Better Sex Scenes, Better Sex: One Romance Writer’s Quest to Help You Have Better Sex
By age twelve, I could correctly label the human genitals on a health class worksheet. But I still had one pressing question, one question I didn’t dare ask. Why would any girl want a boy to put his penis, complete with urethral orifice and prepuce, in her vaginal opening?
I was about eighteen months away from realizing I was a lesbian at which point the question became rhetorical. But at twelve, I was still manufacturing crushes on the boys in Sunday school, and the why of sex was still a mystery…
Until Lucy Tillman pulled a battered romance novel out of her locker and tossed it at me.
The spine was cracked and the book fell open to the good stuff.
I wish I remembered the name of the book. The cover featured a blond woman swooning in the arms of a dark-haired man, which narrows it down to about million possible titles. I wish I could go back to my childhood self and say, you’re going to become a romance writer. This is the moment when it all starts. But I was blushing and trying to scoff knowingly while reading as fast as I could, because I had found the answer.
Sex felt good! The heroine wanted the man to push the pulsing rod of his manhood into the hot core of her virginal flower because it elicited an exquisite fullness that drove her to heights of abandon. Who knew!?!
When I realized I was gay, I took every chance I could get to travel the 80 miles to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland to scan the gay and lesbian section for clues about my new sexuality. I learned there were other women like me who never saw the appeal of the scrotal sac. They swam in the tides of love, washed over by the liquid joy of togetherness. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought lesbians mated in the ocean.
I loved all those books. I treasured them. I devoured them. Straight, gay, regency, contemporary: romance was a beautiful escape at a time when life felt hard. Those writers gave me a great gift.
And I want to give my readers a gift as well: real sex.
Writing real sex starts with anatomical specificity. It’s a balancing act. I don’t want my sex scenes to read like a middle school health book. I’ve yet to find a way to make the word “hymenal caruncle” sound sexy. But it’s important to me that my characters have real parts – not flowers and tidal waves – between their legs. Labia and clitoris and mons are beautiful words.
Next, I make sure my characters ask for consent and ask for it in a way that the reader could imagine themself asking or answering. My characters talk about sex and they talk to each other during sex. How they like it. How they don’t like it. Sex is about connection, and it’s hard to have a connection without talking.
And sex isn’t always perfect. My characters don’t always orgasm together in a volcano of passion or a tsunami of love. Orgasms are complex, individual, and sometimes elusive. I want my readers to see this reality reflected in romance fiction. Hot sex doesn’t have to be perfect sex.
Finally, I want to reach out to my straight readers. I want to show them what sex looks like when you stop staring at the penis. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to recruit for the lesbian nation. I want men to have great sex using all the equipment God gave them. It’s just that our society is so focused on—even obsessed with—the penis, while women’s sexuality remains more of a mystery.
Think of the penis as a garrulous guest at a dinner party. It’s loud and it talks all the time. People like it, but you can’t hear from the other guests until the penis steps out of the room. That’s where F/F romance comes in. Well-written lesbian sex scenes (that don’t fall into silly porn tropes) provide an example of female sexual pleasure that isn’t defined, limited, or even inspired by male sexual desire.
This is good for women and straight men alike. Women can learn more about their bodies and redefine what is sexually “normal”. (Did you know some people consider it a disorder if a woman can’t climax by penetration alone!?) Men can pick up some important information about anatomy (in case they missed the health class worksheet). More than that, they can learn how to let women’s sexuality take center stage which means they can let go of a lot of anxieties about performance. After all, there’s a whole world of women whose sexual pleasure has never been tied to a man’s ability or inability to get it up.
The internet is full of people writing to advice columns and doctors, agonizing over their sexual failures; most of that stress is wrapped up in the notion of idealized, heterosexual sex.
As a F/F romance writer, I want to reach out to all those people and say, you’ve got so many options! Don’t gaze at that Fabio cover and wonder why your sex life has fallen so short of the mark. And whatever you do, don’t watch porn and think that’s how sex is actually supposed to be! Sex is beautiful, awkward, messy, and personal. We have real parts with weird names. I hope readers – straight, gay, bi, pansexual, asexual – will finish my books feeling better about their own sexuality, clearer about their boundaries, empowered to ask and to say no. Perhaps a few of them will even come away with something new they’d like to try.
My wife recently dubbed my writing “so-ro,” short for romance with a social conscience. Whether I’m exploring the problems of gentrification or the evils of human trafficking, every book I write has a lesbian romance at its heart and a social issue in mind. They’re the kind of books that read like fun, lazy-Saturday page-turners and yet leave you a little bit wiser about the world. Check out my latest release, For Good, the story of a paroled felon and an ambitious district attorney who fall in love.
When I’m not writing, I’m being inspired by my amazing community college students and hanging out with my lovely wife and my charming spuglette (that’s spaniel-pug). I’m a fan of noodles, dumplings, corn mazes, popular science books on neurology, and any roadside attraction that purports to have the world’s largest ball of twine.
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