I’ve heard from numerous paranormal fantasy authors that the hardest sequences to write well are sex scenes – and, from a reviewer’s perspective, I couldn’t agree more. For every emotionally supercharged, wildly erotic passage that I read, there are dozens – no, hundreds – more that just don’t, ahem, measure up. Too much anatomical play-by-play (i.e. Pornographic Twister) makes for a gratuitous and repulsive reading experience and too much flowery description is downright comical. Words like turgid, heaving, and throbbing are a clear indication – at least for me – that a cheesy sex scene is quickly approaching. I can almost smell the Velveeta now…
Before listing some examples of good sex scenes gone bad, however, I feel it necessary to point out that a fair amount of the sex scenes in paranormal fantasy novels are meant to be amusing – Nicole Peeler’s Jane True saga and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series, for example – so please keep that in mind when reading the sometimes hilarious and sometimes deeply disturbing excerpts below.
Many readers tell me that they would rather have no sex scene at all than a badly written or awkwardly choreographed sex scene – but I disagree. Sometimes a bad sex scene produces laugh-out-loud entertainment and makes an unremarkable read suddenly memorable – albeit for the wrong reasons. And in the case of novels like Peeler’s "Tracking the Tempest," bizarrely described sex sequences can make a good story truly unforgettable – for all of the right reasons.
Here are a few of my personal favorite excerpts from paranormal fantasy and paranormal romance novels:
• "While I stood stock-still, paralyzed by conflicting waves of emotion, Eric took the soap out of my hands and lathered up his own, set the soap back in its little niche, and began to wash my arms, raising each in turn to stroke my armpit, down my side, never touching my breasts, which were practically quivering like puppies who wanted to be petted." – "Dead to the World" by Charlaine Harris
• "My nipples waved hello at him as he pulled down the cups of my bra." – "Tracking the Tempest" by Nicole Peeler
• “His man lance prepared for duty.” – "Naked Dragon" by Annette Blair
• "I let my hand stroke boldly downward, my fingers aching to set him free, to grasp his turgid magnificence." – "A Brush of Darkness" by Allison Pang
• “Fuck me,” I said. “Fuck me, God, fuck me, just fuck me. Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, please, please, please, just fuck me.” – "Incubus Dreams" by Laurell K. Hamilton
• "...I had my very own orgasm, a moment so explosive it was like I'd been saving up for a holiday." – "Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris
• "He was a velvet rock in my hand." – "A Brush of Darkness" by Allison Pang
• “He groaned and lifted her up under her thighs, her legs wrapping around his waist, her hot, molten core pressing against his groin.” – "Sugar and Sin" by Stella and Audra Price
• "She has seaweed pubes." – "Tempest Rising" by Nicole Peeler
And what would a sex-scenes-gone-wrong blog be without mentioning these two infamous sequences, from a romance and a fantasy, respectively:
• “His body knew only one goal, to bury itself into the snug fist of her femininity and let it milk him dry.” – "Demon Rumm" by Sandra Brown
• “Her pubes was a field of wheat after the harvest, a field neatly furrowed; it was a nest, a pomegranate, an arrowhead, a rune. It was a shadow. It was moss on a smooth white stone. There was an orchid within the moss. There was a drop of dew upon the orchid. It had the breath of moss-beds, of the deep seas, of the abyss, of scrimshaw and blue glass, of cold iron; she had the sex of rain forests, the ibis and the scarab; she had the sex of mirrors and candles, of the hot, careful winds that stroke the veldt, the winds that taste of clay and seed and blood; the winds that dreamed of tawny, lean animals.” – "Bronwyn: Silk and Steel" by Ron Miller
Are you feeling a little nauseous yet?
There is a lesson to be learned here: writing a good sex scene isn’t just about the sex. It’s an incredibly complex act and extremely difficult to properly capture on the page. One wrong word – yawning, slither, puppies – could ruin the entire sequence. Hopefully the next time you read a well-written sex scene in a novel, you’ll have a new understanding and respect for what that author accomplished where so many others have failed…
After rereading this blog, I’m contemplating a life of celibacy. How about you?
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.