Claire McEwen, hopeful romantic.

How Much Sex is Too Much?

This post originally appeared on Contemporary Romance Cafe.

kissing couple

Flipping through the Mailbag section in a recent issue of RT Book Reviews, I came across two letters from readers who were frustrated with the explicit sex in the books they were purchasing. Both recalled times when romance novels were “tamer” and said that nowadays they tend to stick with authors they know and love, rather than try out new authors, whose books tend to be hotter.

The letters in the magazine made me think about the times when I’ve been surprised by sex in books. I remember one historical romance where the shy wallflower heroine suddenly left the ballroom to have sex in the garden with the hero, who she’d just met. It made no sense and pulled me right out of the story. I never finished that book.

I’ve thought a lot about how to write sex scenes because honestly, they don’t come naturally to me. Give me beautiful scenery to describe and the words flow onto the page. But a penis? Days pass while I figure out how to write about it! I persevere because I don’t want to write totally sweet romance. I write contemporary stories with modern characters in their thirties – I can’t quite imagine my heroes and heroines abstaining from sex, or having it all take place “off screen.”

As a solution, I try to make sure that all my sex scenes are character driven. I want each sex scene to also feel like a love scene, with the emotional connection between my characters deepening. And if I get it right, when my hero and heroine have sex, why they have it, how they have it, where they have it, should all make sense with who they are, or contribute somehow to their personal growth within the story.

In my first novel, A Ranch to Keep, a few readers expressed frustration that the hero and heroine didn’t have sex until almost the end of the book. But my heroine is a rather repressed person who’s also been publically and painfully cheated on and dumped, so there was no way she was going to have sex right away. And my hero is a good guy – so when the heroine, toward the beginning of the book, tries to sleep with him for all the wrong reasons, he refuses. I understand the readers’ desire for a steamier book, but I didn’t think that those characters were the right people to provide a steamy story.

However, my third book, Convincing the Rancher, does have the characters and set up for a little more heat! It features a heroine who is very promiscuous. After a traumatic childhood, she’s used her sexuality to feel powerful and keep emotional intimacy at bay. She has also met the hero years before and they enjoyed a very memorable one-night stand. So in this story there is more sex, and it happens earlier in the book. I wrote the sex scenes a little more wildly and graphically because I felt it suited a heroine who was very sexually experienced, and the heat that already existed between her and the hero.

I’m no expert – I’m a new writer with my third book out soon – but I am also an avid romance reader who doesn’t really want to read graphic sex when it doesn’t make sense for the characters. So I’m doing my bit to spread the word – that if we take the time to consider our heroes and heroines carefully, and let their stories evolve in a way that is true to them, I think our readers will be a lot more willing to accept – and enjoy – the evolution of their sex lives!

Do you feel like romance novels are getting too graphic in general? Have you ever read a book where the sex feels all wrong?

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