In Defense of Sexy Times

Earlier this week Sue Santore wrote a blog post about sex scenes in romance novels that I found super interesting.  She doesn’t like them.  If I’m understanding her post correctly, she believes that they interfere with the flow of the story and are too intimate, like an intrusion on the hero and heroine in their most private moments.  Please correct me if I’ve mistaken you, Sue!  I thought this post was wonderful and fascinating because my opinion about sex scenes is pretty much 180 degrees opposite of hers.  And it’s always interesting to me to hear the other side.  Especially since one of my other published author friends on Twitter made a similar statement, that not everyone likes sex in their novels.

Me?  I love a good sex scene.  A lot.  The juicier the better.  As long as it serves the plot.  Let me repeat that in bold: As long as it serves the plot.

As I see it, sex in a romance novel is like a song in a musical.  Characters in musical theater break into song when the emotions they are expressing are too powerful for the spoken word.  If done correctly, a love scene in a romance novel bursts out of its corset when the hero and heroine have reached a point in their relationship where the stakes have reached such a height that sexual intimacy is the only way for them to communicate their emotions.  The best love scenes I’ve read almost always focus not on skin and parts and bodily fluids but on power struggles, the characters’ baggage, letting go or holding on.  Because sex in reality involves breaking down or throwing up the most basic boundaries that two people can have with one another.  It’s about trust, about allowing someone into that part of you that is most sacred (which is why rape is such an abhorrent crime)  It’s not just physical, not by a long shot.

Which is why I never did care much for porn or erotica.  In terms of genre, as near as I can tell without having read an excessive amount of it, Erotica is about the act, not the intent.  (And if I’m wrong about this and there is Erotica out there that focuses on the deeper emotions of the characters let me know)  I can see how that would be jarring and uncomfortable to read.  I didn’t much enjoy the Erotica I read.

But “sexy times” in your average romance novel can be the best part of the book.  There’s nothing better than an author who knows how to spin their characters into an intimate, escalating dance of temptation, seasoning it with instinct and the wants and fears that bring the hero and heroine to life in four dimensions.  The thrill we feel at the look, the touch, the kiss, the hovering moment of possibility stranded, and the ecstatic consummation and release, strikes primitive cords in us that want to be loved and to procreate.  I don’t know of anyone whose real life relationship follows this archetypal love-chase, but it must be coded into our DNA.

Call me crazy, but I also happen to like sex scenes where not everything works out the way it does in romance novels (oh oxymoron!).  When the hero finishes long before the heroine and falls asleep and snores, when the heroine is busy making a grocery list in her head, when signals get crossed and awkwardness ensues … opportunity for hilarious character development.  I particularly love the first love scene in Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Seduce A Sinner when afterwards the heroine is left lying there thinking “Is that it?  Are you serious?  This guy has a reputation as a rake and that’s all I got???”  Because that scene said volumes about the personalities and expectations for the characters and set up an aspect of the conflict.  It worked.  Sex served the plot, it didn’t interrupt it.

Oh, because I also once read a sex scene that was so bad and so overblown (no pun intended) and went on for TWELVE pages that I was rolling with laughter by the end, doing anything and everything but empathizing with the characters.  That book, which shall remain nameless but was published by a major publishing company I might add, ended up being passed around a group of my friends as a gag gift for years.  I’m sure this is not how the author intended her work to meet posterity.  She did it wrong.

But looping back to my friends who don’t like any sex in their romance novels….  I can sympathize to a point.  But that point involves a public service message entitled Know Your Genre.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but many if not most categories of Romance are expected to have sex.  It’s a genre standard, no?  Inspirational does not have sex.  Because it’s not part of that genre.  I’ve written an Inspirational romance and the most physical my characters get is a kiss at the end when they get engaged.  It would have been completely inappropriate of me to include anything else.

Is there a midway genre between Inspirational and things like Historical, Contemporary, and Paranormal?  I definitely expect sex from a standard Historical Romance and am sure to include two or three scenes in the ones I write.  I also find it useful that magazines/sites like Romantic Times include a spiciness rating for new novels coming out.  (At least they used to in the printed version of the magazine.  I just checked the website and it only has the short-form quality ratings without the spiciness ratings)  Maybe these ratings should be printed on the covers: mild, medium, or spicy salsa.

In the end, for me as a Writer especially, it all boils down to this: I write what I love.  I write it because that’s what I want to write.  I know there is an audience for what I love to write just as I know there is a demographic of reader who will not like what I write.  That’s cool.  I can handle it.  It’s important to be respectful to people of all beliefs, but ultimately I won’t change what I write or apologize for it to please someone else.  I also won’t expect them to buy my books.  We’ll all be happy.

So yes!  Go sexy times!  Let’s get those bosoms heaving and those manhoods throbbing!

(Which reminds me that I should totally write a blog post about effective and ineffective terminology for genitalia in sex scenes someday… though I may have to change the rating on my blog to do it. =P)

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9 thoughts on “In Defense of Sexy Times

  1. I’m with you here Merry. When they are gratuitous, sex scenes are very irritating and I skim them. But when the advance the plot, or provide a climax to the plot (sorry about the pun!) they are excellent and emotionally satisfying.

    It can be as simple as: when they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are horrid!

    I have a word for that moment, that can be a mere moment, or last for hours or days, when you know you’re about to kiss: kisscuspia. It’s almost always the BEST bit; in real life as well as in books!

    • Kisscuspia! I love it! Now there’s a term that needs to make it into the English language more.

      But seriously, that bad, bad, BAD sex scene I read was so awful it was hysterical. She saw colors, a different one for each of her multiple orgasms, that were described in detail. TMI! Even for a romance novel. =P

  2. Merry,

    I enjoy reading your blogs, they are very insightful to me. I have to admit I’ve never read a romance novel (not really my genre), I have always consider them to just be soft porn for girls.

    I do consider myself a romantic and I love the building up phase in a love story. See how people (or characters) develop as a the relationship progresses is what makes the story good. Reading you thoughts about how they can enhance the story is very interesting (but I still unlikely to read one).

    I am also intrigued to read a post about your terms for genitalia, because that would give me deep insight into your mind (plus I’m a guy and with think about stuff like that constantly throughout the day).

    Stay Safe,
    -Bruce

  3. Merry,interesting post. I think you nailed my thoughts perfectly in your first paragraph. We shall have to agree to disagree about enjoying love/sex scenes in novels.

    I do like the deepening relationship–the falling in love part. I like witty dialogue. Before all the publishers ditched their Regency romance lines, I read many of those. Now all the Regencies are long historical types and almost always have those sex scene interruptions that I skip.

    Harlequin does have three lines ( I believe they are called Love Inspired) that have no sex in them. They all are inspirational type with a mild religious tone. It’s hard to find a “regular” book that is a “sweet” romance.

    It seems that most readers agree with you because the bodice rippers sell like hotcakes!

    • I’m very happy to agree to disagree. As the saying goes, that’s why Baskin Robbins makes 31 flavors. 😉

      I remember reading a line of romance novels when I was much younger that were sweet without being overtly religious in tone. Each one was titled after the name of the heroine. I particularly remember one called “Merrie” which took place on the Titanic. This was the 80s and I haven’t seen them since, and they were probably YA, but that seems like such a good concept.

      But I do think it would be nice to have a non-sexy, non-specifically-religious-themed sub-genre for Romance. Who knows, maybe I’ll try writing some myself at some point. =D

      Thanks for your comment and for your blog post!

  4. There is a series called “How to be a sex writing strumpet” by Stacia Kane that goes through how to write in a sex scene w/o it being gratuitous. I’ve read nearly all of it and she talks about advancing the plot through sex, too.

    I agree completely. I actually turn to Romances when I am purposefully looking for a steamier book and don’t expect the same level in the other books I read.

  5. Reblogged this on Merry Farmer and commented:

    In lieu of a whole new blog post, today I bring you this golden oldie from my first year of blogging. The principles that I wrote about then are ones I still believe in now. So how about you? Do you like it hot and steamy or would you rather close the door on your hero and heroine when they get it on?

  6. Thank you for reblogging, I would have missed this otherwise! I agree completely, it depends on the genre and reader expectations. I like sex scenes in novels if they make sense in terms of the story, and heaven help you as an author if you build up a ton of sexual tension and don’t deliver anything! That said, if a book uses the phrase “throbbing manhood,” I’m out of there. 😉

  7. Whilst not a huge reader of romance novels, I’ve read sexy times in other genres where, for the most part, it has been a necessary part of moving the plot forward. On the other hand I’ve come across some surprisingly graphic scenes that stick out (pardon the pun) and bring me out of the story with a feeling of: “What? Where did that come from?”

    There’s a threshold between love/romance/sexy time and erotica or porn. Personally I don’t need to read every squishy detail about body parts in order to be understand and appreciate that two characters have had their sexy time. The lead up is where the tension and enjoyment lies, though as you say, so long as it serves a purpose.

    If well written, hot and steamy can be just as exciting as other high points in the story, though it doesn’t mean the writer must detail every squish, spasm or sigh! I

    Reader’s have imaginations, and I prefer a hint or suggestion of sexy time to engage mine. To some degree I feel a insulted when the writer spells it all out.

    And I’m with Kate on the “throbbing manhood” or the word “member” – ewwww.

    On a different note, did you ever see the episode of Friends where Rachel writes a romance novel, and due to her bad spelling Ross and Chandler were in stitches when reading about the main character and his throbbing “pens!”

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