Sex Scenes In Books: Do You Skim?

by Sarah on November 21, 2010 · 20 comments

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been glomming Lorelei James’ Rough Riders contemporary erotic romance series. Seeing as the sex scenes in these books are more explicit than in the romances I usually read, it got me to thinking about sex scenes in general and how I usually skim them, even in books by authors I really like.

As far as I’m concerned, sex in romance novels is not essential. The sexual content should fit the story. I’m happy to read romances in which the bedroom door remains firmly closed, and those in which sex is an integral part of the hero/heroine’s story arc. However, I’ve noticed that I tend to skim the sex scenes in many so-called mainstream romances as they often read like directions in a sex manual.

I am of the firm opinion that the vast majority of romance novels shouldn’t contain more than one sex scene. Beyond the couple’s First Encounter, most of the extra sex scenes are tedious and take away too much time from the rest of the story. Note: I am generalising wildly here. There are authors of mainstream romance who can make sex scenes work, no matter how many they have in their books, for example Victoria Dahl and Jill Shalvis.

Erotic romance is not a subgenre to which I feel particularly drawn, yet I’ve read a couple of authors lately who’ve made me reassess this stance. Lauren Dane and Lorelei James both manage to write explicit (and frequent) sex scenes in their books without skimping on emotional development. It’s a skill, and one which I’m pretty sure I lack in my own writing. Lorelei James’ books are particularly impressive in this regard as her Rough Riders series is long (ten books plus two novellas so far) and has a large cast of characters. She succeeds in making each of her cowboy heroes unique and I care about them and their extended family.

Do you skim sex scenes in romance novels? Do you think more than one sex scene in a romance is too much? Have you tried erotic romance? If so, which authors would you recommend?


Edie November 21, 2010 at 16:28

I would probably read more sex scenes than skim in the erotic romances, but mainly skim the mainstream romance ones.

And just to add my whinge, because you have so conveniently given me a platform for it. ;) I really REALLY wish some authors didn’t feel the need to inject sex scenes, or to even make their books erotic romances. Cos some of them… there is no way of putting it politely.. they SUCK at it.
Cos when an author is bad at it, it is BAD, no matter how good the rest of the book is.

Sorry currently reading an author, who has great premises/plots/characters, but they are erotic romances, and I really wish they weren’t. *cringe*
It kinda annoying when you are skimming 20 out of 68 pages.
Stopping now! Sorry Sarah.

LVLMLeah November 21, 2010 at 16:34

I started reading erotic romance and erotica back in 2007. It was unique and fun and I enjoyed most of the sex in books.

Now, more than 3 years later, I skim. Almost all the time. The only sex that I really enjoy reading is after a culmination and build up of a lot of sexual tension. The rest is just superfluous to me.

And I definitely skim epilogue type sex. Unless it’s the only sex the couple has. But after the couple gets together and has had sex already at least once and mostly likely several times if it’s erotic romance, then end of book sex is boring and I skip it altogether.

Magdalen November 21, 2010 at 16:49

I’m with you . . . as a reader!

As a writer, it’s harder to make that call. I thought I would actually skimp on the sex scenes — they’re hard to write (and very hard to write well!), for one thing, and getting them to be emotionally effective is tough when there has to be at least a little of the Tab A & Slot B stuff. Easier just to allude to a little slap & tickle and move on.

But then I realize that emotions do crop up with regard to sex, and I find myself back in the bedroom, struggling to let the reader know what’s going on without sounding like Masters & Johnson.

If someone has some concrete suggestions for balancing the sex and the emotion, let me know.

Lori November 21, 2010 at 17:39

I skim the sex scenes almost always after the first one just because they get tedious and erotica isn’t terribly interesting to me. The only sex that always gets me is the sort that Jennifer Cruisie has written where there’s no Tab A Slot B but rather it reads a little more poetically.

There’s ways to write sex without giving an anatomy lesson. And if anyone drips: I’m outta there!!

Carolyn November 21, 2010 at 18:01

I used to try to write sex. I suck at it (pun intended). So now I try to emphasize the emotional journey over the physical. The buildup of sexual tension is appealing to me, more so than the actual act.

And it may be my age but suddenly I’m seeing the humor in sex. The mind pictures of some of the sex scenes I’ve read sort of set me off, lol. May never sell, but I laughed while writing.

One sex scene is enough for me as a reader. I do tend to skim any others. I don’t believe the half of it anyway.

Keishon November 22, 2010 at 01:02

I skim. I only ever really care about sex scenes when it’s after some serious, smoking hot sexual tension/build up or used to re-affirm the characters love & commitment for one another if they’ve been separated or in a troubled relationship/marriage type of situation.

I have read a book where a sex scene was needed but wasn’t given. Hopefully this will make sense. It was in a Kathleen Eagle book where the heroine was a breast cancer survivor. The book is more sensual that the author usually writes in her CR but in this particular book, she needed one last good love scene to reaffirm the love between the two characters and the lack was definitely felt. I’ve also ran across one book I think it was written by Jude Deveraux where sex was just anti-climatic. The book didn’t need one. Like you said, it’s a skill. Some authors know how to incorporate them and some don’t. I don’t need tedious long, drawn out sex scenes. I always skip them.

I never really skip Jennifer Crusie’s sex scenes. Someone mentioned her in the comments. She’s always inventive and a bit more realistic I thought referencing her romances in hardcover.

Nordette November 22, 2010 at 03:13

I’m only intrigued by sex scenes if how the characters have sex reveals more about their relationship or a particular character’s motivation. Including a sex scene for the sake of including a sex scene annoys me.

@nordette_verite on Twitter

pamelia November 22, 2010 at 03:14

I never skim a sex scene. I find a good writer can get a lot of really good character development in them; for example I just finished reading Liz Carlyle’s “My False Heart” and she did a fabulous job keeping the characters involved in the action. A lot of writers tend to go into “sex scene mode” where if you didn’t have the names of the people involved repeated all over the page it wouldn’t matter who was involved. I even get a kick out of badly written sex scenes. I will never run out of the joy of recounting Laurel K. Hamilton’s repeated use of the term “modified pushup position” in her sex-scenes. HI-larious! Then there are those which are just HOT and, hey, sometimes those are nice to read too. I guess the type of story dictates how many sex-scenes there should be. I also appreciate authors like Jacqueline Carey who use abbreviated scenes which do not last 12 pages!

heidenkind November 22, 2010 at 03:35

I wouldn’t say I usually skim sex scenes, but there are times when I’m just not interested. It could be because I don’t feel sexual tension between the characters; but even when I do, sometimes sex scenes are just boring! They read like a manual, as you said.

Maili November 22, 2010 at 09:52

It depends. If they are at it like bunnies, then it’d be like watching bunnies munching on lettuce leaves. I also skim when there isn’t any chemistry between hero and heroine. You know, the obligated kind.

I’m tired of a tendency to equal great sex with love. “He gave me an orgasm! TWUE LOVE!” or worse, “He’s so good at fucking. He can’t be a bad man! Or even a murderer, like everybody’s saying he is!” When this kind shows up, I skim.

Las November 22, 2010 at 16:42

Sex scenes–well-written and well-integrated sex scenes–are absolutely an essential element of romance for me. If there’s only going to be one such scene in a book, it better be amazing and there better be a hell of a lot of palpable sexual tension throughout the book to make up for the lack of nooky. Not that I’ve never skimmed through any of them for various reasons. And erotic romances aren’t even a favorite genre of mine (I usually like them in small doses, though I find myself in the middle of a Lorelai James glom…good stuff!) Some of my favorite romances don’t have many sex scenes and what they have aren’t explicit at all, but the sexual tension is so well-written that I don’t even notice that there’s not much actual sex happening.

I think part of the reason is some residual adolescent rebellion. ;) I have twelve years of Catholic school under my belt, and (heterosexual, married, of course) sex was always treated as an afterthought, as if it were the least important aspect of a relationship. As an adult that sex-negative attitude annoys the hell out of me, and when I read a book labeled as romance–a romance that’s supposed to be between ADULTS–that keeps the bedroom door firmly closed I feel like it’s brushing aside the importance of sexual attraction and compatibility, and treating me like a child who must be kept ignorant of all things sex.

Lynn Spencer November 22, 2010 at 21:19

When I’m just reading for myself, it really depends on the book. Sometimes the sex scene is very well-written or the details really do feel important to the story, or it’s just plain weird and I can’t tear myself away. However, some sex scenes really are dull and just don’t feel necessary, and I’ll admit to glazing over for those.

For review books, though, I feel like I need to read every single word in order to really review the book fairly. So, if there’s a real clunker of a sex scene, I force myself to read every last biology textbook jargony bit of it.

Maija November 22, 2010 at 21:29

Some time ago I was like “who would skim a sex scene”, because I truly liked reading them. But after reading more and more erotic romances, I then found out that there really can be sex scenes I could skim. There’s been a few books that almost made me skim or skip a sex scene, but well, in the end I’m a reader that will stick to it – no matter what. Good or bad I’ll read it. I can’t give up. Luckily 99% of the books I read are lovely :)

Animejune November 23, 2010 at 03:05

*applauds* I skim! I totally skim! And I’ll be the first to admit one of the most frustrating things are sex scenes that are just place holders or are cheaply used to get across the romance without actually developing it.

Hell, some books I’d prefer no sex scenes at all – that being said, there are exceptions, but they’re all scenes where the sex is directly relevant to the story and the relationship.

Teresa Thomas Bohannon November 23, 2010 at 16:38

When I was in my late teens I avidly devoured the entire French Angelique series–loved the grand scope of the stories, skimmed the sex scenes. A couple of years later Kathleen Woodiwiss mass market popularized the historical romance–again loved the stories, skimmed the sex scenes. A couple of years after that I discovered Georgette Heyer and the Regency Romance genre where sex was virtually unheard of, and found my niche for romantic entertainment–no grand scope to the stories, but no skimming required. However, I recently won a sexy romance novel in a contest and I look forward to reading it just to see if I still skim the sex scenes :)

Tracy November 23, 2010 at 17:59

I’m a total skimmer! Sometimes sex scenes totally pull me out of the book. Sometimes they are so ridiculous, I wish I hadn’t even skimmed, just jumped forward in the book.

Subsequently, I’ve read some great books that have no sex at all. I don’t think it’s necessary. A good romance can be a good romance in and of itself. Sometimes it feels like an author throws a sex scene in to try to prove the connection between the hero and heroine. That’s a complete waste! Not only was I not interested in that scene, the story has now been ruined for me.

Summed up – sex scene ridiculosity kills the book for me!

Sarah November 23, 2010 at 18:16

Wow! Thanks for all the comments. Reading through them, I found myself wondering what it is that keeps me reading sex scenes rather than skimming them. I think there has to be something beyond the erotic in them, particularly if there are more than one in a book. A blend of eroticism, humour and emotion. Something innovative, and I don’t necessarily mean something out of the “norm” sexually. Hmm…it’s hard to define, yet I know it when I read it.

Kaetrin November 24, 2010 at 08:49

I generally like the sex scenes – if I skim it’s because I’m not enjoying/rapt in the book in general and I’m skimming the whole thing. In fact, sometimes, the only thing I don’t skim is the sex scenes! LOL.

While there are books I’ve read and liked very much that have nothing or little more than kisses, they are not the books I read most often. In mainstream romances I’d be disappointed if there was only one sex scene – I feel there is a vast amount of story to be told in how the h/h relate to each other physically. I’d never skim a Mary Balogh sex scene for example, or any number of other mainstream romance authors. After 30ish books in the In Death series, I think the sex scenes between Eve and Roarke still mean something and I still read them (as opposed to skim) – although I know others don’t have that view. If nothing else, it shows me that they still have that “spark” and there are plenty of times where it means, in terms of the story, much more than that.

Re Jenny Crusie, I remember my only disappointment in Bet Me is there there is only one sex scene and it is right near the end.

If one was reading erotic romance, I kind of wonder why someone would read it if they were only going to skim the sex scenes :)

Whatever the heat level, if I don’t enjoy the sex scenes (or the kissing scenes) I am most probably not enjoying the book – either because I don’t care about the characters, I feel it is poorly written or the prose is too purple.

Anyhoo – vive la difference! – there’s enough books out there to please everyone I think.

Janet W November 30, 2010 at 15:39

I skim unless they’re special and advance my understanding of both characters and their relationship. So Jo Beverley’s “Forbidden Magic” (set at Christmastime) has sex scenes … fairly muted in as they stack up to some of the ones you reference … that help you understand the incredible pull/attraction of the heroine to the hero. She’s a virgin but she’s not virginal: make sense?

As for hot and heavy fill up each and every page nope, not interested. Of course when sex scenes have been marvelous (like the early “In Death” books) and then they slowly rachet down, that’s sort of sad :(

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