By K.A. Ware
We’ve all heard the term, and while there are plenty of readers and authors that loathe it with a fiery passion, others like me, just roll their eyes at the phrase. No matter how much we want to defend our craft as romance writers, the truth is that the romance genre is a billion dollar a year industry. Why? Because the age old adage ‘sex sells’ is true, the question is, to what extent?
It goes without saying that, to most in the Romance community, the genre itself is so much more than just ‘he put his ding-a-ling in her hoo-ha and they broke apart into a million pieces’. But that’s not up for debate right now. Instead, we’re here to talk about sex.
A few weeks ago I sent out a poll about sex in books into the vast abyss that is Facebook hoping to get a little honest feedback. I was interested to see how other readers and authors viewed sex in books. Needless to say, I was floored when I opened the file and saw that I’d received over 100 responses from the book community. What really took me by surprise the most though were the responses.
The meat of the poll revolved around the actual sex scenes in romance novels. I had a pretty good idea of what kind of answers I’d get and for the most part my predictions were accurate. When asked how much sex the readers liked in a book it was a fairly close race. 38% stated they like as much as they can get while maintaining the integrity of the story, 31% reported needing at least a few solid sex scenes, and 22% said that 2-3 are good enough because the story was actually what they cared about. The two extremes of the spectrum; the ‘implication only, no explicit sex’ preference and the full on erotica ‘one-handed read’ selection reported less than a 5% response each.
So what did I conclude from that? People love sex, but they also want – SHOCKER—romance and a good story. In case you’re not familiar with porn, it is the exact opposite of that. So suck on that ‘mommy porn’ whiners.
The next question asked what kind of sex readers preferred in books, and the responses were all over the place. Aside from the less than 2% that opted for the fade to black scene, the rest seemed more than happy with the idea of reading a sex scene. 21% were comfortable with a few details, but were more concerned about feeling an emotional connection to the character. A whopping 38% admitted that they like it steamy, dirty talk and a little bit of detail when it gets down to the actual sexing. 12% reported the raunchier the better and last but certainly not least, 26% stated that they wanted explicit step by step details. It was no surprise that the preferences varied so widely, after all the net of the romance genre has most definitely broadened since the time when Fabio dominated the covers of paperbacks everywhere.
Now for the fun stuff. I wanted to know how much, if at all, readers wanted their books’ sex scenes to reflect that of a real-life sexual encounter. Again, there was no one hugely dominating response. 40% stated they want it to feel real and even appreciated a few very real non-sexy moments to ground the scene, while 45% wanted a little kink but nothing off the charts crazy. The other 15% wanted the characters in their books to be off the wall kinky and into things the readers themselves would never agree to.
The one question that shocked me the most was in regard to cheating in books. For years I’ve seen the posts about ‘ABSOLUTELY NO CHEATING!’ when asking for book recommendations, or the post bashing an author for including infidelity in a book and not warning the reader. It felt like everyone in the book community despised any kind of cheating and there was no redemption from it. According to the poll, that’s not exactly the case. Only 20% stated it was a hard limit for them, while another 20% stated that cheating in books didn’t bother them at all. The majority at 59% reported that as long as it fit the story and no one ‘good’ was getting hurt as a result of the cheating, then they were fine with it.
The topic of ménage was burning a hole in my head when I was compiling this survey. I’ve seen authors attacked for adding a three-way into their story and I wanted to know if that was the opinion of the few, or the many. Only 19% were completely not comfortable with the idea of more than two characters engaging in a sexual act. 25% were simply worried about the steam factor, it didn’t matter if it was a three-way or an orgy, as long as it was hot. The final 55% were in the middle; totally okay with it if the scene made sense in the story, but weren’t comfortable with more than three partners at a time.
My final question was about word choice. Everyone has at least one friend that hates the word moist, right? But there are so many more either over-used or just plain gross words that are used in romance novels. While the expected moist, rosebud, folds, and mound were among the top despised words, surprisingly enough, over 30% stated they didn’t have a problem with any particular word.
Regardless of word choice or difference in sexual content, readers from all over the world shell out their hard earned cash to read about couples falling in love. Some stories are light and predictable with the cute backdrop of a quaint town while others are dark and disturbing full of unexpected twists and situations that leave you questioning your own morals. Despite which end of the spectrum a book falls into, there is one constant; the story of human connection, or wolf connection if you’re into shifters.
So what can we take away from this? It’s simple, give us the sex, but don’t screw with our story in the process. Whatever your preference, there’s something out there for everyone.