Skipping Over The Sex Scenes


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By Elizabeth Shore

Do you remember the first time you ever read a sex scene? I sure do. The book wasn’t even a romance, in fact it was a murder mystery, but there was a brief scene between two characters meeting for a secret tryst in a snow- covered woodsy cabin. There’s a bit of naughty phone talk as they arranged for the rendez-vouz, and – never having read anything like it before –  what a scorcher it was for my virginal eyes! From that moment on, I was hooked on sex scenes.

Years after that steamy introduction, I’m like a hardened street cop who’s seen it all. Groups, couples,  ménage, straight, gay, bi, every orifice we have, every curious position we can think of, I’ve read it in an erotic romance. It’s a positive advance within the genre that writers have gained acceptance in introducing all kinds of different scenarios in their books. Readers can now step up to the erotic romance buffet table and choose just what they want.

“I’ll take a paranormal with inter-racial shapeshifters, group sex, and some m/m, please.”
“No problem, ma’am. Any light bondage on the side?”
“Sounds great. Thanks!”

Yet despite our vast array of choices in erotic romance – including how many or how few sex scenes we want – I’m still see seeing readers commenting on how they “skip over the sex scenes” when they’re reading erotic romance. At first take, it seems like an odd thing to do. Wouldn’t it go to reason that the desire for a hot, descriptive book is what prompts a reader to seek out erotic romance in the first place? So why skim over the very scenes that were wanted to begin with?

There are a number of reasons I can see, number one being that some books just have too many of them. It’s like dessert overload. As much as you love it, eating twenty pounds of chocolate in a single sitting is simply too much chocolate. Reading an erotic romance in which long, drawn out explicit sex scenes go on for three quarters of the book is simply, at some point, just too much sex. It’s not hot anymore. It’s not titillating. It’s doesn’t thrill and excite and make us tear through a book at the expense of all else. It’s just . . . meh. You start flipping over those scenes as you wonder to yourself, “does anything else happen in this book?”

Another sure incentive to skip the sex scenes is when they’re so badly written that they become either really irritating or inadvertently hilarious. The purple prose debacles of the 80’s have largely gone the way of ripped bodices, but there’s still bad writing a’plenty out there, and it doesn’t make at all for a hot read. Scenes become mechanical, pronouns and nouns are highly overused, and the result is a sex scene with as much passion as a dead fish.

Lots of erotic romances could be improved with the help of a good editor, but the demand to get books out quickly before on to the next  puts unrealistic expectations on editors. It’s far too time consuming to work with writers crafting and refining sex scenes when the conveyor belt of books to be published is coming at editors with the speed of a bullet train. It’s too bad, too, because I think there are lots of erotic romances that could go from good to great if only someone with desire and experience had the time to make it so.

As an erotic writer myself, it’s a bit crushing – to say the least – when I hear readers talk about skipping over the very scenes that I take pains to imagine, write, edit, re-write and refine to make them really and truly hot and exciting. So what gives? What gets you to stop and read the sex scenes versus rolling on by? We writers would like to think that if we write it they will come – literally (ha!) – but only if the scenes are actually read.

Sound off in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us here at Lady Smut. You’ll never want to skip what we have to say.

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16 Comments

  • LizEverly
    January 29, 2014 at 9:09 am

    I think you’re right about the sex scenes that people skip over are probably badly written. Let’s face it, writing a good sex scene is very difficult. And then there is a matter of personal taste. I like sex scenes–but not ones that go on and on for ten pages, for example. But I am that kind of reader and writer…I think there’s something to be said for “less is more.” That said, there are readers who LOVE the 10-page sex scenes. Once again, it just comes down a reader finding what she likes and a writer finding her audience.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 29, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      If the long scenes are well written I’m all for it. What does get just a wee bit tiresome for me if a really long scene is followed up by another really long scene only a few pages later. Sheesh. Give me some time to recover!

  • Author Charmaine Gordon
    January 29, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Another fascinating post, Elizabeth. First, I must tell you when I was a young teen and a book came out titled Forever Amber I hid it under the covers and read by flashlight about sex, Yes I the virgin read the few scenes salivating with possibilities not to be fulfilled until I married years later. Now I find gratuitous sex boring and definitely skip over to find a story other than between the sheets. There must be a reason for all the groping, thrusting and heaving to further the story. Please.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 29, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      We were just talking about that book last night, Charmaine! I’m sorry we missed you. Next time, I hope. xoxo

  • C. Margery Kempe
    January 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I write scenes that show character, conflict and change. If readers skip over them, they’re missing most of the story. I suppose the scenes could be badly written, but if a book’s badly written, I just toss it aside and find one that’s good.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      Agree completely. I put a lot of effort into the sex scenes. I want them to be exciting and hot, sure, but they also drive the story forward and show the growth of the characters.

  • Sheila
    January 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I read all the sex scenes. I cringe at the badly written ones. I would rather an author end a scene at the closing of the bedroom door rather than write bad sex. I often feel that authors are uncomfortable writing sex when they write a bad scene. A good sex scene does more than titillate. It usually sets up or enhances the relationship between the characters. When the sex is really good, I, you should excuse the express, cream my jeans. So leave those graphic sex scenes in.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Really interesting point, Sheila, about the bad scenes being written by authors who are uncomfortable writing them. As Liz Everly points out above, the scenes are tough to write. You want to try to be imaginative and creative but let’s face it, there are only so many euphemisms for the p word, for example. Trying to describe something different can easily venture into purple prose territory. And those scenes are definitely skippable!

      In any case, I’m glad to hear that you read them.

  • Madeline Iva
    January 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I find it’s mostly in mysteries that I’m cringing and skipping romance/sex scenes. There’s a very good reason some of those mystery folk don’t write romance. Meanwhile, I’m very picky about reading erotic romance, so I guess that’s why I don’t skip or overload. I mean, I will take long breaks from the genre — but I do that with all romance genres. I over indulged in historicals about six months ago, and am still on break.

    I did find it very startling the other day to read an erotic romance that was so well written over all — but the sex scenes weren’t quite as good, and it made me uncomfortable, actually. Usually it’s the other way around, the erotic romance writer can be sort of meh in the plotting department and I just skim from sex scene to sex scene. This was exactly the opposite. I was confounded. Now I’m so curious as to why this author writes erotic — when I in general think that you have a wider audience the more sex you leave out.

  • Barbara Mikula
    January 30, 2014 at 5:30 am

    I’m an erotic romance writer as well (Skye Michaels) and I have had a couple readers tell me that they will skip the sex if it’s too long. The two I am thinking of are older women though. I know they love the stories, but am not sure how much of the sex they read.

    For myself when I was doing research on these types of books before I decided to try writing one (I probably read 50 or a 100 first), I found that the books that were nothing but sex from front to back were BORING. If the book didn’t have a good story to catch my interest, I would probably not even finish it. That said, we also have to really try to be sure that the sex scenes we put in advance the story as well as titillate the reader. I wrote one book where the editors asked for more sex and more explicit words – I thought I had enough but had to go back and add more pussies and cocks to get my rating up. I was trying not to over use those words, but to no avail. That book also had no BDSM element (didn’t think it fit the story or the characters – The Appearance of Impropriety, a legal/horse show/polo background). Even though I (and several other people I have talked to) think it might be my best book to date, it hasn’t caught on, while my BDSM series are doing well. What does that tell us? More BDSM I guess! LOL

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 30, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      How interesting, Barbara. It’s as if you’ve suffered a weird, kind of 50 Shades effect of “Must Have BDSM.” Or simply just more pussies and cocks! Ha!

  • Jake Devlin
    January 30, 2014 at 10:08 am

    In my second novel (mostly a thriller), I threw in a very long and graphic sex scene, using POVs of each of the three (two women, one man) involved, but with a lot of disclaimers about the prudes who inhabit my area (SW Florida), and then put the scene online, with a link in the book, so people who chose to read it could, while those who wanted to skip it could do that. I also put a legal disclaimer on the first page they got to when they went to that link, with some humor in it. I also stuck some answers to questions I left vague in the book itself buried in the online scene, to reward the folks who chose to read it. Feedback to date from readers has been exactly as I’d hoped.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      January 30, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Which is . . .??! Jake, don’t leave us in suspense! Your idea is great, please tell more!

      • Jake Devlin
        January 30, 2014 at 4:45 pm

        Let’s see how to put this without spoilers. Okay; here goes. And mea culpa in advance if I blabberate overmuch.

        My first novel, “The Devlin Deception,” was about a guy who buys the US government, fires all the politicians and the Supreme Court and takes over as the owner (i;e., he’s in full control, like a dictator, no elections), but wrapped around that story is the problems that beset the beach bum, “Jake Devlin,” who’s writing that story; a black helicopter comes for him.. (JD is a pseudonym, BTW.) So I played with fiction and reality a little bit in that one, two levels, story within a story.

        In the sequel, “Devlin’s Defiance,” the beach bum character/story continues, and I played even more with fiction and reality and then more fiction, at one point having a character argue with the author a la Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” (Cool play from like 1910, BTW.)

        Never having written erotica, I created a character in the sequel who is a relatively famous writer of that, and she offers to write a three-way and let the author use it (one 68-year-old guy and two 50ish twin sisters who’d been honeytrappers for the CIA in the ’70s). But when the author gets to the point of maybe actually including it, he chickens out and his girlfriend (71ish, formerly a prude, but now not so much) gives him the idea of putting it online with the link in the book itself, as well as the stuff I put in my first comment above.

        The first bit of feedback i got was an email from a female reader, who wrote, “I just now finished reading the online erotica bit. Holy crap!!!!! (she used the S-word, not “crap,” but five exclamation marks.) She’d also read the first one, where I did the obligatory but gratuitous sex scenes in what I and she and several other readers thought was a unique POV (not of the participants in that one).

        If you’d like, and if you swear not to pass it on, I’ll email you the link to the online erotica in the sequel, but it sorta needs the context of the whole book (maybe both of ’em) to be fully fleshed (pun not intended) out. .

        Oh, forgot to say that the lead-in and lead-out from the online scene ARE in the book and are only suggestive (well, maybe a little bit graphic, but not too much; I just liked the words “gossamer” and “diaphanous.”)

        And if you want to check my web site, it’s JakeDevlin.com. And please realize that “Jake Devlin” is only a pen name AND a character. (Hear that, CIA, NSA? It’s not me; It’s all FICTION, K? No classified material; I swear.)

        Mea culpa again if overblahblahed. But hope that kinda answered your questions. Oh, email is Jake at JakeDevlin.com

  • christineblackthorn
    February 1, 2014 at 2:32 am

    I am not sure I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I think people, definitely myself, only skip over the sex scene if it is not inbound in the character development. When reading your post I went back and looked at some recent books I read, one I loved and one I hated. It’s interesting because I had actually thought the second had too much sex and too little action – but it turns out that, on analysis, that was not the case. The one I loved actually had more sex in it, but all of it had a clear emotional link and some meaning.

    I like sex, I like reading about sex, but I need to feel the characters, be able to be there in my mind (let’s not analyse that bit). I can only do that if my intellect is involved, as well as my emotions. I think we underestimate the power of the brain in writing erotica.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      February 4, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Agree completely, Christine. Here at Lady Smut we’re often expounding on the necessary emotional connection in erotic romance. It’s not just about the sex, it’s about the the powerful connection between the sex and the emotion, between the body and the heart.

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