Romance novelists do not know what fisting is

What does it mean when porn is more educational than books?

Topics: fisting, Sex, Love and Sex, relationships, sexuality, Bill O'Reilly, Vice, Romance, romance novels, sex terminology, funny stuff, sexual confusion, Oral sex, cunnilingus, , ,

Romance novelists do not know what fisting is (Credit: DmitriyUzyanbayev via iStock)

In a highly scientific analysis of romance novels, Vice writer Mike Pearl has found substantial evidence in support of a hilarious hypothesis: Romance novelists do not know what “fisting” means. You know, fisting — when one shoves an entire hand (or, as it were, fist) into his or her partner’s vagina or anus. Good old-fashioned fisting.

After poring over countless titles, Pearl discovered that romance authors have a tendency to use the verb to fist to describe a variety of actions, none of which are even close to the colloquially accepted meaning of the term. Romance novel characters are commonly described fisting cups, their partners’ hair, their own genitalia and more — but, according to context clues, the word is supposed to be synonymous with “grabbing” (which Pearl points out is not a Thesaurus.com-approved synonym for fisting anything). Sometimes, “fisting” means something else entirely, although it’s not entirely clear what that something is. Here, an example from Chris Marie Green’s novel, “Break of Dawn: Vampire Bablyon”:

Dawn’s heart was fisting, squeezed by that little girl within who’d cried in the corners of playgrounds…

Pearl raises the point that the romance novelists who use the term “fisting” incorrectly are probably just giving away the fact that they don’t watch porn, which in this instance would arguably be more informative than books detailing sex. But that’s not the case for all novelists — no, no. Plenty of writers do watch porn, then go on to illustrate their lack of understanding of what we’ll call “basic sex stuff” with poetic flourish. For an example of one such novelist, look no further than Bill O’Reilly.

Many might have forgotten O’Reilly’s mystery novel, “Those Who Trespass,” but book reviewer Jay W. Friedman has not. He discussed the book a few weeks ago on his podcast “I Don’t Even Own a Television,” where he did a deep dive into a three-page sex scene that illustrates O’Reilly’s apparent misunderstanding of female anatomy and/or oral sex:



Here’s the point I want to get to. When the sex initiates, there is a very graphic scene describing [the male protagonist] getting things going with some foreplay. It talks about him completely licking the entirety of [a female character's] legs, and then proceeds to describe the act of cunnilingus as “rapidly moving his tongue in and outside of her,” which is one of the grossest things I’ve ever read, and I think also proves without a doubt that Bill O’Reilly has never given a woman an orgasm in his life. … He literally describes it as this jackhammer-esque operation of the tongue.

The point of this is not (exclusively) to make fun of Bill O’Reilly. Rather, it’s another opportunity to bring up an oft-repeated point: There is a lot of confusion about sex. There are also plenty of ways to avoid such confusion, which don’t necessarily include watching porn. Talking about sex openly is always the best place to start — studies have shown that engaging in dialogues about sex from a young age can help people develop self-esteem, positive body image and respect for their own physical safety. Teaching comprehensive sex education also helps, as it instructs students how to protect their health and participate in physically and emotionally safe sex. The “physically safe” part could be crucial here, given the clear misinformation about fisting being disseminated in the romance universe.

Jenny Kutner

Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sex, gender and feminism. Follow @jennykutner or email jkutner@salon.com.

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