We all know sex sells. Just look at the profit margin for Fifty Shades of Grey. What few people realize is that sex isn’t the thing that makes an erotic romance satisfying—it’s the connection between the lovers, how they feel in their souls about the other person that sends you (and them) over the moon.
The sex is really the cherry on top of the sundae. However, it still must move readers, make them pant, smile, or drool (as the case may be), in order for them to enjoy the story. For a writer to pen sex scenes that aren’t only enjoyable, but make sense, they have to build to that point.
For example, in my most recent romance Freeing the Beast, Becca doesn’t think she’s all that attractive and certainly not enough to capture a god like Eric. BTW: Eric really is a god; she’s a witch who owns a makeover service for paranormal creatures. Because of Becca’s uncertainty about her allure, she’s reluctant to get involved with Eric. Their banter and quiet moments before they ‘do it’, are what sets the stage for physical intimacy. Granted, I had them crawling all over each other in a deserted outdoor dining area (love a little kink), but ultimately what makes the scene work is their genuine desire for each other. For them, it began in their heads and their hearts, not between their legs.
In Sensual Stranger, my award-winning erotic romance, Toni has been without a home and family for years. Zach lost his wife in an accident. They like each other immediately, but both are wary of giving their hearts. The sexual tension between them builds to a point where they can’t resist any longer and share their first kiss, which leads to so much more. Trust me, the tension preceding the intimate moments makes those scenes so freaking special. If Toni and Zach had simply hooked up at a bar, the magic wouldn’t have been there, simple lust would have been guiding them. By building their emotions for each other and keeping them apart, I was able to fuel the readers’ interest in them as a couple. When they did come together—wow, it was unforgettable.
Whether I’m writing contemporary erotic romance like Sensual Stranger, or paranormal romance like Freeing the Beast, the process is the same. Introduce two souls who’ve been looking for love but haven’t quite found it. Throw a ton of obstacles in their path. Make them ache for each other then bring them together. It’s a proven process I used in Illicit Desire (paranormal/sci-fi, book two of my Outlawed Realm series). In it, Lukan and Arez are sex slaves, who’ve never known freedom or love. Their sole purpose is bringing pleasure to the rulers who treat them like the property they are. In an environment defeating so many others, they find each other. For them, a fleeting glance touches their souls. A touch is heaven. Their first unguarded moments together, when they’re truly intimate, made me smile and cry.
That’s sex at its best. The act has to move you so it will move the reader. It can be kinky as all hell, but never gratuitous. If you’ve ever watched porn, what’s going on may prove exciting at first, but give it a few minutes and you’ll be totally bored. There are only so many ways people can get down and dirty. What enriches the act is their connection to each other. Orgasms begin in the brain, nowhere else.
The easiest way to keep sex fresh and relevant in a romance (sweet, erotic, or anywhere in between) is to make it a result of your characters’ personalities, what they need, hope for, dream of. When you’re deep into their POV, then you’ll know what they want and what readers celebrate.
About Tina Donahue
I’m an award-winning, bestselling novelist in erotic, paranormal, contemporary and historical romance for Samhain Publishing, Ellora’s Cave, Siren Publishing, Booktrope, indie, and Kensington. Yay! Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times and numerous online sites have praised my work, and trust me, I’m forever grateful for that. I’ve had my books reach finals in the EPIC competition, one title was named Book of the Year at a review site, and others have won awards in RWA-sponsored contests. I’m actually featured in the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Talk about feeling like a freaking star. Before my writing career, I was the editor of an award–winning Midwestern newspaper and worked in Story Direction for a Hollywood production company. Outside of being an admitted and unrepentant chocoholic, I’ve flown a single-engine plane (scary stuff), rewired an old house using an electricity for dummies book, and have been known to moan like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally whenever I’m eating anything Mexican or Italian. Yeah, I like to eat (burp).