Some are so terrible there's even a Bad Sex In Fiction Award. Though never won by a romance author, we hasten to add! Avril Tremayne talks about sex scenes and how to write them.
WARNING: Adult Content. Strictly for over 18's!
'First, let me assure you that you can write romance without any sex. Close the door, leave the door ajar, fling it open, it does not matter! I would say only this: if you find yourself seriously fearing what your parents, your in-laws, your siblings, your kids, your friends, your colleagues, are going to think when you’re writing about sex – just don’t do it!
Other than that, I have three rules (actually, I have four, but the fourth involves grabbing a glass of red wine, which kind of goes without saying) and I’m giving a few examples to prove my point.
Blush – get physical Make it hot. You should be blushing and your readers should be reaching for a fan to cool off. Put in everything you ever wanted done to you. Your darkest fantasy – include it! If your editor tells you you’ve gone too far and have to lower the heat, wear that badge with pride!
Bottom line: if you’re not feeling flustered while you’re writing sex, it’s no good.
Here’s a little something from Now You’re Mine to prove I’ve blushed myself (in fact, I’m blushing now)…
‘I’m very wet,’ I said huskily as I obeyed him, and I reached down to play with myself – an extra offering, and I’d never have guessed I had it in me to be so wanton, so provocative, so tantalising. ‘Some of the wetness is from my own need . . . and some is from you, in the car. Your cum.’
He swallowed as he watched, and kept swallowing, as though his mouth was watering. But soon his hand was knocking mine away and he was pushing two fingers high into me, twisting and reaching as though to brand me inside. ‘I want to be slow with you, but you make it so hard, Jenna, make me so hard, I need to take.’
Heartstrings – get emotional The difference between a sexy romance and pure porn is that a romance uses sex not for its own sake but to achieve intimacy. Sex has to mean more than the orgasm, even if the characters don’t want it to, even if they fight it. Without intimacy it’s tab A into slot B stuff – nothing wrong with that, but there are only so many ways to slice and dice it so the emotion comes from what surrounds the sex. Before, during and after, let’s see vulnerability. Let’s see someone laugh, cry, reflect, feel like an idiot, want something, realise they’re in scary deep.
Here’s a little example from my first DARE novel, Getting Lucky, which is out later this year…
When he broke to breathe, he kept his mouth close enough to taste her. “Tell me it’s me you want, that I’m the only one.”
“Yes!” she said, surging against him. “You, I want you, any way you want to be.”
“Only you.” She shoved his chest. “There.” Another shove. “Satisfied? Now do it!”
God, the triumph of it! He didn’t care if she shoved him through the nearest wall as long as she meant those words. It was wrong to want to hear them, worse to ask to hear them, but he needed them. A kind of forgiveness, permission to be exactly who he was, to be only what he could. Imperfect, cursed and savage.
It’s all about the girl. Romance is overwhelmingly written for women, so while the guy has to get off, the girl has to cataclysmically get off – and I’m talking physically and emotionally. Make the hero desperate for her, make her the most desirable woman on the planet to him whether he realises it or not, whether it’s one luscious lick he’s giving her or multiple orgasms. Because women deserve that, dammit!
Let’s take a little look at The Dating Game…
He needed to stop. Slow down. Find the catch to raise the blind. Proceed in an orderly fashion. Surely he could wait two minutes. He could wait. He could. But as he reached a seeking hand behind him, Sarah slipped fractionally down his body, and the pressure of that one small slide right there nearly sent him insane.
‘David,’ she cried, sounding as desperate as he felt as he hoisted her higher again. ‘Please.’
Fuck it. Fuck the blind. Another step backwards. Long tearing sound. Clatter. David, half-stumbling over the debris, reaching into his back pocket without stopping—please let it be there, yes, thank you God—until he connected with the bed. He all but fell onto it, pulling Sarah with him. Another tearing sound as she straddled him and her skirt gave at last, and her luscious heat connected with his straining cock for the first time. Hot, searing hot. He thrust against her once, twice, again, before he could stop himself, and then rolled them both so she was beneath him, never once losing contact with her mouth, kissing her harder, a fever of hungry lips and delving tongues.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Compare those scenes with the one from Christopher Bollen's The Destroyer, winner of the 25th annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award and we at the PHS think it's pretty obvious why a romance author has never been a finalist. Though, that could be because the judges don't consider romance novels literary enough to qualify...
According to literaryreview.co.uk: The judges of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award were swayed by a scene involving The Destroyers’ protagonist, Ian, and his former girlfriend on the island of Patmos, where their relationship has been rekindled: “She covers her breasts with her swimsuit. The rest of her remains so delectably exposed. The skin along her arms and shoulders are different shades of tan like water stains in a bathtub. Her face and vagina are competing for my attention, so I glance down at the billiard rack of my penis and testicles.”
We're not going to be passing the fan anytime soon for that scene! But hey, at least one author whose books should be considered literary enough for the elitists is talking our kind of language. Stef Penney, whose first book, The Tenderness of Wolves, won the Costa Prize for Book of the Year, Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, and was translated into thirty languages, said in a recent Time.com interview:
We need to be able to talk, teach, learn, write and read about sex, honestly and seriously, without — or in spite of — derision and censure. Unless we share specifics, we’ll never understand one another’s experiences. You can’t support women’s empowerment without frank and open discussion of their sexuality.
So, keep writing and reading those sex scenes, we say!
Avril's most recent release is The Dating Game. For more information about her books and her writing check out her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you blush when writing or reading sex scenes? How difficult do you find them to write? How do you stop things from becoming a case of tab A into tab B? Do you think some books simply have sex scenes for sex sake? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or join the PHS discussion on this subject on Social Media!