Sex in Romance Stories: Love it or Leave it?

Some time last year, I participated in a large informal survey of people who read fanfiction, and one of the surprise results was how many people skipped sex scenes when reading these stories.

Given the recent overwhelming popularity of certain fanfic-turned-original fiction stories, this astonished me, especially since with regards to romance, one would expect sex scenes to be an important factor in a story. Then too, there are some publishing houses that have a set formula that authors must maintain: a sex scene every so many pages.

I ran my own mini-survey among some fellow authors on a chat over Thanksgiving, and the general consensus was that if the sex was rote, if it didn’t reveal anything about the characters or move the story along in some fashion, many of my fellow authors skipped it as well.

I was kind of floored by this–after all, we’re romance writers! I like sex: I’m interested in the subject, I expect a certain amount of it in my romances, I enjoy writing a smokin’ hot scene that I hope will reveal something about my characters when they are at their most vulnerable. I put a lot of time and thought into writing these scenes, trying to keep their fresh and interesting. I assumed they were important to the reader as well–a major factor in what made a romance (erotic or otherwise) different from say, a mystery or a sci-fi story where the romance (if any) was a subplot.

And then last night, while reading a story in which the characters where a little too perfect, where they accepted even the kind of relationship assumptions that would try the patience of most of us and leave us in high dungeon (rather than making out in the closet when no one was looking), I caught myself skimming. *gasp* I know, I know!  But I did!

I asked myself why, and I realized that it was because of the complete lack of believability of the scenario as it was set up, and the improbability of the character reaction being what any real person would do under similar circumstances. Which lead me back to my poll of the Thanksgiving Chat. Now I want to know: do you skip the sex scenes–the presumed reason for reading the romance in the first place? If so, why?

You know what that means, right! Time for a poll!

Do you skip sex scenes in romances?

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And another one!

What throws you completely out of a sex scene?

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And one more…

What are some of your favorite sexual tropes?

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Okay, maybe a couple of more, but only for the purposes of curiosity.

Would you mind stating your gender? However you identify yourself...

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How about your age bracket?

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I read mostly...

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Right, well, it’s back to the WIP for me now. My deadline is looming and I’m entering what I hope to be the final third of the story. So enough procrastinating, yes? Yes!

12 thoughts on “Sex in Romance Stories: Love it or Leave it?

  1. When it comes to what I usually read, it depends on whether it’s fanfic or original fic. In fanfic I read slash, very little gen and het. As for original fic, I rarely read m/m romance, usually only if I already know the author 🙂 Apart for that, I mostly read crime novels and classic literature 🙂

  2. Ah, that’s interesting, because I would have to say that’s been my pattern too–so what do you think the difference is between your fanfic leanings and original fic? Does it come down to the characters dictating the type of fiction in the end? 🙂

  3. In everyday life, I read everything. In fanfic, I read and write slash. I can’t write m/f sex scenes for some reason, even though I identify myself as a heterosexual woman.

    For me, the most annoying things about traditional romances is the tendency of the characters to fall into bed at less than the drop of a hat, and damn the consequences. That and the number of unintended pregnancies. Seriously, haven’t these people heard of contraception? They’re supposed to be smart, modern women/men.

    • Yes! Pregnancy as a plot device! Never mind that such pregnancies seldom result in lasting relationships, like you say, it seems that birth control (and condoms in general) are overlooked in such stories.

      I guess falling in bed at the drop of a hat is an improvement over the 70s style romance, in which the woman couldn’t willingly have sex, but had to be taken against her will. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the rape-turns-into-love trope!

  4. For me, it depends on the story itself. I’m not generally reading romance for the sex scenes (although, if done well and in character, it’s a nice bonus) but for the characters, their development, how the pairing meets and falls for each other, and (hopefully) what happens afterward. That last bit is the biggest thing for me, I can’t tell you how frustrated I’m getting with the story stopping at the characters consumating their Love. I’ve actually walked away from the romance genre in general because of it (although I’m slowly making my way back).

    Sex scenes get boring after a while. I want some real depth and development in stories I read now, and that includes any sex scenes in those stories. If they don’t further the story line, I don’t see the point and often skip it.

    However, my reading time is now limited, and I find I have to be more picky with my reading choices. When I was in university, I’d procrastinate by reading anything I could, but I don’t have that kind of time now, sadly. 🙁

    • Hmmm, that’s interesting. That could be a factor in my growing impatience with the genre as well–lack of time. I used to devour 5-6 books a week–now I’m lucky if I managed 1-2 every couple of months.

      I can see where the story ending with the consummation of love would be very frustrating. I feel that way about television programs based on UST that do not know how to maintain an interesting relationship once they get the main characters together. The dynamics of the relationship should be fundamentally unchanged if it is a healthy one, and we should be able to enjoy our characters interacting with each other, solving crimes or exploring the universe, or whatever, even if they are openly involved.

      I confess, I’m not much for reading the primary romance story because most of the time, the reasons for the two characters not being together seems so contrived. I also disliked the depiction of the average heroine in these tales. It’s part of the reason I’m draw to M/M romance, but I need more than just two sexy men getting it on–I need a story I can sink my teeth into.

      That having been said, however, I still enjoy a damn fine sex scene! 🙂

    • Hah, I should have asked that specifically within romance categories too (as in historicals, paranormals, contemporary…)

  5. I’m so glad you put this out there! I also write m/m romance and have been asking myself this question for a while. Personally, I want a lot of physical romance when I’m reading. If I’m reading something without sex scenes, it often feels off to me, like the characters are ignoring or skipping a needed relationship step because the author is uncomfortable confronting it. But that’s just me.

    • No, I do think in M/M romance there are certain expectations when it comes to the story and the amount of sex in it. I just want the sex to feel right, you know? I find too often I’m rolling my eyes at the frequency or inappropriateness of the characters acting on their lust for each other, and I wonder what happened to the ‘romance’ part of the story! 🙂

    • Go for it! I’d love to see more numbers added to it to get a better idea of the big picture. The original fandom poll that I took was on LJ (this one is nowhere near as cool) and the answers were both eye-opening and enlightening. It made me wonder who we were putting the sex in for–our own desires, reader expectations or *perceived* reader expectations… 🙂

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