You’ve read him. You’ve loved him. Most of all, you’ve lusted after him. He’s the bad boy hero – a fixture in romance novels, especially ultra-sensual and/or erotic romances. What makes him so irresistible to readers?

For one thing, a bad boy knows how to make a woman feel good. He learned at an early age to question authority, especially when authority seemed bent on convincing him that whatever felt good had to be bad. This applied equally to fast cars, tall drinks, and long, slow lovemaking. As a result, when the well-behaved kids were at Student Council meetings, our bad boy hero was out behind the bleachers trying to persuade the captain of the cheerleading squad to say “yes.” In order to get what he wanted, he taught himself every little trick to winning female compliance. All those years of experience – from the moment he discovered the pleasures of the flesh right up until he encounters the heroine in the boardroom or the crowded roadhouse – makes him the consummate lover. The kind of man who can melt a woman with a look and then take her to heaven with his hands.

A lover of such super-human ability allows the heroine – and by extension, the reader – to relinquish personal responsibility for her own sexual behavior. After all, who could blame a woman for surrendering to the sweet persuasion of such a man? For me, this escape from responsibility is an important element in the fantasy necessary for ultra-sensual romance. No amount of reality should intrude to dampen the reader’s excitement, even in a contemporary story set in the “real” world. The bad boy hero not only allows the heroine to take a walk on the wild side; he compels her to.

We should note at this point that the bad boy hero is still a romantic hero. He does have a code of ethics, but it’s his own, not a set of rules imposed by the society around him. He very often has experienced injustice in his personal life, which led him to find his own path to right and wrong. Usually, his personal moral code includes protecting the less powerful around him, all the while stubbornly insisting he cares for nothing and no one. As Willie Nelson put it in a song, “his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.”

Much has been made in the past (let’s hope it’s not as true now) of women’s supposed rape fantasies. According to this thinking, women want to imagine themselves being forced to have sex. Critics of the romance genre, who normally don’t take the time to read a romance, have opined that our books foster fantasies of rape and submission. I believe it’s true that our fantasy life is enriched by some surrender of responsibility (see above). But readers don’t enjoy graphic depictions of violence and humiliation. Women’s so-called rape fantasies run more along the lines of the most delicious man in the world not taking “no” for an answer.

The bad boy hero can fill all these fantasies. Far from forcing sex on the heroine, his expertise allows him to arouse her to the point where refusal of her own pleasure isn’t an option. He can allow her to experience the forbidden but within a context where she’s not going to be brutalized or degraded.

There is real danger for the heroine, of course – that she’ll lose her heart to an uncontrollable man. But a truly strong woman is willing to take that chance in order to enjoy a larger-than-life sensual experience. And the reader is happy to take that dangerous journey with her.

Alice Chambers

Previous articles: 

Hosted by

Monthly Newsletter