Recently a fellow writer raised the question, how much sex is too much in an erotic romance?
This is actually a common question, I think. I know I often find myself wondering if there's enough plot in my porn, or vice versa. You definitely want your story to be hot, but some readers can find excessive sex scenes boring, and skip ahead.
How do you find balance? How do you know when your leading pair is fucking like bunnies just enough?
Of course, as with most things in creative writing, there's no quick and easy formula to this. I read quite a few erotic romances with a lot of "teases" but only one, maybe two sexual culmination scenes. Then there are books like Beautiful Bastard, which have a sex scene in almost every chapter. One thing I found interesting about Bastard is that this pattern begins in Chapter One; it isn't until later you might get to a chapter where the lead romantic pair doesn't end up getting it on. Personally, I never thought the sex in Bastard was overdone, or that it overshadowed the plot too much. Honestly, I rather enjoyed it.
Each reader will be different, of course, and you'll never please all of the people all of the time. So how do you decide?
I am probably an author who errs on the side of overdoing it. What can I say? I love sex scenes. I love writing them and I love writing a lot of them. I could easily write one ten pages long--and have!
But the trick is, if you're going to be writing lots and lots of sex scenes, they can't all be the same sex scene. Your love pair has to keep things fresh, just like a real-life couple. If you go for the same missionary position every time out, your readers will start yearning for something new.
Invest some time in researching sex positions. Not just what the position is, but how and why it's attractive to lovers. Keep in mind the logistics--if you're writing about characters who are not trained gymnasts, some positions are likely to be a little out of their league. There are still hundreds of poses, though, for all types of interests and situations: find out what your character's favorite positions are and put them in it. Find a naughty excuse for new positions. Find one that surprises your love pair and pose them like horny Barbie dolls. Seriously, positions are fun! Just make sure you're aligning everything clearly...
It's not just positions, though. Think about the sex acts you're including. Off the top of my head I would bet the most common sex acts in erotic romance are: straight sex, missionary or maybe doggy style, and oral sex. If it's a BDSM title, handcuffs or other restraints and a good round of spanking. It's been years since I read Fifty Shades of Grey so I could be mistaken, but I don't remember any kind of BDSM besides some varied versions of whacking the butt.
A few sexy acts people neglect: anal sex, breast play (more than kissing/fondling), dress up, bi-curious experimentation, pegging...
The answer to how much sex is too much really depends on what you've written and how. If you fall back on the same formula in a love scene, it's time to break that habit, but another thing to consider is whether or not the sex is outweighing the plot. In erotica, the plot is usually about sex: these are stories about one's sexuality and sexual experience. That is the plot: sexual discovery, awakening, experimentation. In these cases, the sex is pretty much key. How would you write a story about a character and his sexual experiences otherwise. In erotic romance, though, the plot is usually the romance, and complications to that romance. The love pair must overcome obstacles pertinent to multiple aspects of their relationship and worlds, not merely their physical passion.
You have to lend your writerly ear, then, to the way your sex scenes are interacting with the rest of your story. Are your lovers interrupting the flow of the story to get busy? Is this just once or twice, or constantly? What about the lead-up to the sex scenes? Is it contrived, or does it flow smoothly?
I tend to let my characters run wild in the first draft of any erotic story. This meaning, whatever feels right to the characters, be it a few tender scenes of lovemaking or twenty pages of no-holds-barred kink, I let them lead me through it. There are hidden gems in those twenty pages, even if the whole scene doesn't make it into the final draft. I can always cut and trim things on the second or third round of edits, before I consider the piece "done". I find it hinders the characters less, though, if I give them their freedom at least in the beginning to be as wild as they want.
Additionally, don't try to dress up erotic content into something it's not. If you want to write an erotic story, write one, but don't wrap it in a plot that doesn't fit. I recently received a really terrific review on my short story, Phone Home, in which the reviewer noted this:
Scorching hot, so make sure you have some icy water on hand when reading this. Although it’s a very short story, the smoking hot chemistry explodes between Catie and Ry. Deliciously descriptive, it makes me long for the next time my partner goes away — who could guess a late night phone call could be so arousing! Vividly detailed, this is enough to make you blush, so I wouldn’t recommend a read of it on the train or any place public. Hot and sensual, it sure got me breathing hard and all worked up.
There is no pretense of a plot, but in a sense that made it better. I liked how the author focused only on Catie and Ry, and their naughty call. No plot is better than a half-baked one, in my opinion. I’ll definitely be looking at other works by this author. Recommended for a quick read, something to get you in the mood when your man is readily on hand or only a quick phone call away. (underline added)