How Sex Positivity and Destigmatizaton Play Into the Audible + Cosmopolitan Romance Contest

Laura Brounstein, the Special Projects Director for Cosmopolitan magazine, and romance editor Katie O'Connor hash out some of the key reasons why romance resonates.

One lucky winner will soon have a chance to get their romantic fiction featuring a badass heroine professionally produced and available as an audiobook thanks to Audible's romance contest with Cosmopolitan magazine. But in addition to the partnership being the answer to someone's dreams, it's the embodiment of one of the many ways the magazine strives to do empower women: championing sex positivity. Listen in as Audible romance editor Katie O'Connor and Laura Brounstein, Cosmo's Special Projects Director, talk about the importance of normalizing the genre in the mainstream.

Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.

Katie O'Connor: Hi romance fans, it's your Audible Romance Editor Katie here and I'm so excited to be talking with Laura Brounstein from Cosmo today. As you may have heard, Audible and Cosmo are partnering to find the next great romance writer. While working on this launch I got to chat with Laura a little bit and thought she had some really poignant things to say about the genre so I thought you might all like hearing from her too. Thanks for joining me Laura.

Laura Brounstein: Thank you so much for having me.

KO: So first sex positivity was something that came up a lot in our discussion. Can you define that for our listeners?

LB: I can't say I know what the official definition is but, when I think about it--and the way I think that we think about it at Cosmo--is sex positivity is kind of embracing the idea of a healthy, happy sex life and a healthy, happy relationship with one's sexuality rather than seeing sex as something to be not talked about or hidden in the shadows or that you should be embarrassed or feel guilty about. That having a good sex life that makes you and your partners happy is a really good thing and one of the good things in life.

KO: Yeah, and I think Cosmo especially is really exemplifying that message today with a lot of your articles and interviews. What are some of the strongest ways that you think that the magazine's carrying that message through?

LB: Well it's really part of the DNA of the Cosmo/Brown brand. When Helen Gurley Brown took over Cosmo in 1965 first of all she was one of the first women to take control of a national magazine and the first person who introduced the idea of women in their single selves. Women not as they're related to a man or a child in their life. Not through the role of being a good student, a perspective wife, a mother. This was kind of looking at the moment in time when women were kind of single, living on their own, working and probably, hopefully, having a good social life which might involve sex.

And it was really one of the first magazines that looked at kind of women having agency in their life to make those choices and to have a career, to have a social life, and to have a home -- to be multi-faceted and I think that's one of the important parts. It's a part of life, it doesn't define you necessarily. At Cosmo, we do everything we can to give our readers the tools and sometimes inspiration to have healthy, happy sex lives. The healthy part is a big part of it. The misinformation out there around sexuality and contraception is terrible.

The sin of sex education in this country is just a little bit upsetting. So, we want to make sure first of all the readers know what they're doing but then they also want them to know that it's okay to enjoy, it's okay to seek out happy, good things. Which women aren't always encouraged to do.

"If you de stigmatize the yes, you give more power to the no."

KO: Yes, and I think that the romance genre really tackles that too, sex positivity specifically in that way.

LB: Yeah.

KO: But there's still just so much shame that gets tied to the genre. Shame in judgment both about consuming it and in writing it.

LB: It makes me so angry.

KO: Yeah.

LB: The fact that you know fashion or women writing about relationships is seen as not as elevated or important, yet men writing about sports or kind of bromances, that certainly can be an art form and it's not to say that those aren't art forms but, just...

KO: This is too.

LB: Like...a romance novel, is a wonderful thing.

KO: Yeah. And there are a lot of authors out there, you know I'm thinking of Sara MacLean, who's done a lot of great interviews lately, and Susanna Kearsley, who are really trying to fight that stigma but, how do you think fans can help fight that as well?

LB: You know, I think part of it is being kind of open and sharing your joy and engagement with some of what you're reading. You know people love to post when they're reading that really serious book but, you know...

KO: "I'm smart guys," yeah.

LB: Exactly. But put out there, post to your friends when you read something that makes you feel good. I just posted something about my friend J. Courtney Sullivan's new novel from last summer, Saints for All Occasions just came out in paperback. I posted on twitter, "Guys the world is dark right now, read something light and beautiful".

KO: Yeah.

LB: Not that her book is especially light but it's beautiful and I think you know if the royal wedding showed us anything it is that people are sort of hungry for joyful moments right now.

KO: Absolutely.

LB: And a book can give you that. You know, Jasmine Guillory, who wrote The Wedding Date, which is one of my favorite books of the last year. Really lovely romance. She did a fairytale for us in the June issue of Cosmo. We called it a Cosmo Fairytale Royal Wedding Edition. Where we flipped the script where we had the princess be a beautiful woman of color name Princess Harry who fell for an every guy named Mark and ...

KO: I love that.

LB: And it was just fun.

KO: Yeah, I remember when that book was coming out too, Roxane Gay tweeted about it and was like I love this, this was awesome and people were really come back at her like, "You like romance novels?" as if this woman who is this feminist icon can't also love this genre too.

LB: Yes, as if you can't be serious and feminist and enjoy a romance novel. I mean one of the things that we talk about here is that if women were more encouraged to kind of say yes when they meant it to sex, men would not have such a hard time understanding what no sounded like.

KO: Mm. That's interesting.

LB: Do you know what I mean?

KO: Yeah.

LB: Like if women were encouraged when they wanted to engage in behavior.

KO: It wasn't something taboo, yeah.

LB: Yeah, exactly. If you de stigmatize the yes, you give more power to the no, I think.

KO: I like that.

LB: Thanks.

KO: Who are some of your favorite romance heroines?

LB: Oh, well you know, Claire from Outlander.

KO: Outlander? Love her.

LB: Might be one of the top on my list, I've read every single book, I've gotten to interview Diana Gabaldon.

KO: I got to meet Davina Porter the narrator of that series a few weeks ago.

LB: Oh my God, I did those on Audio and she's incredible.

KO: She's amazing and her husband was with her and he's Scottish and she was literally like, this is my Jamie Fraser. I was like oh my god, can I get a picture with you two.

LB: Oh my god, that's a series that I have enjoyed both in print and on audio and it's a wonderful experience in both ways I think. She's an incredible narrator and she's one that I sought out. So I love Liane Moriarty also.

KO: Mm-hmm (affirmative) yeah.

LB: And the woman that narrates her book What Alice Forgot, such a good narrator.

KO: Yeah, she's had some great people performing her novels.

LB: Yeah and when you find that person whose voice just like ...

KO: Speaks to you.

LB: ...works for you as a story teller.

KO: Yeah.

LB: And then you can find other things they've done. It's great.

KO: So HEAs or Happily Ever Afters are obviously at the crux of the romance genre. What do you think needs to be present in a relationship to make the HEA last?

LB: Oh, what a good question. I think there needs to be an openness to dialogue. I think in the beginning there may not be any issues but, I think if a couple has a framework for having a dialogue and a conversation, then it will kind of take them through goods and bads.

KO: Yeah.

LB: And a healthy dose of attraction is a good thing.

KO: That doesn't hurt.

LB: No, no.

KO: So when we were discussing the launch of this writing competition, we all agreed pretty quickly that we wanted the stories to be centered around badass heroines. What characteristics do you think make a woman particularly badass.

LB: Oh, that's fun. You know, I think the most important thing is that there are so many different ways to be badass.

KO: Yeah.

LB: And that there's not just one type of bad ass. So you might think of the badasses as like the CEO and that's certainly one form of badass but like the badass is, the nurse, the teacher, the woman who just knows who she is and is making choices based on that and makes a positive difference in the lives of those around her.

KO: Yeah.

LB: But, also I think it's kind of living her truths.

KO: Yeah.

LB: And I think it doesn't matter what that truth is. It's just that she's standing up for it and kind of playing a positive role for others in her orbit.

KO: Yeah, for sure and I think it has that confidence and confidence at the start and not necessarily confidence gained through a relationship because a lot of times that's what happens and there's nothing wrong with that but, I think it's incredibly powerful too when a woman starts off that way.

LB: Agreed but, I also think increasingly I and others are able to see the admission of vulnerability as a badass trait. You know, I think there was a time in the workplace certainly and maybe in other situations where women kind of [had to adopt] that attitude, never let them see you sweat, was the kind of woman you were supposed to be if you were a badass you're so tough but, now I think people see that that wasn't necessarily doing anyone a great service and showing a little vulnerability and kind of being open to being buoyed by those around you is also can be a good thing.

KO: Yeah, for sure. It's a hard thing to do to let people see some of those insecurities.

LB: Yeah and you know but, it's also kind of how you connect often. I mean it's by kind of showing almost where you have white space, where you have openness is where kind of sometimes you can let someone in and I think if you connect in both vulnerable places and the strong places then, that's probably a good thing.

KO: Yeah, for sure and then that gets back to the Happily Ever Afters too.

LB: Yes. And, you know Happily Ever Afters are nice.

KO: Yeah. You know sometimes, especially going back to what you were saying about the royal wedding, sometimes these days you just want a story that has a nice ending.

LB: Yes and you just want to see people enjoying each other but, I do think there've been some couples that have broken up kind of in a public way in the last few years who have talked about a relationship doesn't have to be forever for it to have been a good relationship and something that you know was wonderful for a moment in time and then you know the characters move on. Like, I always think about like Dirty Dancing, you didn't really think Baby and Johnny like ... you know...

KO: Made it forever.

LB: Made it forever, right?

KO: Yeah.

LB: But, that was a wonderful kind of time of their life.

KO: Yeah.

LB: Sorry.

KO: Well done.

LB: Thank you.

KO: Can you share some of your favorite romance novels with us?

LB: Yeah, and I think, it's not necessarily, it doesn't have to be strictly defined, right?

KO: Yeah, no.

LB: So, I think obviously the Outlander books and recently I really enjoyed the Wedding Date, but then other favorites you know I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. There was a lot of romance in that to me and what is something else that I've loved more recently? You know Lauren Oliver.

KO: Oh yeah.

LB: Had the YA series that she wrote called Delirium.

KO: Yep.

LB: And it's about a world where love is outlawed and it's such a good series.

KO: It's so good.

LB: Such a ...

KO: Fantastic series.

LB: Oh you've ...

KO: Sarah Drew, the actress narrates that series. She's great. It's one of my fellow editor Emily's all-time favorite series.

LB: Oh, okay, good.

KO: Yeah. It's great.

LB: I'm glad that other people have found it that it's not just me.

KO: Yeah. That's great. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today, I really appreciate you taking the time and ...

LB: Thank you so much and thank you for all the good work that you're doing to kind of help people find books to sort of get lost in.

KO: Yeah, and you know we can't wait to find the next great writer too to help that journey along.

LB: Yes, Cosmo, our 50 million readers need you ladies so...it's open to guys too, right?

KO: Absolutely.

LB: All right guys, girls.

KO: We want to hear from you.

LB: Yeah, we want to hear it.

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