I am personally all for getting nasty in print (as proven by my latest book, set to come out next year!) But even the raunchiest of us know that graphic sex scenes aren’t always appropriate. You have to consider things like audience (you don’t want to be handing porn to minors) and the plot and climax of your story (pun intended).
Sometimes a book simply doesn’t call for a sex scene, even if the characters are in a sexual relationship.
Well I’m bored tonight. Why not amuse myself by categorizing them in extremely unnecessary detail?
This one is pretty self explanatory. Sometimes you just don’t need any sex at all. A lot of the time, actually. There are lots of good reasons for it:
- There is no romance plot or subplot
- There is a romance, but the couple doesn’t get to sex before the book ends
- There is a romance, but their sex life isn’t relevant to the plot (off screen)
You’ll notice I didn’t include anything about audience in that list. I am hugely against censoring sex from a YA audience. Teens have sex, and anyone who says differently is fooling themselves. I think there is such a thing as “too explicit” for a YA audience, but I can’t say pretending sex doesn’t exist for teens is a healthy stance to take. So even though I don’t condone going full harlequin in a YA book, I also don’t think all YA should be inherently vanilla.
So this one isn’t a sex scene per say, but it is sexy, so I’m including it. This is a moment or touch or intimate something meant to titillate.
By the way, I hate the word titillate. I CANNOT spell the damn word to save my life. I have to look it up every time I use it, which is a lot. I talk about sex and titillating all the time. Too much, probably.
Anyhow, back to the point. There are some excellent examples of The Tingle out there, often taking the form of the first kiss or possibly an interrupted intimate scene. These are great for two reasons: First, if you’re doing a book where you don’t want to get explicit, a really heady kiss is a fantastic alternative. A good example of this is in Sorcery of Thorns by Margery Rogerson. The characters lay back, kissing and touching, then they’re interrupted just before he can untie her shirt.
The second reason is that it’s a great way to pump up the chemistry between two characters. You want your love interests to see each other as a sexual possibility, even if the big finale doesn’t ever make it to the page. It’s just good for building their characterizations and relationship on the page, and a good tingle is a useful tool.
Plus this hint of what’s to come is a staple for steamy romances. It’s a great way to get the anticipation up, while still dragging out the big payoff of the steamy sex scene later on. It’s a hook.
Sitcom Sex Scene
You’ve all seen this sex scene a thousand times on the small screen. The happy couple kisses, and holds each other tight. Maybe there’s a little passionate rolling around on the bed. Then right when it starts to get good…
Cut to black.
Or, in writer’s terms, you get the good old line break to the morning after. There’s some pillow talk and some morning breath kisses, but that’s about it. No genitals, no thrusting, no mention of crotches whatsoever. You may have a little bit of over the shirt action or butt grabbing, but that’s it.
This is (in my humble opinion) the ceiling of what should be included in YA. Now, if you’re writing a coming of age story about a teen discovering sex and sexuality for the first time, then you can get much more explicit. But when it comes to titillating (I did it! I spelled it right first try!) your audience, the sitcom sex scene is about as graphic as you want to get. Because don’t forget, your audience here is teens.
The sitcom sex scene isn’t just for YA, of course. It’s excellent for romance subplots and sweet romances. You get all the romance with none of the juices.
I know what I said.
I couldn’t come up with a clever title for this one, but really medium is the best way to describe it. In the case of the happy medium, your characters actually have sex on the page, BUT it’s not graphic, and possibly not even very arousing. (Yes, I did just use the thesaurus for titillate.)
One of my current WIPs has an excellent example of the very medium sex scene. There is mention of “we were rutting in a potting shed” and “he moved inside me,” but that’s about as graphic as it got. Another great example of this was early in I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. In it, the characters are actively having sex to completion, but the MC is doing her best to keep her partner motivated by extolling his virtues out loud. She didn’t get off. It was hilarious.
This is another fantastic option for romance side plots and sweet romances.
This is where it starts to get good. This is the kind of sex scene that gets you going, hawt damn.
I chose this word because it fits nicely with the existing term “steamy romance,” which refers to a book that includes graphic sex scenes. A steamy romance has two requirements: there must be explicit sex scenes, and the plot must exist independently of the sex scene. (I don’t mean independently of the sex, I mean independently of the sex scene. If your characters can go at it off screen, but don’t, then you qualify as a steamy romance.)
To put it simply, the sex is on the page to support the romance.
So it’s clear why I named this heat level “steamy.” It’s the graphic sex scene that is purely there to titillate the reader.
This is where you can get to the specifics about cocks and entrances and nipples. All the good stuff, juices and all.
The Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas series is an excellent example of a steamy romance. There’s biting and licking and… I just shouldn’t go into it here. But you get what I’m saying.
So what’s the difference between steamy and erotic? In steamy romance, the plot must be able to exist independently of the sex scene. Erotic romance, on the other hand, requires the sex to be on the page in order for the plot to work. There may not be a whole lot of difference between the sex scenes in steamy vs. erotic, but they are much more important in erotic romance. They are required.
So when you go to read or write erotica, the romance is there to support the sex, not the other way around.
Oh my god, I just spent nearly two hours writing this up. I really need to go to bed.
No pun intended.