Sex and Sexuality: Romance Relationships in Media

simon and kaylee from firefly

Sex and Sexuality: Romance Relationships in Media

So here’s the thing…I hate arbitrary romance plotlines in popular media. Be it The Walking Dead TV show (damn it, Andrea) or a popular book defacing religion, forced romance will always kill my interest. The last thing I want to see when consuming media is the trope-y protagonist hooking up with a character meant to be the eye candy. Or mind candy. Usually both.

But when there’s an interesting story with engaging characters, forming relationships that feel real, I’m hooked. Not even just limited to romance, but bonds forged in fire and tested by trials that hold strong through the end. Fast friendships, passionate romance, emotional foundations built on trust, respect, and time: these make for a good read. It’s not seeing the sparkly teenager in your chemistry class who’s been 17 for a long time.

So move over Romeo and Juliet, let’s look at what makes a well-established relationship in media, and what falls flat.

Hot and/or Cold

I mentioned when TGE read Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet that a meaningful relationship isn’t built on fleeing a horde of undead or crashing a ship on an island. It’s not something that just happens. In Planet, the relationships the reader was shown were either pre-established and fleshed out, or took time to simmer. Rosemary and Sissix don’t jump each other’s bones right from the get-go. They don’t do it right after being attacked by pirates. The relationship is brought to light after a scene of peace and homecoming, tempered with genuine concern built up over time.

Meanwhile, in the recent Ready Player One theatrical release, Parzival and Art3mis hook up after knowing each other for how long? A week? 10 days? Call me old-fashioned, but I’m fairly certain most people wouldn’t ask someone to be a partner in their multi-billion dollar company after knowing them for less than a month.

So what makes an engaging relationship? Well, first off: time, and a solid amount of it. Kaylee and Simon were near-flirty for a considerable period before fans got the payoff. Likewise, Faye and Bubble from Questionable Content were teased for literal months as a ship. The casual flirtation, the building of rapport, the cracking of shells felt like an actual relationship. No matter what Tumblr says, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and OTPs (one true pairings) aren’t formed overnight.

So where is a relationship done incorrectly? For this, I’m going to point you towards my most hated book of all time, Innocence by Dean Koontz. Maybe one day I’ll write about how much this novel irritated me, but for now, let’s focus on the romantic relationship. Addison and Gwyneth form a strong emotional and romantic bond during the 2 weeks they know each other. They are then tasked to be the newest incarnations of the biblical Adam and Eve after a nuclear apocalypse. Because they are the greatest reflectors of humanity, and a showpiece for humanities’ best parts, they are new progenitors.

I’m sorry, what?

People developing a relationship require time, hardship, compromise, understanding, chemistry, and experience. Prince Charming might be a slob, the Princess might be controlling. He hates animals, she dislikes jazz. Whatever it is, strangers are rarely, if ever, immediately compatible. But that’s what we’re given on an infuriatingly regular basis.

Relationships Aren’t One-Night Stands

“Wanna make a surefire hit movie/book/game/comic? Throw in a sex scene! That’ll get you exposure.”

If this line was ever seriously uttered in a brainstorming meeting, the person who said it was fired immediately. Or, more likely, they were promoted. Either way, there have been a lot of stories that seemed to take that hint.

Yes, sex sells, but it isn’t always enough to carry the product. Even franchises like God of War had a bloody, decent story for a while, despite the inclusion of sexy minigames. As it stands, too many bad stories have been released because they relied on the libido factor more than the actual storytelling. Even a good ship can sink a storyline.

When inserting an arbitrary sex scene, especially early on, the only effect is a cheapening of the relationship the consumer is meant to treasure. Forcing one into the mix is going to cause nothing but trouble unless it comes from an already established relationship. Even if the scene is only intended to be a single night, that somehow stretches into multiple days of scrambling for survival, that’s better than Viagra-level self-preservation instincts.

Aftermath

Look, my point is that relying on a forced relationship to carry a story isn’t just short-sighted, it’s ridiculous. If the connection isn’t there for the characters, the readers and viewers won’t feel it either. Context, time, and sanity are the foundation of a relationship, one which too many creators ignore.

Tell me what you think is a primo relationship in media. What is the best romance, partnership, or team ever committed to print or film? Should the story revolve around a relationship, or a relationship fit within the plot?

As always, this has been Crab, and I’ll speak to you again soon… ish.

Okay, I’ll be upfront: I’m going to be away on vacation, and I’ll be gone for a few weeks. But I’ll be vlogging and taking pictures the whole time I’m away, representing The Geek Embassy. Make sure to follow TGE on Instagram, since that’s where I’m going to be posting most of my mishaps and shenanigans. If you’re at SCG CON in Roanoke, VA, or the MtG Grand Prix in Las Vegas, and you happen to see me, feel free to say hi. Hugs will be had if you’re cool with that.

I like weird and silly and scary things. Sometimes I talk about them.

I enjoy gaming, sci-fi/fantasy books, well-written stories, Magic: the Gathering, and caffeine. I like things that make me think, feel, and react.

Praise Cthulhu, hail Rakdos, enjoy the weirdness. And remember: a good story can come from anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *