We all know sex sells. Whether or not you like that fact is irrelevant. Because editors know sex sells, they appreciate writers who recognize the value of a marketing tool. Which has unfortunately led to an abundance of inappropriate sex scenes in mass market fiction. Ach, we have a male and a female, they must mate! While space ships are blowing up around them. Yes, sirree, hot monkey sex is what would be on my mind as missiles shoot by my ear.
So today’s lesson —sex in fiction comes in different heat levels.
It’s possible—believe it or not—to add sex to your fiction without anatomy lessons. If you’re writing Inspirational fiction, the bedroom door can close, with no need to explain what happens there. That’s heat level zero, and I also recommend it for spies on the run, protagonists being chased by villains, and the middle of spaceship wars, even if your characters’ adrenaline is pumping. Sex needs to be appropriate to the scene.
What many readers, and writers, don’t understand is that there is a “sweet” or “mild” category of romance, one where body parts seldom get mentioned and beds are often for sleeping. It’s perfectly feasible to have a sexy story where the hero merely touches the heroine’s hand to show he understands. Or the heroine gives tacit permission for the hero to create mayhem by giving him his gun back, because she realizes how much destroying the villain means to him. Appreciating each other’s virtues, acknowledging faults, and not asking each other to change, and doing so with observation, touches, and kisses —that’s sexual tension. And that’s what really makes a story steamy.
A level higher than “sweet or mild” would be what ROMANTIC TIMES calls “hot.” My MAGIC books fall in the hot category simply because my couples enjoy sex—eventually. The couple might never share a bed (or a fairy grotto, as in MUST BE MAGIC) until the end. The bed is likely to be covered in roses and surrounded by candles, and the sex may be more about whispered words than body parts. In TOUCHED BY MAGIC, I have a psychometric heroine who can’t even be touched—try that on for sex! But they do the Deed, indeed. Other writers on this heat level may write more explicit and more frequent sex scenes. Still, almost all of these books are driven more by sexual tension than explicit sex. Readers adore the tension—the sudden light of recognition in a man’s eye, the way a woman brushes a man’s cheek, the stolen kiss in an emotional moment.
In a book that’s not romance-oriented, sexual tension can still sell books. It can be done with wit and cleverness through dialogue, or in how the hero admires his companion’s taut tush, then quickly looks back to his space log if she catches him ogling her. Tension is all about the protagonists noticing each other, physically and emotionally. So if you want your book to reach the “hot” category, when your couple finally does the horizontal tango, your tension should have already reached a level where it’s possible to concentrate on what’s important to the story, not anatomy. Who’s on top and who holds the gun and where do clothes go in freefall should have priority to basic mechanics, if one assumes the reader is older than six, at least!
The highest level of sex is classified by the ROMANTIC TIMES as a “scorcher.” This level covers everything from historical romance with a high level of graphic sex, to erotica, where any pairing of couples with animals and sex toys can be involved. Scorchers push all the sexual boundaries. They may serve sexual tension as an appetizer, but the meaty scenes are graphically, explicitly sexual and frequent. Anyone reading about bondage and S/M probably doesn’t need to have anatomy explained, either. And if you’re writing this level of sex, you probably don’t need me to explain how.
So go ahead, find the heat level that works for you and your characters, and don’t feel as if it’s necessary to include instructions on screwing Bolt B into Slot A!