January 25, 2015

Waiting For It: Are Erotic Romances Rushing to Sex?

Hold on, buddy. Can we not wait another few pages?
Hold on, buddy. Can we not wait another few pages?

By Alexa Day

Last week, I got to hang out with a colleague of mine for burgers and beer. After the Pro Bowl ended and before we started talking about whether Tom Brady’s balls were indeed perfect, we chatted for a moment about our writing.

Okay. Mostly, she indulged me as I complained about one of my pet peeves: erotic romances where the hero and heroine have sex too soon. Way too soon. Like within the first 15 pages. This is not the awkward near-miss that might have been sex or mere sexual thoughts or something like that. This is the hero and heroine having sex before I’ve really gotten comfortable with them.

It’s not so much that I object to sex between strangers in my romances. I’m a firm believer in the “slutcelebratory” romance, after all. I guess my issue with sex so soon is that I don’t know the hero and heroine yet. I don’t care enough about them to be invested in the sex. They just seem like two lucky people who fell into bed, and how nice for them, and I wonder what’s on TV right now.

My colleague and I wondered if sex so soon was just part of the genre and its tendency to test romance’s boundaries. I wasn’t so sure, but the thought bothered me a little. Erotic romance leans pretty heavily on both the frequency and intensity of sexual encounters, but how much emotion could anyone muster up within the first few pages? How much anticipation? How much tension? Where can these two people go from here? Is it possible to accomplish more than titillation that early?

Is titillation so awful?

I think Debbie Ford wrote in The Dark Side of the Light ChasersΒ that the stuff that irritates us the most is also within ourselves, and I wondered aloud how long it took to get to naked fun time in my first book, Illicit Impulse. So I went home and checked my paper copy. The first page with actual story on it is page 7. Grace, the heroine, has sex for the first time eleven pages later.

Yep! Pot, this is Kettle. Kettle, meet Pot.

In fact, my latest story, “1-800,” opens with the hero and heroine having sex. Like on page 1. Now, to be fair, it’s a short story, so there’s not a whole lot of time to get to the sex, but still, it’s right away.

I had to scramble for excuses. Debbie Ford or no Debbie Ford.

Click to buy.
Click to buy.

Sure, Grace gets it on right at the start of Chapter Two. She isn’t with John, who’s the hero. She does have to share every detail of her encounters with John β€” you know, for science β€” and they have a pretty difficult time working through all that. But Grace does get an early start on donating her orgasms to the advancement of neuroscience.

I don’t really have an excuse for starting “1-800” in bed. I knew the most important thing in the story was that the hero, Jason, was deeply in love with his fiancee, Kate. I guess I thought this was the hottest way to go about proving it. And it was kind of fun. I gave Jason a hard time after that. So there.

One of my favorite things about writing erotica and erotic romance is having the freedom to use sex for any number of plot and character development reasons. I think we have the most latitude to write angry sex, random sex, fearful sex, experimental sex, and this-won’t-go-beyond-tonight sex. I love that because I think we real people are having real sex in the real world for any number of reasons, many of which have little to do with romance.

So should I be more okay with the sex right at the beginning of the book?

I’ll try. I really will.

But if there’s a happy ending that close to the beginning, I’m going to need to see a much happier ending at the end. Know what I mean?

Do you think the sex is getting too close to page 1? Is that necessarily a problem? Let me know what you think and where you see it being done well.

And follow Lady Smut. We won’t make you wait for it.

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  • Post authorChristine Blackthorn

    I agree and I do not agree. I think sex in the beginning is a lot of fun but I also think that sex does not necessarily mean a happy ending. What annoys me is the lack of emotional and mental realisation of the impact of sex, the changes in the texture of sex when the relationship changes and the way this affects the story. There are two kinds of sex – sex that means something and affects you and sex that is just fun. Depending on the story there seems no reason why not to have the second kind in places, but there has to be a realisation that it is not the only kind, not the be-all and end-all but that if you write a relationship which uses sex as a plot and developmental device there has to be a difference, a mental and/or emotional element to it.

    Reply to Christine Blackthorn
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Lol. I should have put quotation marks around that, Christine! I meant to day that if there’s a “happy ending” that close to the beginning, I need a happier ending toward the end. You know. *nudge* A “happy ending”?

      One of my favorite things about our chosen genre is that sex can live in a world with no long-term relationship context at all. I read happier if the sex means *something,* but I actually think it sends a dangerous message to suggest that it constitutes a relationship per se.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorKim Talks Books

    Reblogged this on Kim Golden: women's fiction author and commented:
    I loved Alexa Day’s post on when sex is too soon in erotic romance. Now it’s got me thinking…when is it too soon? And have I been guilty of having my characters get it on too soon? What do you think?

    Reply to Kim Talks Books
  • Post authorKim Talks Books

    This is an interesting question you pose–sometimes the chemistry between two people can be too much to ignore, and when it’s like that then sex is almost unavoidable. But, as Christine pointed out in her comment, sex doesn’t necessarily need to lead to an HEA–which is what we get in a lot of erotic romance and chick lit. Sometimes, it just causes more problems or it doesn’t mean anything for either character–it was simply a release. So, I think if the sex has a clear meaning to the story (and the characters) it can never be too early.

    Reply to Kim Talks Books
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I think I’m more troubled by the idea that the sex is just stuck toward the front of the story for no story-significant purpose, or because someone in the production chain thinks erotic romance means having sex jammed into the story early. I was actually taught early on that characters’ lives should become more difficult every time they have sex, until the last time in the story. The same person who taught me that (I wish I could remember who it was) also said that when I got done with an erotic draft, I should go back through and remove one sex scene. That makes for tough editing, but there’s always one scene that needs to come out!

      What did you decide about your books? Is the timing just about right?

      Reply to Alexa Day
      • Post authorKim Talks Books

        For Maybe Baby, it was important that Laney and Mads felt unable to resist the pull to one another. Luckily, they don’t meet until chapter four, so it was around fifty pages into the book before anything happened between them. I initially considered starting with the scene when they meet and then have their one-night stand that becomes a full-fledged affair, but it didn’t feel right. I realised I needed to show Laney’s life pre-Mads before the reader would understand why she was so torn post-Mads. So I think I got the timing right, though I did have to take some flack for the infidelity angle.

        Reply to Kim Talks Books
        • Post authorAlexa Day

          Dude! I’m going to have to read Maybe Baby. I do love it when things get … complicated. πŸ˜‰

          Reply to Alexa Day
          • Post authorKim Talks Books

            I love good complications. πŸ™‚ It’s one of the reasons I will dare to write about infidelity, even though I get lots of mail (and online comments) complaining that it is unacceptable. Lots of things are unacceptable. And yet we still do them.

            Kim Talks Books
  • Post authorLiz Everly

    Great post, Alexa. this is something I think about a lot. But I wonder if the books that you are reacting to but by just failing to get you comfortable with the characters soon enough. Maybe it’s not the sex coming too early, but the lack of good early characterizations. I’ve read books where early feels right and ones where early feels forced and wrong.

    Reply to Liz Everly
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Maybe that’s what the trouble is after all. I don’t mind sex between strangers, unless they’re strangers *to me.* If I know the both of them, it might matter less to me that they don’t know each other.

      And now I want to write an experiment with that. Hm. πŸ™‚

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    “They just seem like two lucky people who fell into bed, and how nice for them, and I wonder what’s on TV right now.”

    Exactly! For me, sex without emotional heft is not that interesting. I mean, sometimes–as you referenced, sex is about pushing boundaries–and than can have some emotional heft to it and I’m riveted. But if the sex is not setting off a cascade of glorious/nervous/angsty/shocking feelings, I find myself wanting to put the book down.

    That said — I’ve always thought that meant I wasn’t meant to be an erotica reader. Am I wrong about this? Is erotica about emotion? I didn’t think it necessarily was. Please correct me if I’ve assumed something I shouldn’t. I thought that this meant I was a true blue erotic romance reader.

    Meanwhile, I don’t even remember your hero in your short story having sex in the beginning. I only remember the sex that comes later on TV. Hunh.

    What I liked about Geneva’s free read that we posted on Tuesday (it’s .99 now) was that although nothing about emotion was stated in the story — it’s definitely about more than just getting it on. Heh-heh! So clever in that way. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S38J9U8

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Oh, yeah, erotica is definitely about emotion — it’s just not necessarily about *romance.* Instead of depending on the relationship between two (or however many) characters, it’s about one character and that person’s character development, which is highly sexual in nature. One person’s sex-driven journey to self-acceptance is erotica. Her sexual journey to vengeance is erotica. I guess it could be two separate people on their own sex-driven character journeys. In a way, this is how Illicit Impulse works — Grace is on a sexual trip to self-knowledge, John is on a sexual trip to scientific knowledge — before it definitely turns to romance toward the end. In any event, erotica should be making you feel *something,* hence all the little subdivisions inside it — erotic horror, erotic suspense, and so forth.

      Jason and Kate in “1-800” definitely start the story in bed. πŸ˜‰

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorCara Bristol

    In general, I do want to get to know the characters before they have sex. That said, it depends on the story. Most often a well-written sex scene is metaphor or a revelation of what is happening in a the H/h’s relationship. Opening with a sex scene would need to really need to show me something about the characters beyond the fact that they’re horny for each other.

    Reply to Cara Bristol
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yeah, I would definitely need to be convinced! But I’m open to the idea that it can be done well. Sex is revelatory, right?

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    In my latest contemporary, Hot Bayou Nights, the H and H don’t even kiss until page 101. Now, granted, the action moves really fast once it kicks into gear. It’s an erotic romance after all. But my motivation to wait was in wanting to creat really hot erotic tension before the consummation. My problem with the characters tumbling into bed too soon isn’t so much that I feel like I don’t know them, but that I the reader haven’t had time to get turned on. If i’m after a hot read I think the build up is every bit as important as the act. By the time they do it, I want to be panting myself. If they’re going at it too soon I’m bored and, like you, start wondering what’s on TV.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      The opportunity to create amazing sexual tension — that’s another fantastic thing about writing erotic romance! I mean, all romance has it, but I think erotic romance gives us a chance to go farther for longer. That’s what it’s all about. πŸ˜‰

      Reply to Alexa Day

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