On sex scenes in books

#1 and #2 have somewhat differing views on this topic.

#1 dislikes most sex scenes in most books and skips over them because they tend to be boring and gratuitous.  The book would have been better served just closing the door before the scene occurred.  #2 loves sex scenes and appreciates them way more, and never ever skips them.

However, occasionally a book will have a good sex scene in it.  What makes a good sex scene in #1’s view is that it either drives forward character development or it drives forward the plot.  A really good sex scene will not be identical for every character.  The lovers will discover something about themselves or about each other, or the reader will discover something.  It isn’t just sex!

There’s only one Georgette Heyer novel that #1 wishes had a sex scene in it, A Civil Contract.  In it they have to have had sex, but how?

Good sex scenes:  Freedom and Necessity had a fantastic true-to-life scene.  One Good Earl Deserves a Lover had three really good sex scenes in it, each different and full of character development (and steamy!)  Both of us love those two books!  There are many others that aren’t coming to mind right now (the former is the first sex scene I came across worth reading, the latter is the most recent #1 has read).  Mary Balough is pretty good at them too.  I don’t remember which book it was, but there was a great regency where the hero kept asking for consent and the heroine kept giving it… despite what the Jonathan Chaits of the world would have us believe, consent is really sexy.  #2 agrees and also thinks there are way more good sex scenes than #1 has found!  But then again, I read erotica and slashfic, neither of which #1 reads.

Bad sex scenes:  Anything non-consensual or that starts out non-consensual, especially if it starts out non-consensual (furthering the myth that she’ll like it once it gets started).  This includes characters who are not capable of consent.  Unanimous Ewwww.  Any sex scene that could be repeated with any other pair of characters is also bad to #1 (but not as bad to #2)… the generic scene written without the characters in mind.  And, of course, there are certain over-used turns of phrase that tend to make the reader giggle… that works if the sex scene is supposed to make the reader giggle (or it fits the characters’ thought processes), but usually it’s just a really badly written scene.  Turgid!  #2 wishes that men in sex scenes would quit laving everything.  Find a thesaurus.

Readers, tell us the best sex scenes in fiction!

25 Responses to “On sex scenes in books”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I’m with #1. Don’t like them, although there are times when they do seem necessary to have in a scene. It seems in books where there is sex, it feels more like filler/fluff than content that is actually relevant to the story . I think that’s the main reason I dislike in books. Many times it feels force fit onto the story.

    The only thing I like is when there is obvious chemistry between two people and that’s hard to capture in a book but much easier to see/enjoy onscreen.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      See, I think it’s much easier to see and enjoy in a book! (#2 here) On screen, maybe the people don’t look attractive to you or maybe they don’t have much chemistry… in a book you can imagine it all to your own taste!

  2. Alyssa Says:

    I tend to agree with #1 – I usually find them boring and totally unnecessary. I rarely find them exciting or interesting. I know I have read a couple that were done relatively well, but I can’t remember where.

    The repetitive language also drives me crazy. One that is super annoying to me is the “penis bobbing” description/visual. I don’t get at all how it’s sexy, and it seems to be in every book I have read recently!

  3. Well Heeled Blog Says:

    What I don’t like is badly written, unnecessary angst in modern fictions. Seriously, A loves B but B can’t fall in love until he passes a piece of legislation to honor his deceased sister and so he cannot be with A? What is this!?!

    I also hate the so-called billionaire romances. Historical romances I give more of a pass to… Although I dislike the term rake. I just imagine a metal lawn tool instead of the womanizing (but will be tamed by the true heroine) and anachronistically progressive duke or lord or whatever the term is supposed to represent.

  4. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I’m just trying to figure out which is #1 and #2. Do you guys swap? Because in one post #1 was not talking about wedding plans and then in another post #2 had no kids. I’ve been reading you for ages and I still get confused. Is that bad?

  5. J Liedl Says:

    Mary Balogh is purely awesome. I can’t recall the book you’re thinking of but I know the storyline. She does such a great job with her characters that every scene is worthwhile.

    I haven’t read One Good Earl so now I’m intrigued. Adding it to the list which is dauntingly long!

  6. Debbie M Says:

    Sorry, I’m also with #1 in general, and also with regards to _A Civil Contract_. I don’t generally skip parts of books, but yes, I will sometimes skip sex scenes (especially after the first one in a book) and also violence descriptions.

    I never thought about it before, but you’re right, there certainly _could_ be good sex scenes. I’m not going to say I’ve never read any of them, but I’m afraid I can’t think of any. The only thing that comes to mind is _Bridges of Madison County_, [spoilers through the rest of the paragraph] but it’s only because he cleaned the shower after using it, and I suppose it’s stretching things a bit to call that foreplay. I don’t remember the actual sex. (As a whole, that book sucked me in and also pissed me off. I don’t like people cheating on their spouses.)

  7. chacha1 Says:

    Generally I like sex scenes in books, and also foreplay scenes in movies/TV. Sex is fun, and I have a good imagination. :-) Graphic sex in filmed entertainment I find somewhat embarrassing, as I can never turn off my awareness that These Are Actors.

    I agree with word choice often generating spontaneous eye-rolling (and/or giggling) and I agree that in many, many cases a graphic sex scene is gratuitous. But then I feel the same way about a graphic scene of violence. To me the door could be closed earlier on either, almost all the time, without doing any harm to the story and without leaving the reader in doubt of what is happening.

    I guess I’d say that I prefer foreplay scenes because that’s where the most dialogue is likely to happen. Let’s face it, if at a certain point during sex you are still talking, you may be doing it wrong.

    I don’t remember the scene in “Freedom and Necessity” to which you refer. I read that a looooong time ago and just got rid of my copy because, thinking I might re-read it, I picked it up and saw the punitively tiny typeface and said “Nope.”

    I don’t read erotica much – hardly ever – as in my admittedly limited experience it devotes time to gynecological explorations that I would rather expend on plot & character. If characters have nothing to say to each other, basically, and their “relationship” is all about fornication, I’m not that interested in reading about them. That said, if I am already involved with interesting characters – as in the very sexy historical romances by Liz Carlyle – then a graphic sex scene is catnip.

    • Linda Says:

      I think chacha1 has summed up my general thoughts. Some of my “keeper” books (the ones that made the cut to be moved with me) have some foreplay/sex scenes that are key to plot and character development. I don’t automatically skip the scenes.

      That link to the crazy terms used in romances is hilarious. I understand some these wacky euphemisms have been in use for a long time. If I recall correctly, Erica Jong’s Fanny (her retelling of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill) has a scene where a character talks about all the euphemisms for genitalia. I don’t think you’d like that book since there is some non-consensual sex and lots of sex scenes in general. Although, how can you write a book about a woman who became a London prostitute without any sex in it?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      ooooh Very Sexy Historical. Are those the MacLachlan family books or another series? Inquiring minds…

  8. Ana Says:

    I’m with #1, I find them usually boring, trite, and giggle/eyeroll-inducing (penis bobbing! seriously?) I know I’ve read good ones, but I can’t recall any right now.

  9. Joey Says:

    I’m reading a novel called The Deaths by Mark Lawson and there is a really important series of sex scenes (four couples on holiday together having sex separately, although one couple doesn’t end up actually having sex) that does a lot of work to establish both the individual characters and also the differences between the dynamics of the four couples’ relationships. As to the theme, I was surprised at how effective it was given my usual experience with sex scenes in science fiction novels.

  10. Astra Says:

    I like sex scenes (well done ones) in books. My bad sex scene pet peeve: the couple that at the first time and every time thereafter achieve simultaneous orgasm. Can we have just a smidge of realism, please?


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