Keeping Sex Scenes Fresh
Let's make one thing clear: I love sex scenes in the books I read. I'm not worried that romances are becoming "too spicy." When I follow the lives of characters who fall in love, consummating that love physically is, for me, a crucial part of the story.
But there are good sex scenes and bad ones, and let's face it, if the author is not working hard at keeping them fresh and interesting, they can get repetitive. If I wanted boring, repetitive sex, I'd rent a porno video! For me, the whole point of a romance novel is that we get to know the characters and fall in love with them. A sex scene is not just a pile of generic body parts writhing.
If the author has done their job in making the characters fresh and interesting, that's the first step in making the sex scenes fresh and interesting, too. Each character will have their own unique attitudes about sex, their own preferences and style, and also their own hang-ups and fears.
Although any sex scene should be a golden opportunity to characterize and let us know more about the characters, it will really knock the reader's socks off (and possibly other pieces of their clothing...) if there is something at stake in the scene. Is there fear of rejection? Inner turmoil about their sexual history or past abuse? Is one character hiding something from the other? Will the sex that they have result in a change for either character? Will their love be jeopardized or strengthened? Will they heal? Will they learn something? There's much more that can be tackled in a sex scene than just writing Tab A went into Slot B.
It also helps a lot if the sex is part of the plot, rather than incidental to it. In my novel MIND GAMES, I wrote about a couple getting together while they are investigating the disappearance of our heroine's sister. Wren hires a private detective to help her, and finds herself very attracted to him. I could have just been running two plots intertwined--in one thread, they are falling for each other, in the other thread, they are searching for her sister. But it was far more fun, and made the sex scenes much hotter, to make the sex they have part of the search. First of all, it turns out that Wren's psychic powers are heightened during sex, and the characters wonder if they can fine tune them to the point where Wren might be able to actually find the location herself. Secondly, the one lead they have for where her sister was last seen is at a swinger's club that has sex parties, and Wren and Derek eventually have to go undercover there to check it out.
This doesn't mean that "normal" sex in books is automatically boring, but there are ways to keep it hot for the reader. In THE HOT STREAK, my novel about a woman who falls for a major league baseball player, the first thing I tried to do while planning out the book was plot it so that each successive sex scene would be hotter than the previous. Each time, they explore different things about each other, and the settings and situations keep changing, so that no two scenes were the same. The emotional stakes keep ratcheting up, too, of course, as their relationship builds through the book. There are even some sex scenes that are SKIPPED OVER! I know, that sounds crazy coming from me who loves sex scenes, but if a scene didn't actually add anything new to the plot or what we knew of the characters, then I didn't feel it deserved to be "on camera." You don't see every single meal they eat or every conversation they have, either, only the significant ones, so why should you see every single time they have sex?
Finally, I have to say I am glad to see that most writers and readers these days are abandoning euphemistic language for more realistic descriptions. Euphemisms like "manhood" can have their place, especially in historicals and in books where the characters really would have used such language if they spoke of such things. But in contemporary romance, it just isn't believable that a hip twenty-something narrator would talk about a guy's anatomy as his "pulsing rod of love." I've read the writers guidelines for several romance companies this past week and most of them make a point to ask for realistic language.
This isn't to say that writers should not use metaphors as well as every other technique of vivid description to bring a sex scene to life! But there is a difference between, say, alluding to the parallels between the female anatomy and flowers, and making me snort tea out my nose because you described intercourse as "her ravenous tiger lily devoured his sausage." (Watch out overusing the food metaphors, too.)
The final thing that I think keeps sex scenes hot, is when the authors themselves are turned on by their writing. Every now and then you get the feeling the author is just going through the motions. Maybe they're uninspired or not in the mood because of real life stuff, but still had to meet a deadline. Or maybe they can't see why this scene should stand out and be scorching. If it's dull to the author it will be dull to the reader. My characters are not "me," but I always try to find something in each scene that turns me on personally, and that keeps my creativity just as interested as my libido! Hopefully it does so for my readers, too.
Cecilia Tan is the author of many books of romance and erotica. Her most recent erotic romance, MIND GAMES, is just out in paperback from Ravenous Romance, and THE HOT STREAK is in ebook release. Her forthcoming erotic fantasy series, MAGIC UNIVERSITY, will be out in July 2009. Read more at http://blog.ceciliatan.com/