Avatar photo

Why sex scenes in romance stories need an edge

Before I started writing romance I didn’t quite get the “rule” (for there are no finite rules) that every sex scene should advance the plot. But I have found that they do so, quite naturally, and if they don’t they are kind of pointless. They need to be sexy and in some way emotionally compelling. Because if you just wanted sex, you’d read erotica. 

Conversely if they’re all emotion and not sexy/edgy, they are as usually dull as hell. I actually skip past the sex scenes in a lot of novels I read, because they get in the way of the plot, they don’t advance it. I think what it boils down to is that two happy, healthy, loved up humans having very happy, healthy sex is not all that interesting. Something needs to be a little bit wrong or a little bit unusual. An element of control, of doubt, of darkness. Of strangeness, of discovery (eg first time sex).

There needs to be an edge. And the easiest, most conventional way to get that edge is to have an alpha male, and make it just little teeny bit dubcon. She still gets multiple orgasms, but you sorta kinda wonder how much choice she had getting there. Another easy edge is the forbidden: it’s an affair, or it’s PI, or there’s some kind of power/age imbalance.

Readers want to be thrilled. Whatever the genre, not just romance. That’s why (actual) thrillers are so popular, why kids like scary stories, why fantasy has deadly battles and desperate quests, why romance readers prefer what’ essentially a melodramatic plot (absurd obstacles to drive the couple apart so they can have a dramatic reunion) to a sugar-sweet-saccharine one. We want to be slightly scared, slightly shocked, but safely so. The book takes risks that we don’t, so it’s vicarious.

And all this is really important when it comes to sex scenes. And it’s also really important in terms of why there needs to be a rock solid HEA, because that’s the romance reader’s “recovery”.  I write this as a romance reader myself, not as a writer. It has actually taken a while, and it remains an ongoing process, to decode what I personally like from romance novels and why.