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PDA and Sexual Healing

Sex and romantic love are intertwined, and for so many of us, when romantic love goes bad — or is bad in the first place, however long it takes us to figure that out — there are problems in the sex department, too.

In Madly, Allie is in her early 20s, coming off a long-term relationship that formed her primary introduction to sex and sexuality. Winston is older, but divorced after a long marriage to a woman he met in university. When they sit down together and make a sexual to-do list, each contributing their share of the ten items, the choices they make aren’t random: both Allie and Winston have gaps they want to fill, things they want to learn and find out about themselves, authentically, together.

So while the to-do list element of Madly is fun, and funny, it’s also about sex and sexuality — about how our sense of ourselves as sexual people is formed in relationships, and how it changes as we grow up and move on and learn from the things that have happened to us.

Too often, the hero of the romance novel arrives as a Sexual Healing Pill, which the heroine ingests, and is fixed. It’s an appealing fantasy, but it’s also a fantasy without agency, either for the heroine — who is asked to receive the resolution of her problematic sexual history passively, in the form of a hot guy with all the right moves — or for the hero, who is asked to be the resolution of the heroine’s problematic sexual history, to enact healing through intuition, without conversation, or failure, or change.

We often talk about the sexual elements of romance novels being a source of power and empowerment for women, but I don’t think this is a fantasy that’s empowering. In Madly, I was interested to ask more questions and play out the answers on the page: what have Winston and Allie learned about sex from their prior relationships? What do they want to learn from this relationship, or what patterns do they yearn to change? I wanted to show on the page how two people can build a foundation together for a sexually satisfying future as a couple.

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