Writing Romance: A Word About Sex

Hello Campers,
Last month I promised to take a side trip here and discuss – ahem – sex.

Is sex necessary in a romance novel? That’s a huge question. Before I move into the real discussion, I’ll point out that my romances do not have sex in them. That is a personal decision I made, and I’m not here to get preachy in any way. I fully realize that this decision will result in some folks not buying or liking my books. Disclaimer done.

In preparation for this post, I googled “sex in romance novels.” The first hit was a Goodreads discussion titled “How Important is Sex in a Romance Novel?” It’s an interesting read. There’s everything from “super important” with points deducted if there is not sex, to folks who skip the sex scenes altogether, to one guy who says “Any good Romance story must include the points of love lust, sex & the aftermath, the sweaty bodies, the stained sheets or the unconventional romp in the park.”

Most said that it depends on the characters. That may or may not be true. It may completely depend on the target market.

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel for an erotica publisher. I didn’t enjoy writing it, and on the 1-5 flame rating system, it got a 1. I didn’t write for them again. It wasn’t my forte. Another two-book “series” I wrote – before my change of heart – did contain sex, though it wasn’t a main focus of either story. I so love those two stories. Recently I went back to the first one to see if I could take the sex out. What I found out: sex changes everything. But you likely already knew that. If I took the sex out of that book, I’d have to go about setting up dominoes that were knocked down by that act.

What this means, though – and I think it’s a positive – is that that sex scene was integral to the story. It was not just obligatory.

That being said, I’m glad there’s a romance market for every reader and every writer. (What I’d like to see is a rating system – but that might be just me.)

Let’s look at some of the submission guidelines for various Harlequin brands.

DARE
• The heat level is explicit and graphic. The hero and heroine have a powerful sexual and emotional connection.
• We’re looking for authors who have a distinct, memorable voice and write stories with a high level of sexual tension as well as graphic sex.

DESIRE
• Sizzling sensual tension between the hero and heroine.
• Sexual language that leans more euphemistic and romantic rather than explicit.

PRESENTS
• A hero who will command and seduce. There's nothing in the world his powerful authority and money can't buy…except the love of a woman strong enough to tame him!
• High sensuality and sky-rocketing sexual tension to quicken your pulse.

HEARTWARMING
• Plots unfold in a wholesome style and voice that excludes explicit sex or nudity, premarital sex, profanity, or graphic depictions of violence: references to violent incidents or premarital sex in the past are acceptable if they contribute to character development.
• Physical interactions (i.e. kissing/hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality: low level of sexual tension; characters should not make love unless they are married.

The inspirational imprints that have a “mandatory faith element” and no premarital sex.

As you can see, the HOT value of each of these imprints is different. So your decision on sex with these imprints is a market-based one. That may not be true for other publishers. Check submission guidelines for your target publisher.

Obviously, if you’re self-published, the decision is entirely yours. But you will still be targeting readers. That, of course, may not be your focus when writing your novel. It will be more about what you like to write – what you like to read. Let me assure you, then, that there is a market for every SIZZLE level out there. Write the book of your heart.

Your readers will find you.

Okay, enough sex talk. Next month we’re back to our outline, and we'll tackle the MIDPOINT.

Until then, BiC-HoK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Cheers, Jax

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Jax Hunter
Jax Hunter is known for her heartwarming 5-book military romance series: True Heroes. She is currently writing an American Revolutionary War novel. Recently, she has ventured out to write journals: climbing trackers, motivational journals, and bible study journals. She teaches a wide variety of writing courses, both online and in person, and travels the state telling the stories of April 19, 1775. She also is the owner of a health and wellness business.
Whew. What does she do for fun? Well, she’s a huge hockey fan. She has a fancy embroidery machine and she’ll embroider anything that will fit in the hoop. And she collects really old books.
She lives in the high mountains of Colorado with her own true hero and the two pups that rule the house.

3 thoughts on “Writing Romance: A Word About Sex

  1. If you write romance, brace yourself for reviews/ratings/feedback about the sex. You’ll have those who love it, and regardless of the level shown on the page, those who hate it and call it porn. You’ll never please everyone, but those “too much sex” reviews can sell your books to readers looking for sex on the page.

  2. I agree with Terry. Some “Sweet” readers (those who prefer closed doors/no sex on the page) have reviewed my books, praising plot, characterization and such, but indicating that they disliked the sex–and would still read my future novels. Some authors of steamy sex novels are starting to purge the explicit scenes and re-releasing their novels as “Clean” — complete the more prim covers.

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