Let’s talk about the male protagonist (a.k.a. the sexy hero). For romance writers and readers out there, what makes the hero sexy? Given the choice, which of the following three would describe your ideal hero?
L to R: Fabio, the original poster boy for steamy romances; Jim Hopper from Stranger Things; or Leonardo Montenegro from Overboard (2018)
As a (former) connoisseur of romance and erotica books, most of the male characters I read about were devastatingly handsome, with chiseled abs and a smoldering look. They were bad boys with good hearts, or good guys in bad situations that only the female protagonist could resolve. They were usually rich, had a complicated backstory; and all of them, regardless of age, had the stamina of a race horse <wink, wink>.
So if we’re going from the pictures above, Fabio is the obvious answer. But here’s the thing: after a while, I got tired of reading about these perfect specimen of men because they were all the same character. It was a formula – there was nothing of substance to them. These men were the reverse of the voyeuristic sexism we see in films, where women are cast as bimbos in bikinis, who are only there to be seen, not heard.
But obviously I included the other two men in the line-up for a reason. Yes, romance and erotica appeals to the sexual part of women so often denied. But the truth is, when it comes down to it, women need more than just looks. Yes, a handsome man with hard-core abs is a sight to be appreciated, but at the end of the day, what defines sexy? Is it appearance or something else?
I watched the first season of Stranger Things a year after it came out. It took me a couple of episodes to get into the show, but once I did, I was obsessed. When the second season premiered, I binged all the episodes in the first couple of days. There was a particular scene in the end when Hopper was in the parking lot of the school with Joyce, the adult female protagonist, and while his feelings her were obvious, he was sensitive to the fact that she was still grieving over the loss of her boyfriend. He put his arm around her and pulled her into an embrace. No abs and certainly no Swiss bank account, but very sexy.
In Overboard (2018), Leonardo Montenegro was a rich playboy, so he fit one of the traits, but he wasn’t particularly tall, ripped or devastatingly handsome. On top of that, he was a promiscuous jerk. Kate had no plans to fall in love with him, but when he started caring for her, cooking dinner and babysitting the girls so she could study for her nursing exam, he went from playboy to sexy hero in her eyes and captured her heart.
Neither one of these two men were sexy in the classical sense. They didn’t fit the formula, but they were sexy nonetheless. Why? Because it wasn’t about them, it was about the women they aroused sexual desire and interest in. That is the definition of sexy after all. Yes, looks might be a part of it, but when it comes to the sexy hero, it’s about the female protagonist and what turns her on. It is the woman who determines what makes him sexy.
So as you write your story (or simply read it), keep in mind what the female wants. Not in the sense of a fantasy, but what fulfills her. Abs are great, but in the end, it might be his willingness to do the simple things, to alleviate her load, to lift her up…those are the things that makes him sexy. So you could say, all three of the above are sexy, but only in the sense that it’s the woman making the calls.