Sex Scenes

I admit upfront most sex scenes bore the crap out of me. It’s almost as if authors these days feel compelled to put in at least two or three (and often far more!) graphic physical encounters per book, and the sad fact is most of those scenes are badly written. I end up skimming them 99% of the time.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with “drawing the curtain” when the lovers take to their bed. It’s what leads up to that moment that’s exciting, even arousing. Once they hit the sheets, well, yawn. And why is that? Because so much of what is titillating about sex is missing. You can write about smells and sounds and touches, but it’s really difficult to convey visceral things with words. This is why porn is so popular and always will be: the visual is far more exciting than words can ever be.

That being said, I have read good sex scenes. Sex is part of life, and it should be included in a romance or love story, but exercise a little common sense. The main characters have had four intimate encounters already and you’re only halfway through the story? Then you’re no longer writing romance, you’ve crossed the line into erotica. 

I like a strong dose of reality in my reading. Instead of love wand and his pulsing manhood, authors can now honestly say cock, dick, and prick. I love the word cock, but after reading it a hundred times in one scene, it loses all its punch. It’s just another ho-hum word. Sex scenes should be kept to a minimum and short; when they drag out, repetition rears its ugly head. Don’t drag on and on and on for page after page, telling me about every breath they take and giving me a laundry list of caresses and kisses.

The best sex scenes don’t revolve around what the characters are doing so much as what they are feeling and experiencing of their surroundings. Tab A into Slot B isn’t going to get the reader there.

How do you know whether or not to add that intimate encounter? Ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Does the scene doesn’t reveal anything new about the character(s) or move the story forward? If not, leave it out. Take the reader to the bedroom door, then close it. Alternately, lead them to the bed, write a few sexy, graphic things, then draw the curtain.
  2. Do not give me a blow-by-blow, touch-by-touch description of the action. There really is nothing more boring. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, het romance novels were really popular. None of them contained explicit sex scenes; it was left to the readers’ imagination. Today, authors are allowed, even encouraged to include such scenes (“Sex sells.”), and nearly everyone is doing it, and it’s all gotten quite tedious. There are only so many ways to write sex, and it’s all been done and done and done again. If you read a lot of romances, you know what I mean. The sex written in so-called literary or mainstream novels is almost always better than what’s written in romances, because it doesn’t belabor the point! It doesn’t get down in the sheets and roll around in them until everyone pukes. Sex is part of the story, not the main <ahem> thrust of it. And remember: you’re writing romance, not erotica. The last thing I want to read in a romance are multiple, cookie-cutter sex scenes. I have no interest in watching the author masturbate; give me more story.
  3. Say you decide to include three complete sex scenes in your book. How can you make each one different? It’s the author’s job to make every word count, and that includes the ones in sex scenes. Make it unique, bring it alive, give the reader a jolt! Don’t use the same phrasing and sequence of touches from scene to scene. Readers notice, oh yes we do.

I don’t expect every author to agree with me about this. Lots and lots of them are writing tons of sex scenes, and nothing I say will make them change, nor should it. “Write what you love” goes the saying, and if it’s sex that gets your motor running, go for it. But I won’t read what you write, and I have a feeling lots of other readers are getting tired of the same ol’, same ol’ too, if only because there’s so much of it available now.

What ultimately makes a story sexy is the relationship between the main characters and the story being told. “Sexy” isn’t only when they hop into bed. “Sexy” is the buildup of emotion between them and a final, satisfying resolution. “Sexy” is attitude. If the author has done their job, the most innocent phrase can knock me out of my socks because the entire book is sexy, and there might not have been even one, on-page intimate encounter. That’s the book I want to read. That’s the one I seek out.

Happy reading, everyone. See you Friday.

About Fenraven

Fenraven lives in central Florida, which reminds him of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Find him on Twitter and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
This entry was posted in publishing, RL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Sex Scenes

  1. Totally agree. I was once told the reader’s imagination can supply a better sex scene than you can write. I started reading ‘romance’ novels back in the 50s or 60s. There wasn’t any ‘sex’ in them. Now it seems as though people are equating the words ‘romance’ and ‘erotica’.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing. It’s why I rarely read romance anymore. I’m tired of stumbling across poorly-written, unnecessary sex scenes every other chapter.

  2. Lindsaysf says:

    I still fondly remember some of your fanfic sex scenes. The photographer, in the barn with hay & sun beams – *sigh*

    • I think I wrote pretty good ones back then. 🙂 But you write ’em, then kind of get over them. Not all that long ago, I wanted to write a book titled Cock Culture, but I realized it would center around sex scenes and dropped it. I just can’t do it anymore. I think editing so many poorly-written sex scenes ruined me. 😉

  3. Helena Stone says:

    I’m somewhere in the middle of this argument. I do enjoy a well written sex scene but only if they serve a purpose in the story. If I want sex for sex’s sake, I don’t pick up a romance but erotica instead. And as far as readers are concerned, I’ve come across as many who get upset when there’s little to no sex in a story as I’ve seen those for whom almost anything is too much. I’ve got a feeling this will eventually balance itself out.

    • I’ve been told off for not including sex scenes. Some readers not only expect it, they demand it. Maybe if I was twenty again and always horny, I could write that stuff. But I’ve reached a stage where the story is the most important thing. Gotta have a good story.

      Not all that long ago, I read Gulliver Takes Manhattan, a book about several gay friends in NYC. There was lots and lots of sex in that story, but it was handled so well, I didn’t skip a word. The big difference between that book and most m/m romances? In the latter, the story almost seems to exist to support the eventual sex. In the former, it was just a part of life.

  4. Jaycee Edward says:

    I used to disagree with you on this topic. I don’t anymore. And I never used to believe people when they said they skipped sex scenes entirely. Guess what? I’m now a skipper. Not just sex either. If I see huge paragraphs with no dialog, I cringe because I know I’m about to have to sit and listen to the author “Tell” me something – be it description or backstory – doesn’t matter – I don’t want to discover it that way. Nothing is more boring to me. “Show” me, or I’m skipping. The perfect book for me is one where I never hear the author’s voice at all, but I digress…

    There are still a few authors who can give me blow-by-blow (pun maybe intended just a little) sex scenes and I’ll hang on every word. But that’s because they have me *so* emotionally invested in the characters that I want to be with them for every single moment of whatever it is they are experiencing. Amy Lane is one of those.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think writing descriptive sex into your story is right or wrong. There will be readers for both styles – and readers who get upset when they do/don’t get what they want either way. Bottom line is, you can’t please everyone because we are all so delightfully different. 😀

    • I suspect all m/m writers start out writing graphic sex because 1) they can, and 2) it’s new and fresh to them (even if readers have been seeing it for years and years). But it does quickly become boring to pen, and finding new and different ways to make it exciting becomes harder and harder (no pun intended).

      There will, as you say, always be a market for sex, no matter how the scene is written. I like Amy Lane’s books a lot, but I won’t read her sex scenes. 😉 I’m just so over it.

      The only time I read sex scenes now is when I edit, and that’s because it’s my job. Otherwise? Skip skip skip….

  5. Pingback: Does Sex Really Sell? Genre and Reader Expectations to Consider | Sarah Madison Fiction

  6. Be sure and read Sarah Madison’s take on this subject over on her blog. Sarah always has something interesting to say.

  7. Allison says:

    Honestly? If the sex is bad, the whole book is bad and that has little to do with the sex. I’ve read amazing fade to black books that I adore. I’ve read just as many full detail books that are outstanding.

    Try For Real by Alexis Hall (really read anything and everything you can by him.) Sutphin Boulevard and Sunset Park by Santino Hassell and Strong Signal that he wrote with Megan Erickson. The Magpie Lord series and spinoffs, and the Society of Gentlemen series by KJ Charles (again read everything she’s written.) The Whyborne series and SPECTR series by Jordan L Hawk. These are all full detail outstanding books by authors that are autobuys for me.

    The quality of the writing, the characters, and the stories are all so much more important than whether they have fade to black. It makes me sad that you’re reading such lousy books.

    • Allison says:

      Then again maybe I’m wrong because I hate Amy Lane’s writing (either it’s *beat the characters to death* or *dripping sap* ugh in either case) we may just have too different tastes. That amuses me.

      • I’ve only read a handful of her books. The Locker Room bored me, but I loved A Solid Core of Alpha up until the end, which I thought was weak. I enjoyed the book she wrote about a houseboat in Louisiana (I think); one of them had a learning disability or something. *eyeroll* It’s been a while; I don’t remember the details anymore.

        That’s the big problem with me reading m/m romances. I don’t remember them five freaking minutes after I finish them! I do remember books by JC Price, AJ Rose, and Kate Aaron. Excellent storytellers all, though every one of them has too many sex scenes in their books. 😉

        • Allison says:

          The houseboat book is set in CA, I think all her books are. I forget what it’s called, but it falls into the sap category for me. Although it was better than others of hers.

          I already knew you loved those authors so no reason for me to suggest them. 😉

          Also, I couldn’t tell you how many sex scenes are in the books I suggested, I think saying there is a *correct* number is questionable. The correct number is what works for that book. But I can tell you not a single one was unnecessary to the story. 😀

          But, of course, if you don’t enjoy the sex, you should skip them. They are some of the best writing I’ve read in any genre, not just romance.

          • I’ve told both AJ and Kate “too many sex scenes for me” when I’m editing for them, but at least they’re well written. Heh. It’s kind of become a private joke now.

    • Thanks for the recs. I’ve heard good things about The Magpie Lord. The truth is I’ve been reading out of the m/m genre for a while now. I got that fed up with the endless sex scenes and formulaic plots.

      • Allison says:

        None of those books are formulaic in any way. For Real stands BDSM on it’s head in particular.

        I hope you do check some of them out. My reading life would be very much lesser without those books.

    • Erika says:

      I 100% agree with you on the recs here, except I’ve only read one of JordanL. Hawk’s books. Might have to rectify that. These authors get it, and I would include JCP in there too, like Theo. 😉

      • There’s a lot of sex in the early PsyCop books, but she wisely keeps it short and focuses on their excitement, not the body parts. I did start to get tired of the sex as the series went along–it started feeling obligatory–but then she stopped doing that to concentrate on the story. Price is one of the best writers working today.

  8. Patricia says:

    Thank you. This was a good jolt for the writer up against a blank page: how do I show my characters love each other? Not just through sex scenes.

  9. ludwigcarol5 says:

    Well said. I find that more often than not, I skip the sex scenes to get back to the story. I will admit that every once in a while you come across a scene that is absolutely beautiful or hot. But that’s not very often. AJ Rose is a good example of just that kind of scene. I don’t have anything against the scenes. I just want to get passed it and back to the main story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.