Is Sex in Romance Novels Necessary?

For both of my current novels and most likely all of my future novels I include a disclaimer letting readers know that my writing is intended for readers age 17 and older. I believe in using realistic language in dialogue and I believe that sex is necessary for my romance novels.

Not all romance writing contains sex scenes. There are stories featuring couples who are too young and stories that focus on all the other aspects of a relationship. Some readers consider sex to be a private act, even for fictional couples--something not discussed or described in polite company. I get that. Despite my writing, I am not known for kissing and telling on myself. I'm not one to sit around and dish on my sex life with my friends. But I see sex when writing about a couple's relationship as vital to me telling their story.

Sex is the physical representation of their relationship. So many things left unsaid can be demonstrated through a couple's sexual contact. Most of the men I know are not particularly verbal when it comes to their emotions, they prefer physical demonstrations. Women's communications are replete with subtext and subtly that can be more easily expressed through sex. Good sex scenes are not only fun to read (and can bring on rounds of real sex), but they also give an author a huge toolbox of ways to demonstrate the dynamics of a relationship.

Bad sex scenes don't do this. Bad sex scenes are like most porn--one dimensional, sophomoric, repetitious. Face it, there are only so many ways you can have a couple of undeveloped characters insert tab A into slot B and have it be interesting. Bad erotic romance writing (and there is good out there) relies on lots of descriptions of how "hot" the man and woman look, their physical perfections, and how much they get off on looking at each other. It also relies on contortionist positions or exotic locations (although a billionaire's desk/penthouse/plane have become a required cliche).  Sex is a physical language that bad erotica reduces to a twenty-word vocabulary.

Used to further demonstrate a couple's love (or lack thereof), sex is so much more than the legal definition. In my first novel, Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks, the female character has experienced all-too-common bad teenage sex. She doesn't understand why others are so excited about this frankly dull act with a selfish man. The male lead, Ben, is a conflicted virgin. He respects his first girlfriend's choice not to have sex before marriage, but he realizes he is years from being willing to make that kind of commitment and full of the natural urges of a teenager. The relationship that develops between these two is sexual and that is one of the key elements to their connection. The couple they become would be incomplete without it. Through their sex life Ben shows Carrie what affection is like from an unselfish man and Carrie allows Ben to discover the sexual side of himself without feeling like a pervert.

Bad sex is a fantastic way to allow characters to show unvented feelings--a kiss ended too soon, lack of eye contact, repetition or speed are all ways to give readers another piece of the puzzle.

Then there are all the social norms that surround sex. (That could be several more posts.) I am currently reading Fear of Flying, Erica Jong's 1973 runaway best seller that sold millions of copies with the promise of her catch phrase "a zipless f*ck". Compared to current erotic romances, it's tame. But it is an insight into the sexual revolution of the late 60's and early 70's. Freed from the fear of pregnancy by the pill for the first time in the history of mankind, women struggled (and still do) to redefine the role and rules of sex. If you read it for a cheap thrill, you'll be disappointed. If you read it as one story of the tentative steps women were making into a very brave new world, it's fascinating.

And that's what characters allow us to do. They allow us to go where me might not go ourselves. They allow us to play out scenarios and stories of "what if", which can be exciting and empowering and comforting and deeply emotional when those stories shine some light and insight into the taboo subject of sex.