A little while back I bitched about my ten least favorite things in romance novel sex scenes—things like nipple scissors and cervical penetration. Now, I tease because I love, and I think most readers of romance take the silliness that occasionally pops up in romance novels with a grain of salt. I heard via the Twitter rumor mill that some people on Facebook used my post as fodder for deriding the romance genre. I can’t confirm this, but obviously that was not my intention when I posted my bitch list.
To be fair, there a lot of really amazing sex scenes in romance. I’m talking about authors who use sex not just to titillate but to show character growth and intimacy in an important way or to push the boundaries of what’s typically considered acceptable in the genre.
So here’s my list of the Big Ten—sex scenes I found compelling, thought-provoking or just plain fun.
Secure your dental dams, here we go:
Admit it, you’ve wondered what Darcy was like in bed, haven’t you?
I read this book back when it was The Bar Sinister and I was studying abroad in Germany. Want to know what I remember about Germany?
What Mr. Darcy is like in bed, that’s what.
“Pray, can you bear it, Lizzy? I fear I must have you again.”
Let’s be honest here, sex is often funny. As long as you’re not pointing and laughing, cracking up while getting it on can be a good thing.
If you like characters who banter during sex, look no further. Yates writes sexy-quippy-snarky-giggle sex. Her characters are vulnerable and self-deprecating and often very funny, even during those intimate moments. It's hard to come up with a good excerpt to show this because the tension, both comical and sexual, builds over pages.
Carly and Lucas in Unbuttoned drive each other crazy. She thinks he's an irresponsible playboy, and he thinks she needs to loosen up. When they finally reach critical mass and wind up in bed, Carly neglects to mention she's a virgin. This is the “aferglow” scene:
“Dammit, Carly,” he breathed, rolling to the side.
The loss of his body over hers made her feel cold. Exposed.
“What?” she asked, staring at the ceiling.
…He put both hands over his face and drew them down. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“That's a very open-ended question. Why didn't I tell you that Pluto isn't considered a planet anymore? Why didn't I tell you that I can believe it's not butter?”
“Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin?”
“Oh…that. I forgot.”
“In my defense, your hymen really doesn't do much, so it's easy to kind of let it slip your mind.”
If you want to read a book that will tear out your guts, stomp on them and then stuff them back into your body BUT LIKE IN A GOOD WAY, this is the book for you. Seven Nights to Forever is probably the most emotionally wrenching romance I’ve read.
The hero is being emotionally abused by his wife, but he can’t leave her. The heroine is a prostitute he hires in a desperate search for affection as well as sex. The sex scenes are so full of bittersweet goodness they’ll make your teeth hurt. Despite the fact that Rose is a prostitute, she and James don't make love intiially. Their night together is chaste, far more about intimacy and comfort than sex.
But above all, it had felt so good to hold her, to have the soft, light weight of her body pressed against his. To have her small hand tight in his. To have the sweet, subtle scent of her fill his every breath. It had been too long since he had simply held a woman. Before his marriage, he would never have considered such a simple act a luxury. But after three years of famine, he had soaked up Rose's presence as if she were a precious drop of rain in the desert.
So they haven't even had sex yet and I've been soundly kicked in the feels.
Because her heroines masturbate. Okay, maybe not all her heroines (I haven’t read all her books yet), but some of them do. And I appreciate a heroine who isn’t a stranger to her dewy petals of delight when she first meets the hero.
In this except from So Tough to Tame ( A | BN | K | ARe), the heroine, Charlie, lives in the apartment next to the hero, Walker. The share a bathroom wall and one night she's taking a bath when she hears him in the shower, groaning. She assumes he's masturbating which really turns her on. This is a solo sex scene that's as steamy as when Walker and Charlie do hook up:
Charlie slipped a hand between her legs. She was already wet, slippery despite the water. She bit her lip to keep from crying out at the pleasure, but that didn't stop the feeling. It didn't stop her thighs from clenching or her hips from jumping. Her other hand toyed with her hard nipple, pinching and teasing it as she stroked herself.
She wished she could watch him. God, she'd love to see him as he jerked off, one hand braced against the shower wall as water sluiced down his back.
Banks made my last list because of my irritation with three-ways where the dudes do not touch (she’s not the only one guilty of that, obviously). She’s also on this list because she writes really hot, steamy awesome sex in general. Go read Rush.
Do it right now.
Go on. I’ll wait.
I just listened to Burn on audio and aside from the narrator sounding disturbingly like Keanu Reeves (Whoa! Josie!) I enjoyed it. One thing I liked is that the heroine isn’t able to orgasm from penetration alone, and the hero, Ash, doesn't get all asshurt about it. He also doesn't magically make her come with his mighty wang of lovin'. There's nothing wrong with Josie, so there's nothing for him to “fix.”
Color flooded her cheeks and suffused her body, making it delectably pink. “I've never been able to come from just penetration.”
He lowered himself, coming to rest on his forearms so his face was just above hers, their mouths precariously close.
“A lot of women can't come without clitoral stimulation,” he said gently. “Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. Furthermore, even if it was an oddity, you don't ever hesitate to tell me what you need in bed. Got it? I can't please you if I don't know what turns you on and what doesn't. And I want to see you pleased because it makes me happy.”
There’s a lot statistics out there about the elusiveness of the vaginal orgasm vs the clitoral orgasm. In my opinion, the vaginal orgasm in current romances are like the simultaneous orgasms in Old Skools. I tend to look at both with squinty eyes.
It’s nice that Banks went there so Josie could…you know…get there.
Full disclosure, this book didn’t really work for me. I love James, but this one was a ‘meh’ in my book.
That said, she addresses sex in historicals in new and refreshing ways. Ever wonder how a historical heroine could get hot and bothered while wearing 80 pounds of skirts and a corset? Yeah, me too. In this book, Poppy, the heroine, doesn’t really enjoy sex because she’s encumbered by the trappings of the day. She has a giant, powdered Marie Antoinette bouffant hairdo for fuck’s sake. She’s lying there thinking “Christ, my hair itches” while they’re getting it on.
Here Fletch bathes Poppy, and starts to realize what she sacrifices for the idea of beauty. Because she has that crazy bouffant, it takes a couple of hours to wash her hair at night.
“A couple of hours!” Fletch stopped trying to get his fingers through the snarls of hair. “You're wasting a couple of hours every night on this. And what about the nights I when I came to your bed–you would stay up for two more hours washing your hair?”
Poppy blinked up at him. Wet rat tails hung over her eyes. “Sometimes when I'm very tired, I almost fall asleep, but I cannot sleep with powder in my hair. It starts to itch horribly after a day. On a bad day I can absolutely crazed by supper time. It's hard to sit still.”
Fletch stared down at her. “Poppy,” he said slowly, “would you say that your head was itching when we were making love?”
She went still for a second and then, “Only sometimes.” She sounded like a guilty little girl. He stared down at her head feeling as if dawn had just broken over his head.
I personally thought that Poppy should have squirreled a cookie or two away in that massive ‘do, so while the duke was going to town she could at least reach up and sneak a quick snack. Instead she cuts off all her hair. Pixie cuts of the world unite!
Now I’m waiting for the book where the heroine unlaces her corset a little so she can fart. Admit it, you’ve thought about it too.
I read this book when I was about 15 or 16. It was amazing, and it also blew my little ol’ mind. If you’ve never read Outlander, stop here and go check it out.
Read it? Spoiler free?
If not, be ye warned, spoilers abound!
Okay, in this book our hero, Jamie, [SPOILER - highlight to read] is raped and has to learn to be intimate with his partner, Claire, again. Now, when I read this it never occurred to me that a hero could be raped. It was the first time I’d read it and I was shocked. I’d read enough Old Skools that I was used to the heroine being raped (either by the hero or the villain or both) and shamefully, I was sort of immune to it. When I read about Jamie’s assault it made me wonder how he could recover, how he could still be the hero. At this point all the heroes I read were sexually experienced and invulnerable. Their epic man-titties were like bronze breastplates, keeping all the hurts of the world at bay.
When Jamie and Claire are intimate again it’s in a sort of PTSD-haze, and it’s raw and wrenching. This book changed the way I thought about sexual assault and about literary heroes.
This is a book about a heroine who hires a male prostitute to take her virginity. Yes, there are two prostitution books on this list. I have a Pretty Woman thing.
The thing I liked about this book was Kent shows her characters practicing safe sex. In most contemporaries if there is condom use during intercourse, they hero and heroine don’t practice safe sex during oral sex. Anders, the hero, packs a dental dam, and it doesn’t ruin the scene at all.
She felt him making adjustments farther down the mattress and heard the rustling of what must be the dam. Then she gasped loudly when she felt something slick touch her intimately.
“May I start?” [Anders'] voice came from between her legs.
“Yes.” She clenched her fingers around the edge of the headboard so tightly her knuckles must have whitened.
Now, I learned about dental dams in high school health class. The teacher, my Phy Ed teacher, was so uncomfortable that he’d just read really fast out of the textbook and skip any words that made him nervous, words like “penis” and “vagina.” The result was a fucked up Mad Libs. All I knew was that a dental dam was placed on the NOUN during NOUN to prevent the contraction of PLURAL NOUN.
I’m willing to suspend some disbelief in terms of safe sex in romance novels, but no way would I have bought a prostitute hero not practicing safe sex. Kudos to Kent for being real.
Yes, James makes this list twice because it’s my list and YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. If you’ve read a lot of deflowering scenes filled with shimmering orgasms and thought “for reals?” then this is the book for you.
Gowan and Edie are virgins on their wedding night, and Edie doesn’t enjoy the sex. In fact that night, and subsequent attempts, hurt her. She fakes her orgasms. When Gowan finds out about this he’s all asshurt about it and hence the conflict.
Edie and Gowan have to learn about each other as people and grow as a couple. Gowan needs to see his wife as a whole person with hopes and dreams, and Edie needs to be honest with her husband. Then the orgasms will come, grasshopper.
James writes some great books about intimacy within marriage, and this is one of the best.
Doyle has big brass balls (figuratively speaking, of course). It’s like someone handed her a list of things that won’t work in romance, then she sets fire to the list and uses it to light her bad-ass cigar. She addresses two taboo topics in this book: erectile dysfunction and [SPOILER - highlight to read] a hero who is raped in prison.
Yup, her hero pops little blue pills to get it up, and he can't orgasm. And his backstory affects his ability to be intimate with women. And she writes it all without having the heroine and hero sitting in separate bathtubs staring out at a sunset (what the fuck, Cialis? JUST PUT THEM IN THE SAME GODDAMNED BATHTUB).
Doyle fearlessly pushes boundaries, and I commend her.
The best sex, at least in romance novels, is often infused with emotion, whether it's angst or joy, and it shows the characters in a meaningful way. When it's also hot and reflects the average person's sexual experience without resorting to purple prose? That's golden. So which scenes make you happy? Who do you think writes great sex?