Disclosure: May contain book spoilers but only in relation to… relations 🤣 Also, this is about sex in literature in case it was unclear. This is also about sex in fantasy novels that play heavily on romance as opposed to romance and erotica. Also, just in case it needs to be disclosed, I do not encourage underage sex, though it exists, so it exists in fiction too. Not so important but an FYI, this was planned for Valentine’s Day, but I kept changing my mind on how I wanted to write this. Finally, here it is.
As an adult who loves a full emotional journey in her reading, love and lust tend to play a big roles in most of the books I read. I’ve also written various levels of explicity in my sex scenes, and each one suits the book’s tone and the characters in the scene. I’ve been told I’m good at them, so between my reading and and feedback on my writing, I’d say I got this down. This means I have very specific opinions, and I’m going to share them.
Let’s breakdown my thoughts..
- Dirty talk. Don’t get me wrong, some sex talk is pretty realistic and fun for the characters, but there’s a limt. Sure, romance or erotic can get away with however much they like. But when romance is paired wih another genre, it all depends on the readership you’re going for.
- The tone should suit the characters’ age and experience. YA can totally have sex scenes since YA includes late teens, but I’d expect it to be more emotional than physical. A good example is Cassandra Clare’s love scenes. Adult or NA however… go as smutty as you like. I’m looking at You Sarah J. Maas. Love her smut. I find that many explicit books are mislabelled as YA when they should be NA (new adult) but I have another rant on that.
- The MC’s experience should play a huge part in how they feel before, during and after sex. Some might be nervous because it’s their first time even though they’re adults like in A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair. But it’s still ok for a first love to cause butterflies even if it’s not the character’s first time like Feyre in A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.
- Balancing the emotional and physical makes a much fuller experience for me. And by physical, I mean physical reactions and sensations, though please avoid using the words, explosion and fireworks if you plan to write love scenes. One of the best scenes I’ve read was in Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin.
- Speaking of explosion and fireworks… language is also important, and readership’s age should be considered. When I read YA, I expect some delicacy. When I read adult, I expect more specificity but still… we know what goes where so there’s no need for a play-by-play of every cringe-worthy thrust and pump and pound. Please, just NO.
- Bodily fluids. Eww. I recently read a book with quite fun sex scenes, until… the mention of his seed dripping down her things. I’m looking at you Sarah for A Court of Silver Flames. That kinda spoiled it for me. Eww.
- Timing is everything. When emotions are high, it might seem like a good time to get spicy. Not necessarily. Any situation where the character feels vulnerable then safe with their love interest is good. However, when someone’s just died (maybe after the funeral when the shock has worn off is… ok-ish), or after a fight when the characters are still covered in blood is NOT romantic in my opinion. That’s what stunned me in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
- Quantity. Too many sex scenes can bore me and make me skim. This is when summarising is best after the first two or three unless there’s a particularly special moment between the characters, which leads me to…
- Special moments. These are pretty much exempt from all my previous opinions because they need that extra umph. I’m not talking the first time in general or first time with a specific love interest. I’m talking about that moment when they realise this is it. Whether its “I love you,” or “You are my mate,” or some other unspoken words that equal love or a magical bond, these are the moments that need to be consummated and emphasised to the reader.
So there you have it. Lots to think about when writing a sex scene, and lots of ways to satisfy or disappoint readers.