Sexiness and the Awkward Authoress

I readily admit that I am not very good at sexiness, in my writing or in real life. I steer clear of book covers with half-naked people on them (I’m lookin’ at you, Fabio), and Magic Mike or 50 Shades of Gray hold absolutely no appeal. After getting a review or two about how my characters’ relationships and interactions are not steamy enough, I began to get a little more than frustrated. What if the author didn’t want to have her characters get into sexy romps? What if she wanted to explore intimacy through non-sexual interactions?

Immediately I began venting to my best friend about the issue and then posted on a women’s writing group that I am part of on Facebook. I expected to get some responses from people who agreed with others saying to suck it up and cave into society’s demand for clandestine moments and characters exploring their “inner goddesses,” but I was shocked to find that many writers agreed with me and that the overarching message was to stay true to myself and my characters.

Before I am a writer, I am a reader, and when I write, I keep myself first and foremost in mind. What would I want to read? What turns me off as a reader? I’m not a complete prude, I like reading romantic scenes and intimate moments between characters that obviously care deeply for each other. If those scenes include sex, that’s fine. For me, as long as the emotional connection is there, I’m usually more than okay with it. What I cannot stand is gratuitous sex or violence in a work with no other purpose than to arouse or scandalize the reader. Recently I decided to read some paranormal romance in preparation for a series I intend to write in the future. I was incredibly disappointed by the series I downloaded as a bundle. Like clockwork every thirty or forty pages there was an erotic scene. Rolling my eyes, I read through plenty of moaning and groaning, but what made it awkward wasn’t the acts themselves, it was that the characters could have been anyone. It was as if the scenes were written in a vacuum with blank-faced characters. If the reader cannot connect with your characters and want to share in the intimacy, why bother writing these scenes?

I should outright say the reason I tend not to write sex scenes in my books. It isn’t because I’m a prude or think sex should never appear in novels, it just never seems to fit in what I’m writing. I enjoy writing the lead up or those tender private moments, but once your characters are in the heat of the moment, can they really express themselves enough to further plot or character development? My main thought is: sex is not the be all and end all of romance or intimacy. You can have sex without romance, so why not have romance without sex?

Some other avenues of intimacy to explore are obvious, kissing, cuddling, undressing, touching, embracing. What are your characters thinking as these things happen? Does s/he enjoy these things? Are they doing them to please their partner? How are they doing them? With urgency, slowly, passionately, coolly? How a character does something says just as much as why they are doing it. Why not play with different forms of love? There is sexual love, romantic love, and platonic love, so you aren’t limited to just couples. Friends can be intimate with one another as easily as couples. When you’re upset, does your friend wrap their arms around you or speak close and quietly to make you feel better?

Romantic moments are as much about sexuality as they are about intimacy. They don’t necessarily have to be the same thing.

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23 thoughts on “Sexiness and the Awkward Authoress

  1. Same here. I find flaunting sex to be pointless and a brazen display of inadequacy. Romance, true feelings, great. But sex and nudity now are so ubiquitous it is losing its power. After all, intimacy is private, not flagrant.

    1. I agree. I’m not really into HBO style scenes, especially when they just seem to be taking up space and doing nothing for the plot.

  2. I wrote recently on my blog about the difficulties of writing sex scenes and whether I should write a sex scene into my next in my crime series ‘The Art of Survival’. For the moment the sex scene is in there. I do think it’s important to stay true to yourself as a writer and there are many ways of showing intimacy which don’t include sex. Plus, unless you’re writing erotica, I think the sex scene has to develop the plot somehow, it shouldn’t be there just as ‘window dressing’.

    1. I completely agree. That’s why I get so frustrated when people expect it in genres other than romance or erotica. It doesn’t *have* to be there and shouldn’t if it serves no purpose.

  3. I agree with everything said here. You can’t just plug in erotic stuff to shock the readers. It should make sense as it arrives, rather than “I want to reach out to my romance-loving friends.” You can’t please every reader and if they want meaningless sex, they can go elsewhere because they won’t get it from us!

  4. Agreed, whole heartedly! It isn’t all about sex, it’s about what emotions are between characters, how they feel about each other. If it doesn’t fit your style of writing or feel right, then I wouldn’t do it just to satisfy other people. Your story/stories are unique as you are and that’s what makes you a great writer. 🙂

  5. Once again, thoroughly agree. In my first book, I couldn’t even bring myself to write my characters a kissing scene…
    In addition to everything you’ve said about sex scenes needing to fit the story, I’m extremely private with any expression of intimacy (might have something to do with being German), and to me, writing it in a book is putting it out to the world. Sorry, not happening. I could no more write a sex scene than I could act it out on screen or stage.

    1. I’m not too squeamish about kissing scenes, but they still need to make sense as well, especially if the couple is just coming together. Timing is everything. It’s hard, and these scenes (any intimacy) often take me the longest to write.

  6. For the record, I think The Earl of Brass worked perfectly without an erotic scene. You do you!

    There is a tasteful, steamy scene in my first novel, and I debated whether or not to have it. However, the whole purpose of the scene is to mature/grow my protagonist. She works in a brothel (where I did not show any sex scenes), so I wanted the reader to be able to share her first positive intimate experience with her. I know it may turn off some readers, but similar to your reasoning, it fit with my characters and my style as a writer. Hopefully it is not poorly received!

    1. I like the idea of showing her first positive experience instead of all the negative ones. Often implying is better than the showing because the reader fills in the gaps. I’m sure it won’t be poorly received, there doesn’t seem to be a reason it would. People are much more opposed to rape or prostitution than a positive experience.

  7. Intimacy beats out sex anyday! I love reading the build up to a relationship, a book feels more personal in my opinion. Dont get me wrong I am a sucker for The Soutgern Vampire Mysteries series but apart from the sex it has a good base and character evolution. Stick to your guns girl and be the awkward turtle you were born to be!

    1. I love Anne Rice’s vampire books and several male x male series that involve quite a few erotic moments, but as you said, if the character evolution is there as a base, it makes those moments a lot easier to stomach than if they were thrown in there just because.

  8. I know we’ve had this conversation, Kara, just not here. I do write sex scenes, sometimes quite explicit BUT only when it’s important for character development. If there’s no character (or plot) development involved then it’s just mechanics (fit tab A into slot B) and of no value.

    Also, depending on the circumstances, I might throw in some humour. let’s face it, sex is pretty silly (no matter how much fun it is). I’ve had an entire sex scene that was a fake: Two characters (not in a relationship) made the sounds of sex in order to fool someone else. Still curiously erotic.

    But that’s me. That’s not you. You write your books, and I enjoy them. No reason to change whatsoever. You have to be true to yourself.

    1. I need to move your books up the tbr pile. They sound hysterical. I love humor in those situations because honestly, it is an awkward process, and it’s even more believable when they aren’t porn star quality scenes. In The Earl of Brass, I have an oddly erotic scene when she removes his prosthesis. In the short companion story I’m working on, I’m debating if the characters will go all the way or if I should save that for book 4 when I get to it. I would like to challenge myself, but as you said, it needs to work with the plot and actually do something.

      1. Thanks 🙂 Though I don’t think “hysterical” would be the right term, they are deadly serious (as one reader said “shocking but not for the sake of it”) – I just have character humour where appropriate.

      2. Ha, well yes, I can’t deny *that* scene is funny (apparently I managed to keep it just the right side of ridiculousness) … and the one where the inexperienced seductress gets tangled up in her nightie.

        Mmm, sexy times 🙂

        (If I were so inclined I’d write my own slash fiction about some of my characters … but I’m not. I have been toying with the idea of writing erotic furry – it’s a small but fanatical market – but mostly I’m too busy.)

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