By Lisabet Sarai
I've got to be kidding, right? Could there be such a thing as too much sex? Would dirty-minded Lisabet Sarai, renowned for packing every kink and configuration of genders into a single book, really be claiming that some erotic romance these days is overly carnal?
You're darned right I am.
Don't get me wrong. I love sex. I love writing about sex. I think that sexuality is fascinating, complex, fundamental to who we are. My goal as a author is to explore the nature of desire, to understand how the erotic reveals and enlightens us as human beings.
However, as a writer and critical reader, I have come to the conclusion that some erotic romance would be improved by leaving out some of the sex scenes. These days, some authors are convinced (or perhaps have been advised) that because sex sells (and it does), more is always better. I've read books where the protagonists meet on the first page and they're going at it hot and heavy by the third page. Where scenes critical to the plot are interrupted in order to allow the characters to get off. Where complete strangers are pulled into the mix in order to make it possible to label the book as a ménage.
I understand the motivation. For decades, romance readers had the bedroom doors closed in their faces. When authors began leaving those doors open, making explicit what had only been implicit before, readers were like kids in a candy store. Romance that included graphic sex scenes became hugely popular. Authors started to venture beyond the vanilla, penning spicy tales of unconventional pairings, fetishes and dark fantasies, and readers ate it up (so to speak).
I'm not arguing for a return to the era of closed doors. Far from it. Recently I had a guest blog date with a colleague who asked for a PG excerpt from one of my books. It took me hours, literally, to find one! My point is simply that it isn't quantity that counts when it comes to sex in romance. It's quality.
In erotic romance (and in erotica too, despite some people's misconceptions), the sex should matter. It should advance the plot. It should reveal the characters and change their relationships. With every coupling, the characters should grow. If a sex scene doesn't have a narrative function—if it's just there to jack up the heat rating of the book—it really should be cut,or else reworked so that it does contribute to the overall story.
That's my opinion anyway.
Raw Silk has at least one sex scene in each chapter. However, each one plays an important role in building toward the final show-down, in which Kate, the heroine, must choose among her three lovers. The novel is a tale of sexual self-discovery. Every time Kate pushes her limits, she learns something new about herself. If you removed any of the graphic sex from Raw Silk, there'd be a hole in the narrative, a lack of continuity and logic. Raw Silk has a lot of sex, yes. But not, in my humble opinion, too much.
I've had conversations with author friends who write mostly sweet or sensual, rather than explicit, romance. They've confided that these days they feel defensive and inadequate because their work isn't as "hot" as the current fashion dictates. I tell them they should follow their instincts and intuitions, not the latest trends. The books that readers love, the ones they remember long after finishing them, are the books that speak to the heart—not just the genitals. Readers might find the sex exciting, but without a strong story and sympathetic characters, sex is like cotton candy. It melts away as soon as you taste it, leaving nothing behind but a sticky residue.