Feedback Friday: Let’s Talk About Sex

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Feedback Friday
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Warning: we’re about to get all Not Safe For Work up in here.

I want to talk about sex with you for a minute. Something that’s been on my mind as I progress through writing this book is, what’s going to happen when it comes time to get Maddie in bed with her hero? Not just how to achieve that milestone in a somewhat natural manner – that’s an issue I’ve been mulling over for weeks, with no resolution of as yet – but what, exactly, is going to happen.

Sex in romance novels is approached in a number of different ways; there are varying levels of “heat”, and really, there’s something out there for people all along the comfort spectrum. You prefer lots of emotional connection and kissing, but no sex/no premarital sex? Got that. You want down-and-dirty details? Got that too. It’s something I really like about the genre: there’s all kinds of sex out there, and you can pretty easily find what you like without having to read stuff that makes you squirm (in a bad way!) or pulls you out of the story.

The lowest level is generally called “sweet”, although I’ve also seen it called “traditional”, “sweet traditional” and “inspirational”. In a sweet romance there’s no sex, or at least no sex before marriage. When it does happen, the writer doesn’t describe it; you, the reader, know it happened, but it happens off-screen, so to say. Books in the Harlequin Heartwarming series adhere to this formula; if that’s your preference, you can grab a book from anywhere in that line and know what you’re going to get, sex-wise. Sometimes there’s a religious overtone to the lack of sex – “inspirational” is generally code-word for the presence of that element. Religion is not, however, always a factor. A hugely popular example would be the Twilight series: those books have an over-arching romance, lots of anticipation, but when the pay-off comes – on the main characters’ wedding night – Meyers fades to black on it.

The next level up would be “mild” – sex is present, but the scenes are few and far between, and when they happen there isn’t a lot of detail. Focus here is on the emotional aspect, not necessarily the physical. You’ll find this in the Harlequin Desire line, as well as in books like J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

When you get into books that are “hot”, that’s where the sex gets more detailed, albeit with heavy use of euphemisms. Despite its billing as “erotica”, this is where I’d put the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. There’s an argument to be had there, I’m sure, and we can have it if you want, but personally that’s how I’d rate the series. Yes, there are erotic elements, but when it comes to the language used, it doesn’t make it across the threshold. When the female lead only ever uses “down there” to describe her hinterlands, you don’t have erotica.

The “hot” category is pretty broad, and honestly it could have a spectrum all its own to describe the various ways authors approach sex. On the lower end I think you’d have your “he throbbed”, “she ached” kind of descriptors; upper end, “steely rods” and “creamy mounds”.

Of course, at the highest level you’ve got your erotica – explicit sex. Here’s where your cocks and dicks show up. The Harlequin Blaze line (Slow Hands is a good one), or the previously recommended The Boss and The Girlfriend would fall here. There are a number of ways to reference this category: erotica, romantica, erotic romance. Like the hot category, there’s a spectrum here – you’ve got explicit sex that enhances the story but doesn’t take center stage, and you’ve got stories where the sex ends up being the focus in many ways, rather than the romance aspect.

So where does Maddie’s story fall? There’s going to be sex – it’s right there in the title, after all. I find the turgid members and dewy ladygardens silly, so euphemisms are out. On the other hand, overly explicit language can jolt me out of a story; I’ve no problem with dicks, but “cunt” is a word that makes me flinch. Not sexy. I realize I’m not the reader here, but if I try to force something I’m not into, I think that’ll end up coming across as stilted and awkward. I also don’t want the sex to detract from the story, which I fear it can if I screw up the approach; the point of the whole thing is Maddie’s journey, from where she is now (broken, floundering, dealing with the loss of everything she’s used to shore up her identity) to who she can eventually be – awesome, hopefully. The sex is incidental, not the main event.

We’re still a ways off from the sexin’ (sorry if that’s a disappointment!), so I have time to figure all of this out. Until then, what do you think? Do you agree with my book examples for the various sex levels? Got an author who you think handles the sex angle well? Wanna fight about 50 Shades? Leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter.

See you Sunday!

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Comments
  1. mxcoot says:

    I think all your descriptions of varying degrees of sex in a story line
    are pretty accurate.I myself prefer romantic lovemaking, maybe a little dirty in a fun way.

  2. sweetambrosia says:

    I’m like you, I don’t like overly explicit descriptors (cock, cunt) nor do I care for overly twee ones (throbbing manhood). It’s been a long time since I read romance novels, but honestly, I want it to feel natural, I want to be taken inside the moment. Probably somewhere between hot and erotica, but I don’t think the description needs to be crass or have shock value.

  3. Thea says:

    It took me a while to be totally comfortable writing all the “erotica” words. There’s a blog post out there called something like “Cock is the New Black” (which I unfortunately don’t have bookmarked and I’m afraid to google) which talks about how “cock” these days is considered acceptable for most of the heat levels and in nearly every situation. I’m inclined to agree, and it’s my default for, uh, the turgid member. I hate to say it, but I really haven’t found a go-to term for the female side of the equation. I usually go to “pussy” first, but I don’t love it. Like you, I stayed away from “cunt” for a while, but in certain settings, it’s not too bad. “Her sex” is…meh, not awful, not fantastic.

    However, if you EVER use “love tunnel” or “honeypot”, I will no longer respect you as a romance writer. 😉

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