I often get asked if sex scenes are necessary in a romance novel.
It's a valid question.
After all, if you look at some of the erotic fiction or romance books out there, it does seem that the sex scene can at times be a mite gratuitous. Why can't we have the sweetheart romance without knowing every intimate detail of what is occurring in our heroine's bedroom? Why does it matter that his member filled her with rapturous joy or that her bosom heaved with desire? Do we have to know what all of their "parts" are doing when the moment of climax arrives?
I think it depends on the reader and what they desire. Romance can be defined as many different things. To some, it's the thrill of the first date, the wind in his hair as he looks deeply into her eyes, the scent of lilacs surrounding them as she laughs at his jokes. For others, it's the desire to satisfy primal needs and enjoy the steamy passion of others if we can't create our own.
Sex scenes can also be tricky things to write. Some authors tease us with lots of build up and then leave it all to the imagination with a nice "fade to black" scene. Others go all the way--every steamy detail is out there to be examined.
As for myself, I've done both. I like a good tease where you get your reader riled up, but don't necessarily give them all the details. However, there are times when I think that technique can backfire. If your book is classified as a romance and the reader is expecting a hot read which doesn't "climax" in the bedroom, you can face some critical backlash. I've read plenty of books that were good, but would have been spicier if the sex had been a shade hotter or the sex is missing from the book. I would be wary of fading to black with every intimate scene in your manuscript. It gets boring after awhile.
If you aren't a fade to black writer and like to write juicy scenes where the sex is explicit, good for you! My advice to you is to write as if your mother is not looking over your shoulder. Mothers have a wonderful way of getting into our heads at all the wrong times. Nothing is worse than writing about masturbation and then hearing your mother's voice telling you that you are doing it wrong! Get rid of Momma and be brave, bold, and purposeful.
So how do you know if you've written a sex scene that is gratuitous?
If it the sex scene doesn't change something about the relationship of your couple or affect the plot in some way, it's gratuitous. Sex is a writing tool like anything else in a novel. It often changes the dynamic of the story. Sex in a book can be intimate, causing some revelation of love or heartbreak from a character. It can also be unwanted which adds a new level of stress or unhappiness. Sex scenes can develop a character, taking them from shy, blushing flower to smoldering temptress. Again, the point is that whenever there is a sex scene, it should further the relationship or the plot. If it doesn't, it's an unnecessary scene.
Wow. I'm starting to feel a bit warm myself. I think I hear my latest character calling me. I left her deep in the throes of desire and have to decide what to do next. Fade to black? Detailed scene? Oh dear. I think I hear my mother calling, too....