This post is rated R for subject matter. Consider yourself notified.
Somewhere in the realms of fantasy there is a subset of the genre called paranormal romance. I’ve mentioned to a few people that I write urban fantasy, and they’ve responded by asking if that was the same thing. To which I responded that it wasn’t.
Do my books have love stories? Yes. Do they contain some steamy scenes? On occasion. Are they romances? Not primarily.
It’s possible to write gritty urban fantasy that contains romance and sex without it being primarily about the romance and sex. Romance novels follow a certain structure, whether they are paranormal or otherwise — and the big thing that binds them together is that the protagonist is supposed to find love at the end, even if it’s not with someone different than you expected.
That said, I like writing sex scenes. I like reading them. Sex is an enormous part of life that sometimes ends in bliss and sometimes ends in disaster. It can be humorous or poignant, vulgar or gritty, ugly or pretty. Since today is Saturday, I thought it would be nice to have a bit of salaciousness.
Here’s how it’s done.
The Blurry Watercolor: Rated PG
These are the scenes that leave a lot to the imagination. You see the bedroom door closing, and you might even hear some telling noises, but whatever picture is forming behind that door is left up to your own mind. One thing’s for sure: you know they’re not playing Parcheesi.
This is the mildest form of sex scene you’ll find in both literature and cinema. It serves a purpose for books that are intended for less mature audiences, like Twilight. If the genre is meant for an audience that doesn’t want to see it at all (specifically religious fiction), this is most likely as racy as it will get.
The Steamy Sauna: Rating PG-13
There’s no guesswork here, only lips and skin and maybe a body part or two that couldn’t be bared in a blurry watercolor. Nope, these scenes are for the big kids. These are the scenes that give readers and viewers the tingles, and they’re a staple in many romance novels.
Incidentally, the scene above is from Cruel Intentions, which is rated R — I though the sex in it is pretty PG-13. When I saw it in high school, it was by far the most risque movie I’d seen so far, and to this day I’m glad I wasn’t one of the embarrassed souls to go see it in the theatre with my parents.
The Basic Instinct: Rated R
These scenes are for mature audiences only, in print or film. I remember the first real sex scene I ever read in a book — it was a sci-fi romance novel, and it was a real Basic Instinct scene. Nothing was left to guesswork, and everything was written out as a spicy, steamy play-by-play. I wasn’t supposed to be reading that book, but we all know the fastest way to get a teenager to do something — make it forbidden.
These make appearances in books like the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton and the Kushiel Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey (no, I don’t put those series in the next category…), and you’ll also find them in many, many books that grace the romance section of your bookstore.
The Eyes Wide Shut: Rated NC-17
Graphic. Naked. No apology.
These scenes are the ones that sneak up and ravish you. They often involve a sense of the forbidden or the off-limits, but their goal is to titillate and take you along for the ride. These are the scenes that can get a book banned. They’re the scenes that don’t hold back — and you don’t want them to.
No matter how you like your sex scenes, these are only a few of them — and these categories only apply to the basic formula of consensual sex. Scenes that are graphic and violent are in a whole other realm. None of these types of scenes are meant make a reader or viewer feel unsafe or traumatized.
Sex is a part of life, and art imitates life. As long as there are stories, sex will be a part of them. Whether you’re a creator of stories or a consumer, sex remains a vibrant tool. And I think we all know that when it’s done right, it’s downright magic.
What do you think of sex in art? In books? In film? Does it bother you, or do you embrace it?
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