Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fade to Black - Sometimes Less is More in Sex Scenes

By Kerry Schafer

When I was a teenager, I used to go to the bookstore to read sexy scenes in books.

We're not talking B&N or some such place, where you are invited to grab a book, sit in a comfy chair, and stay awhile. This was a small town, and the "book store" was part of the drug store. But I would find a racy novel, skip directly to the sex scenes, and stand there and read. Curiosity drove me, really - I very much wanted to know how people went about the act of sex. (Pre-cable and HBO and all that, remember, young whippersnappers. There was kissing on TV and that was about it.)

These were not romances, mind you: even then I had a taste for grittier novels, and like the books Allison wrote about on Thursday, there was not a lot of love or romance going on.

The romances I could get my hands on were all old school Harelequins. I don't think there was ever any explicit sex in any of them - just a lot of kissing and caressing, burning lips and throbbing veins and wildly over the top language to describe it all. I was forbidden these novels (although I know my mother read them) and kept them under my mattress. Don't hate me, romance lovers, but I didn't keep them there because I loved them so. I read them because they amused me.

Those romance scenes just totally cracked me up. In fact, my friend and I would read them aloud to each other, rolling on the floor with laughter. To this day, I have a hard time appreciating novels in the "pure romance" category. Nothing against them, or those of you who write them - I do recognize the work and the art that goes into the writing of a good romance - they just don't do it for me.

When it comes to sex in books, I'm usually much more fascinated by scenes that leave something to the imagination. Set up the scene for me, give me some kissing and caressing in which nothing is throbbingly overstated, just a few words to let me know that pleasure is happening, and you know what? I create an entire sex scene in my head without being aware that I'm doing it. And chances are, the one that my brain is writing for me out of my own imagination is more enjoyable for me than anything you could have written in carefully explicit detail.

Does anybody else do this? There were books I wouldn't let my boys read until they were "old enough" because I remembered explicit sex scenes. After they read these books they pronounced me semi-insane, informing me that "there's nothing there." So I went back to look, and they were right! Just a few carefully crafted lines that let you know clothes were removed and consummation happened. But in my head - a perfectly detailed sexual experience still remains.

I'm not a prude. I have an appreciation for well written erotica (our own Jeffe Kennedy is a pro at this) and I do like reading sex scenes. I need them to be realistic though. I can't buy the scenarios where our lovers have been sleep deprived for three days, have not had showers or proper meals, are in "Oh My God, we're going to die mode" for brutal lengths of time, and then climb straight into bed (or onto the floor or the desk or whatever) the moment they are safe and spend the next 24 hours having the best sex of their lives.

Also? I disagree a little with KAK's post about TMI and why it's best to keep some things out of the writing. I love realistic sex scenes in books: those rare scenes where our characters love each other deeply and have sex while aware of body hair or garlic breath or yes, even farts - I think this is brilliant. Maybe the woman doesn't get off, and keeps it a secret from her partner because of kindness. Maybe it's comfort sex, or a functional morning quickie, or the heroine really does turn to her beloved and say, "you know I love you, but I am just so tired, and I really do have a headache." And because he loves her, he gives her a hug and a kiss and goes off to the bathroom to tend to his own needs.


  1. LOL. There is much to be said for "fading to black." Even in the romance genre there are authors who write wonderful stories of the relationship without ever detailing the sex. I'd much rather be left to my own imagination than endure a poorly written sex scene.

    On the other hand, if there is going to be explicit sex for everyone's pleasure, I don't want the hero burping garlic in my ear. ;D

  2. I suppose the explicit sex is really the "idealized love" that spawned poems like "To His Coy Mistress" and all that. As such, you are right - it should be free from the taint of garlic.

    But man, I love me some garlic. : )