Writing sex scenes in a novel becomes a rather tricky business at times—at least it does for me. Readers (and some editors) seem to demand a certain number and/or degree of sex scenes in romance novels. I write these scenes, but I confess that I am not always really comfortable doing so. I mean sometimes I just feel that I am invading the privacy of my characters!
But for some readers (and some editors), the more explicit detail you get, the better.
Pornography has always been with us. Any visit to the murals on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum will quickly reveal that truth. And, admittedly, often enough visual and literary depictions of the most intimate human interaction can be truly beautiful. What’s more, sex in mainstream fiction has evolved just within the last couple of centuries. Madame Bovary and Tess of the D’Urbervilles seem pretty tame now. Even D. H. Lawrence, who took such abuse for Lady Chatterly’s Lover, is far from shocking to a modern reader of romance novels.
But I sometimes wonder if we have not gone overboard in this evolution of sex in fiction. That “insert-tab-A-into-slot-B” approach has gotten so ho-hum that we now we have to spell out kinky stuff, too (think 50 Shades . . .). Even conventional romps in the bedroom have to be seen in extreme detail. For instance, we get graphic details of cunnilingus and fellatio in addition to a myriad of positions for inserting tab A into slot B. And they go on for pages and pages and pages!
While there are no rules set in stone for writing about sex in romance novels, there are a few (very loose!) guidelines to which most writers try to adhere. Character and emotion should be paramount. Characters are regularly in an on-going relationship: they are making love, not merely engaged in sex. A few publishers (very few these days!) say “no body parts.” Others encourage the use of (sometimes laughable) euphemisms. Whatever the terminology, it should be consistent with the sensibilities of the characters one has created. In these, as in other scenes, careful writers pay attention to sensual imagery, tension, and pacing. And, often enough, a sense of humor helps!
I don’t have an answer for the implied question I am raising here: How much is too much? It often seems that a little subtlety would serve very well. . . .
Sometimes characters have a right to their privacy, don’t they?
But, there is no denying: sex does sell!