The Dreaded Sex Scene

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CWatts

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I had the same experience. It was a novel where, IIRC, the hero was over 12 inches and therefore the heroine had to position herself in a certain way to allow him to enter her womb. I remember thinking, "At over 12 inches, we're past the uterus. We're into the Fallopian tubes here."

This brings back memories of Valley of the Horses with Jondalar going around ritually deflowering virgins with his Jurassic-sized doomschlong. Even in middle school I was...skeptical.
 

Marian Perera

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Yes! That’s what I’m talkin’ about! That single gesture or glance that’s so subtle and so sensual that it blows any graphic naked scene to bits.

And the sexual tension stays high because they can't or won't do more. Though this might be easier to achieve in historical romances where there were more good reasons why the couple couldn't have sex (yet).

Another such moment is in Mary Jo Putney's The Rake, where the hero has a long and difficult struggle with alcoholism (so refreshing to see an alpha hero with this problem, rather than drinking everyone else under the table and never having any ill-effects from this). Rather than stay in his house, where there's a supply of booze, he leaves at night and sits on a river bank. The heroine joins him, they hold hands and eventually they fall asleep together. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Hey, I will definitely cut you some slack on that one. First, a female ship’s captain? I’m down with that! And seafarers always let off steam on shore leave. Second, I don’t see anything wrong with hiring a guy to take care of business (although most of them are happy enough to do it gratis). The book I read had the couple on a terrace at a ball, no names exchanged, and he has her out of her bodice in 15 minutes as part of his revenge plot. OK, I gotta read yours!

Thanks! It was published by Samhain, but sadly they went out of business. If you'd like to read an e-copy, though, just rep me your email address and what format you like. :)

I think that’s part of what’s holding me back. Am I being too prim? Is the hero too “nice”? I’ve read so many books where the hero is an obnoxious, boorish dick to the heroine but she still has her legs in the air repeatedly for the guy. Should my hero put aside his gentlemanly ways and grope her boobs at every opportunity? And the answer is, you’re right! I have to write for my target audience and let those who want this sort of thing go elsewhere. Lords knows there’s no dearth of it.

I think your hero can be a gentleman and still act on his desire for the heroine. It's a balancing act, though. In a historical, I don't want to read about a man who has no thought for how a woman's reputation could be ruined from just the loss of her virginity, let alone an illegitimate child. I don't want to read constant priapism or lust-think, especially if he doesn't treat the heroine well.

But I do want to see that she turns him on, and that he wants her with an intensity that scorches the page, and a sex scene (or even a scene cut short) is a great way to do this. There's a good one in Stacia Kane's Unholy Magic where the hero stops halfway even though the heroine is more than ready for him, and then he tells her he wants her so badly that sometimes he can't think about anything else. He doesn't care about her drug addiction, because she matters more to him than her problems do. But he's not looking for a one-night stand, and he doesn't think he can take it if she pretends to forget everything the next time they meet.

That's gentlemanly and sexy, to me.
 

Proserpina

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Can I just add? I think a little realism is in order as well. Only 20-25% of women experience orgasm from intercourse alone. Women read these sex scenes that are straight up penis in vagina and feel like they're missing something or something is wrong with them. And related to that is penis size. Like really, who wants to be augered all the way up to their fallopian tubes by a 12 inch penis? That would probably prevent even the above mentioned 20-25% getting there!
 

Jan74

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Can I just add? I think a little realism is in order as well. Only 20-25% of women experience orgasm from intercourse alone. Women read these sex scenes that are straight up penis in vagina and feel like they're missing something or something is wrong with them. And related to that is penis size. Like really, who wants to be augered all the way up to their fallopian tubes by a 12 inch penis? That would probably prevent even the above mentioned 20-25% getting there!
^^^ very unrealistic to have women orgasm during intercourse alone, how boring too. As for penis size 12inches is ridiculous, for starters it wouldn't stay completely hard without a ring and is a laughable size. And why do we need to know the size? Does the heroine measure it during sex? lol...totally cracks me up some of the horrible sex scenes I've read.

I am a clan of the cave bear fan, however I agree with the posters about Jondalar and his ginormous tool....book 4, 5 and 6 were hard to read since I was over it and older. I read the trilogy when I was 13/14 and loved it and will always love them. The valley of horses will always remain one of my favorite books, but it was stupid and annoying to continually hear about his size and why in the hell would they pick the largest man to have sex with virgins? That was stupid.
 

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I think your hero can be a gentleman and still act on his desire for the heroine. It's a balancing act, though. In a historical, I don't want to read about a man who has no thought for how a woman's reputation could be ruined from just the loss of her virginity, let alone an illegitimate child. I don't want to read constant priapism or lust-think, especially if he doesn't treat the heroine well.

But I do want to see that she turns him on, and that he wants her with an intensity that scorches the page, and a sex scene (or even a scene cut short) is a great way to do this.

Oh, yeah! I love these examples! Sexual longing as a result of genuine affection/love can make for some ungodly dramatic scenes. And the longing of a temperate and sensual gentleman is undeniably more intense than a “rake” who just wants to get in some panties, consequences be damned. My gentleman is very much aware of her reputation and protective of her honor, but he underestimates the depth of his attraction/affection for her and all is lost!

Can I just add? I think a little realism is in order as well. Only 20-25% of women experience orgasm from intercourse alone. Women read these sex scenes that are straight up penis in vagina and feel like they're missing something or something is wrong with them. And related to that is penis size. Like really, who wants to be augered all the way up to their fallopian tubes by a 12 inch penis? That would probably prevent even the above mentioned 20-25% getting there!

THAT! YES! I once had a boyfriend who claimed I was dysfunctional because ALL of the other women he bedded only required his magic stick for blinding, screaming orgasms. It took me years to realize that he’d either lucked out by incredibly hitting that 25% every time, or he was being faked out to epic proportions. I despise this scenario in romances, and refuse to perpetuate this nonsense. This was another of my doubts about writing this scene because I was sure it would go over like a lead balloon when I don’t adhere to these delusional expectations. Plus the fact that my gentleman is averagely proportioned and manages perfectly well!
 

Jan74

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Oh, yeah! I love these examples! Sexual longing as a result of genuine affection/love can make for some ungodly dramatic scenes. And the longing of a temperate and sensual gentleman is undeniably more intense than a “rake” who just wants to get in some panties, consequences be damned. My gentleman is very much aware of her reputation and protective of her honor, but he underestimates the depth of his attraction/affection for her and all is lost!



THAT! YES! I once had a boyfriend who claimed I was dysfunctional because ALL of the other women he bedded only required his magic stick for blinding, screaming orgasms. It took me years to realize that he’d either lucked out by incredibly hitting that 25% every time, or he was being faked out to epic proportions. I despise this scenario in romances, and refuse to perpetuate this nonsense. This was another of my doubts about writing this scene because I was sure it would go over like a lead balloon when I don’t adhere to these delusional expectations. Plus the fact that my gentleman is averagely proportioned and manages perfectly well!

Ha! yes he was duped! I had two serious relationships before I met my husband and I faked, it wasn't until I met my hubby that I experienced a real orgasm. Good for you not perpetuating the nonsense!
 

MerriTudor

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Ha! yes he was duped! I had two serious relationships before I met my husband and I faked, it wasn't until I met my hubby that I experienced a real orgasm. Good for you not perpetuating the nonsense!

Yes, after he told me that I could have won an Academy Award for faking him out. Isn't it ludicrous that so many women feel obligated to do this instead of just getting up and saying, "Sorry, you're not meeting my minimum qualifications. Come back when you upgrade!"
 

Lil

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As a suggestion, think of it as a love scene, not a sex scene.When I was 12, and wasn't exactly clear on how the mechanics of it worked, I would have appreciated some of the technical descriptions. But now I, and probably most of your readers, know how to fit Tab A into Slot B. Lots of people actually skip over that kind of sex scene. What you want to focus on in the emotions of your characters and why this is important for them.
 

aruna

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I honestly don't see what's wrong with fade-to-black, if that's in keeping with the tone of the story. In my next book (the one in my present avatar, see left!), set in the late 1930's, the couple don't do anything more that kiss, even though they are commited to each other and in love for the first half of the book, when she's 16 - 19 and he's a gentleman.
Then "things happen" and they are separated for many years. They meet again when she is in her early 30's, now a widow. They seize the day. Then enter the bedroom, fade to black. No details. I don't see the need. It's about their feelings, not about what they actually DO. It's about the consummating a love which has been brewing for many years; and as the bedroom thing is a one-off (they won't ever meet again) emotions are running high. A lot can be done with this, through dialogie, little gestures, words. I know your book might be very different, but I think it all depends. Describing "the act" in my book's case would seem almost a violation of their privacy - especially since it's told in the first person, her voice. I can't really see her exposing exactly what they did to anyone. She'd be subtle, sensitive, a bit prudish, and that's fine for the era.

ETA: I should mention that I'm one of those squeamish readres who skip blow-by-blow sex scenes when I meet them in a book that otherwise focused on love and character development. If I've come to care about the woman, it's as if she's a close friend, and "watching" her having sex would be like coming across one of my real-life friends in a private moment. I'd turn away in real life, and I turn away in fiction!
 
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MerriTudor

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As a suggestion, think of it as a love scene, not a sex scene.When I was 12, and wasn't exactly clear on how the mechanics of it worked, I would have appreciated some of the technical descriptions. But now I, and probably most of your readers, know how to fit Tab A into Slot B. Lots of people actually skip over that kind of sex scene. What you want to focus on in the emotions of your characters and why this is important for them.

Lil, great point! I'll admit that when I was reading romances as a teenager, books were critiqued on "the good parts". As in, "Hey, did you read this? The good parts are REALLY good!" And you'd basically skim-read to get the jist of it until you got to "the good part" and then read word for word. Maybe read the whole scene two or three times. Now I see tons of books out there that cater to this - the plot is thin to non-existent and clothed events are just connectors to the next roll in the hay. I definitely want my scene to be primarily a love scene. It's finding the right tone for the sex within the love scene that's proving crazy-making! But yeah, the graphic body bits thing...I'm still doing trial-runs and getting a feel for whether that's where I want to go.

Describing "the act" in my book's case would seem almost a violation of their privacy - especially since it's told in the first person, her voice. I can't really see her exposing exactly what they did to anyone. She'd be subtle, sensitive, a bit prudish, and that's fine for the era.

ETA: I should mention that I'm one of those squeamish readres who skip blow-by-blow sex scenes when I meet them in a book that otherwise focused on love and character development. If I've come to care about the woman, it's as if she's a close friend, and "watching" her having sex would be like coming across one of my real-life friends in a private moment. I'd turn away in real life, and I turn away in fiction!

Oh, wow! If my book was in first person, I'd definitely do the fade to black. That's too close to home for me! I don't always skip the blow by blow, but if it's gratuitous, gross, or goes on for too many pages (which is boring), I tend to bypass it. For me, sex scenes should serve the plot and characters if it's going to be included. And I agree, there are some books in which fade to black respects the characters and the nature of the plot. I have another book which is resisting even a fade to black! They'll get around to it after the last page of the book, thank you very much! But I have another book set in the Victorian era and because the fact that the couple has sex (which by the rules of the era will constitute a scandal of epic proportions) is such a crucial plot point that sets the tone for remainder of the book, a fade to black won't have the necessary impact.

Thanks for your input, aruna! I'm trying to find the right mix for me, and I'm not feeling so much that I'll alienate every reader in the world if my gentleman is more discreet than others!
 

Jeneral

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FWIW, THE HATING GAME is in first person and I think the sex scene in it is amazingly well written. It's not particularly graphic as sex scenes go, but it's open-door all the same, and while some things are described, it really is all about the emotion the characters are feeling.

But I also agree that you need to do what you feel works for the tone of the book overall, what you feel comfortable with, and what works for the era.
 

Marian Perera

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But I have another book set in the Victorian era and because the fact that the couple has sex (which by the rules of the era will constitute a scandal of epic proportions) is such a crucial plot point that sets the tone for remainder of the book, a fade to black won't have the necessary impact.

In the manuscript I'm working on now, one of the characters has been coerced into sex in the past (which he doesn't think was rape because it was a Handmaid's Tale-ish scenario where "there's nothing going on here that I haven't signed up for"). So a lot of the conflict will involve his learning to let down his defenses, trust his partner, and enjoy sex again. And since this character is a doctor, it's even less likely that he would avoid mentions of specific body parts.

I intend the sex scenes to reflect a developing relationship and the changes in the two characters, and there'll be a lot of focus on emotion. But I also intend the manuscript to show two men having great sex, not two men closing their door and asking the readers to wait outside until they're finished. If I get deep into their heads and hearts, I'm getting into their bedroom as well.
 
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yoghurtelf

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I have a similar problem with most of my novels that have sex in them. My novels aren't really traditional romance - they focus more on personal struggles with family, etc, but usually do have a romantic element. So I am questioning whether I really need to go into details about the actual sex. One of my fave series of all time, written by Louise Rozett, has a sex scene that isn't really detailed but I still love it. I guess I study the way others write scenes like this, and as someone else pointed out my scenes are more about the love than the sex, so I'd call them "love scenes". I do have one quite detailed sex scene in one book, but I'm also fine with some glossing over of it if that isn't really the main point of your novel. ;)
 

Jan74

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In the manuscript I'm working on now, one of the characters has been coerced into sex in the past (which he doesn't think was rape because it was a Handmaid's Tale-ish scenario where "there's nothing going on here that I haven't signed up for"). So a lot of the conflict will involve his learning to let down his defenses, trust his partner, and enjoy sex again. And since this character is a doctor, it's even less likely that he would avoid mentions of specific body parts.

I intend the sex scenes to reflect a developing relationship and the changes in the two characters, and there'll be a lot of focus on emotion. But I also intend the manuscript to show two men having great sex, not two men closing their door and asking the readers to wait outside until they're finished. If I get deep into their heads and hearts, I'm getting into their bedroom as well.

^^^ Yes, as a reader I appreciate that. If I'm expected to be in the mc shoes then let me be in her shoes, don't slam the bedroom door in my face. It doesn't have to be graphic or erotic, but if its a romance novel and there is a huge build up for the two mc to get together and I've been anticipating this moment I want to experience that moment.
 

yoghurtelf

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I should mention that one of my fave sex scenes of all time is in one of Anne Bishop's books - the collection of four shorter works. The collection is titled Dreams Made Flesh and the story is "The Prince of Ebon Rih". It was only that awesome because of the love story that it was attached to, of course.
 

Jenna Reads

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In the manuscript I'm working on now, one of the characters has been coerced into sex in the past (which he doesn't think was rape because it was a Handmaid's Tale-ish scenario where "there's nothing going on here that I haven't signed up for"). So a lot of the conflict will involve his learning to let down his defenses, trust his partner, and enjoy sex again. And since this character is a doctor, it's even less likely that he would avoid mentions of specific body parts.

I intend the sex scenes to reflect a developing relationship and the changes in the two characters, and there'll be a lot of focus on emotion. But I also intend the manuscript to show two men having great sex, not two men closing their door and asking the readers to wait outside until they're finished. If I get deep into their heads and hearts, I'm getting into their bedroom as well.

I think this nails the readers expectations. The decision for the scenes are character-based and likely consistent with how the writer has carried on throughout the book. I think that's what matters.

If a person wrote a story that was raw, aggressive, filled with innuendo, sexually suggestive, etc and then did a fade to black, it would be ridiculous. However, if the writer was consistent with simple hints, mild innuendo, etc, then a fade to black might be acceptable.

There's also the perfectly wonderful alternative of mixing both. One of the sexiest authors for my preferred genre has both - intense, highly erotic scenes that have your heart in your throat as well as fade to black.

IMO, it comes down to consistency with how the book is flowing, what the author has set up as far as expectations and the dynamics of the scene/pacing of the moment. As long as none of these contradict, the reader will go along for the ride.

And a forced sex scene (not meaning non-consensual, but when the author feels they "must do this") will probably be read and received as well as forced humor. IOW, not well at all and then you have done yourself a disservice.
 

ElaineA

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There's also the perfectly wonderful alternative of mixing both. One of the sexiest authors for my preferred genre has both - intense, highly erotic scenes that have your heart in your throat as well as fade to black.

IMO, it comes down to consistency with how the book is flowing, what the author has set up as far as expectations and the dynamics of the scene/pacing of the moment. As long as none of these contradict, the reader will go along for the ride.

The point about pace and flow and moment is really important. I faded to black in one scene after a slow, sexy build in my current WIP. In my mind, there'd been enough smutty detail in the story up to that point and I felt maybe the reader would appreciate a break. Newp. I was taken to task by my critique partner. I chose the wrong scene to fade, but I completely agree: even the most erotic of romances can feature both where it feels right.
 

Aleena Stark

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I think with any type of scene the more research you do the more raw material you have to work with. As an avid romance fan I've read every type of sex scene you can imagine, and absolutely love writing my own steamy scenes even more. Having said that some of the most memorable romance titles I've read didn't include sex scenes. The best scenes included strong emotional connections and unpredictable beginnings and endings. I like to address actual body parts by more emotion provoking terms instead of medical or vulgar terms. Teasing the lace of her bra, before breaking the kiss and pushing her away vowing never to let her in his head again is more powerful than fluid exchange, vowing undying love, and going to bed. Feel free to use my new release as research!
The Secrets We Keep
 

Roxxsmom

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^^^ very unrealistic to have women orgasm during intercourse alone, how boring too. As for penis size 12inches is ridiculous, for starters it wouldn't stay completely hard without a ring and is a laughable size. And why do we need to know the size? Does the heroine measure it during sex? lol...totally cracks me up some of the horrible sex scenes I've read.

I am a clan of the cave bear fan, however I agree with the posters about Jondalar and his ginormous tool....book 4, 5 and 6 were hard to read since I was over it and older. I read the trilogy when I was 13/14 and loved it and will always love them. The valley of horses will always remain one of my favorite books, but it was stupid and annoying to continually hear about his size and why in the hell would they pick the largest man to have sex with virgins? That was stupid.

Especially because those girls were hitting puberty rather earlier than girls in hunter/gather societies tend to, and they were "deflowered" shortly thereafter, not waiting for 2-3 years for full physical maturity after, so they were often just 12-13.

To be fair to Auel, her sex scenes were never just about penis/vagina. Still, ow. I never saw the point of having Jondalar being so big and having Ayla be the one woman who could truly handle him. Surely there's more to being soul mates than having your parts fit just so.
 

JDlugosz

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Tell me I'm not alone! Share your tales of the agony and the ecstasy of the sex scene. Maybe it will take my mind off how mortified I am. Also, any tips are definitely welcome.

Going through it now.
 

JDlugosz

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At first she tried dimming the bedroom lights but then she couldn't see the keys.

I guess that’s another reason why you’re supposed to learn typing without looking at the keys.

I did so, on an ancient mechanical typewriter and a 6-week textbook from the library. Missing the keypad is painful and even drew blood a time or two.
 

Mrs.Smith

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Before registering yesterday, I skimmed through various threads under the Romance/Women's Fiction header to see if it might feel like a good fit. I've been looking for a place to talk with others who write women's fiction and haven't had much luck finding a place with like-minded women. I didn't skim through this thread, I read every word. I wish I'd been here a few months ago when y'all were actively having the conversation! If I quoted everything I'd like to comment on, this would be a five-page reply.

Just a few days ago, I was talking with the man in my life about my manuscript.

The man: I'll help you write your sex scenes.
Me: Thank you, but I'm not writing this to submit it to Hustler.
The man: But if you wrote hot sex scenes, men might buy it.
Me: I don't care if men buy it. It's for women.
The man: Women don't like sex scenes? You like sex scenes, why do you think other's don't?
Me: I didn't say we don't like sex scenes, I do like them, but that's not the focus of the book. The sex scenes are more like nachos at the movie theater.
The man: Like cheerleaders during football?
Me: <sigh> Yeah, like that ...
The man: Okay, well, if you need help, let me know. We could watch porn together and you could take notes.
Me: I'll be in my office.

But you've all given great advice here. I'm not a shy or modest person but I've been putting off writing it. Shea's husband has been sleeping on a buddy's couch for a few weeks while they work through a rough patch in their marriage. They still see each other and talk daily and they're close to getting things resolved, but the I've been able to put off sex so far because this is a subplot and she has bigger issues going on. But it's going to need to happen soon. I'll be going back through this thread within the next few days and using your thoughts and suggestions to figure it out. Thank you!

The other thing that concerns me was touched on a couple times - worrying about who might eventually read it. Clients? The man's female friends? My daughter? The man's daughter? My best friend's husband? Aaaggh. Don't mind me while I crawl under my desk and hide.

Regardless, I really enjoyed your comments, attitudes, experiences and suggestions. All of YOU are the women I hoping to find in a writing forum!
 

Marian Perera

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The other thing that concerns me was touched on a couple times - worrying about who might eventually read it. Clients? The man's female friends? My daughter? The man's daughter? My best friend's husband? Aaaggh.

Couldn't you publish under a pseudonym, if you're worried about people reading it?

Regardless, I really enjoyed your comments, attitudes, experiences and suggestions. All of YOU are the women I hoping to find in a writing forum!

Glad we were able to help, and welcome to the forum!
 

Hopefully WLCT

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Welcome Mrs. Smith, this place is awesome. I've learned more just reading this website than any self help book. No question is stupid and you will always find help.
 

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