of desire are a bit more complicated as I have found out when researching this subject. Because men and women react differently to stimuli, they feel desire in different ways. Male desire has been proven to be pretty straightforward. They respond easily to visual stimuli, what they see arouses them and becomes the means to their end. We’ve all heard (or maybe made) complaints about a man’s brain being located in his groin.
For women, it’s not quite so cut and dried.
What do women want? According to studies done by Meredith Chivers, a psychology professor who does sexual research, no one is clear on how and why women respond to stimuli. One theory posits that women’s desire originates in the brain, rather than in the genitalia, as men’s do, and therefore desire is as much mental as it is physical for women. Another theory is that women’s desire is triggered by being seen as desirable. Being chosen by the partner is as much a turn-on as the physical intimacy that follows.
How many romance novels employ a “chase” scenario, where the hero selects and then has to chase or “win” the heroine? This premise may represent the most truthful transfer from the real world to the world of the romance novel, because if women want to think themselves desirable, then the chasing and choosing is a wonderful affirmation of just that.
One of the major reasons women read romance novels is to live the fantasy of the perfect relationship. And by both stimulating their minds and creating a fantasy scenario where they can identify with the heroine and become the hero’s object of choice, the reader’s desires are heightened and ultimately fulfilled.