Welp, we are one week into the month of February, which means we are one-fourth of the way through the month where media spotlights shine on romance novels. This week, we’re looking at one of the things said spotlights focus on most. Let’s talk about sex.
First thing to get out of the way here: romance novels are not all about sex. Some of the best romance novels don’t even have any. Some of the best ones have a lot of it. Most are somewhere in between. If the plot is all about sex, that’s erotica, and that’s a different genre. In romance, there may or may not be sex, and, if there is, there will be varying amounts of it, so blanket statements (unintended pun, but I’ll let it stand) really don’t apply. Except, that is, for one. In romance novels, the sex is good for everybody involved, and it’s consensual. It’s possible, in some books, that the good might take a little work to get to the point where it’s good for everybody, or at all, but that’s the end goal. Sometimes, that’s part of the story, but it’s not the driving force.
Secondly, it’s not like romance is the only genre that depicts sexual activity right there on the page. Sex is part of human life, and lots of people have it, including fictional characters in genres as diverse as literary and mainstream fiction, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, men’s adventure, thrillers, and even young adult. Many movies and television programs, whether on network TV, cable, or streaming, include scenes with sexual content, not all of which can be counted as love scenes.
So, why focus on that one aspect? Romance novels also include history, friendship, adventure, philosophy, character development, worldbuilding, relatable characters, a look into other times, places, and walks of life. Why not talk about some of those? Granted, sex is pretty universal. Insert own pun about brining people together here. Well, it does do that, but that’s not the point. The sex we see in romance fiction isn’t so much about what Body Part A is doing with Body Part B, but the feelings the action expresses. Sure, some content can be funny to non-romance readers (especially if they’re looking for something to laugh at, in which case, I suggest romantic comedy, which has a wide umbrella of its own, just saying) but what if these same readers dug deeper, and looked at the scenes in context?
Whole different animal, seriously. It’s been said we are never more vulnerable than when we’re naked, so get two naked people together, and we have two vulnerable people. This is immediately interesting. Defenses, at least for one of the people, are going to be down, though it’s also possible to have shields up, so to speak, during intimacy, because -hang on- that’s the point of the whole thing. Intimacy. Not only bodies, but hearts, minds, and even souls. There are some things that can’t be expressed in words, not even to those we love the most, and, let’s be honest, the moment we’re often waiting for is when the walls come down, and our two lovers can connect, on both the emotional and physical level.
Certainly, this can happen with the bedroom door quietly closed. Nothing is sexier than imagination, so it is entirely possible for a sweet or inspirational romance to still have a thread of sexual tension, even though the lovers save their consummating for when they’re truly alone, no nosy readers following along. On the other side of the coin, there are sexy, sensual, or erotic romances (different from erotica, in that the sexual journey is part of the developing love relationship) who allow us in, and show us, if not every single detail, well, it’s pretty darned close. It is not, however, porn, which is a whole different genre, because, again, it’s all about the love. The two lovers who begin the scene aren’t the same ones who bring it to a close, and we’re not talking swapping partners here. Far from it. At the end of a successful love scene, something integral about the love relationship has changed, and our characters can’t go back to how they were before. The change may be small, it may be large, it may be a step forward or a step back, but it definitely serves a purpose.
I know, I know, what about those love-scene-skippers? Totally valid option. While there are plenty of sweet and inspirational romances out there (and not everybody who prefers to close the bedroom door is interested in a spiritual thread) most us have found at least one book that’s outside our preferred level of sensuality, buuuuuuut…. Well, but a lot of things. It’s a favorite author, trying something new, or what they used to write before they found their current style, and we want their voice. It’s a favorite setting, time period, or type of character. Maybe the content of the book doesn’t exactly match the cover, but eh, we have it now, may as well read. There are those who say skipping scenes, of any sort, means the reader doesn’t get the full experience of the novel, and there’s some truth to that.
Here’s the great thing about a really good love scene, though. We can still feel its power, even if we didn’t read the whole thing. Maybe the author closed the door, or maybe we did, but remember what we said before, about the characters coming out of the scene, changed? Yep. They’re going to be different afterwards, and we’re going to see those differences. Maybe, if we’re the ones who closed the door, we’ll go back and take a little peek, or maybe we won’t, and both options are fine.
In the happily-ever-after (or for now) world of romance novels, the love scenes tell part of the story, true, but they are not by any means the whole.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What are your thoughts on love scenes in context? Do you have a favorite love scene over all, or an author who delivers the love scene goods every time? Do you ever skip love scenes? If so, why? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. If the whole idea of yet more love scene chatter, especially in February, makes you roll your eyes in exasperation, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.