Sex in romance books is a thorny subject and one that comes up (pun intended) every few months or so alongside the ever present *woman can't write gay romance* issue.

A friend of mine wrote a novella, and in the review it said *even though there was no sex, it was good* (I am paraphrasing there, but yes, the sentence started with *Even though*)

I get why sex is important and why it is measured in books by some reviewers, readers and even writers. I often sit and think, would it better to have a sex scene here, or maybe a scene where there is kissing and talking. I ask myself is sex important here, or would I be shoe horning it in.

I'm not known for having sex in every book, if you want detailed sex then Texas, or Three, is your best bet, but I want to share a sample of my writing here. It's from an old book, one of my earliest; All The Kings Men.


The smoke was no longer a suggestion or a maybe. It was starting to get into the air they were breathing and in their noses, the scent of burning pine and acrid smoke. Ryan did his best to hide the little girl’s face in his neck, urging her to breathe gently, and with his other arm, he attempted to support Nathan more, hearing the rasping in his lover’s chest, knowing he must be in so much pain.

Every so often he looked back. The last time he could swear he saw the fire jumping from one tree to another at the top of the mountain, his imagination hearing the spits and the crackle and the roar of the fire eating away at everything in its path.

He knew it was a mile, maybe less, to the base of the hill and to the highway. Surely there would be something there, some kind of rescue for those people like them that had been trapped on the side of the hills. The highway must provide a natural break for the fire. If he could just get Nathan and the girl to the other side…

He saw more cars tossed like children’s toys to the side, mostly empty, some with people—bodies—with no life in their eyes. Ryan couldn’t bear to look, wondering how these nightmare images would visit him when they were safe.

He heard a voice. “Help, help me.”
No, I can’t hear that, I can’t, hold Nathan closer, hide the girl’s face.

“Please, man, just pull me out, please.”

Nathan stopped. Ryan couldn’t bring himself to not look. He saw a man trapped in the car, his face covered in blood.

The man’s face was twisted in agony. A woman lay dead in the seat beside him, and the spectre of the fire behind them danced, sending pinpoints of light onto the black polished metal of the car. Weighing his options—keep moving or leave a man to die—Ryan didn’t hesitate. He placed the child on the ground and encouraged her to hold Nathan’s hand. He instinctively pulled on the door handle of the distorted car. It wouldn’t move, but with no glass in the way, he leaned in over the body of the dead woman whose eyes were wide, frozen in horror. He could hear the man’s voice, broken and scared.

Ryan leaned in closer, cataloguing the extent of the damage. The engine had been forced back into the car, leaving the passenger dead and the driver, the man, with his legs trapped and mangled. There was so much blood and the guy’s expression was dazed.

He would have to pull the man free, but he could see there was no way. Even the fire department with the Jaws of Life would take longer than he had. Tears pushed at his eyes, angry, frustrated tears, and he pulled back abruptly to return to Nathan, starting to slide an arm under his friend to resume the walk.

“Wait, we need to—” Nathan coughed, and Ryan lifted his chin, looking deep into green eyes wide with fear.

“I can’t help him; there’s no time. I have to get you and the girl to safety,” he said clearly, feeling his stomach churn and heave at the thought that he was condemning a man to die.

“Tell him we’ll send help. Please…”

* * * * *

In this book Ryan and Nathan escape from an earthquake in LA, a city is destroyed in front of them, and forest fires are spreading down to the highway. They are both hurt, they have a child they found and who needs them.

Want to know what one reviewer said? *Not enough sex for me*. No talking about the descriptions, or the romance, or the drama, or anything, just *not enough sex for me*.

I remember being shocked at the time, because WAIT, these two men are broken, running for their lives, they have to run, they wont stop for a quick shag in the forest. 

BUT, what did the reviewer mean really? I like to think now, that what they meant was ... if a reader was reading the review that they should avoid this particular book if what they were looking for was a sex heavy book. 

Not that the reviewer thought a quick blow job would be appropriate whilst escaping a forest fire and aftershocks.

What actually qualifies as sex in a book?


So, what is sex? I've seen that a lot of discussion among writers and readers recently. Quite a few of my friends have had reviews, along with me, *could do with more sex* or *there was no sex*.

Like All The Kings Men, Kyle is a story where the concept of sex and love is a little skewed. There is an epilogue to ATKM where there is a romantic scene (yes I caved in and added an epilogue with, you guessed it, the sexeh times).

But Kyle. No. There would be no *penetrative* sex, because, these men have been through HELL. But there is kissing, and exploration, and blowjobs, and confusion, and laughter, and not trusting becoming trust, and like all my books, there is love. 

In my mind as I wrote them, Kyle and Jason DID have sex, or more importantly, they make love in ways that fit within the constructs of everything they have been through. The fact that a certain scene happens at all is only because they find a quiet place in themselves where they can let love and trust in.

Does this mean Kyle and Jason (with their handjobs and blowjobs) don't have *sex*.

I don't think I have seen a single review for Kyle that says there should have been sex; I've seen a few, that like ATKM, warn there is no *sex* with the proviso that it would have been utterly inappropriate. 

I get why reviewers have to say this. Because to some readers, unless there is penetration, then there is no sex, and some readers just need that validation of penetration meaning sex has been *done*.

Are you a reviewer? Do you feel the pressure to warn on levels of sex in a book? Readers, do you specifically look for some penetration meaning sex? Writers, do you feel pressured to write sex? 

What do you think? 

12 comments:

  1. Returning Home is 35k words long and the MC's have sex three times. So I was kinda conflicted when one of my betas said she was disappointed there was so little sex.
    As a writer, sex has to mean something, has to be part of the plot or advance the character development. Adding penetrative sex 'just because' feels so so wrong and I really think shoehorning it into a story mucks up the balance.
    But having said that, as a reader, I'm in it for the romance. Sex is part of that but I'd rather see the emotional connection than Tab A in Slot B. For me, I'll take intimacy over banging every time. So I guess I write what I like to read...and just pray someone else does too : ) x

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  2. When reading unless a sex scene is ABSOLUTELY pertinent to the plot, i.e. it tells me something I've got no other way of knowing about the characters, I skim read it. People having a good time bed is pretty much a given and I don't need to know the details.
    As for writing I put in as little sex scenes as I feel I can get away with - in the context that I wrote adventure stories rather than romance or erotic romance - and am completely baffled by the attitude that sex = penetration and all other forms of pleasure = foreplay.

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  3. I've had reviewers "complain" about not enough sex in a story. And at the time as felt as baffled as you describe being. I've also had a reader comment - about the same book - that there was too much sex. It seems very much a case of 'you say potato...'

    As a writer, I don't like to shoehorn scenes in, just so I can say there's a sex scene. Each story moves at its own pace and I like to let that dictate what happens. Sometimes, a fade to black seems more appropriate than anything graphic, sometimes you need the whole nine yards.

    I love to watch the characters connect emotionally, so as far as I am concerned, there can definitely be too much sex in a story. I have a couple of books where I adore the characters, but regularly skip the sex scenes because they don't add to the story. They're simply boring fillers that should have been cut in edits. But that's my 'potato'..😉

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  4. I would much rather read a book where the emotional content is ramped up to an 11 than to have it filled with sex for the sake of it, although I have no objection to some sexy times, or even a lot of them IF they fit into the story line.

    As a writer, I've found that the best sex scenes happen almost by accident as a direct result of the emotional connection between the MCs, which then flows well. I've also been known to cut entire scenes and fade to black as there is no need for anything explicit.

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    1. yes to this: emotional content is ramped up to an 11

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  5. I LOVED 'Kyle', I loved their developing relationship and I honestly couldn't tell you 'how far' they went; it didn't actually matter because the emotions and character development was what carried the story along so beautifully. In my mind they were incredibly close physically and I didn't need it spelled out. Having said that, I also like stories where the sex is quite graphic, but context is everything!

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  6. As a reviewer, I normally only comment on the sex to let readers know steamy a story is. I may mention the amount if it is just way too much to where it detracts from the story, or more/less than what I normally see from a particular author that I'm used to seeing a certain amount of scenes in relation to the length of a story. This actually came up this past week when an author I read who is very well known for an excellent BDSM series where sex is plentiful, but very relevant to the stories came out with a book that was more of a "sweet" type with very little sexual content, but I just mentioned that it was nothing like I've read from that author before, and that I loved it.

    I was brought up to think of "sex" to mean penetrative sex, but nowadays many people have a broader definition where "sex" can mean most any sexual acts, and I've altered my own interpretation of the term to mean the same when it comes to my reading. I do mention sexual content in my reviews so readers can get a better idea of the amount and heat level in a story to help them make a more informed decision if they are using my review when deciding whether to get a particular book or not. This is especially true when I'm reviewing a book that might delve into some of the kinkier acts that may be distasteful to some readers.

    As a reader, I do like sex in the books I read, but not every book needs it to be a good story--especially those stories that are very high emotion (like Kyle). I read the whole range, from sweet with no type of sex at all to all-out kink and every level between...for me, it all boils down to the STORY. Sex? It's just a bonus.

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  7. As a reader, I don't get why people (authors & writers & reviewers) make such a huge deal over penetrative sex. There are a great many couples, gay & straight, who don't have penetrative sex for all sorts of reasons. Everything from spinal injuries & risky pregnancies, to just not being that into it. Me personally? I enjoy the hell out of it, but I can get along just fine with a long lingering kiss and a feathery touch on naked skin.

    I feel like you do about appropriate timing for sex scenes. Whether it's a kiss or more, it needs to fit naturally into the story. If the scene tells me more about the characters or move the plot along, so much the better. (Unless it's the sort of story that's pure porn with little or no plot -- but I don't think that's what you're talking about.)

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  8. I agree with the rjscott. How much sex and what type depends on the characters and the story.

    I love books with loads of sex when the sex is relevant and taking the story forward. Other time the sex seems to be added in for no reason and as a reader i notice the difference.

    I read a lot and I'm happy to read MM romances with no sex (I read YA LGBT fiction too) it all about story, characters and writing style for me as a reader.

    As for the sex itself. If people come together, by which I mean in the same room, for me that is sex. And the fact that includes a lot of different activities is great! :) :)

    Penetration is not the only thing - not in real life and not in fiction. In fact I prefer books that have OTHER activities as well or instead rather than those that write as if Anal sex is the only way gay men can do it.


    I'm just finishing my WIP and at the moment there is no penetration. I'm not sure if I will force it in.. so to speak.. because it doesn't seem to fit. At the moment it's left as some thing they will do in the future and that is the natural ending to this novella. Perhaps it should go out with a Warning: No anal sex in this MM fiction! But some very nice kissing and a couple of BJs.

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  9. I love your books! As a reviewer I do try to mention the heat level as it will sometimes warn people off who wouldn't like a book with too much heat but it will also attract people who are looking for whatever heat level the book has. I hope that makes sense...

    As a reader I will read anything from sweet to smut as long at there is some kind of romantic element. I enjoy books that tell a good story with no sex just as much as I enjoy ones that have a lot of it. The important thing for me is the writing and the story being told.

    I've read a few books where it seems like the sex scenes were stuck in there just because the author thought they should be and they added nothing to the story; in fact they seemed quite out of place. I also comment on that when I review.

    I think some readers expect that an M/M story is going to have lots of sex. When I read one that doesn't, but instead has a wonderful love story to tell, I want people to know about that.

    Keep on writing whatever your muse tells you to write; your books are wonderful.

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  10. For me, sex should be appropriate to the characters and in context. Each sex scene should, like all other scenes forward the plot and tell us something about the characters and or their relationship.
    If it's just a sex scene dropped in for its own sake, I'm not interested, thanks.
    There are plenty of gay men who neither identity as a top or a bottom bc they're not into that, and are sometimes called 'sides'. Saying penetration has to happen for it to be sex, for it to have been *done* is, I feel imposing a m/f definition based on procreation onto gay sex which never is for procreation. I know some gay men feel they're only having proper sex if it's penetrative but I also know plenty of others who regard it *all* as sex.
    Good to have this debate.

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  11. There WAS publisher who demanded a hot sex scene in every chapter. I've always found that ridiculous. There are many instances where there simply is no place for a sex scene. To me, emotion, characterization, plot, is a lot more important than trying to force sex into the picture. If reviewers want sex that badly, let them go and read porn stories. As a writer, I've received similar reviews and I just shake my head. Reviewers will NOT force me to write sex where it isn't appropriate. If that loses me sales, then so be it. Their 1 star reviews for the lack of heat will not stop me from writing.

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