It’s a scene everyone has read. A weary soldier (we’ll call him Captain Brutus) returns from the war/prison camp/besieged lunar colony unable to cope with the horror/cruelty/massive decompression event he has just witnessed. Sick from experience and worn down by the weight of the world he does not know if he can ever return to the life he’s once known.
Captain Brutus even doubts he can get down with his beloved—let’s refer to this guy as Dr. Binky for now.
The scene goes much like this one:
Brutus sat heavily in the worn armchair, face cradled in his hands, shoulders slumped in defeat. Binky hesitated at the doorway. He saw that now streaks of gray shot through Brutus’ dark hair. His uniform, though clean was patched and mended. It hung on his starved frame.
Binky stepped cautiously into the room, but quiet as he was the moment the first floorboard creaked Brutus’ head snapped up. In a split second Binky looked down the cannon-like barrel of Brutus’ blaster.
“It’s just me,” Binky’s voice shook in spite of himself. The expression on Brutus’ face was one Binky had never seen before. Blank, cold, staring right through Binky as though they’d never met.
Brutus blinked and then very slowly lowered his weapon. “I’m sorry. It’s your lab coat. I thought you were one of them.”
Binky didn’t have to ask who they were. He’d seen the streams. He’d watched day by day as the hideous truth had been revealed. The corrupt executives at LunarCorp has used the soldiers stationed at the Mare Tranquillitatis in bizarre and horrifying biological experiments. He wondered what scars Brutus hid beneath his now too-large uniform.
The scarred survivor trope is such a well-worn standard among romance heroes that he’s practically become mandatory for many readers. And there are lots of reasons why it’s a standard go-to for many authors. Scarred survivors are obviously experienced. In addition to providing ample opportunity for inter-personal conflict, their moodiness makes them seem deep.
Done correctly, the scarred survivor requires little additional characterization so a word-thrifty author can get a lot of mileage out of his grim silences and thousand-mile stares.
The author now has two options. She could use the hero’s interior conflict to tell us all something about life. She can painstakingly show that the love of Brutus and Binky is strong enough to weather all manner of storms.
Or she can, in a moment of weakness, take a short cut and cure all by a liberal application of sexual healing.
Despite the popularity of sexual healing in fiction I found scant proof that intercourse cures any ailment, physical or psychological. Though I did manage to locate some anecdotal evidence that suggests guys who are bummed out can experience some relief of symptoms by making a booty call. Witness the testimony of the legendary Marvin Gaye:
Whenever blue tear drops are falling
And my emotional stability is leaving me
There is something I can do
I can get on the telephone and call you up baby, and
Honey I know you’ll be there to relieve me
The love you give to me will free me
If you don’t know the things you’re dealing
I can tell you, darling, that it’s sexual healing
I think we can all agree that Gaye really nailed it, in terms of establishing the parameters under which we can expect a positive therapeutic result from sex.
But there are always authors seeking to push the envelope and now we have stories where sex seems to be the only line of defense against a wide variety of psychological as well as neurological and even physical ailments.
And what is wrong with this? Well, to illustrate I’ll share an incident wherein Dr. Binky attempts the cure.
As per his morning ritual, Brutus sat at the breakfast table, leafing through the morning paper. Though in most respects an early-adopter of technology, he found that news itself felt more real when delivered on newsprint. A fit of coughing sounded from upstairs and Brutus glanced toward the bedroom.
Brutus’ beloved, Binky, had not been a joy to sleep alongside the previous night. His lithe and normally naked body had been hidden beneath flannel pajamas. He’d been hot, then cold, then at approximately four a.m. had commenced upon a snore so prodigious that Brutus was forced to don the earplugs he normally reserved for the firing range.
“You okay, babe?” he called.
Binky made no immediate vocal response. Then, from above came a thud, followed by a slight shuffling noise. Eventually, Binky slumped down the stairs. His face was puffy; his blond hair disheveled and matted. He held the duvet from their bed close around him as he crossed the kitchen floor, coming to stand, swaying before Brutus.
He said, “I think I have strep.”
“You’re not going to work at the hospital today,” Brutus pronounced. “Unless it’s as a patient.”
Binky shook his head, then winced as if the slight motion caused him almost unbearable pain.
“No antibiotics,” Binky whispered. “I found a better way online.”
“You’re not going to try and gargle it away, are you? I don’t know if there’s enough salt water in the sea.”
“Not salt water.” Leaning heavily on the back of the dining room chair on which Brutus sat, Binky lowered himself to his knees. “Open your pants.”
“I’ll do it.” Binky lifted his shaking hands and began to paw ineffectually at Brutus’ fly. Brutus caught him by the wrists. He gazed down at Binky’s flushed cheeks, his glassy unfocused expression.
“No, I’m just horny.”
“No you aren’t,” Brutus said. “You’re barely awake.”
“Don’t struggle. I need sperm to kill the streptococcal.” Binky tried weakly to pull his hands free. “It has antibiotic properties and can also cure depression.”
“What the hell have you been reading?” Brutus pressed his hand to Binky’s forehead. His skin felt as if he’d just stepped out of a sauna.
“The internet wouldn’t lie to me,” Binky said.
“Baby, I am not going to stick my dick anywhere near your throat.”
Binky’s expression crumpled with confused hurt. Then lit again, with weird hope, “Would you jack off on my face then? I’ll hold my mouth open like in a porno. I just don’t like to swallow pills.”
“I’m taking you to the hospital right now.”
Oh no Binky! Why would the cruel author force you to use semen dosing when better solutions were available? Doesn’t she know the efficacy of sperm versus penicillin is practically nil? And what about all those other Binkies out there who have been forced to treat their various neurological and psychological problems with a course of cock alone?
Don’t their authors know that in 2009 a Norwegian scientist (Dr. Bønky of the Kinsey Institute) performed a double blind study, which proved that dyslexics treated with cock injections actually fared slightly less well than those treated with a dildo placebo?
I’m not asking authors to stop using the natural life drama created by illness, both physical and mental, in their stories. Far from it. Illness affects us all in one way or another. But I suppose what I would suggest is that perhaps a little sensitivity would not be misplaced. Try to remember that things like agoraphobia and epilepsy are not imaginary afflictions invented solely for the purpose of creating tension in fiction. Make an effort to respect the real-life sufferers by not demoting their struggle to the equivalent of a case of blue balls.
Over and out!
Nicole Kimberling is the author of various speculative fiction titles as well as a contemporary romantic mystery series set in the Pacific Northwest. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. She is also the editor of Blind Eye Books. Visit Nicole’s website.