Wednesday, April 4, 2007

"Let's Talk About Sex Bay-Bee...

...Let's talk about you and me. Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be..." And I bow to Salt-N-Pepa for that fabulous opening. I've been lax on reading blogs lately, trying to raise a family, read books, blog books, write a book, volunteer, and run a household, something had to take a backseat and blog surfing took the hit this time. However, the other night I had time to do just that (OK, I took the time to do just that) and I ventured over to Romancing the Blog and scanned the latest entries. And that's when I ran across this entry, Sex by the Numbers written by Kimber An for RTB's Open Blog Night.

It's not often, read never, that I read a post that inspires me to create a blog post on the same topic. But, as a writer and a reader, this topic hit a chord and I wanted to examine it a bit more. If you don't visit RTB often, basically, what the post said is that feeling pressure from all angles of publishing to write a steamy sex scene, the author will turn out a bland, been there done that, sex scene. One readers have read countless times and authors have penned since the dawn of Romance. Kimber An referred to this as "The Standard Issue Sex Scene. Regardless of time period and setting ..., there is one or two explicit sex scenes. The progress of the relationship up to that point is also irrelevant. The hero is always highly skilled (regardless of experience) and selflessly concerned (even if he’s only one step up from a Neanderthal) with pleasing the heroine who is always fantastically pleased."

One of the main things that jump out at me here is - (even if he’s only one step up from a Neanderthal), if a hero is that bad, I'm not going to be reading the story far enough to get to any sex scenes. It also makes me think that if the hero is so unlikable, perhaps the editor wanted that steamy sex scene in there to show a different side of the hero. I don't know. What I do know is that sex sales. Period. It has been this way for a long time now in music, tv, movies, and magazines, why should books be an exception?

But a standard issue sex scene (SISS) isn't found in several books, and yet they sale. So I wonder if the reason so many Romances are adding in more and more explicit sex is because Erotica is growing in popularity? Do authors feel that by giving just one or two steamy scenes, they will be able to stay in the Romance readers TBR or TBB stack? Who are these authors that are turning out the SISS? New to the market authors? Tried and true authors? I don't know, because while I do see many similarities in sex scenes, the voice of the author and the story surrounding them makes a difference.

If it's a new author that is turning out those scenes for the sake of sales, and the scene really does lend nothing to the story, then that author won't be around long enough to pen many more books. Romance readers are not a stupid group. In fact, the more reader blogs I scan, and readers I get the chance to speak to, I'd say that Romance readers should have a special place in Mensa. We aren't going to fall for a sales ploy that slows the pace of the story and has the characters doing something so robotic we can hear the metal clanging. And I honestly don't think that any business savvy editor is going to buy one of those scenes either. It just isn't smart business.

If it's one of my tried and true authors, of course the steamier scenes are going to seem the same, I know what to expect from those authors, and I read those books for that same reason. Even if the love scenes they turn out are closely related from book to book, they are on my auto-buy list for a reason, so obviously their formula works for me.

All of that said, do I think that every Romance book should be filled with steamy sex scenes or I won't buy it? Absolutely not. Jennifer Crusie is a master at the steamy scene, but she also penned one of the best Bad Sex Scenes, ever. In FAKING IT, the first couple of times Tilda and Davy hit the proverbial sheets, nothing worked. In fact, it went so wrong that it was right. By the time Tilda and Davy did make it work, I had to have ice water dumped on my head to cool down after finishing those pages.

In Sherryl Woods Sweet Magnolia's trilogy, while you know the characters have sex, you aren't privy to what happens during the actual act and the books are wonderful reads. As a reader of Romance, I don't need to see the actual act to feel the connection to the characters, but when I do, I want it to be so well written that I'm practically panting by the end. If it isn't does that slow my reading or stop it all together? Absolutely not, if the book is well written otherwise, and I genuinely care about the characters, I don't care if the sex they share is as boring and by the book as you can get.

What's your take on all of this? Do you see the SISS a lot in books? Do you think that Kimber An was right and pressure from editors and agents are causing authors to buckle and write something they aren't comfortable with? What can authors do to stay away from the SISS? And how much does sex in the books you buy influence your decision to read them?

Take Care


dee said...

As you already know, I've been thinking about this a LOT lately.
Yes, sex sells. I know that. However, I've found myself reaching for books that I'm pretty sure don't have explicit scenes in them more and more lately. Yes, I still like the steamy scenes, but sometimes, I just want the romance.
On another note, I love Crusie. She's really a master at the scenes. And honestly, I find that I like the books that show honesty in the bedroom more than fantasy, if you know what I mean. Yes, I think a couple can have great sex the first time, but really - how often does that happen? I loved Davey and Matilda's first scenes, because they were REAL, in a way that most authors ignore. Great sex doesn't always happen the first time. Sometimes, it only happens when a couple takes the time to really get to know each other. When it happens, it is out of this world. That's a truth. Bravo to Jenny Crusie for not only admitting this truth, but having the courage to write about it. I wish more romance writers were as honest!

orangehands said...

i remember having a conversation with CBs about the three sex scenes: the guy goes down on the girl, missionary sex, and some kind of "wild sex" (this ranges from slightly different to really, really kinky). and while this doesn't apply to all books, i think of these three as the SISS. not to say they haven't been done well, or that authors who use them are all just doing the SISS, just that when an author doesn't really want sex (to write it or explain it) but needs to add it (whether it moves the story along or not by having explicit sex doesn't always matter), these are the sex scenes they use. it has the name "standard" in its title for a reason; because most authors- even if they are into the sex scenes- use the same basic format. so yes, i do believe there are SISSs, and while readers won't "fall for it", i think they'll forgive it if the rest of the story is good. and i think there are plenty of SISSs that are well-written.

there are also plenty of authors who don't use SISSs or have any sex scene at all. it really all depends on the story.

i also think Jennifer Crusie is the most unique sex writer ever (a title i'm sure she's happy to now have). :)

Sierra Donovan said...

Ladies, this is really funny, because it's my first visit ever to this blog, and I blogged on this very subject about a week ago.

I do think sex has become obligatory in some books, though like you, I was wondering why, since it wasn't the "selling point" in the books I was griping about. If you'd like, you can find my blog entry here:

Nice to meet you!


DeeandDee said...

Jenny The MUSWE - We can dub her as such and she'll think we can't spell and are calling her our muse, LOL. Crusie is a master, others that come to mind are Anderson and Foster. Banks isn't too far behind there either. But the truth is, as you point out OH, there are 3 basic scenes, and really how many ways can ppl have sex without it being illegal in at least one of the fifty states?

Hi Sierra, thanks for stopping by, I read your post, and I left a comment over there. Was it the RTB entry that got you thinking on this?

Sierra Donovan said...

Hi, and thanks for posting a response to my blog entry!

Nope, I hadn't read the RTB post. It's just kind of a sticking point for me because I write "sweet" books, and that market is dwindling fast. I don't mind sex in a book if it's appropriate, but I do think it's possible to write a great romance without it, too. And at this stage of my life, it's nice to write books that it's safe for my kids to read!

Lines like Harlequin American and Super appear to "require" at least one sex scene, but I'm not really sure why, since they're usually not explicit.

However, we are in SOLID agreement about Jennifer Crusie. I love her books. She does write great sex scenes, but more importantly, she writes great relationships. (And great dialogue, and great humor....)

Have a good weekend!


orangehands said...

dee: *snort* we can tell her, "you're our muse and our MUSWE". *hee hee*

gonna go check out your post, sierra