Readers: How Much Sex in Your Story?

By Liz Everly

Very few people in my real life know that I write sexy romances, labeled as “erotic romance.” But a few trusted souls know—one of whom told me she was shocked when she read SAFFRON NIGHTS and CRAVINGS because the books have a lot of story in them. She expected more sex, less story. Hmmm. Look at my covers…is that what they say to a potential reader? No story, lots of sex?

SaffronCravings (eBook)Like Honey (eBook)

As a writer, I’d have to say I’d get bored quickly if all I wrote was sex scene after sex scene with not much story. I mean, there IS a place for that—just not for me. And as a reader, I usually don’t read the ten-page sex scenes. (Okay, maybe the first few, but then…I just skim.)

It’s very hard on writers of genre fiction these days to accurately label ourselves. First, I think it’s in our nature to actively resist labeling. Grin. But second, the lines between contemporary romance, steamy romance, and erotic romance are often blurred. A publisher will call your book by whatever their own formula tells them to do—or whatever the hottest sub-genre is. Sylvia Day is one of my favorite erotic romance writers and she gives a great definition of the sub-genres here.

Going by her definition, I’m writing something between erotic romance and steamy romance. Because while a good bit of development happens while my characters are having sex, a lot happens when they are not—and the stories could be tweaked for “closed door” sex scenes and you’d still have a sexy-food-suspense story. But as they are now, yes, they are “erotic romance.”

For example, in CRAVINGS Sasha is an ex-dominatrix (professional). She was taken off the street as a young woman and taught how to be one. Now, she’s uncertain how to have regular sex and to be with a man, let alone how to have a relationship. So, Sanj shows her the way. Part of this is through the sex. As a writer, I could have chosen to finagle the sex out of it. It just depends on where the writer places the focus. How she or he feels the story MOST benefits.

My friend’s remark sent my head spinning. Because here’s the thing: another reader reviewed SAFFRON NIGHTS and said it was porn. Okay—can you see my head spinning all the way around now? I think readers have to take some responsibility in this paradigm. (Like maybe learn what porn is before you write a review saying something is porn when it is not? Just because there’s graphic sex in a story doesn’t mean it’s porn. ) Make no mistake, writers are here to entertain and to please readers. We don’t want you to pick up our book and be turned off because it’s not what you expect. We want to exceed expectations, if anything.  What can we do to help meet those expectations? Are the covers leading you down the right or wrong path? How about the publishers—are they labeling books so that you see clearly what you’re purchasing in terms of heat level? How much sex is too much?

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  • Sheila
    January 14, 2014 at 4:45 am

    Based on your covers I would say your stories are sweet romances (no pun intended). No skin is shown. The past practice has been that the more skin shown, the more sex in the book. I happen to like a lot of graphic sex in a book but I read a gamut of books so I am fine with closed door sex and anything in between.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Thanks for your comment, Sheila. My books are NOT sweet romances. In fact, they are set in exotic locations, with lots of sex in them. But I’m really glad to read your reaction to the covers.

  • C. Margery Kempe
    January 14, 2014 at 5:08 am

    I have found myself equally nonplussed with the “Hey, there was a story, too!” reaction. Of course there’s a story: that’s what erotic romance is supposed to be about! I bounce between my various personas and in some ways it’s easier to deal with the no-sex genres because then it’s not invariably “too much” or “too little” and don’t get me started on the use of “porn” mostly as a slut-shaming move for people who don’t like explicit sex.

    Or by people who have contempt for romance period and like to refer to it as “porn for women” which is doubly meant to insult, as if they were dismissing it *and* finding something loathsome about emotional connection. Grrr!

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

      You know, even good books labeled “erotica” have stories in them, don’t they?

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 14, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Absolutely agree. The porn label is so aggravating I just want to scream. There’s no emotional connection in porn, there’s no development of characters and feelings and romantic attachment. All of that *is* in erotic romance. But leave it to the ignorant and holier-than-thou types to lay down their judgment upon others.

      As for the amount of sex in the story, I’m really pretty open. if It works and is well-written, why not? I”m reading erotic romance, after all. What I don’t like is when it becomes unrealistic, like the guy being ready for round 2 mere *seconds* after the completion of round 1. Or the woman having so many “releases” in the same session that I lose count. That’s when I start skipping pages.

  • Madeline Iva
    January 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

    I like what one person I know said about erotic romance. She said the sex in an erotic romance is a catalyst for change and emotional growth.

    This person said in erotic romance you want to see how sex opens up, frees, and changes the perspective of your hero/heroine.

    That said, I think that in general, people have expectations about the kind of sex they’re going to get in certain kinds of stories. I couldn’t believe it when I read a harlequin historical that had a bj in it. My eyes almost bugged out of my head. But it was most definitely NOT an erotic romance.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

      That’s interesting because someone else I know said that it’s the KIND of sex in the book that makes it an ER or not. Not the amount or the graphic nature of it.

      • C. Margery Kempe
        January 14, 2014 at 9:50 am

        So…what kind of sex supposedly makes it ER? o_O

        • LizEverly
          January 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

          According to this person who writes both contemporary romance and erotic romance, under two different names, ER has a bit more kink–menage, toys, bi-play, and so on. Her contemporary romances are very sex–but vanilla.

  • Elizabeth Shore
    January 14, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I think it’s more how explicit the description of the acts rather than the type of sex being had. The language in ERs is more graphic, more detailed, and the scenes are longer and occur more frequently. I don’t think at all that ER necessarily has to have kink, or multiple partners, or whatever to be an erotic romance.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      I would agree with that. But evidently my friend would not. LOL.

  • cpmandara
    January 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Erotica gets a bad name and the norm is lots of sex, no story. The trouble is, for most women that’s not very entertaining. The sex scenes are often the bits that I skip/skim in a story (as you mentioned) because the mechanics are pretty much the same wherever you go and there’s often a danger sign that says BEWARE: purple prose is coming your way. I’m going to put cravings on my booklist btw 😉 sounds like lots of fun.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Oh thanks so much! Please let me know what you think. Cheers!

  • Jenny Lyn (@JennyLynwrites)
    January 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Great post, Liz! This always seems to be a hot-button topic. I think the further we get into epublishing, the more blurred the lines become about sexual content in books. I’ve read some HQ Blaze books that have surprised me with how explicit they were. Even the P-word was used a few times. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I like all my stories hot since that’s what I write too. The reason I brought this up was because I don’t think many people would classify HQ Blazes as “erotic romance” per se.

    When I write my erotic romance books, I try to follow the mantra that the sex should always advance the story in some way. There shouldn’t be sex for the sake of sex. I mean, it happens occasionally still, but still… And in erotica, the sex is obviously the focal point. I also think titles can be a good indication of what’s inside, like yours for instance. They’re definitely sexy and hint at what’s inside. 😉

    And there’s always going to be those folks out there who criticize books for the sexual content. Posting a comment that a book was “porn” only makes the commenter look prudish and a bit ignorant for not doing their research on what they were getting. I think people tend to overlook those types of reviews. I know I do.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting. Glad you liked the post. I like the way you define the difference between erotica and erotic romance. When I’m interested in a book, I don’t even pay attention to the reviews. I like to make up my own mind. I think (and hope) you’re right about those “porn” remarks, too. Onward!

  • Barbara Mikula
    January 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    I also write erotic romances under the pen name Skye Michaels: the LeClub Series and the Golden Dolphin Series, as well as a stand alone, The Appearance of Impropriety.

    I like lots of spicy sex, but if the book does not also have a good story, sorry, but you don’t have a book. The legal definition of porn is that the work has no redeeming social value. Some of the ugly stuff I’ve seen out there definitely falls into that category. The books I enjoy have a strong story line and a good love story that includes lots of fun, emotional, kinky or not, sex.

    • LizEverly
      January 14, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Good to know, Barbara and thanks so much for your response and for stopping by!

  • LizEverly
    January 14, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Liz Everly and commented:

    How much sex is enough?


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