Have you ever wondered just how much sex “should” be in a romance novel? That's what we're addressing in this episode of Indie Author Weekly!
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TUNE IN NOW to learn more about sex and romance novels, how much (and what type of) sex should be in romance novels, and more...
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Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and the behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow (or @Saganlives on Twitter & Instagram), and I’m a productivity strategist and an author of polyamorous romcoms.
Now, have you ever wondered just how much sex “should” be in a romance novel? Well, that’s exactly what we’re discussing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!
By the way, you can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes—plus updates on my writing projects—delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes… link is in the show notes.
Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share a few thoughts on sex in romance novels!
As you know, I am a romance novelist. Specifically, I write polyamorous romantic comedies. Now, when people find out I write romance novels, they immediately think this means that I write super steamy novels that have tons of sex in them. Especially because there’s a misconception that polyamory—which is a form of ethical non-monogamy—automatically means “lots of sex.” And sure, it absolutely can! …but it’s not a requirement.
By the way, this is a comment I get a lot when people find out I’m polyamorous, too. They assume it’s all about the sex. Don’t get me wrong, sex is great, but there’s a lot of other elements at play here!
Getting back to today’s topic: How much sex should be in a romance novel?
Part of this IS about reader expectation. But as an author, you’re probably never going to please 100% of your readers. That’s basically impossible. A better approach is to address the sex in your novel the same way that you address any other scene:
Sex doesn’t need to be ANY different than anything else in your story. Of course, there really should be some form of sex if you’re writing an erotica novel, because that’s kind of the point of those stories, right? I mean, I love erotica and erotic romance, and I’d be pretty disappointed if there wasn’t any sex! That’s why I picked up that novel. Gimme some great sex scenes, please and thank you!
...Then again, if I’m reading chick lit, I’m not really expecting sex to be in there. If there is, then cool. If not, that’s cool too—it’s not a cornerstone element of that subgenre of romance.
So that’s an important consideration: what sub-genre of romance are you writing, and what are the elements of that sub-genre? What will your readers expect? In this case, reader expectation is pretty important, when you’re looking at the particular sub-genre.
I definitely struggle with figuring out how much sex to include in my romcoms. Romantic comedies don’t generally have a defined expectation of how much sex “should” be in them, if any—and, by the way, if you as a reader or a watcher of romcoms have a different opinion on this, then I would LOVE to hear that! Post your thoughts on Twitter or Instagram and tag me, @Saganlives, so we can discuss it.
I’ve played around a lot with the types and amount of sex in the romcoms I write. So far, I’ve published 7 books in the Polyamorous Passions series, and there are steamy scenes in every novella… but some of them have more explicitly sexy scenes, and others just touch more briefly on it.
Some form of sex happens in every novel I’ve published so far. But that doesn’t mean we always see sex on the page. As an author, I really love writing the build-up to sex scenes. If you’ve read Book 7, Her Bad Idea, then you’ll know that I ADORE a good slow burn romance. So, so good. That book actually focuses more on solo sex, for example, because the relationship is SUCH a slow burn. Whereas with Helen’s story, I think by Book 5 and 6, we see more sex with partners happening on the page.
Sex happens in all of my books—we just don’t always get a full play-by-play of it.
It’s a question I ask myself every time I’m writing a new novel: How much sex should I include in this story? How much sex are my characters having, and is it a good fit for the reader to “see” it happen?
For my upcoming romcom, Small Town Stilettos, this was SO hard. Because I had some great ideas for sex scenes, and I actually wrote a couple of super steamy sex scenes. Like, the best sex scenes I’ve ever written! ...but then I realized I didn’t want this novel to have any actual sex in it.
I like that this book is super sex-positive, but it doesn’t need the sex to be on the page for it to be made apparent. I actually REALLY liked the idea of writing a very sex-positive book without any explicit sex scenes. I think that’s an important aspect of being sex-positive—we don’t need to *see* it happening. To get a little meta, doing this also works especially well for this particular story, Small Town Stilettos, since the entire novel is based on themes of duality.
And to be honest, I thought it would be kind of nice to write a mostly-PG romcom for once, partly so that family and friends can read it without feeling uncomfortable. I know that if people in my life feel uncomfortable with my novels, that’s their problem and not mine, but still—it was a choice I made with this novel, and I really like having something a little different than how I write the Polyamorous Passions series. It’s good to experiment and play as an author!
So as a result, I’ve removed the sex scenes from Small Town Stilettos that I wrote in the very first draft, and now all sex scenes happen off the page.
What I’m tempted to do—and again, I would LOVE your thoughts on this—is to write an erotic short novellette, featuring all of the sex scenes in that novel that you don’t actually see on the page. I think that would be a lot of fun and a great workaround! Again, connect with me on Twitter or Instagram, @Saganlives, and let me know what you think.
But in the meantime, Small Town Stilettos is what they call a “closed door” romcom. My readers are used to a little bit of steam from me, so it’ll be interesting to see if stepping away from my norm ends up being an issue. Then again, this is also the first “spin off” book from the Polyamorous Passions series, and it’s also written in the first person whereas all of my other novels so far are in the third person—so in that sense, I think there’s enough that’s different about this novel that it won’t be an issue.
Ultimately, there is no one right answer to exactly *how much* sex there should be in a romance novel. Like I mentioned earlier, I like treating sex the same as anything else in my novels—does it add to the story? How does it connect back to a particular character, relationship dynamic, plot point, etc? And frankly, is this sex scene any good? I mean, if you’re going to include ANY kind of scene in your novel, you want it to be decent… and that goes for sex, too. Is it a decent sex scene? I’ve written possible sex scenes in the past and then written them out of the novel because I didn’t like them, for example.
I really like featuring sex as a way to showcase character development and relationships and so on. For example, in Books 4 - 6 in the Polyamorous Passions series, we see that Helen—who we previously thought of as a more traditional, conventional person—gets a little adventurous with her sex life. We see her using her sex life as a way to explore what she truly wants from life. We see her trusting other people via her sexuality. We see her relinquishing control in the bedroom. We see this whole other side to her that Emma refused to see, in the first three books in the series, when those stories were written through Emma’s eyes instead of Helen’s.
In that sense, the sex scenes in Books 4 - 6 of the Polyamorous Passions series are extremely powerful. Plus, you might just find them kinda hot when you’re reading them, too!
(Sidebar: the Polyamorous Passions series is available on Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all the places! You can also get them directly from my website at SaganMorrow.com/books. Happy reading! End of sidebar)
Also, while we’re on the subject, what even is our definition of “sex”? One of the things I love about The Ethical Slut—which is known in the polyamory community as the polyamory bible—is that they are extremely free and liberal with the concept of sex. At one point in the book, they say something about how “we’re having sex with you right now, while you’re reading this book!”
And, yeah! I mean, think about it—besides the obvious factor that physical sex does not have to be or include intercourse, there’s also phone sex, sexting, all forms of sex that do not necessarily involve physical sex. One of my favourite sex scenes I’ve written is when one character, Helen, has a nocturnal orgasm. Dream sex can totally count!
This also goes back to what I mentioned before, with build-up and foreplay being more of what I think I personally tend to focus on as an author with my sex scenes—foreplay IS sex. The build up and sexual tension can be a form of sex, in and of itself.
My point is that the definition of “sex” is... malleable. It can actually be pretty loose and vague. It can mean what you want it to mean.
The last point I want to mention, on our topic of “how much sex should there be in a romance novel,” is that there are plenty of asexual romance novels, and from an inclusivity standpoint, romance novels can absolutely, 100% be sex-free! Of course, people who are asexual might still have sex, but there are a lot of readers who might have no interest in sex—and there can be plenty of romance without sex. Romance and sex are not synonymous. We can have one without the other, or any combination or ratio of the two of them together, and none of that diminishes the validity of a particular relationship or how “romantic” or “sexy” it is. We can also have sexy experiences without sex. Again, regardless of our definitions of sex.
At the end of the day, romance novels can have as much or as little sex as you want. They can be as explicit or vague as you want. Sex can be in every chapter or just happen once. You have so many options as the author, and it’s always best to come back to what’s true for this particular story, rather than trying to force a particular amount or type of sex into your story.
What is true for your story?
That’s the real question to always ask yourself.
All right. That, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly! I think that’s the most I’ve ever said the word “sex” in a 10-minute period, so you’re welcome! Access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.
Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support.
Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.