Michaeline: A Different Kind of Sex Scene

Androgynous image with curly hair on head and curly hair on chest.

Does it matter if the lover is a boy or a girl? In some details, yes. But a lot of technique is transferable. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve been talking about sex scenes this week on Eight Ladies (Kay’s post on February 2), and my book rec for the month is Charmed and Dangerous, a collection of short gay fantasy stories written by women and edited by Jordan Castillo Price. The ten stories are well-written, exciting and full of creative ideas that take paranormal romance and urban fantasy to interesting places. Goodreads link.

The sex scenes have a different dynamic than any of the straight romance I’ve read. Women have this idea that men are ready for action at any minute. I’m not sure if that is acute observation or just urban legend, but there it is. In a straight scene in a straight romance, often the woman is worrying about something: her reputation, her own feelings for this guy, the meaning of the sex, and so on and so forth.

Generally in the scenes in this book, sex is sex. It doesn’t have to mean a thing – as long as the two gay men are in a romantic situation with mutual attraction, there doesn’t seem to be a reason (in this fictional world) for them not to have enthusiastic sex-in-the-moment. So, they drop everything to do so, and have a few paragraphs of sweaty, happy sex, which turns out to be deep and meaningful (the most intimate sex ever) because after all, we’re talking about subsets of the romance genre. The characters often go in expecting orgasms, and come out with orgasms and the love of their lives.

The big question is, can this be applied to straight romance scenes? Last night, I was re-reading Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie, and thought the sex scenes were quite good. Both characters went in with Reasons We Should Not Have Sex, but somewhere during the scene, lost their minds and just had sex. The Best Sex Characters Have Ever Had, of course.

And, in both the stories of Charmed and Dangerous and in Getting Rid of Bradley, the sex changed things. When you’ve had The Best Sex Characters Have Ever Had, you want to repeat the experiment – that goes for the characters, and for the reader vicariously enjoying the sex.

The question of when to close the bedroom door depends on when the characters realize they’ve had TBSCHEH (ooh, don’t like that acronym; sounds like bronchitis – let’s shorten it to Best Sex). If they realize it during the act, the act should be shown. If they realize it during the golden afterglow, then if the author is squeamish about showing sex, I don’t think it needs to be shown. That golden afterglow better be pretty golden, though. You must show the happiness, not just talk about it while catching your breath. I think it can be shown in either stage.

Like anything, I think (I think! I have only written a few actual sex scenes, and haven’t shown them to anyone) a writer needs to do a few things. One, read good sex scenes. Two, it’d be nice if they experienced good sex in real life that changed everything. And three would be practice, practice, practice. Perhaps in a sex scene diary, or make a project of writing sexy stuff three times a week in the evening.

(-: This month would be the perfect month to start. Love is in the air, the bed is a warm and delightful place to be, and batteries are on sale everywhere! Don’t dither! February is a very short month, and we should get the most out of it.

14 thoughts on “Michaeline: A Different Kind of Sex Scene

  1. Your critique of my (really lame) sex scene was one of the most useful bits of feedback I received. I rewrote, focusing on conflict and eschewing cliches–I forget what you called them. You had a specific term. Anyway, I read the revised scene aloud at a romance writers retreat last fall and got good marks from a group that was pretty ruthless in pointing out stuff that didn’t work. (They actually acted out one of the other author’s scenes to show her why it wasn’t feasible.) So I have a lot of respect for your recommendations!

    • Aw! That makes my day! If writers feel unsure about writing sex scenes, I think betas can be particularly timid about critiquing them. “What if s/he/they think I’m a sex freak?” That may be the real problem with writing and reading sex scenes . . . the balance between normal and interesting sure isn’t a steady one.

      So glad you got positive reviews from your retreat critiquers! It was a great book!

      (I wish I could remember the term. Ah, I think I found it: codewords. It’s shorthand that writers can use to hint at sex without actually describing it. It can be good, it can be bad. It can be purple as all get out, too. I’m afraid if I get too specific, I’ll wind up in spamboxes all across the world . . . .)

  2. I think it’s easier to imagine gay characters—rather than a straight coupe—having enthusiastic sex for the fun of it. Historically, women paid a heavy price for having sex, especially out of wedlock—they could get pregnant, die from illegal abortions or during childbirth, be ostracized by family, lose their social position. Although modern times in many countries is much kinder to women, we don’t have to look further than The Bachelor to see slut-shaming in action. So it’s easy to see why sex isn’t all just satin sheets and rose petals! And that’s one reason we love romance novels—women get to have fantastic sex (usually, or by the end), and they don’t have to die afterwards.

    • Not to be a total broken record 😉 but the thing I love most in the examples Michaeline quotes above is that the sex scenes moved the story. As she says, the characters often go in expecting orgasms, and come out with orgasms and the love of their lives. That’s my notion of Good Book Sex 😀

      • Gosh, Jilly, I feel so stupid. Is THAT what y’all mean about moving the story? Real duh moment for me.How did I not see this? Of course that’s what a sex scene is doing in a romance book (and many other kinds of books). It seals the deal, it says that the romance is the One and True Love that is going to change everything. Or, you know, that the romance is going to take some work, or that this guy is Not The One.

        LOL. I feel so dense. You see, during foreplay, I often have lists in my head of things that need to be done, or other agendas. Nothing gets decided during the act. It already got decided a long, long time ago (-:. I guess in my stories, I’ve been looking in other areas for signs that the relationship is The One, and forgetting how important sex is for this.

        Sex does play a lot of roles in our lives. It’s a pleasant sort of exercise. It is often a way of saying, “hi! I still love you!” It can also be a way of saying, “Hey, thanks for finally getting the dogs to the vet” or some other thank you. Do you think it can be confusing to have these other uses for sex in a romance? Is sex’s main function to say, “These are the eternal lovers!”?

        Oh, I think there’s another blog post or two in this topic. In SFF, there’s romance, and there’s sex, and there’s some overlap. But sex can move a story forward by being a bribe, being a friendly gesture, by being a bit of an aggressive gesture, by being an actual punishment . . . it can certainly help the character realize a lot of things about herself or himself (or itself — SF, we’re talking here). It can also be The Best Sex and denote a love match of epic proportions.

        • Well, doh! Now I feel really dense for assuming you knew what I meant 😉 . I tend to think of all scenes, including sex scenes, in Robert McKee/Story terms–essentially, what changed as a result of the scene? If the answer is ‘nothing’ then the scene was pointless, in fiction terms anyway. In real life, of course, there’s nothing pointless about saying, “hi! I still love you!”

          I think sex scenes are a great opportunity to move the story along, because the characters are emotionally naked as well as physically. It’s a wonderful chance to put them outside of their comfort zones, to reveal and discover so much about the other person (or persons). And I think fictional sex can be used for any reason you can dream up as long as it drives change or draws the story to a satisfying (ha!) conclusion.

        • No, no, I’m the one whose dense. It’s natural to assume that someone who has taken a YEAR LONG COURSE in romance writing would have that bit figured out. Oh well, better late than never. This could be really helpful for me (-:.

    • I think you are right about that! And it’s true that hardly anyone ever gets syphilis from a romance novel, so it’s so much safer and can be very educational as well as fun.

      I also kicked around the idea that women may enjoy seeing twice the number of interesting male body parts in a story. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t think it is so much for me. Plus, many of the women who wrote for this anthology have wives, so I feel that theory is on shaky ground.

      For me, I think there’s a little bit of forbidden involved (even in this day and age!), and there’s great reasons NOT to have sex or be too forward — what if the other guy isn’t gay? But once they figure out they are on the same page, the sex scenes tend to be very enthusiastic.

      I’ve been hearing from fan fiction friends about slash for ages — men on men romance based on popular stories. I don’t quite get why I’m not hearing about lesbian slash. I live in such a sheltered little life, I guess.

  3. Pingback: Nancy: How to Write a Sex Scene and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning – Eight Ladies Writing

  4. Pingback: DRAFT Michaeline: Sex Scenes I Didn’t Have to Write – Eight Ladies Writing

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