Sex scenes in romance novels: what I like

Sex scenes in romance novels, I feel, need to move the plot along by encompassing some sort of character change or modulation. But what else makes a sex scene a success? Clearly, it’s one of those questions in which individual mileage can vary. Here’s a list of what I think makes a great sex scene, though I don’t think all of these things necessarily need to be in the same scene.

1. At least one character with an emotional stake in the proceedings, who needs/wants something from the sex or from the relationship.

2. A character who is hiding something. This may be emotional, physical, or plot-related, but I think it adds a level of tension to the scene.

3. Intense focus from at least one of the characters. If at least one of the characters is deeply involved in what’s going on, I as a reader am usually going to be involved, too.

4. Something new is revealed about at least one of the characters, preferably a thing that implies many other things. The relationship and the characterizations can thus grow and deepen after the scene is over.

5. Economy of action: only the actions essential to the scene are described, i.e., those actions that underline the scene’s emotional or thematic arc, or explicate character, or both. This is mainly because I love tidiness.

What do you like to see in romance novel sex scenes?

Published by Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s writing showcases her voracious lifelong love of books. She reads over 120 new books each year, especially historical romance, fantasy, and space opera, and incorporates these genres into her erotic fiction. Her first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. When not writing, Victoria conducts research in libraries and graveyards, lectures about writing and selling erotica, and speaks at literary conventions on topics such as paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic science fiction/fantasy, and the empowerment of women through unconventional means. Her daily writing blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and author interviews. She also guest blogs for Heroes & Heartbreakers and The Criminal Element. She lives in Philadelphia.

2 replies on “Sex scenes in romance novels: what I like”

  1. Wow, interesting — and ambitious!

    I think the main thing I look for in a sex scene is that it has meaning for the relationship — it should mark a change in the development of the relationship. Deepen the connection, raise the stakes for the plot.

    Sometimes, like real life, a sex scene can resolve the tension in a story arc, so you can start up another one.

    It’s nice too, if an intimate scene reveals a little something unexpected about either or both of the characters. A humorous penchant, a surprising insecurity. Not necessarily something kinky, unless that fits the direction the author is trying to take the character, yanno? But getting naked with a character ought to be… revealing, doncha think?

  2. it should mark a change in the development of the relationship

    Definitely. I like the unexpected reveal, as well. And dialogue; I forgot to mention dialogue!

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