A new, very important study out of the University of Texas at Austin spent some heated moments poring over hundreds of steamy romance novels (703, to be exact) to figure out what words were associated with the books that ranked highest among readers.
“There are self-reports and observational data. But here, you have this natural language,” UT postdoctoral scholar Kate Blackburn told the Houston Chronicle. “And one of the things that I love about doing research is that natural language gives us answers about who we really are and what we feel.”
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According to the Houston Chronicle, Blackburn and her research team used an online publishing platform called Smashwords, where readers rate books on a five-star scale.
The team created a list of the top 25 words found in highly rated books. And one word had a greater correlation between its use and a novel’s high rating than any other. We can’t print it here. But we can say it’s a colloquial term for a male body part, and that it rhymes with sock.
Blackburn said while she was not at all surprised that the most popular books contained words associated with sex and arousal, she was a little taken aback by this result. And not for the reason you probably assume.
“It makes sense that they’re focused on male parts, but I think it was surprising we didn’t see this as much with women’s parts,” she said. “We didn’t see ‘breast,’ or some of those things that you might think would pop up with moments of arousal. And that was kind of surprising.” (Pop up, huh? Interesting choice of words.)
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But it shouldn’t be that surprising, says the Houston Chronicle, which points out that romance novels are written in a woman’s voice.
According to data from the Romance Writers of America, 82 percent of romance readers are women — largely between the ages of 25 and 34. So while mainstream movies and general fiction exist in a largely male-dominated world, the billion-dollar romance industry, is told from the perspective of women. Readers see from women’s eyes.
And those eyes can often be found staring at … well, men. (Eighty-six percent of romance readers are straight, according to RWA.)
What might actually be surprising is that the word “c**k” was only mentioned about four times per novel, making it one of the least used words to make the top 25 list. Small but mighty!
The word “kiss” was the most used (scoring an average of about 39 times per book), followed closely by the word “nod,” which was used about 32 time per book, proving that romance novels aren’t all about sex.
And that’s not exactly news to Sophie Jordan, a bestselling romance author, who tells the Houston Chronicle, “Whenever I meet someone — who, I’m sure they don’t intend to be insulting — but they’re like, ‘You write porn.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t write porn. Porn is sex devoid of story. That’s not what romance is. We want the romance behind it — the story behind it. We’ll hang in there for 200 to 300 pages before we ever reach an act of intimacy. We’re getting invested in who they are as characters, getting invested in the story.”