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In Praise of Nerds

Since I joined the romance authors community, I've heard a lot about alpha heroes. It's critically important, I've been led to believe, that the protagonist in an erotic romance be tall, beautiful and buff. Rugged but handsome features, broad shoulders, chiseled pectorals, powerful, muscular thighs that naturally invite musings about what lies sheltered between them - attributes like these apparently constitute the romance ideal. Our hero should also be physically strong, courageous, and generally the dominant type, though some sensitivity or a shameful secret will not be taken amiss.

Well, I don't completely buy it. I mean, a nice bod and a pretty face are not to be sneezed at. But they're not enough. Call me perverse (many people have), but I find intelligence to be the most essential aspect of a sexy hero. Furthermore, I'm willing to accept less than stellar physical qualities if my hero is a clever, imaginative, horny genius who can figure out how to get himself and his heroine out of sticky situations, and who's smart enough to understand what will truly turn her on.

I admit it. I've got a thing for nerds. When The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was popular, I had the hots for skinny, intense Ilya Kuryakin, not the dashing alpha guy Napoleon Solo. I was hopelessly in love with Mr. Spock. (After all, think about making love while in the throes of a Vulcan mind-meld.) Near the top of my sexy, romantic movie list is "Earth Girls are Easy", featuring awkward, geeky Jeff Goldblum as a brilliant alien. A more recent example of a romantic nerd is Clive Owen's short, unshaven, and amazingly ingenious character in the bank robbery thriller "Inside Man".

It's fairly easy to understand why I feel this way. Growing up, I was the egghead, the bookworm, the too-smart girl whom everyone made fun of. The only guys who could deal with me were the ones who were at least as smart as I was. They weren't on the football squad; they weren't voted Best Looking or Most Popular. But they had that something that could start my motors. It was intoxicating, yes, arousing, to have a conversation with some of these guys, especially when I got out of high school and into college. We understood each other, and I began to discover that despite their definite nerdish qualities, they were enthusiastic and innovative when it came to sex.

Actually, research has shown that in defiance of their public image as socially challenged losers, nerds are more successful than the general population in finding mates, staying with them, and producing children. Of course, that is not necessarily going to endear them to romance readers, but it's something to consider!

Not all the heroes that I create are nerds, but many have some nerdish qualities. Mark, in Incognito, is barely average height and wears glasses; he's a college professor who specializes in Charles Dickens. He also has an outrageous sexual imagination and is willing to try pretty much anything. The character of Rick in my upcoming novel Ruby's Rules is an even better example. He's short, wiry, a bit rumpled, with a droopy, disreputable-looking mustache. He's also a brilliant engineer and a wily strategist who matches every one of protagonist Ruby's maneuvers as they compete for a critical business deal. In my recently published short story, "Body Electric", the male protagonist is a far cry from the alpha hero. He's overweight and unkempt, arrogant and rude. However, he's charismatic enough to fascinate the lovely and susceptible heroine.

He didn't look like an engineer. He smiled and postured and gestured expansively as if reciting poetry or making a speech. Half a dozen females surrounded him, hanging on his every word. Periodically the little knot of women (which actually included crusty old Margaret Evans) would burst into self-conscious laughter. Dean Evans would look around nervously, then return her attentive gaze to towering shaggy-haired orator in their midst, as if he were a combination of Tom Cruise and Mahatma Ghandi.

[From "Body Electric", in Yes, Sir: Erotic Stories of Female Submission, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Cleis 2008]

Readers who have sampled my first TEB release, Raw Silk, might protest that Gregory Marshall is the archetypal alpha male. He's over six feet tall, with a powerful body, long black hair, mysterious tattoos and hypnotic blue eyes. Plus he's a seasoned dominant with a deep understanding of bondage and discipline. I'll admit that Gregory is not a nerd. However, his keen intelligence is one of his most important characteristics. He is smart enough to see through Kate's mask of self-sufficient assertiveness to the submissive desires hiding beneath. (And of course software developer Kate is sort of a female nerd, although she is also ravishingly beautiful.)

It's possible that I'm truly deviant, the only reader/writer who believes that intelligence is an unparalleled aphrodisiac. But I'll take a guy who's brilliant over a guy who's gorgeous any day. Alpha heroes are all well and good, but they do have a tendency to be predictable.

Am I all alone here? Or are there other readers who are set to boiling by an appealing egghead? Leave a comment and let me know!


Debby said...

Loved your posting. I have to say that Illya was my favorite as well. Great reading. Thanks

Ashley Ladd said...

You mean Jeff Goldblum isn't gorgeous?

I LOVE him in Independence Day and Jurassic Park. I'll have to rent the other movie as I never saw it.

I always loved Kurt Russell best, too, when he started out as the mild-mannered nerd (and then later turned around and kicked butt).

I totally agree that intelligence is an aphrodisiac. That and a good sense of humor. What good is a gorgeous man if he just grunts instead of holding a good conversation? (Well, except for an hour or so a day).

Rita Karnopp said...

HI... have never been to this site before...!! Very interesting article...enjoyed it. Have you tried writing to the sound track of LAST OF THE MOHIGANS? Just as inspiring as Daniel Day Lewis! so happy for you, Rita Karnopp
'Romancing the West"
“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.....
It's about learning to dance in the rain.”

orelukjp0 said...

No, you are not alone. Not every man is a well built, buff, sexy hunk. The majority of the men out there are just average Joe's. And average Joe's are just fine.
A man who is not too tall nor too short, who doesn't have a load of muscles nor is grossly overweight, and who can carry on an intelligent conversation is great.
A "nerd" will always be able to make a living and take care of his family. A "model Hunk" generally becomes dependent when they lose their looks and can no longer earn money on looks alone.
I have dated both and all I can say is, I chose the average Joe and am still married to him after 3 children and 29 years.

Lyn Cash said...

Hell, no, you're not alone - I still get the hots for ole Illya - lol. And Goldblum? *Sunny Lyn fans herself*

Great post, kiddo, and it sounds like you create men who are REAL, and real ones are so much easier for me to fall in love with when I'm reading. *grin*