How Many Sex Scenes?

I recently read a contemporay romance and got into a brief discussion about the sex scenes.

I’d been perfectly comfortable with the amount of sex that was shown. The story focused on the two characters’ relationship issues and issues that were them versus society; basically, Love Against the Odds. So far as sex went, they didn’t really have any issues. They were physically compatible from the moment they met, and didn’t have much trouble affirming their love physically. They were shown kissing, they were shown in bed with fades-to-black. It was clear they were getting along fine so far as sex was concerned. I was okay with not knowing explicitly what they were doing.

Another reader, who’d also liked the book, wanted at least one sex scene to be slightly more explicit, suggesting that the sex scenes ought to match the emotional intensity of the rest of the book, which is quite long and definitely weighted on the emotional side of the characters’ relationship. I can see that, too. Balance isn’t a bad thing.

However, I think it’s also okay not to have explicit sex scenes in a romance novel. This book was marketed as a romance, not an erotic romance. Enough of the characters’ erotic relationship was shown, I feel, for the reader to have the necessary information about it. I think it worked…but I can also see the other reader’s point. The book could have been much richer had the couple’s problems in their public lives been reflected in their private lives, with commentary in both directions.

However, perhaps the book I’m imagining would have been another book entirely. After all, it’s not my book I thinking about. It’s someone else’s book. My book would have been different in many ways.

Have you read books that you thought didn’t show enough sex? What made you feel that way?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s 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. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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13 Responses to How Many Sex Scenes?

  1. Savanna Kougar says:

    Wow, that's a tough question. I write erotic romance because I want a holistic approach to the relationship that CANNOT occur if the love/sex scenes fade to black.

    On the other hand, I have no problem with a romance being written in that manner because obviously the author wanted to focus on other critical emotional issues…

    What I do think, as romance novels continue to vary widely in heat levels, some manner of making it clear to the reader what level it is, should and will come about, more than it is now.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I also wonder how much market pressures affect the issue.

  3. XandraG says:

    Well, sex sells, has sold, and will continue to sell. There's nothing new about that. As long as your marketing department isn't selling sex and delivering something else, there's a place for books of all heat levels.

    I'm going to disagree with Savanna above, though–there isn't a need for keeping the camera rolling through the bedroom door if the book is not primarily focused on what goes on in the bedroom (and I know Savanna's are).

    Good erotic romance and erotica focus on the sexual journey of the main characters, or use the sexual activities of the mains as a key expression of character growth, relationship growth, and plot progression.

    Victoria, in the book you read, it sounds like the story was doing just fine in progressing the plot and growing the characters and their relationship through means other than their sexual activities. Sticking in explicit sex would no doubt please a lot of readers, but would likely end up superfluous, and just as many readers would have skipped or skimmed over the scene because it wasn't necessary.

    If you're reading a book and questioning in your mind, "well how *would* these two/three/four/n deal with X" and the answer could only show up in a bed with naked limbs entangled, then the scene needed to be there.

    For an author, it depends on what you're trying to say with your story. If you're writing a story about commitment and trust, then using BDSM is a sexually appropriate way of working through the characters' issues with trust, and there are many kinky possibilities to explore that within the milieu. If you're working with a story about small-town dynamics, there are still plenty of kinky possibilities, but plenty more of the outside-the-bedroom (or dungeon) ones you need to explore in order to make a well-rounded story.

    There will, however, always be readers unhappy with what you write because you didn't deliver their particular sexual fantasy scenario in the manner they wanted it delivered. If you tell a good story, that's what counts.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    Xandra, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

    Yes, definitely reader expectation is very important. I think we will never be able to please every reader every time.

    Recently, when I had a cold, I read several J.D. Robb mysteries in a row. I found myself skipping the sex scenes between the two main characters (a married couple who continue through the whole series) because I was in the mood for mystery, not their sexual relationship, which was already established.

  5. Savanna Kougar says:

    Xandra, I'm not certain we disagree. However, maybe we do.

    Number one, my books are NOT about what primarily takes place in the bedroom or sexually. My books are rich in the whole dynamic of the relationship. How the heroines and heroes interact *intellectually*, for example.

    However, it's been my experience in life that everything is interconnected in a relationship and that includes the sexual/passion side of the relationship.

    Yes, I became really, really tired at one point in time of ONLY seeing the love/sex scenes fade to black. I mean it was utterly frustrating because what takes place intimately as in sex, affects the whole of the relationship.

    However, just like a film focuses the camera eye on certain elements of story, an author can choose to focus on other elements of a couples' relationship like Victoria did when she read J. D. Robb. I think THAT IS UTTERLY VALID and *good*. I'm not against it. Not by any means.

    I mean, if all romances were only focused on the sexual dynamics in a relationship I would find that just as frustrating and BORING!

    I don't write SEX because it sells. If I wanted to do that I would cross the line from erotic romance to straight erotica and porno.

    I write from my heart and soul. I write from my experience. Only. Yes, if there is a trend I *resonate* with, that readers want, I'll write that particular story.

    Also, if you've read any of my free read at Passionate Ink, you will see Sylva and Zeke's evolving relationship is hardly based only their sex/passion attraction to each other.

  6. XandraG says:

    Savanna, I hope you didn't think I was short-shrifting your stories–that wasn't my intention at all! Victoria said it miles better–she was interested in the *mystery* moreso than the characters' relationship at that point in the story (and that point in the series). Your stuff has the bedroom scenes in it because they are an important part of how the tale of those characters plays out (at least it was in Red Lioness).

    What you said in your comment about the camera eye makes perfect sense–it's the author's choice to focus on what elements of the story s/he plays out…but the reader won't always agree, which is where the "I wish there were more/less/different sex/mystery/action/zombies/tanks in this book" (that last suggestion was from Mr. Xandra, who thinks there should be more tanks in *every* book).

    So you're correct–I'm not sure we disagree, we're just approaching it from different metaphors. ;)

  7. Victoria Janssen says:

    I just wanted to say I am really enjoying hearing all the different perspectives!

  8. Savanna Kougar says:

    Xandra, different metaphors, I think that's true.

    In Red Lioness the sex, the fierce attraction between Sun Rocket and Draxen, did drive their story.

    However, in Murder by Hair Spray, the mystery and suspense elements drive the story, as well as the attraction between Sheriff Kalypso and Fed Detective Zryphus.

    And, if Mr. Xandra likes tanks, and who doesn't, unless you're being run over by one of them, he might like how my hero in Stallion of Ash and Flame, Trail, uses a semi truck in an underground, space alien facility.

  9. Savanna Kougar says:

    p.s. I forgot to add you're right about what readers want and don't want in a particular story. It *does* always come down to personal preference, and mood.
    One reviewer wanted more crime fighting in my superhero menage. Another liked the balance of plot, action and lusty sex scenes.
    So there ya go. As writers we do our very best, but, hey, everyone's a critic, and they have a right to be.

  10. Cara Bristol says:

    For me, it really depends on what the author sets up in advance, what the author leads me to expect I will find. There's romance, erotic romance, and erotica. Each one has different levels of heat. I'm okay with a romance that has no explicit sex. But there sure better be sex in an erotic romance!

    My expectations are built by the blurb and cover and the first chapter or two. There was one book I picked up a couple of years ago in which the hero was a sexual athlete from the future. He participated in Olympic-like events to bring as many women to orgasm as fast as he could. He goes on vacation by traveling back in time to the present day whereupon he meets the heroine. Now guess what? There were NO sex scenes in the entire book. Without it, the story fell flat for me and I didn't finish it. I did scan thru it looking for the payoff, but there was none.

  11. Savanna Kougar says:

    Cara, I remember the promo for that particular book because of the hero being a sexual athlete and time traveling. I sure would have expected some HAWT sex/passion scenes.

    Since the idea of that kind of sexual athlete didn't really inspire my particular erotic interest I never read it. Maybe the idea was that the hero was so fed up with sex, he just needed the emotion of love???

  12. Cara Bristol says:

    Savanna, yes, the idea was that he had become jaded about sex and wanted to take a break (hence the vacation), BUT, wouldn't you think he would rediscover how wonderful sex could be after he falls in love with the heroine? Maybe it's just the writer in me wanting to rewrite someone else's book…

  13. Savanna Kougar says:

    Cara, that's how I see it. Yeah, his love for the heroine, and a REAL desire for her would have been my focus, also.

    That's why we're all different, though, as writers and readers.

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