10 Things I Hate About Sex (Scenes)

 dude on a horse jumping into the water with a woman falling off the side of the horse. I think that's what is going on. Could also be levitation of all three by mysterious forces.I did not learn about sex from romance novels, thank God, but I know a lot of women who (at least partially) did. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who treated sex in a completely matter of fact way–it was part of being an adult and there was no shame involved in discussing it. As a result, even at the tender age of fifteen I approached romance novel sex with some skepticism. When I first started reading romance the sex scenes were the sort of vague, purple-prose laden encounters that involved a lot of shattering into a million tiny pieces, flying apart into the sun, or the shimmering of colors behind closed eyelids. Basically it sounded a lot like a stroke and/or an acid trip. And the orgasms were always simultaneous. 

Now there are as many different types of sex scenes as there are romance novels. Variety is a good thing, usually. But for every delicious Victoria Dahl or Maisey Yates bearded cowboy love-scene, there's also a sex scene out there that is either improbable, anatomically impossible or horrifically painful to think about. Below are the Big Ten things I hate in sex scenes. Brace yourself. And, obviously, this review contains strong language and adult situations and all that shit.

1. Velvet Covered Steel

No, that's not a name for a Glam Metal band. It's the description of every hero's erection ever. It's not bad, I'm just sick of reading it

2. Sex On a Horse

What the actual fuck, people. I read this a lot in Old Skool romances. I actually remember reading a book where the horse was “frightened by the scent of their lovemaking.” I wish I could remember which book, but I don't. Now, I agree that plenty of fondling or even a Handy-J could occur while on horseback, but actual intercourse? That is the most chill horse ever. Every horse I've ever ridden has waited for me to stop paying attention to try and brush me against a tree or something.

Plus how does that work? You'd have to a Russian gymnast and a trick rider to contort your body enough to stay on the horse and achieve penetration. And then you'd have to move. If I was a horse, I would not put up with that shit.

Two hands in a Chinese Finger trap3. The Chinese Finger Trap

This is when the hero's peen is so goddamned big he has to work to get inside the heroine, then once he is in, the magical vadge doesn't want to let go. Example from The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning (which is actually a great book, BTW):

“Easy, Gabrielle. Relax,” he gritted.

She tried, but she couldn't; it was instinctive to resist, and they waged a silent sexual battle for a few moments, where he hardly gained another inch. Her muscles were bearing down on him, resisting his steely intrusion. 

He sucked in a hissing breath through clenched teeth. “Gabrielle, you're killing me; you have to let me in.”

“I'm trying,” she wailed.

I know there are fetishes about putting really large things inside vaginas, but I would think that in course of regular intercourse, if you have to fight to get the penis in, it's going to hurt. When I read the above passage and she instinctively resisted, I assumed that instinct was born of pain. If you need a shoehorn and a bottle of Wesson Oil to get down to business, then as a reader, I'm cringing.

4. Gushing, Weeping and Seeping

Anytime the heroine is doing one of these three things I assume she's got some sort of infection going on. Enough said. 

5. Womb Clenching

The heroine is having SO MUCH FUN her womb is clenching. Now, to be fair, the uterus contracts during orgasm, so technically womb clenching is going on. But every time I read that her womb is clenching I think she's having a menstrual cramp or a contraction. I mean, “clench” has such negative connotations. You clench your fists, your teeth, your butt cheeks. Why is her womb clenching? Is it angry?

Book Scissors 6. This Sentence:

His fingers drifted over [her breasts] again, gently scissoring her nipples. (The Greek's Million-Dollar Baby Bargain by Julia James).

You know what two words NEVER belong in a sentence together? Nipples and scissors. 

7. Easy-A

And that A stands for anal. Anal is like the new virginity in contemporaries. The heroine has likely had sexual partners by the time she's met the hero, but she's never had anal. And he's going to go where no man has gone before. That's not the part that pisses me off.

The part that pisses me off is that the heroine has enjoyable anal sex without any preparation or, occasionally, lubricant. The hero magically gets his whole wang in there without causing her any discomfort or pain because he strokes her clit or something like that. Along with misplaced hymens, romance novel heroines are apparently born with very loose sphincter muscles. 

8. The Third Arm

No, I'm not making a penis reference here. This is when the hero and heroine are getting it on missionary style and he reaches down to rub her clitoris while still keeping himself propped up over her and gently stroking her cheek.

Wait, what?

Or sometimes (especially in Old Skools) he wipes her tears away with both his thumbs while again, staying propped up on top of her. 

Either he's got a friend hiding behind the curtains on the canopy bed, sneaking in to help a bro out or he's got the most amazing ab muscles ever. He can do a plank without his arms, motherfucker. Now that's a hero.

9. Three's a Crowd

I've read my fair share of menage scenes. I'm always amazed when the heroine has sex with two dudes for the first time and no one falls down, tips over, or slips out. Double penetration is apparently only slightly harder than anal for a newcomer (hur hur). And how is it that when she's with two different dudes (maybe even three) the dudes never touch.

I'm thinking specifically of the Maya Banks' Colter series. The Colter brothers share a woman, and engage in four-way sex with her, but they never ever touch because that would incest, I guess. C'mon. Someone is going to brush a thigh or suddenly get a handful of his brother's balls. It's just going to happen. 

And my all time least favorite?

10. Cervical Penetration

The hero's wang is so amazingly big that the heroine can “feel him in her womb.” Well I fucking hope not. For that to happen he'd have to push through the cervix and anyone who has had an IUD placed can tell you that you don't want anything pushing through your cervix. I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. Here's a passage from Passion by Lisa Valdez  that will induce a PTSD flashback in anyone who has Mirena IUD:

On a low moan, her cunt began to draw. With the first strong, sucking pull, Mark bore down with all his strength, grinding the swollen head of his cock against the opening to her womb.

Giant finger for practicing nail art

There are so many, many things wrong here.

1. It's a vagina, not an octopus. It's not drawing or sucking anything into it's maw.

2. Is the vagina moaning? Because grammatically, it is.

3. YOU DON'T WANT ANYTHING PUSHING INTO THE OPENING OF YOUR WOMB. At this point the heroine should be screaming in pain or least saying “FUCK!” really loudly, and not in the good way.

Passion also contains the following passage:

He choked back a groan and bit into her pale shoulder as he thrust against the tight, tilting fingers of flesh that protected Passion's womb.

I've checked. There are no fingers growing out of my cervix. If there were, I'd be in the ER right now breathing into a paper bag. Also, are cervix fingers like chicken fingers?

So what about you? What drives you nuts about romance novel sex in the not-so-good way?



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  1. Miranda says:

    #8: I could see that working if he’s propped on his elbows, and said elbows are up by her neck. Awkward, but he’s a romance hero. He sneers at awkward.

    Anyway, if she’s lying there crying, he needs to get the hell off of her.

    #10: OMG, yes that would hurt. A LOT.

  2. Sandy James says:

    Having trouble writing this because the coffee I spewed at my laptop as I read this post is getting in the way. Such a funny, enlightening post!!

    First thing I need to do is check my own books. Sex on horse? Nope. Three arms? Nope. Cervical penetration? Nope. Chinese fingertrap? Nope. Phew…

    My pet peeve? Old-fashioned romances where the women are raped but still climax. Those are my WTF moments. It’s. Rape. I’m very grateful that fad died out. Mostly.

  3. Bibliophile says:

    I’m with you on all of these. I think I have come across all of them except the sex on a horse scenario, but I have read a very improbable scene featuring foreplay on a fast-moving motorcycle that made me go “WTF!”. (Sorry, can’t for the life of me remember the title of the book). The third arm and cervical penetration are particular pet peeves of mine. 

    I recently started reading M/M romances and find the weeping, leaking and seeping that goes on in most of those just as off-putting as in straight sex scenes. I also find it off-putting in both straight and gay romances when men ejaculate like they have six testicles working overtime.

  4. Carolanne says:

    #2 plus #7…. there was a Sarah McCarty book where the heroine had her first anal experience on a horse. With “her juices” as lube. Giddyap ow ow ow.

  5. JoanneF says:

    Stopping for sex while in grave danger or neat & tidy sex are the ones that really annoy me.  Being chased by terrorists?  Serial murder hot on your trail?  Hiding up in a tree while a drug lord’s goons are combing through the brush?  Are your colleagues right outside the open doorway in your safehouse?  Lets get it on right here right now!  I recently listened to a couple of Brockmann’s Troubleshooters books in my car and it’s a wonder any of those supposedly super-smart supermen were able to get away from all those terrorists and serial murderers since they were always either stopping to have sex, thinking about sex, or practically tripping over their boners.

    Did the hero’s mighty wang just make a giant deposit of potent manliness in your magic hoo-hah?  Just pull your jeans back on and go back to work or maybe even hop back on your horse (if you ever even got off of it).  You’re carrying around a gift from the hero, so that’s not at all disgusting.

  6. #9 – YES!!! That entire first book, I just couldn’t take seriously, though I do like other books by Banks. Because I couldn’t get beyond shaking my head and “what?“ing at the first, I didn’t read any of the others. I can’t imagine how three large, muscular guys can all focus on the top half of a woman’s body without ever accidentally brushing thighs or feet or hands or SOMETHING!

  7. Dora says:

    1) Endless metaphor and tired descriptions. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, wants to write about “bolts of pleasure” and “electricity firing through your body” and “waves crashing over you”. Tastes will vary, but none of this does anything for me because it’s so vague and pseudo-mystical and over-used by EVERYONE that you could essentially just keep copy-pasting the same scene in every book over and over and only change the names.

    2) “Slanting”. At some point, it became trendy to use “he/she slanted their mouth across his/hers” in lieu of kissing, and now it’s everywhere. The last book I read it in had it every other goddamn chapter, and it’s such a passionless, boring description anyway. How exciting! Your mouth is laying diagonally on mine!

    3) Characters who lose all personality during sex. I’ve read a couple romances with really fun characters who drop all distinction during the sex scenes. There was a book I read and reviewed here once where the thing I liked was that during the erotic scenes, both the hero and the heroine kept their personalities and their dynamic going… they quipped and laughed and cuddled and talked and generally acted like the characters I had come to know and adore over the course of the book… instead of being replaced with a pair of bland, swappable porn standins, as happens in a lot of other books.

    4) Scenes that feature reluctance or coercion without making it clear that it’s a kink the characters are into. If someone is into domination or submission or being pressured into sex, fine. But too many books (especially lately with the BDSM craze) will just sort of slide it into a romantic novel as something that just sort of happens, and it gives the wrong impression that no really doesn’t mean no and the woman doesn’t know her own mind. If the narration makes it clear the heroine enjoys being dominated, that’s cool, but it shouldn’t make it seem like your wishes should just be overrode no matter HOW MUCH someone else is into you just because they intuitively “know” that’s what you really want, and if you give in, even if you weren’t sure or were putting up resistance, you’ll eventually realize you wanted it. That’s not romance, that’s borderline emotional abuse.

  8. Marirra says:

    Oh my gosh I am still shaking. I can’t stop laughing. This is all so annoying and so true!
    May I add to the list the everpresent “wire, that snapped in her belly”? Why do so many women have wires in their stomaches? I mean, I have been studying medicine for some years and have never heard of it. Should I ask my anatomy professor about it?

    Another thing that makes me shake my head is when the hero has such a huge penis, that he hits the heroine’s “diaphragma and she coulnd’t breathe”. I have seen this in an alarming number of books. Ok, one could argue, that in this case ‘diaphragma’ means the contraception device. But in a historical romance? And when it is mentioned in the book, that the heroine doesn’t use a form of contraception? Then diaphragma, to me, isthe muscle/fascia that closes off your abdomen (bowels, spleen, pancreas, liver, etc.) from your thorax (lungs, heart, etc.) and is essential for your ability to breathe. It sits somewhat horizontally at approximately the same hight as the lowest point of your sternum.
    The uterus of a woman who has not yet had a child, sits lower in your pelvis than one might think. If you draw a horizontal line between your hipbones it is still below that! I was so inspired by the post, that I just got out my measuring tape and measured the distance. I am 5,5 tall (small) and there are still 11.8 inches between the approximate location of the top of my uterus and my diaphragma. They don’t touch! They really just don’t! Even if the heroes penis could enter the uterus trough the cervix. Which it shouldn’t be able to! These women desperately need the help of a qualified gynecologist!
    I am not a native speaker, so maybe something got lost in translation… is there another diaphragma that, when hit by the magnificence of a true heros penis stops you from breathing?

  9. jimthered says:

    It may not be about sex per se, but I’m always bothered when I read a scene where people are in the woods/wilderness, and it’s an idyllic scene (such as a canopy of trees or a bed of grass) and it’s as comfortable and clean as the most hygenic, upper-class hotel.  Nature is messy, squishy, and full of dirt, mud, and bugs (and Gawd knows what else); especially at night.  I woudln’t want to walk 25 feet on the grass in front of my house in my bare feet at night, let alone lie down with someone in the middle of a forest to get it on.

    And while it may not be realistic, the first episode of THE STORY OF O: THE SERIES http://thearmchaircritic.blogspot.com/2008/09/story-of-o-series.html shows O and Renee having sex while on a horse.  It demonstrates that while it may take a lot of balance, it may be possible.

  10. Lostshadows says:

    The second or third romance I read had sex on a horse. Other than the heroine’s apparent ease in turning around despite a long skirt and sitting double on a horse, it seemed reasonably plausible. (To a thirteen year old anyway.)

    My biggest pet peeve about romance sex scenes is when I realize I’m skimming them out of sheer boredom. I’d rather more authors would just fade to black than write several tedious, obligatory sex scenes.

  11. blodeuedd says:

    I am with Sandy James. Those old school romances scare me, rape and then all whohoo. Wtf?

    But yes there is at least one sex scene a week that makes me cringe

  12. The phenomenon I always think of as ‘Kiss/entry’, otherwise known as ‘he’s shown her his massive wang, how can she NOT be ready?’  followed by the alternative ‘pages and pages and PAGES of bloody foreplay when I’d far rather be reading..oh, I dunno, a story or something’.  I know what everything is and where it all goes, now, get on with the vampires, dammit!

  13. Vasha says:

    Re “Story of O”, horses who work in the movie business are chosen because they’re “bombproof”, not fazed by anything at all—you may see them standing looking placid in the middle of a gun battle. Your average horse on the other hand would object to people getting acrobatic on its back.

  14. Gry says:

    Elyse, you officially win the Internet for today – this article efficiently pierces the pustules of WTFery that we as readers come upon far too often.

    You missed one, though. The placement of the hymen. It is NOT INSIDE the vagina. It is located at the external opening, when it’s there at all.

  15. I’m with you on most of this, especially the over-large heroes. Not my fantasy. But comments like #4 bother me. I’ve criticized romance novels for exaggerated depictions of female arousal, so I’m guilty of this also. Over the years, however, my attitude has changed. Women who gush or squirt are perfectly healthy and normal. Readers often complain about excess lady fluids, as opposed to male. It’s just kind of an “ew vaginas” thing I’m sensitive to.

  16. Monique says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard at a post/blog/comments, or whatever ! Hats off to you, Elyse ! And I guess I have to consider myself lucky to not have encountered (!) any scenes/descriptions of the sort. I even printed this post so I can read it again, and once every so often. Enlightening indeed ! Thank you !

  17. Laura says:

    Oh, man, there are so many bad ways to write sex. Hell, they even give out Bad Sex Writing Awards in the UK! (See http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/03/manil-suri-wins-bad-sex-book-award-city-of-devi)

    But basically my two main peeves about bad sex scenes in books can be broken down into too categories: too clinical or too purple. Too clinical starts describing each motion like you’re at the gyno for an annual checkup, and someone very boring is narrating the process. Too purple is equally bad, since if you didn’t know any better you’d be sitting there going, “Where did he get this magical sword, and why is he entering a cave of wonder fully armed? Is he going to fight a dragon now? I thought this was a contemporary romance!”

  18. Heather S says:

    #6 had me snort, laugh, giggle, snortgiggle, wipe away tears, and giggle a bit more.

    Also, have to say I definitely hate rape-y heroes. While their numbers may have diminished, they are, sadly, still alive and raping. Example: “Temptation and Twilight” by Charlotte Featherstone. OMG. Loved the heroine (who was blind but didn’t let it make her an invalid), but the hero? Raping alphole. I threw the book at the wall and flailed in rage. Maybe some one finger salutes made it in the direction of said book, as well.

    I wish authors wouldn’t feel obligated to write sex scenes just because it’s a romance (and not in the Christian category). Too many and it seems forced and boring. I don’t usually want more than a couple of sex scenes in a book (unless the characters are amazing and believable and the sex amplifies their chemistry, like in Tere Michaels’ books. Evan and Matt 4 EVA! *fangirl moment*). That was my big complaint with LKH’s Anita Blake books – she replaced plot and character development with boring porn. Nevermind that she also dismisses such complaints by calling her critics “prudes”.

    One of my pet peeves that I didn’t see here is that the couple gets together and there’s no awkwardness, no first-time-with-you fumbles. Even if you have some experience (or lots of experience, even), it seems to me that you can’t guarantee success and perfection the first (or second or third) time around, since every person is different. Does that make sense?

    Love this. There are gonna be a ton of comments up in here, and they’re going to be more fun to read than should be legal.

  19. Melissa says:

    Too funny! What I can’t get out of my head is how they can have sex a zillion times without the female getting a UTI or something.  Seriously.

  20. The one that really bothers me is when the couple have sex outside and neither of them are ever bitten by a bug of any kind.  There was an episode of Gilmore Girls where Lane tells Rory that her first time was going to be her last because it was bad, and when Rory asks what happened, she explains that they tried to recreate the scene from From Here to Eternity and ended up with sand and bugs everywhere.  I kept thinking that it was obvious that would happen.

    The worst sex scene I ever read was in 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  I don’t know if he felt he should have a sex scene since his hero was falling in love with another one of the teachers at the school where he worked, but it was just a really bad scene and made me cringe.  (Too bad that wasn’t the worst part of the book—the ending was just awful and didn’t make much sense to me.)

  21. Kate says:

    So true, Melissa! You never see a sex scene where the heroine has to jump up and pee right afterwards to avoid a UTI…

  22. leftcoaster says:

    Most of this was really funny, but I felt a little sad about #4. I’m not saying it happens to every body, all of the time, but for some women there can be a lot of liquid involved. Automatically equating female bits that gush with infection seems a little mean spirited to me.

    My favorite of the rant list was the slanted verbage. What I would add? Laved. I hate that word so much, and I don’t know why every writer’s descriptions of nipple or clitoral stimulation uses it. I feel like if it’s a historical, then your chances of that word appearing goes up even higher. I’ll be reading a long and actually start to flinch because I know it’s coming. Think of something else writers, I beg you. That word is so overused.

  23. Lia says:

    Pissing myself laughing 🙂 thanks!

  24. Heather S says:

    @leftcoaster: How about the word “lush”? I hate that word. So much. It sounds like some sort of disease…. perhaps a rash?

  25. SB Sarah says:


    Characters who lose all personality during sex.

    YES. Exactly. Thank you. When that happens, it drives me sideways with irritation.

    And yes. Too much slanting. It’s like barefoot heroines “padding” around the place, and clouds “scudding” across the sky.

  26. Kathy says:

    I laughed so hard I scared the dog.

  27. Lostshadows says:

    @ Heather S: “Lush” is something I generally associate with either plants or heavy drinkers.

  28. *snort* Great post, and so, so true! 🙂

    @ScifiGirl1986—Yes! Also, glad to find another GG fan!


  29. Heather S says:

    @Lostshadows: Yes, I do, too. My first thought is usually the latter. Wow, that really sets the mood, doesn’t it? *eyeroll*

  30. Kate Pearce says:

    I’m sure I’ve written at least one of these or some variation there of in my earlier books (blushes).
    On the sex on a horse thing-the old war horses in medieval times were huge wide-backed creatures like the shire horses in the beer adverts, sitting astride on one is like sitting on a table, so I think you might, with some creativity manage to have sex on there. 🙂

  31. Mimi Lovell says:

    Oh y gosh, thank you! I always wonder if maybe it just doesn’t work the same way for me, than it does for others, because I read about some of these things and I think, really??? Like the 3rd arm. Always wondered about that.  As well as the horse thing.  I couldn’t ever figure that out.
    And, this is so freaking funny, too. Thanks for the good laugh. 🙂

  32. If I read about another “hot core” to describe lady bits, I’m calling Karen Silkwood.  It’s a “vintage” reference, but the most appropriate.  Unless the author is describing a volcano or a potential nuclear power plant malfunction, “hot core” does not inspire visions of sexiness.

  33. Melanie says:

    OMG!  I am completely dying here.  My sides are killing me from laughing so hard!

  34. Fiona McGier says:

    Oh yes!  Yes! Especially #3, 7 and 9!  Totally #9! I raised 3 sons and they wouldn’t even share toys when they were young!  If any of them even so much as leered at each other’s S.O,, there’d be a battle to rival their “never-ending-battles” they used to stage with their fighting characters that raged all over the house, endlessly! As for touching each other’s parts?  I don’t think so.

    I’ve written some romances where the heroine and hero discuss that he’s NOT giant-sized, but then just as men are proportional to their “parts”, so are females.  So if he’s over 6’ tall and she’s close to 5’ tall, he’d better not be too proportional or she’s in for a world of hurt! They’d better buy stock in a lube company so they can get a volume discount.

    My only pet peeve you didn’t mention was the virgin who has never even masturbated, but who gets shown the miracle of multiple big “Os” by a Dom who introduces her to pain as pleasure.  She’s still got an intact hymen, but a few flicks of his whip while she’s tied up to a contraption in his bedroom, some nipple clamps, and voila!  She’s writhing all over his magic giant manhood like a porn star, gushing “love fluids” and screaming and calling out his name.  Ri-ight.  Because of course not only do all women mean “yes” when they say “no”, but any virgin can instantly become multi-orgasmic when introduced to violent sex by the right man. Who’s writing this stuff?  Is this really what readers want?

  35. I just about died laughing when I read this. Holy crap this is funny.

  36. Faellie says:

    I suspect that a significant part of the problem with sex scenes in romances is that as soon as they get to the sex bit authors seem to forget the rule “show, don’t tell”. 

    Which means that all too often sex scenes in romances read like a transcription of a porn movie, with exaggerated descriptions of how humans can have sex replacing any sense of plot or character.  Which leads to the absurdities truffled up by Elyse and the commentators above.

  37. So the sex on a horse thing…yeah, especially if they’re using a Western saddle. Unless she’s just having sex with the horn of the saddle. Um, euww.

    Anyway.  A few years ago, I was riding our jet ski (with my boss, which just makes this story that much more awkward)…and as we came around a bend, there was another jet ski coming towards us…pretty slowly, but definitely moving.

    And there were two people on it. Just like us! Except…the guy was driving, and the woman was straddling his lap. And if you’ve ever ridden a jet ski, you know that the seat is pretty wide and could almost be like the back of a horse.

    And thus I learned that maybe it’s not completely impossible to get there on the back of a horse.  But please, people. If you try this at home? Try to find a nice isolated cove instead of the Ohio river!!!!


  38. Jessi Gage says:

    I’m a Karen Marie Moning fan, but the scene quoted here did bother me a bit. I mean, the heroine was very turned on. Even a virgin gets plenty wet to make things slip and slide the first time. And who wouldn’t get wet for Adam?! I mean, seriously.

  39. maybeimamazed02 says:

    I love love love this article. Would also add, the virgin heroine who knows shit about ANYTHING remotely sex-related. Including kissing. I can understand it more in historicals or if there’s a reason behind her being so naive, but come on. Most virgins of a certain age have at least fooled around with someone.

  40. gayle63 says:

    In m/m sex, the phrases “tight ring” and “hot jets” (of what, I’m sure you can imagine) and “the sound of flesh slapping flesh” are wayyyy overused. I’ve also noticed anal sex is approached much more delicately, with far more prep, usually, in m/m than in m/f, where the poor girl on the receiving end doesn’t get any of the stretching and scissoring and whatnot men are granted. And please, can we never use “lave” again?

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