Sex Scenes, Romance Readers, and Premature Snoozing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a modern romance novel is in need of a sex scene. And for some books, several in each chapter.

This opens the genre up to the Porn Accusation, (made daily and not worthy of a link), which is funny because of the many hard-core romance readers who skip them entirely. I’ve heard this many times in online forums and reader groups: huge fans of romance novels, women who read one book a day, week after week, year after year, will admit that they skim over all that boingdadaboingboing. That stuff that (ignorant) critics accuse them of lapping up like crack.

These readers aren’t just saying they skip the sex scenes so people think they’re morally upright womenfolk; they’re confessing something they’re a little embarrassed about. Sometimes to the writer of the book.

And for most of these women, I doubt it’s because they’re prudish. Many times I’ve heard a reader (often writers themselves) joke about not needing to hear about how Tab A goes into Slot B again. The “We All Know How It’s Done” explanation.

I have skimmed or skipped many love scenes myself, but not because I’m using the romance novel as a how-to book and only read the sex bits closely if it’s educational. This has nothing to do with my vast sexual knowledge, (though Sir Galway is a good sport), and everything to do with my low tolerance for boredom. I skip lots of scenes, regular or spicy (or extra crispy) because I am too lazy to pay attention to the boring crap. For me, reading the heroine and hero fit together their tabs and slots for the fourth time is usually boring.

For the first time, though . . . oh yeah, I’m there. I like the slow build, the simmer, the tease, the building expectation, the false release, the big moment, the collapse – I like that a lot. But repeating the climax again and again? Not for me. (I can hear Sir Galway sighing in resignation.)

Plenty of readers enjoy the high volume of graphic sex scenes very, very much. Some can’t stand a word of it. Most are in the middle. (I’m making that up. Really, how the hell would I know? But it sounds true.) The trick for the writer is to find the balance that works for her story. For her own taste.

In my novella Quick Study, the sex scenes come early and often; it’s mostly a bedroom romp. (Though they’re never actually in a bed, come to think of it.) In my novel Love Handles, however, the sex comes much later, fades sooner, and repeats only once.

Both felt right for the story. I’m not trying to leave it out because some will call it porn, or throw in lots more because it sells like Lady Gaga. Like Elmore Leonard, I’m just trying to leave out the parts that people skip.