Friday, July 5, 2013

Sex In Contemporary Romance

Congratulations to "Jonetta", the winner of Shannyn's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!

A couple of months ago, a very interesting conversation took place on a Goodreads discussion board for contemporary romance. Someone asked how much sex is too much or too little in contemporary romance.

Of course, answers were all over the place. Some people straight out said that they skip over the sex scenes, others said the more the better. I found them all fascinating.

Most people will agree that sex scenes are meant to further the story. Things must change for the characters (usually things get worse on some level). I’ve read lots of books and in truth, I’ve come across plenty of sex scenes that, while hot and steamy, I didn’t think furthered the story. 

For me, the sex in a book is directly related to the characters. It’s all about what they need and what works for them. As I write I try to figure out how having sex will change these characters. Every time they engage in a sexual act won’t necessarily change them, any more than we all change every time we have sex. It’s about picking the times that will have an impact and showing that. 

When I wrote my debut, MORE THAN THIS, I wrote a couple of explicit sex scenes. It was important for those scenes to happen because sex is a big deal for Quinn (my heroine). She’s not totally comfortable with her body and doesn’t see herself as sexy. It’s important for her to see how much Ryan wants her.

In my second book, A GOOD TIME, the heroine, Indy is comfortable with sex. She’s fine with having casual sex, and she enjoys being a sexual creature. So in the first draft of the book, the sex scenes were closed door. I had a couple of critique partners say that I couldn’t go completely dark. There needed to be something, a hint of how the couple is together. I used this advice during revisions, but the sex scenes are still mostly hinted at. I’m not very explicit, but I didn’t feel that it made sense for these characters. 

I just turned in the revisions for book 3 in my O’Leary series, which has explicit sex scenes, and I’m drafting book 4, where my characters just shared their first kiss on page 90. For me it really is based on the characters.

I’ve heard stories of editors telling writers to include more sex or to take some out because they were edging too close to being erotica as opposed to romance. I’m not sure where the line lies. Is there a rule somewhere that dictates how many sex scenes and how explicit they are to determine romance versus erotica?

I don’t know, but I wish I did. My books clearly aren’t erotica, but if asked, I would say they are R-rated. In some circles, that’s enough for it to be called erotic.

When you choose a book, what expectations do you have about how much sex should be in it?

In honor of my new release, A GOOD TIME (O’Learys #2), I’m going to give one commenter a digital copy of the first book in the series, MORE THAN THIS

Blurb for A GOOD TIME:

A passionate free spirit and a sweet-talking playboy sound like a match made in heaven—until life gets in the way of all the fun and games…

Indy Adams values her freedom above all else. She works hard to support herself, moonlighting as a waitress while she fights for her first big sale in the Chicago real estate market. The last thing she needs is to be tied down, so she doesn’t think twice about declining her philandering boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Besides, she just landed a new client, a wealthy lothario—exactly the kind of guy who would understand her no-strings approach…

Handsome, rich, and charitable, most women jump at the chance to even talk to video game developer Griffin Walker, let alone date him. So he can’t understand why Indy wants nothing more than a few steamy nights together. Despite his romantic track record, Griffin longs for real love—complete with a home and family—and he wants it with Indy. But a blessing in disguise may lead them both to a life they never expected, and give Griffin a chance to show Indy that it’s okay to want more than a good time…

And here’s an excerpt -- Griffin and Indy just suffered through an uncomfortable family dinner with Indy’s dad, and they’ve left her sister’s house together. 

“How are you getting home?” Griffin asked.
“Same way I got here—public transportation.”
“You’re taking the bus?” Somehow, he couldn’t picture her standing at a bus stop and clambering up the steps, pushing into the crowd. 
“Yes, I’m taking the bus. What’s so funny?”
“How many times on your trip did a guy try to pick you up?” That he could imagine, especially with her bar uniform on.
She shrugged. “No more than when I’m at work. The unwashed masses are not as bad as you picture them.”
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
“Not necessary. I don’t mind taking the bus and my apartment is out of your way.”
“Come on. By the time the bus shows, I’ll have you halfway home.”
They walked to his car in silence. 
“What, no Jag tonight?” she asked, approaching the SUV. 
“Sorry, I came from the office.”
Indy opened the rear passenger door and carefully placed the cake on the floor. She closed the door and leaned against it. “Thank you for tonight. You were an excellent distraction.”
She smiled up at him, golden eyes reflecting the streetlights. On impulse, he lowered his lips to hers. Her heady scent grabbed him and he pressed her against the car.
She tasted even better than he imagined. He expected light and breezy, but found her spicy and secretive. He braced his hands on the car behind her, trapping her with his body and preventing himself from grabbing her. His fingers wanted to tangle in her long hair.
He pulled back before he could want more.

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST July 6th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email with a subject title of JCR GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.


  1. I'm so glad you're talking about this topic! I'm also in the camp of the story and the characters drive the issue. I'm not bothered by sex scenes unless it interferes with the story. In other words, having the scene feels out of sync with where the characters are in their relationship and doesn't seem true to their natures.

    On the flip side, I read a book recently where the physical relationship was what was attracting the heroine to the hero but the author had it all happening behind closed doors. I never could connect with the relationship as defined by the writer. We were told the sex was amazing...that didn't work for me. Another story (different author) had so many sex scenes I started dreading the encounters.

    In a modern story, omitting sex scenes between a couple seems unrealistic, in my opinion. How explicit those scenes are written should be character and story driven. It never bothers me to read them if it is a natural development. And, I don't miss them if that's the way the story flows. Just don't leave me in the dark when you've made it important in the story.

    I hope I've made sense here. It's an issue I consider important. By the way, I have both your books and like your perspective.

    1. Hi Jonetta - I think your point in the second paragraph (sexual attraction leading the relationship) is why my critique partners called me out on completely closing the door on Indy and Griffin. Since their relationship starts as a casual thing, I needed to show some of that, but I don't get explicit.

  2. Great topic. I think, for me, it depends on the characters as well. If the scene is important for character development, then it should be included, but repeated, superfluous sex scenes can get really annoying. It all depends on how the author handles it :)

    1. Hi Jemi - Thanks for commenting. I think most writers try to keep sex linked to character development, but sometimes the sex is fun to write :)

  3. Great post! I love when I think an author gets it just right--and it's sometimes so hard to decide.
    It definitely depends on characters, story, and conflict. I'm still trying to get it right, but absolutely enjoying the journey.
    monica.tillery at gmail dot com

  4. Good discussion. I agree that the sex has to be part of the characters' development or at least development of the relationship. It also depends on where the characters are in their relationship. If it's a reunion story, then too much tease and no action is corny. If the characters just met & they jump into the sack then that's almost porn--not even erotica! Fine line of difference but important part of the craft.

    1. Karen - Excellent examples of when the action happens based on the relationship. But even in the case of the reunion story, how often do you expect to "see" them have sex?

  5. Thank you for this excellent post. Sometimes when there is sex for no reason in a book, I think the author is just trying to make word count. I usually write semi-sweet but in the last story I wrote the heroine had intimacy issues due to a sexual assault as a teenager, so I had to detail the eventual sex scene to show how the hero helped her overcome her fears and the emotional response to doing something she never thought she could.

    1. Hi Alexia - I think if I had to rely on sex for word count, I'd be in trouble. I agree that you needed to detail the sex scene for your heroine who had issues. Otherwise, readers would probably feel cheated, and they might not believe she was really in a good place.

  6. Love the post. I read and review a lot of books and although I do enjoy a good steamy sex scene, it can not be the only thing that drives a story.... In some books, heat is all there is, and that just is not enough. Sex, because of its inherent intimate nature, especially for women, usually brings with it more than just a physical exposure.....often an emotional one as well (one would think). And as such, when n the business of romance, it has to have a place in the story somewhere, because when you simply allude to what goes on behind closed doors, you effectually leave out a very important part of the emotional connection that takes place. It is not just a physical release, but part of a deep connection.

    1. Hi Margareet - So you would be bothered by fade to black or closed door? Is closed door okay for some scenes if you get the details in another, or do you think they all need to be detailed?

  7. I guess I like to read enough edge and sexual tension to feel those butterflies. The sex should be clearly combined with emotion. I don't think I need to read a blow by blow of every sex act either.

  8. Thanks for a great blog, Shannyn. I don't write erotica, but I haven't had trouble writing sex scenes until my WIP. These two just don't want explicit, they want some privacy I guess. It's nice to know you write differing amounts according to your characters.

    1. Hi Stephanie - I will tell you that I have had readers complain that I wasn't detailed or explicit enough in A Good Time, so you need to be aware that you might get criticized for having different heat levels. Personally, I'm okay with that. Story and characters dictate what happens.

  9. Hi Shannyn--this is such a hot topic in romance these days--you did a great job with your post!

    I'm working on edits right now and my editor, whom I trust implicitly, is having me add a big-gish sexual tension scene (all but the actual act of making love) as a lead-up to the characters' actual sex scene. At first, it felt a little contrived,so it took some effort to weave in a believable lead-up to the new scene. I'm very happy with it now, but I am hoping it was prompted by her needing just what you said in your post--a bit less behind the door intimacy.

    I don't love a lot of sex in any book I read. What keeps the tingles fresh for me is lots and lots of hot scenes and then one, maybe two really nice, emotion-driven sex scenes. Much more than that and it gets a little mechanical and I start to skim. Having said that--well-written sex scenes can absolutely make a romance novel!

    Good luck with all your wonderful-sounding books!

    1. Hi Lizbeth - Mechanical is always what scares me the most. I never want to have readers skimming thinking, "yeah, yeah, where does it end?" That's why I'm cautious about what I include and try to make it real for the characters. But people do need that connection with the characters, so you can't fade everything out. It's a tough line to follow


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