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)