Why Write Sex Scenes?

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It’s no secret that love scenes in romance novels have gotten hotter over the years. When it comes to your hero and heroine, many readers want to know it all. Today I’m examining, why write sex scenes at all? From an author’s perspective, what is it about the sex scene that makes it such an integral part of many romance novels?

Here are just a few reasons why an author might want to write a sex scene:

  • To Show Characterization

Sex is the ultimate intimate act, so by having your characters engage in sex you are revealing much about their characters. Is the man focused and giving, or is he self-involved? Does the woman view the act of sex as a stepping-stone to a more intimate relationship, or is it just good sex? Do the two characters greatly desire each other, or might they have ulterior motives for their actions? What sort of insecurities about themselves do the characters have?

  • To Show Emotion

Writing a sex scene isn’t just about describing the mechanics of what’s going on. Pretty much everyone (at least everyone who reads a romance) knows what happens when two people have sex. Reading a clinical description of it would get pretty boring. What a reader wants to know about, and an author wants to show, is the emotion behind the actions. How do the hero and heroine feel about each other? What emotional bond is forming between them as a result of their lovemaking?

  • To Change the Characters’ Relationship

Having sex changes the relationship between two people. It just does. Either it will make things easier for them, or more difficult. So an author who wants to take the characters in a certain direction can use sex as the impetus for that. Maybe they are engaged to others but realize they cannot be apart, or maybe they have an antagonistic relationship, and the sex makes it worse. There should be some measurable difference in their relationship after they’ve engaged in the act.

  • Demonstrate a Character’s Play for Dominance or Control

This is especially useful when writing historical romance, where there is an obvious difference in the level of power between a man and woman. Maybe the man is determined to prove his control over the woman, or perhaps the woman seduces a wealthy, titled man to force an offer of marriage. There are a lot of reasons besides love or lust that might cause one character to want to engage in sex with another.

  • To Speed up your Pacing

A sex scene is ultimately an action scene. Just as with a fight, you are describing action between two characters. A sex scene can be used to speed up your pacing.

  • Because People in Love Have Sex

If a romance is a true-to-life depiction of two people falling in love, sex will be a natural part of that.

  • For Titillation

If you write for pure entertainment purposes, maybe the scene is thrown in there for titillation, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

For you authors, why do you include sex scenes in your novels, or if you don’t, why not?

For more about writing sex scenes, check out Sex Scene Viagra presented by Elizabeth Hoyt during RWA’s 2009 conference, where I picked up much of what I discussed today.


18 thoughts on “Why Write Sex Scenes?

    Rachel Firasek said:
    January 17, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Great Post and quite honestly I’ve never actually thought of “why” I write them. It was just something I liked to read and when I decided to write I knew my stories would have “great” sex scenes. lol. Ironically, my first sex scene to write took me two weeks and was 10 pages long. I swear, it took me forever to get my little gal out of the shower and ready to face her man in bed. She was so nervous. lol.–Which means that I was nervous. Thanks for the post and I’m bookmarking this one!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 8:01 am

      I think when writing romance a lot of authors instinctively “know” when a love scene should be included. I’d say it’s usually for one of the reasons above, but I don’t know how many of us thoroughly examine why we’re writing the scene. I know I usually don’t.

    Kimber A. Rowe said:
    January 17, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I include them to enhance the emontional and physcial conflict within the story, the status quo changes and even without realizing it the hero and heroine are no longer the same person they were before they had sex.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 8:03 am

      That’s huge, Kimber. There comes a point in the story where things have to change between the hero and heroine. It’s inevitable, and sex is the ultimate catalyst for a changing relationship.

    kayspringsteen said:
    January 17, 2011 at 9:04 am

    I think if the story calls for a sex scene it should be included…but as you described above, not just the mechanics but with the emotions as well. All too often I have been disappointed by sensual scenes that seem to be written as “telling” – kind of he did this, then she did that, and there is absolutely no depiction of motivation or emotion, just a rundown of events like a how-to manual. I do believe that depicting sexuality through graphically sensual scenes is relatively new and the limits are being tested, so this is bound to improve with time. There is a fine line between the purely emotional, the overly clinical, and the shocking slang. As more authors find their voices and become more comfortable with the expression of intimate love, this will become a much smoother process.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      Kay, I often study sex scenes, those I liked and those I didn’t, to see what it is that grabs me. It’s always about the emotion: what the characters are feeling.

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    We include sex because it is one facet of love and romance and that’s what we’re writing about. I view the sex act as the ultimate act of trust in another human being – we are at our most vulnerable, both physically and emotionally and that resonates with readers. The mechanics of sex aren’t interesting, it’s the feelings of the participants – it’s opening the heart.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      Julia, I wholeheartedly agree!

    Jean Hart Stewart said:
    January 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    good post. Sex scenes are a must in today’s market. I use mine to speed up the relationship, as well as keep the reader’s interest in my main characters. Never thought much about why until now. Very thoughty. Jean

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      I agree, Jean. Sex scenes are a must nowadays. 🙂

    Nina Pierce said:
    January 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Rosalie – The fact is, the reading public is looking for sexy scenes in the romances … it’s expected. But an author can’t just put tab A into slot B without everything you mentioned. Something more than an orgasm has to happen in the sex scene or it becomes unnecessary.

    That isn’t to say there aren’t some authors who do “fade to black”, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. Great post as always.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks, Nina. I know for me sex scenes are pretty much a requirement. I want to read everything that happens to my characters on their journey to love, and sex is a huge part of that.

    Robin Hillyer Miles said:
    January 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I skip over sex scenes when reading. Don’t like them, they are a waste of ink and paper. It’s all blah, blah, blah. I wrote one rather quick but meaningful and yet funny scene in my finished ms, my critique partners liked it. The rest happen behind closed doors.

      kayspringsteen said:
      January 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      I like reading and writing sexual scenes but my current publisher is trying for a different market, with sweeter romances. I can go either way. They don’t mind sensuality as long as we fade to black and the stories are generally good enough to stand without a lot of erotic scenes.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      A-ha, someone for the other side! There is no doubt a market for fade to black. 🙂

    Rebecca York said:
    January 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    My 80-year-old mom used to say, “Some writers put too much detail into a love scene, and some don’t put enough.”

    I agree with others here that sex is part of a developing love relationship. I want to know how these two people react to each other in bed. In my own writing and in the books I read.

    But I don’t necessarily agree that a love
    scene speeds up the pace of the story.

    Also, I do try to weave the plot of the book into a love scene–in addition to focusing on their emotional reaction.

    Rebecca York

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I think the love scene can speed up or slow down the story, much like any other scene, depends on what goes into it. Many of the love scenes I read fly by, but there are a few that seem to slow things down, those that put a lot of focus on the emotions.

        kayspringsteen said:
        January 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

        and if it’s done right, the love scenes are SUPPOSED to slow things down. Consider an old (dating myself here) movie – Raiders of the Lost Ark. After all the non-stop action, Indy and Marian are finally on the sub to escape and the love scene is slow and easy as opposed to passionate. But for that movie, slow love scenes to balance the action and adventure were a requirement.

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