In romance fiction, a genre largely written by and for women, the dominant paradigm is the idea of One True Love. It is a genre shaped by its ending: the ubiquitous ‘happily-ever-after’, when the two protagonists establish a long-term committed monogamous relationship. The stars of the lovers of romance are not crossed, but aligned: each represents the only possibility for a happy ending to the other. Because of their love, the protagonists effectively and inevitably become unable to experience sexual attraction towards anyone but each other.
In this paper, I will outline and explain the concept of ‘compulsory demisexuality’ which permeates the world of the romance. Someone who is demisexual experiences sexual attraction only to those with whom they share an emotional connection. When this intersects with the idea of One True Love, a world is shaped where sex and love are inextricably linked. I will explore how this is differently gendered in the romance novel. Often, the heroine is already demisexual, the linking of sex and love coded as something explicitly feminine. Conversely, heroes become demisexual, unable to desire another woman once he has formed an emotional connection with the heroine. This highlights a sharp gendered divide in the portrayal of true love. For women, there is an emphasis on the importance of first love. For men, this emphasis is on last love.
I will discuss how the representation of female sexual desire has changed over the history of the romance, and how this interacts with the governing paradigm of compulsory demisexuality. Desire is problematic in this demisexual world, particularly when it predates the establishment of an emotional bond. I will explore how desire, especially female desire, must be recuperated into a romantic paradigm, and how the demisexuality of the happily-ever-after is occasionally subverted within the romance novel.