It's Just Not About The Sex

Yeah yeah, I can hear you rolling your eyes from across the Atlantic. I write erotic romance so of course it IS all about the sex, right? Well, yes and no. Erotic romance of course allows a writer to tell a love story more fully, and we’ll go into that later. The story is told completely, including the sex that binds the two main characters together. Sex is very powerful, in life, in writing. In the movies, in our heads. It’s like nuclear fission. Handled well, contained, it’s a driving force of nature, able to accomplish a lot, empowering people, giving off light and heat. Handled badly, well… boom.

A number of readers have commented on the “vanilla sex” in my novels. I’m not entirely sure what is meant by that but I suppose it is that there is very little — read none — sexual experimentation in my books. No new boundaries are established, no one figures out a new position or tries out sex toys. My characters are always in a sex-toy-free zone.

There are a number of reasons for this and for my predilection for “vanilla” sex. Let me tell you, when you’re an erotic romance writer, it can be quite scary because you cannot write the love scenes in an exciting way unless they excite you. The writer is the first to get all hot and bothered at what she writes. So when you’re reading a love scene, you’re getting a disturbingly intimate peek into the writer’s head, into her fantasies and deepest secrets. A reader in Hong Kong probably has a better insight into the intimate secrets of the writer’s imagination than her best friend or even, at times, her significant other. Having said that, it will probably occur to you that I don’t employ sex toys or anything REMOTELY like bondage games or spanking or whatever in anything I write because they don’t turn me on. Au contraire.

That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that I write, almost always, about those first crazy, tumbling, breathless, mind-bending, world-altering moments when the characters are falling in love. They can hardly catch their breath, every aspect of their lives is changing. The sex is almost too intense to bear. The man, in particular, has problems controlling himself, problems he’s never had before when it was just sex, not this thing that is eating him up alive. The sex is so intense it burns them up, they shake with it. That is NOT a moment when you need sex toys to stimulate you. You’re so stimulated it’s a miracle you haven’t rocketed off to the moon. To my mind, the toys and the games and the fur handcuffs and the potions and lotions and positions are for when you’re just a little bored and need some stimulus. My men don’t need stimuli with their women, believe me. If anything, they need to be hosed down.

And so we come to the IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE SEX part. Think of a love as a pyramid. At the top, diamond-bright and diamond-sharp, is sexual desire, intense attraction. That’s usually where I start my stories, at that sharp end. But during the novel, the middle section of the pyramid is formed, and that’s romantic love. Not necessarily a melding of minds, because usually the hero and heroine are two distinctly different people, but definitely a melding of hearts. They might think differently and act differently, but their emotions are coming into alignment and they are both moving the other to the top of their priorities. They’d both make sacrifices for each other and, ultimately, would die for each other. That kind of intensity is hard to keep up without a suspense plot endangering both of them in the background. But what I’m hoping is that the reader catches glimpses of the big, solid base of the pyramid, which will form the base of the rest of their lives, and that is an attachment to each other that incorporates yet transcends the sex, which is, as the philosophers would put it, necessary yet not sufficient, for a bond that will last the rest of their lives.

You can count on my characters spending the rest of their lives together, utterly committed to each other. The first to pass away will do so with his hand in hers or vice versa. Each will be able to utterly and completely count on the other—for loyalty, for love and yes, for sex. So the intense sex at the beginning sets the ball rolling (as it were) but it will roll far, and for the rest of their lives.

(Originally published on August 21, 2007 at The Good, The Bad and The Unread)