My book club–the fun one–met last night and discussed Verity. It was not much loved. Many called out, in particular, the sex scenes. The words crass, vulgar, and filler were mentioned.
This group, with a few exceptions, doesn’t read romance and several people opined that sex scenes make a book worse rather than better. I found this somewhat upsetting. Because, of course, a good sex scene is one of my favorite things in a book. I assured them that there were many sex scenes in many books that were sublime, not crass or filler. From the looks on a few faces, I don’t think I convinced them all.
So, help me out. What are some truly stellar sex scenes? I need specifics–it would be great if you could name the book and when the scene occurs. The scenes don’t have to be explicit, although if they are, that’s fine.
Thanks! You guys are the best.
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I always found the scene in the Governess Affair by Courtney Milan to be beautifully written but I agree with everyone that it probably had the impact it did due to it’s place within the larger context of the story.
Maybe. It’s stuck with me for years–those hair pins!–and I don’t think it’s because it’s so healing.
And of course, you can’t leave out Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent’s seduction of Evie Jenner in Devil in Winter, and the way he realizes afterwards that she has seduced him.
Nominating Judith Ivory and Connie Brockaway — two authors who also write scenes that are about the emotional connection to the physical, not just an obligatory add on.
Especially the love scenes between Harry Braxton and Desdemona Carlisle when she doesn’t realize the impact she is having on him and is still berating him for not being serious about their shared love of all things Egyptian. The sexual tension between them is some of the best I’ve ever read in romance.
I know I’ve commented on this before, but I hope the AAR readership will forgive the repetition (unlike my sons who have been known to roll their eyes when I repeat myself).
Mary Balogh isn’t known for her sex scenes, but I think that she’s VG at including sex scenes that are far more than filler. For example, in THE NOTORIOUS RAKE, the hero and heroine have sex early in the book when they barely know (and can barely stand) each other. The sex is so out of character for the heroine and so unexpected for the hero and serves as the spark that ignites the relationship.
In her THE TEMPORARY WIFE, there is a lovely scene when the hero and heroine, married but strangers to each other, have sex for the second time. Anthony comes to Charity’s sitting room, and she recognizes the tension between them as sexual tension. When they do go to bed, it is Anthony who realizes that in Charity he has found something – or rather someone – he didn’t even know he was looking for.
Interesting Susan! I have many favorite romance writers but Balogh was my first thought at Dabney’s ask. Three Balogh scenes came immediately to mind. I figured it was because Balogh was one of the first romance writers I read when I got started. But I think you are onto something. Balogh is judicious (relative to other writers) about the quantity of scenes that she puts in any given novel. So, to have at least 3 scenes in 3 different books come to mind means there is something about the way she writes those scenes that sets them a bit apart – at least for me. It isn’t necessarily her prose that stood out (as I noted elsewhere in this conversation) but the fact that those characters and moments stand out from all the many others. And at my age, plus the sheer number of romances I’ve read, the fact that they stand out says something about Balogh as a writer.
Off topic, and maybe a subject for a different post, but in some romances I have really wanted more of the intimacy than the writer chose to deliver.
Married Past Redemption, by Patricia Veryan, had a scene where the main characters finally make it to bed, and it could be a much more pivotal scene. I don’t necessarily feel shortchanged if there is no explicit sex, and years ago I read a lot of Veryan even though she avoids sex scenes. In that particular book, however, I really was sorry that her scruples meant the reader was left out of critical interactions between the main characters.
I don’t think there is much to do in this regard, just as everyone reads what they like, each author has the right to write what they like and feel more comfortable with, even if sex is essential in the story for their connection. the author decides how to approach the matter. I suppose it is inevitable that there is disagreement with when to put sex, what the reader and the author want.
I agree–I think that’s often caused by not quite perfectly managed reader expectations. Was that the case here?
So, thinking strictly about scenes in which the quality of the prose is exceptional, and IMO differs from many otherwise perfectly swoony scenes whose prose is more straight-forward, I offer this shortened excerpt from The Dark Tide, (Adrien English, Book 5) by Josh Lanyon, page 172. Interestingly, this is NOT the penultimate sex scene in this book. It comes about halfway into the novel and it is 100 pages or more before any additional sex occurs because . . . plot. Lanyon’s writing really doesn’t include a lot of on-page sex. But when she includes it, it truly moves the plot forward.
“Best” is so subjective. Here are a few that are among my favs based on the connection between the characters and emotional intensity.
Chapter 21, Slightly Dangerous (Bedwyn #8) by Mary Balogh
Chapter 23 has the best sex scene, What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green #5), Julie Anne Long
Chapters 5 and 18, Marrying Winterbourne (Ravenels #2), by Lisa Kleypas
Chapter 11, The Chief (Highland Guard #1) by Monica McCarty
Chapter 24, Dating-ish (Knitting in the City (#6) by Penny Reid
Chapter 14, Open Season by Linda Howard
Chapter 14, Secret Santa, Kati Wilde
Mirror scene in Chapter 18, Family Man by Jayne Ann Krentz
THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!
Oops I made a mistake. The mirror scene is in Chpater 18 in Grand Passion and not Family Man.
I’m hoping Dabney you’ll swing back to this topic at some point and share the specific examples that you think work for your purposes. In going back to look at the three titles I mentioned above (to consider them for inclusion by me as a rec to you) I personally didn’t see anything in the prose per se that sets them apart. They are great scenes, but the prose is pretty straight-forward, IMO.
For example, in Slightly Dangerous, it is the fact that Christine finally sees the man (and not the Duke) in front of her that makes the scene so (hot?) memorable for me – although the light from the stained-glass windows is pretty visual. Balogh does something similar in More Than A Mistress (another favorite of mine) when Jocelyn asks Sara to call him by his first name.
In Open Season, it is the fact that the UST is resolved so closely on the heels of her interest (in him) becoming so public in this very small town (condoms in the street, appearance in church on Sunday morning) that makes the scene lovely (and funny) and memorable.
IMO, anyway. I’d be curious to know what scenes you come up with that you think are examples of really great writing, in the service of sex scenes ;-). You might even consider a “great prose” tag for them?
This is a great list Nic. I have copies of 3 of these books immediately to hand and love the scenes you’ve cited. They’d be at the top of my list of favorite scenes as well.
I do adore that sex scene in What I Did For a Duke. It’s so emotional, sexy, and witty.
And now I’m trying to decide what is the very best sex scene JAL has ever written. SO. MANY. CHOICES.
Chapter 5 in Marrying Winterbourne is the first one I thought of as well.
I am a regular reader of Christian romance and non-sex or “clean”/c closed door romance but in my teens I had a friend who read new adult romance or let’s say…normal? the typical warm rating and I remember she being insistent that I should try some books so I read a few. I would say that the best love scene at the end is the one that fits the book.
It was just confusing when the couple spent half the book being all cute and sweet with a hint of shyness and suddenly they were having crazy sex, talking dirty and saying things like “what the fuck babe cute ass” was jarring, and some people have pointed out that On the contrary, it is rare when the couple has a very sexually charged romance and then the scene is a paragraph.
It’s like a Jane and Bingley couple after being nice and respectful throughout the book start acting like “I’m going to fuck you bitch” with nothing to indicate either of them has this hidden side. So I would say the best thing for the book club is books with scenes that fit the story well and to find out if maybe some of these people just don’t like written sex in which case it’s best to find some romance novels they might appreciate. And don’t get a bad image of romance just because you read something by a popular author and didn’t like it.
For your book club, I would look for contemporaries with a strong female lead who owns her sexuality and will take the lead in the bedroom. Probably many of the ladies in your group have the “bodice ripper” stereotype in mind like I did, and you need to counter that with a strong woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. The two books I think might work are A Lot Like Adios by Alexis Daria or Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan. Unfortunately, I got both from the library, so I don’t have them on hand to look up specific scenes.
Another thought: I completely agree with others that context is important. However, sometimes you find a book which starts out with a fantastic sex scene right away, without much context, and that might circumvent the context issue. I’m sorry I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
AFAIAC the huge success of The Kiss Quotient was due to its hotness (The Bride Test was MUCH more romantic) so I would choose the first or second sex scene from it.
Thank you! I’ll check it out!
I’m with several others that context is hugely important. As an example, many JAK/AQ/JC love scenes include language linking the scene to larger themes in the whole books (flowers, South Seas, etc.). Without the surrounding story, that language could just look odd. With the context, the scene clearly belongs to THAT story and isn’t just a generic insert.
A related point from my Genre Labels essay ( http://www.ccrsdodona.org/markmuse/reading/genrelabels.html ) years ago is that context can make ANY scene serve the love story.
I’m in agreement with others that say it’s hard to find a great sex scene to share with someone who hasn’t read the whole story up to that point, because context is everything. However, there is one scene that has always stayed with me, and the way it is depicted does give a lot of context within the scene itself.
The book is “Best Kind of Broken” by Chelsea Fine, and the scene takes place in Chapter 29. Heroine Pixie and hero Levi have a tortured history, and although they really love each other, they don’t feel like they can be together. Rather than reconcile, they fight with each other constantly in order to deal with their unresolved feelings. In this scene, they are fighting over who gets to take a shower first – and get use of the hot water – and one thing leads to another. It’s sexy and passionate and is a great payoff for some serious UST. Even better, they are interrupted so the UST builds in a natural way.
The one I always think of as a good sex scene is the one between Justine and Hawker in Jo Bourne’s The Black Hawk. But it isn’t good because of the scene itself. It’s good because in the context of the book it matters.
I love the way Bourne writes love scenes. There’s almost always a phrase that is startling in the best way.
Your friends called them “filler,” so I would be looking less for a spectacular sex scene than one where sex was pivotal to the story in a positive way. (Ie sex plays a big part in To Kill a Mocking Bird, but it isn’t positive.) The only book that comes to mind where that happens is Mary Jo Putney’s Veils of Silk, where the hero is impotent due to a war wound, and the heroine fears passion because she is convinced her parent’s passionate love is what got her father killed. I haven’t read this in years, and since it is three decades old, it is entirely possible it contains elements that would offend modern readers. It is about the British in India, so that’s a minefield right there. The story did show how love, care, and time to recuperate cured the hero of his health problem and how he, in turn, convinced the heroine that passion did not always lead to violence. Silk and Shadows also had a love scene where the heroine prepares to leave her husband and tries to pour all her love into this final conjugal moment. That scene wasn’t just filler since their passion had been a part of their story throughout (he seduces her to get revenge on an enemy and winds up falling in love.)
Crass and vulgar are hard to address because one person’s crass is another person’s beautiful.
I think the criticisms were of the sex scenes in Verity, not sex scenes in general.
Dabney, I have to agree with the consensus here: while I admire your attempt to broaden the understanding of your non-romance reading friends, I really don’t think you can isolate a sex scene and provide that as evidence that romance is a worthy genre. It’s like trying to persuade a person to take up baking by giving them a recipe that is missing more than half of the ingredients. Your attempt might even backfire—simply by reinforcing the notion some non-romance readers have that romance novels are little more than p0rn for women (I’ve actually heard someone say, “Men look at p0rn while women read it”). On the other hand, you have asked for examples, so I will say that the “bad cop” role-play scene in Anne Calhoun’s LIBERATING LACEY holds up remarkably well: Lacey persuades her cop boyfriend, Hunter, to pretend to be a bad cop. He arrives at her house in full uniform, claiming to have a warrant for her arrest. Let the games begin!
I’m not trying to prove that romance is a worthy genre!
I’m just trying to find some books with scenes where the writing is lovely and sexy!
The thing is, and what several are saying in different ways, is that it’s very difficult to separate the sex scenes from the romance itself when the writing is good. I guess you could call it context but I’m not completely sure that’s the correct word. I tend to think it’s about the emotional intimacy that the author has established. Is that context? Maybe. But it feels less about understanding the how and whys of a particular scene and more about appreciating how a romance is written in the first place. I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t learned that last is going to see any sex scene as anything more than, what did you say in the post, “crass, vulgar, and filler”.
That’s not a knock on them. It’s simply that they haven’t developed a taste for romance genre style writing.
Well, just ot be fair to my book club, they only said that about the sex scenes in Verity. I think a few would be open to love scenes in better books that were better written.
Here is one that works beautifully IMO. It’s from Meredith Duran’s Written On Your Skin.
This whole scene, the first time Ashmore and Mina make love, is gorgeous.
I think I would need a bit more context to really appreciate this scene, because if I were immersed in the story, I might get the “Bemini’s anguished saints” reference. As it is, though, that description just left me a bit confused, and instead of getting caught up in the scene I was imagining stained-glass depictions of saints bursting into tears.
You know, thinking about it – and reading the first line of nblibgirl’s comment- I’ve realised that I don’t usually ‘take note’ of sex scenes (unless they’re bad or unusual or I think there are too many of them in the book). Good ones fit the tone of the story and relationship which means it’s difficult to ‘divorce’ them from the rest of the story and, hopefully the emotional relationship between the characters. I’m hard-pressed to come up with an actual title – I think probably all my top grade books have good sex scenes, simply because they fit!
OK, but I still think one can point to a scene in a book, sex or otherwise, and say, “Wow, that’s well done.”
Absolutely – it’s not something I do when it comes to sex scenes, though. I’m more likely to take notice of chemistry or UST in the build up.
Example: the two protagonists in C.S. Poe’s Memento Mori series have done nothing more than kiss, but the tension and chemistry is so amazing that, quite honestly, I don’t need there to be a sex scene.
It’s more about the build up for me.
That doesn’t surprise me. I post on a message board for writers, and you should see some of the reasons people (usually non-romance readers) come up with for why sex scenes are bad. One person claimed that by writing sex scenes, we were limiting our readership, because a lot of people dislike such scenes. Except this reasoning applies to nearly everything – genre, style, tropes used, etc. There is no romance which appeals to every single person who reads it.
Another writer said that she never mentioned what happened in her heroine’s bedroom because the heroine was like a friend to her, and would you spy on your friend while she was having sex? Of course not. But then again, I wouldn’t make my friends fail at something important, embarrass them, or hurt them, all of which I’ve done to my heroines when the story called for it. Though perhaps all these are okay because they don’t involve sex?
My favorite, though, was the reply that, “There’s nothing interesting about reading the physical process for me (seriously, I was a bio major. I know how it works. Move along).” Yes, because studying biology teaches you all about what to do (or not to do) in bed, how sex can deepen a relationship, about consent, and so on.
Bottom line is, I agree with nblibgirl – before trying to present a case for sex scenes to people who don’t read romance, it might be a good idea to find out their definition of a good sex scene. And if it’s “no sex scene at all”, then at least you won’t be wasting your time.
I do not believe a great sex scene exists without the rest of the book; so trying to give a group of nonbelievers (in romances) a single scene to read that will knock their socks off is an exercise in futility imo.
For example, we briefly reminisced about the razzberries in Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas not long ago. To someone who has not read the book, could it land as a great description of sex? I’m a romance reader but even I would be a little squicked out by it.
This is the group that didn’t respond to Flowers From The Storm right? I’d be curious to know if they believe they’ve ever read a great sex scene.
No–this is a different group.
I’d still like recommendations, please!
I recommend the epilogue of Make it Sweet by Kristin Callihan. Lucian makes beautiful pastries and in this love scene he has a pastry bag and he has decorated Emma in lemon-buttercream flowers. It’s beautiful, funny and there are also words of love.
I’m absolutely not dissing you or your choice, but this is why it’s so hard to make these sorts of recommendations – because my instinct on reading that was “eeew”. I freely admit that I haven’t read the scene or the book, so I have no context. But this just illustrates the point being made about the difficulty of pointing someone towards a great love scene on it’s own. And that fact in turn illustrates just how complex romances can be and that authors aren’t just hacks who write a load of disconnected porn. Getting non-romance readers to accept that though…
That sounds hot!
I’m with Caz on this one: I dislike sex scenes that involve one (or both) partners being covered with some sort of food product. All I can think about is the possibility of a major yeast infection, not to mention the cleanup. Ugh.
Again, our responses to sex scenes (no matter how well written) are so personal, what works for one person won’t necessarily do it for another, especially if the scene is being read without any context.
It’s funny–I totally get that everything is personal, including recommendations, but I still think it’s worth coming up with things that are reasonable to recommend to all. |
As for food and sex, it’s like many things: done in moderation or small amounts, it can be a good time. ;)
Yes, but if it’s not your jam (sorry!) then no matter of “oh, but this one is really good!” is going to make a difference.
So, we should never ask for generalized recs?
Of course, you can ask for them – but what recs you get depend on the person you’re asking. If I’m asked for recs, I will almost certainly take into account the tastes of the person asking. For example. I know you don’t generally read m/m, so I dont’ recommend it to you. Even if I knew you adored sex scenes with food in them, I wouldn’t recommend one in an m/m book to you. But if someone else asked for a rec and said they had no preferences, then I might recommend it to them. But that’s me and the way my mind works. I hate the idea that someone might hate something I recommend to them, so I try hard to make sure they don’t by tailoring the recommendation.
Again, you can tailor for individuals but part of what AAR does is make generalized recommendations.
So, if there’s an m/m love scene you love, share it!