Our Reading Lives

Thanks To Nora Roberts For Being My Sex Ed Instructor

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Margaret Kingsbury

Contributing Editor

Margaret Kingsbury grew up in a house so crammed with books she couldn’t open a closet door without a book stack tumbling, and she’s brought that same decorative energy to her adult life. Margaret has an MA in English with a concentration in writing and has worked as a bookseller and adjunct English professor. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor, and in addition to Book Riot, her pieces have appeared in School Library Journal, BuzzFeed News, The Lily, Parents, StarTrek.com, and more. She particularly loves children’s books, fantasy, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and any books with disabled characters. You can read more about her bookish and parenting shenanigans in Book Riot’s twice-weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter. You can also follow her kidlit bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians, or on Twitter @AReaderlyMom.

Like many southern, small-town Christian families, my family did not talk about sex. If it happened—and it had to have happened—under our roof, I was completely unaware of it. I gathered what I could from watching snippets of movies like Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Fatal Attraction because, paradoxically, while my family never talked about sex, they were perfectly willing to let me watch R-rated movies. These, as you can imagine, were not great introductions to sex and romance. They were quite horrible introductions, in fact. But then, in stepped my Nana with a box of Nora Roberts books, and my perceptions on sex and romance completely shifted. Nora Roberts became my sex education instructor. While I indubitably needed more grounded advice, she was still a better instructor than the retired basketball coach who taught it in 9th grade and the R-rated movies my parents watched. And her books were a blast to read.

I come from a large family of readers, so it was no surprise when my Nana told me she was cleaning out her bookshelves and needed me to come over and claim a large box of her old books. I was about 12 at the time and had just started reading adult books. My reading tastes were nebulous then, and I didn’t have a preferred genre. I started with my mother’s mystery and horror collection. The first adult book I read was The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell, a book my mother and one of my sisters had just finished reading. I can still remember finishing it at a library slumber party my elementary school hosted. I couldn’t tell if I liked it or not. This was a common feeling for me in my early days of reading adult books. I followed The Body Farm up with Cujo and ‘Salem’s Lot, as well as the Janet Oke books a church lady who sometimes drove me from place to place owned and insisted I borrow. I also delved into my father’s bookshelves and discovered Mercedes Lackey and David Eddings, and these would eventually lead me to my favorite genre—fantasy. But at 12, I wasn’t ready to commit to a single genre, and in a lot of ways, I wish I were still so open-minded about my reading.

My Nana is a classic church lady. At the time, she taught a Sunday school class, had recently founded a free clothes closet in the basement of the Church of Christ she attended, and had a Bible and a church devotional always handy. She’s the last person one would expect to be the interlocutor for sex education. At the top of the book boxes she gave me was a copy of Little Women, so I reasonably expected the books to be classics. I was wrong. The rest of the boxes contained at least 30 different Nora Roberts books and a collection of Amanda Quick’s historical romance. I tore through those books like the information starved 12-year-old I was. And then I read them all again. And again. And again. Eventually, favorites formed. Of all the Nora Roberts books, the Born In Trilogy were my favorites. 

Book cover of Born in Fire by Nora Roberts

It seems like Born in Fire, the first book in the trilogy, should’ve been my favorite because I share a name with the protagonist—Margaret Mary Concannon, an albeit American stereotype of a sexy Irish woman. Maggie is a red-haired, fiery-tempered glass blowing artist from County Clare, Ireland, the eldest of three sisters. It would also make sense if the third book were my favorite—Born in Shame—which is the only of the three to contain fantasy elements and is told from the perspective of the third sister, Shannon. I, too, am the third of three sisters. But the second book, Born in Ice, was my favorite and most-read from Nana’s book box.

Cover of Born in Ice by Roberts

Born in Ice takes place during a cold Irish winter. Brianna Concannon, the second sister, owns a bed and breakfast. She’s the practical sister. She refuses to fall in love (I can no longer remember why she’s so against love). When American writer Grayson Thane rents a room for the entire winter in her bed and breakfast, Brianna’s practical plans of independence from everyone go awry when she finds herself attracted to him, and despite Grayson’s grumpiness, he returns the feeling. It’s been 25 years since I’ve read this book, and I can still remember specific sex scenes. I was partially drawn to this book in particular because I too had aspirations of being a writer, and I thought it was cool to own a bed and breakfast. Honestly, I still think it would be neat to be a writer and own a bed and breakfast (can someone buy/leave me a giant house, please?). I wanted to be both Brianna and Grayson, and when my 12-year-old self daydreamed about this book, I was both characters, interchanging genders and love interest seamlessly.

Later, in high school, I earmarked pages in all my Nora Roberts books where the juiciest sex scenes happened, and at slumber parties, we’d take turns reading the sex scenes. Wow, was I wild! 😉

I feel like I’m shortchanging Amanda Quick here, who was also amply represented in my Nana’s book box. But while I’m pretty sure I learned about female masturbation from an Amanda Quick novel, I can no longer remember plots or characters or specific scenes. I also started reading my oldest sister’s Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz books, but the relationships depicted in these books were much less empowering. Nora Roberts was the one to capture my sexual and romantic imagination.

Book cover of The Awakening by Roberts

About the time I started having sex, I stopped reading Nora Roberts and other romance authors. By this time, I had begun winnowing down my reading preferences to fantasy, science fiction, and classic feminist literature, but I owe Nora Roberts a thanks. Thanks for being my sex educator when no one else was willing. Thanks for showing passionate love between equals. Will I ever read another Nora Roberts book? I’m tempted after writing this piece, especially since she has a new fantasy series out, beginning with The Awakening. And I’m tempted to reread the Born In Trilogy, or maybe give it a listen on audio to experience the books in a new way.

If you haven’t read Nora Roberts before, check out these two lists for where to start, though you know the series that gets my vote.