Why “Bigger is Better” and Other Romance Novel Myths Set Unrealistic Expectations
By Emma McGowan
There’s a reason romance novels have titillated generation after generation: They’re hot! Written specifically for women and people assigned female at birth, romance novels weave together complete stories (and even create entire worlds) with rich characters, drama, suspense—and sex.
But while the sex is steamy, it’s also still very much fiction. You probably already know this, but just to be super clear: no one's bits are that big, lube isn't just for car mechanics, and multiple orgasms from penetration alone are about as common as unicorns.
In other words, romance novels are fun, but they aren’t "how-to" manuals. So while they’re awesome for getting turned on, let’s take a look at how romance compares to reality.
(And a quick disclaimer: We’re talking specifically about cishet smut here! The queer stuff tends to be—shocker—a lot more realistic.)
False: Bigger is always better
Romance novels are notorious for perpetuating unrealistic standards in the bedroom, especially when it comes to size. The myth that “bigger is always better” sets many readers up for disappointment. Unless you’re dating a shape-shifter, the average guy’s junk just isn’t going to transform into some behemoth love missile.
And you know what? That’s totally fine! Bigger does not equal better pleasure or more satisfaction. Technique, attentiveness, and creativity are far more important than size alone. Not to mention the fact that “bigger” for some folks means “more painful,” especially when you’re dealing with dyspareunia, endometriosis, or other types of vaginal or pelvic pain.
But you know what the best thing about smut is? Your imagination! So next time your favorite book talks about a member as big as two Dinty Moore cans stacked on top of each other, just sub in your preferred size and keep it moving.
False: No one ever needs lube
Not all people with vaginas are ready to go at the drop of a hat (or bodice). Most peoples’ bits don’t come pre-lubed as soon as a buff bod appears: foreplay and other warm-up methods are typically required to get the juices flowing.
While some may find the idea of a “natural” encounter appealing in theory, in practice it can lead to chafing, soreness, and an experience memorable for all the wrong reasons. Luckily, there’s a very easy and accessible solution: investing in a quality lube. Lube can be super helpful for people of all genders and body parts, so why not have it on hand just in case?
False: Everyone can cum from penetration
Everyone knows that in romance novels, penetration = instant orgasm. But in real life, only about 18% of people with vaginas can reach the big O from penetration alone. For the rest of us, it’s just not how our bodies are wired.
While some folks are able to climax from penetration alone, most need direct clitoral stimulation to cross the finish line. The clitoral head has over 10,280 nerve endings—that’s twice as many as the penis! No wonder it’s the pleasure center for most people with vaginas. And even though the internal clitoris wraps around the vaginal canal, penetrative sex alone just doesn’t provide enough stimulation for the majority of people with vaginas to reach orgasm.
So don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if you need more than just intercourse to “get there.” Sex should be pleasurable for all parties involved, so speak up about what you need to orgasm, whether it’s fingers, tongues, toys or a combo of the above.
False: No warm up needed!
Romance novels would have you believe that foreplay is totally unnecessary and your partner will be ready for action the instant you lock eyes. But unless your name is Christian Gray, chances are you’re going to want a little more intimacy before any penetration happens. (If that’s even what you’re into! Remember: You get to define sex however you want, including sex with no penetration at all. Sometimes the “foreplay” is the main event!)
Warming up comes in many forms: making out, giving each other massages with scented oil, engaging in some light petting, even roleplaying or sexting before you’re together in person. The key is simply taking time to physically and mentally arouse your partner through sensual touching and stimulation before any penetration, if that’s your goal.
False: Lots of experience means they're GOOD
So he’s been alive for 1,000 years and had a lot of experience. That must mean he’s gonna rock your world, right? While that’s what many romance novels would have you believe, the reality is that having a lot of notches on your bedpost doesn’t automatically translate to being a great lover.
It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality
A person could have slept with 100 people, but if they didn’t actually pay attention to learning what they liked and perfecting their techniques, all that experience just means…they’ve been with a lot of people. Maybe they just did the same boring moves every time and never bothered improving. Quantity of partners means nothing without quality experience gained from each encounter.
- Did they ask for feedback?
- Try different touches and tempos to see your reaction?
- Pay attention to the little details that made you moan?
- Bother learning how to properly warm you up before diving right in?
If the answer is “no” to these questions, then all their experience just makes them experienced at having lots of sex, not necessarily at being a great lover. A skilled lover is shaped by curiosity, attentiveness and patience, not just racking up notches on the bedpost.
False: She "arrives" as soon as he touches her
Bodice-ripping romance novels make climaxes seem as easy as turning to the next page. But in reality, most peoples’ bodies just don’t work that way. For most people with vaginas, reaching the big “O” takes time, effort, and the right kind of stimulation.
We’re not saying that no one has ever orgasmed as soon as their partner touches them. And it’s certainly appealing to imagine being so turned on that the mere touch of a finger makes your whole body shake. But, for most people, it usually takes a biiiiit more than that.
But even then, every person is different. What sends one into the stratosphere might barely get another off the launch pad. So make sure your partner pays attention to how you respond. Have them start with light, teasing touches, then gradually increase pressure and speed based on your cues. If you’re moaning and grinding against their hand, they’re probably onto something good. If you’re lying there like a dead fish, it’s probably time to try something else.
The key is not to expect an insta-orgasm. Take the time you need. Make your pleasure a priority. And if you’re the kind who can do it twice? Go for it!
False: It's gonna hurt (and bleed)
It's true, your first time probably won't be magical. But romance novels (and, let’s be real, a lot of other cultural messaging) often imply that the "first time" for a person with a vagina should hurt and inevitably involve bleeding. This myth can make many feel like something's wrong with them if they don't experience pain or bleeding.
The truth is, pain and bleeding during sex, especially the first time, often has more to do with nerves and lack of arousal than anything else. When you're anxious or not fully excited, your bits just aren't quite ready for action yet. Without proper warmup, friction can lead to discomfort. But when you take things slow, focus on foreplay, and use lube, your first time can be pleasurable.
Not all hymens break or bleed either. (And not everyone even has a hymen!) The hymen can stretch or tear during exercise, use of tampons, or other activity. Even an "intact" hymen shouldn't necessarily lead to bleeding—it may just stretch. If bleeding does occur, it's usually minor spotting at most. Anything more warrants a visit to your gynecologist.
While some initial discomfort is common, severe or persistent pain is not normal and could indicate an underlying condition needing treatment. Don't rely on romance novels—or any media—to determine what's "normal" or "right" for your body. Talk to a doctor if you have concerns.
So, we all love a good escape into the world of fantasy. It's a sexy alternate reality where we can just lose ourselves in all sorts of magical and mystical adventures. But it's super important to remember—it’s all make-believe!
Seriously, enjoy the ride, gather inspiration, and explore what you're into. But don’t sweat it if your life or your body doesn't quite match up to what’s going on in “A Court of Thorns and Roses” or whatever you’re reading. Because those enchanting worlds and characters—they aren’t real.
But you are :)