Naughty, Nice or Ho-Hum?

When it’s good it’s very good, when it’s bad…

Erotic romance is like sex itself. It ranges from so good it sets your toes on fire to totally icky, as in, “Don’t touch me again, you Sicko and get out before I call the police.” Sometimes what differentiates the former from the latter is personal preference rather than the writing. Some readers prefer sweet romances and don’t want to read a detailed description of sexuality; others want the full Monty. Websites like always go out and keep it detailed and arousing.

For some, the dividing line is a specific act. I recently spoke with a writer who’d been abused as a child. Any mention of any kind of physical spanking, no matter how playful, was an immediate turn-off and she wouldn’t read any further.

Aside from readers’ personal preferences that determine what they like or dislike in a sex scene, I’ve learned there’s a wide range in the writing quality of sex scenes in erotic romance.

When it’s done right, it will steam up the windows.

It’s smooth, it flows, and there’s the right amount of tension and release. There’s balance between action, dialog and description. And when it’s over, you feel like you’ve read something beautiful or at least smokin’ hot.

A good sex scene in a novel isn’t gratuitous; it has a reason for being there. Besides occurring at the right time for what is happening to the hero and heroine (or hero and heroine and hero in some instances!) it advances the plot or deepens character. Because sex is an inherently intimate act, a well-written sex scene will bring the characters closer together and reveal to the reader their feelings for each other.

I’ve read sex scenes that come across as unintentionally clumsy and awkward as if the writer felt uneasy writing them. Some read like literary quickies, as if the author wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Most amazing to me are graphically descriptive scenes that manage to be as dull and boring as a technical manual (insert part A into slot B).

A sex scene should arouse libido. Why else would you write it? Would you write a comedy and not want people to laugh? Would you write an action-packed suspense story that didn’t keep people on the edge of their seats?

Some erotic romance plots fail to live up to the hype as erotic romance, or the author chooses not to write a sex scene when the situation would logically call for one. Sometimes the title, cover and jacket promise a hot read while the book contains little or no sex.

And, yes, I know that the authors don’t write the jacket copy, design the cover or even, in many instances, title their own books. What I’m referring to are missed opportunities or instances where the author has promised but failed to deliver.

I partially read one paranormal/science fiction romance featuring a hero who was a sexual athlete from the future. He participated in Olympic-like events, competing to bring as many women to orgasm as he could. But like any job, it was getting to be a grind so he hopped on a time machine and traveled to the present day for a vacation, whereupon he met the heroine. But throughout the entire book, they never had sex. At all. No interrupted interludes, no fade-to-black, behind-closed-door sessions.


While I didn’t finish the book, I skimmed through to the end searching for the payoff and found none. I understand why, given his occupation, the sexually-jaded hero would want to take a break, but am I the only reader who would expect a little sex in the story? Even at the end when he supposedly would discover how wonderful it could be with the right woman?

Erotic romance, from the courtship to the lovemaking to the happily-ever-after is fantasy so the sex doesn’t have to be probable, just possible. I recently finished a novel about a young woman who marries three horny young men (technically she was legally married to one, but considered all three her husbands). In the real world, keeping three strapping young bucks sexually satisfied would be a Sisyphean task, causing one to long for a time machine to take a vacation, but hey, it was romantic fantasy, so I totally accepted it.

As an author, I recognize and respect the balancing act it takes to deliver entertainment appropriate to a romance while not straining credibility. Disbelief can only be suspended so far. How flexible and elastic one’s disbelief is depends on the subgenre.

Take multiple orgasms for example. In real life…possible? Yes. Probable? Well….no. In a mainstream romance where the focus is on the romance and not the sex, a scene in which the heroine is exhausted by multiple orgasms is laughable. In an erotic romance or erotica, it’s readily accepted, if not expected. But I’ve seen even erotica authors push that envelope a little too far.

I’ve often thought that part of what makes paranormal erotic romance so popular is the freedom to extend beyond what is possible. Humans don’t have orgasms that last thirty minutes, but genetically altered elf-vampire-werecats apparently do.

One of my pet peeves occurs in the romantic suspense genre. Between alternately fleeing and fighting the bad guys, the hero and heroine screw their brains out. Their lives hang in the brink. They’re scared (well, the heroine is—the hero, being macho, is more pissed off than scared), and tired, sweaty, dirty and even bloodied. While hiding in a filthy, rat-infested abandoned warehouse, their libidos kick in and overpower their logical reticence. Really? I mean, really? It brings new meaning to the phrase “doing the nasty.”

I’ve also read sex scenes in which the characters were too talkative. Fiction isn’t real, but because of that, rather that in spite of it, it bears the burden of needing to be credible. When characters carry on full, detailed conversations while still managing to have multiple orgasms, my inner skeptical editor switches on. I understand why characters talk too much; the author is trying to impart information through dialog and break up a lot of description but there’s a point where it distracts from the story rather than tells the story.

And in the end, that’s what a good sex scene does…it tells a story.

But that’s just my take on it. What do you think? What makes or breaks a sex scene for you? I’d like to hear your comments.

Coming soon…my next blog…Seduction….

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15 Responses to Naughty, Nice or Ho-Hum?

  1. A very interesting and reasonable summary. I do find that a lot of written sex is pretty far over the top. Or maybe, I’m an underperformer.

  2. Nevea Lane says:

    I completely agree with you. Sometimes a sex scene just turns out be just sex. However in erotic romance, it is supposed to be erotic and, well, romantic.

  3. Excellent blog and overview. Certainly, it is individual as far as what a reader prefers or is able to handle given her/his experiences. There are certain erotic sex scenes I won’t read or write because it’s not a personal turn on for me, yet, it is for someone else.

    I will say that it is possible for humans to experience a thirty minute orgasm. Yes, I have. No, not on any regular basis. And, those, who practice Tantric sex will and do experience that length or a longer orgasm ~ from what I’ve read.

  4. I think the sex should reflect the tone of the book and the characters’ personalities. My own pet peeve when reading sex scenes is that I hate it when the heroine has multiple orgasms when the hero basically just jumps on her and there is no foreplay.

  5. Lelani Black says:

    Great post, Cara! Give me the full Monty any day 🙂 When it comes to sex scenes as a reader I’m open to discovery, don’t mind reading others works of menage, for example . As a writer, good lord I’ve got my hands full just having my hero/heroine make love. I enjoy erotic romances because if you were to suspend the sex, you’d still have a bit of story. That said, it would not be fulfilling without the eroticism, the dynamic passion involved with sensual, explicit scenes. Thank goodness there is something for everyone–most of all I’m so glad for publishers and authors that open doors for readers to explore, to get swept away in a fantasy, or be touched by something relatable in the love story.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Well said, Leilani. I agree writing a scene with JUST a hero and a heroine is challenging enough. When you add a third (or fourth) person to the mix, it’s tough to write a scene that is both intimate and sexy…and for me, the intimacy of the sex scene is a big part of the attraction. I’ve noticed that in many menage stories, the third person is a secondary character rather than one of the primaries.

  6. Great post. I have always said that if you’re uncomfortable writing sex, you really shouldn’t do it. Readers can tell every time. You just can’t sell it.

    On the other hand, I think the key to writing love scenes is to remember it’s not about YOU, the writer. It’s about your characters. What’s their experience in this love scene? You have to do justice to them. Giving them a crappy love scene because you don’t have the balls to write the scene they deserve is a disservice to their romance. And their romance is the whole point.

    Whoops. End rant.

  7. Having written two menages, one pubbed and one about to be pubbed, it is about the sex, and it’s not. It’s about the intimacy between my heroine and her heroes, and it is *their* love story.

    “And you don’t even have to be an elf-vampire-werecat hybrid? Wow!” ~ not to my knowledge, anyway!

    AND! I absolutely agree, no foreplay and multiple orgasms… where the hell is the fun in that? Orgasms are great. However, even if you’re the very rare someone who can achieve that… what a waste of sex… the passion, the art, the intimacy, the creativity of sex and of making love. The human body was not made for hop on, do it, then hop off.

  8. Well said, Cara.

    Not many people know about Tantric sex, so I’d never use it without researching it. Sadly, some women are physiologically unable to experience orgasm. Those are not the ones we write about.

    Hmm. Have you really never done hop-on, do-it, hop-off sex? Very satisfying to be so suddenly aroused and so quickly reach the mountaintop.


  9. Hmm, this post makes me want to re-read my sex scenes. I think I did alright.


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