I wanted to title this blog DO ORGASMS MATTER? but I chickened out. Not because I figured people would think it was a biology quiz, but because it sounded a little too clinical to me–as well as a little too focused on sex, which is ridiculous, because that’s what this post is about. (I must confess, I’m actually quite shy about sex.)

My books do have love scenes in them, and I have to say that although I enjoy reading love scenes, it’s a form of torture to write them, but because it’s often hard to find an original way to approach the same eons-old activity. But I do it, and once I get going, I usually enjoy it. I love all the aspects of sexual tension, from banter to foreplay to intercourse, both writing it and reading it.

But I really, really don’t go for descriptions of orgasms–in my books or those of other writers. All that exploding and shattering, coming to pieces and seeing stars…pfft. Far too often, these descriptions are anti-climactic. Not that I expect to have a shattering (argh) orgasm when reading a sexy scene, but shouldn’t there be some sense of completion?

In future, I’m thinking of ending my love scenes before the orgasms, because to me they’re usually not titillating or romantic or anything but just…a bit dumb. Maybe I’ll imply the climax instead (just as the sex itself is implied if the door is closed on it—and that usually works fine for me, too. In fact, the most romantic books I have read don’t have explicit sex in them. But I digress). Anyway, I don’t know whether that will solve the problem. Or maybe it’s just me that’s the problem.

So…what do you-all think? Do descriptions of orgasms matter in love scenes? Maybe, as often as not, they should be left out. Or maybe we writers just need more original ways to describe them. What do you think? I’m dying to know your opinion on this burning issue! (And would also love some recommendations of authors who do the climax really well.)

Now for the historical trivia question. Here’s a bit of suggestive tension from one of my Regency novellas, The Unrepentant Rake. Read the excerpt, answer the question at the end, and enter your answer in the trivia form here.

The Unrepentant Rake - JAN 2012 - undone

Setup: It’s the middle of the night, and governess Beatrix March is almost caught while searching for a precious relic of St. Davnet, which one of her pupils has stolen. She has escaped onto a balcony to hide—and now she’s stuck there.

Beatrix turned in the cramped width of the balcony and looked down. She couldn’t possibly jump that far. She would have to wait until they had all fallen asleep and break the window to unlock it, and if someone heard her…

‘Miss March!’ She would recognize that sly male voice anywhere. She glanced about. Where was he?

‘Beneath you,’ said Mr. Simon Carling, stepping out from behind a bush.

‘Thank God,’ she breathed. ‘I’m in such a fix.’

‘So I see,’ he mocked. ‘A respectable guest would immediately wake the master of the household, since you are plainly up to no good.’

‘Hush!’ she hissed. ‘You’re not respectable, and we both know it. Help me, for heaven’s sake.’

‘I should be delighted.’ He paused. ‘At a price.’

Footsteps sounded in the room behind her, and candlelight flickered. Mr. Carling disappeared behind the bush again, and Beatrix held her breath. The footsteps died away.

‘What do you want?’ she whispered.

‘What are you willing to give?’

She hesitated. Through the window came Eudora’s sleepy voice and one of the maids replying. She’d be stuck out here all night if she didn’t accept Simon’s help.

Temptation uncurled inside her like a lush, red rosebud. He was a Bad Man without the slightest interest in marriage—the perfect choice for a woman who recoiled from marriage as well. She might never have such a chance again.

‘Anything you like,’ she whispered recklessly. ‘Just help me down!’

‘Anything?’ he asked.

And a little later, after he has rescued her:

He set Miss March on the ground and let go, to see if she would try to renege on her promise.

Instead, she pecked him on the cheek. ‘Thank you so much!’

For a few speechless seconds he merely stared at her. He recovered himself and purred, ‘I wonder, will you be as thankful once I’ve claimed my reward?’ He would make sure she enjoyed herself, and he wouldn’t impregnate her or give her any diseases, but she would probably be plagued with foolish guilt until the end of her days. ‘Or will you be overwhelmed with missish regrets?’

‘It depends what you ask for.’ She folded her arms across her chest, which only made him more aware of the sweetly luscious breasts she tried to hide. ‘Hurry up, then,’ she said, entirely composed. ‘What do you want?’

What did he want? He wanted to lift her skirts and tumble her then and there. He ran his fingers gently along the line of her chin, dropped them to her nightdress, and skimmed them lightly down the fabric between her breasts. She shivered but didn’t shy away.

‘You’re very lovely,’ he said. ‘And no, I don’t say that to every woman I meet.’

‘Perhaps not, but you needn’t feed me compliments, and the longer we dilly-dally out here, the more likely we’ll be caught. I repeat: what do you want?’

He opened his mouth to demand his due, but what came out was, ‘A kiss.’

Her mouth dropped open. Her brows drew together. ‘That’s all?’

No, that wasn’t all. He wanted a whole night of kisses. He wanted to kiss every inch of her delectable body, and wanted her lips all over him as well. He started to say so, but this time not a word came out of his mouth.

‘One paltry kiss?’ She sounded offended.

He pulled himself together. ‘My kisses are never paltry,’ Simon said.


Now for the historical trivia question: Beatrix is searching for a precious relic of which saint? Enter your answer here.


Follow Barbara Monajem:

Barbara Monajem started writing at eight years old. She has wandered from children’s fantasy through mystery to paranormal and historical romance. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

50 Responses

    • Barbara Monajem

      The thing is, I don’t think I have a hope of being comfortable. Writing isn’t a comfortable sort of occupation. It’s fun and challenging, but comfortable–nope. (At least not for me.)

  1. Maggi Andersen

    I’ve heard quite a few readers skip over them. I enjoy them as long as they’re done well and convey emotion, even a bit of humor. It’s a good way of revealing character I find.

    • Barbara Monajem

      I’m guilty of that, but I agree–love scenes with a bit of humor are great. And they should reveal character, or at least deepen it.

  2. Sandra Owens

    I’m good with any heat level as long as the scene fits the story, and it’s not just a sex scene thrown in for no reason. Enjoyed this post, Barbara.

    • Barbara Monajem

      I’m totally in agreement, Sandra. If there’s a good reason for the sex, it’s much easier to write a compelling scene.

  3. Victoria Vane

    I LOVE the excerpt, Barbara! When it comes to sex, I wrote very long, and scorching hot love scenes. Like you, I always look for a fresh approach and agonize over every single one of them. But they ALWAYS serve a greater purpose in the story than pure titillation.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Victoria–glad you enjoyed it. You write great sex scenes! It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who agonizes over them.

  4. carolcork

    Barbara, I enjoyed your article and the intriguing excerpt. I enjoy love scenes that convey the emotions as well as the physical aspects.Sometimes, I enjoy the build up to the consummation more than he actual act.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Exactly, Carol! The build up is often the best part. :~))

  5. Suzanne

    Hi Barbara, I think all of us who write explicit scenes wonder the same thing. I’m aware of it in the books I read, so I have noticed when they leave it out. And, to me, it feels odd. I’ve had to go back and reread in those situations, wondering if the character finished or not. I think as long as we write them as true as possible–not giving up and using trite descriptions–then it’s an important part of the experience. Usually, in a first draft, I’ll do a bare bones scene–just not feeling yet another sex scene–but then with each pass I try to make it more real, more in the moment, less trite. I guess if we focus more on the emotion in the scene and less on the visceral, it becomes more interesting to write.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Yes, Suzanne — it’s the emotion that counts. If we get the emotion right, the physical part is much more likely to work as well. (In real life, too.)

  6. Christina

    I write pretty explicit love scenes. But they have to matter to the story and they have to be used sparingly. I love a good spicy scene, but if there are too many of them, I start to skim. I haven’t read a Laurell K. Hamilton book in forever for just that reason. Too much sex, not enough story. I also read somewhere that a love scene can’t just be insert slot A into slot B. It has to be tied to emotions. The touching, the kissing, the whatevering. That is all secondary to the emotions between the characters. So whether or not they go all the way to the orgasm is really up to the writer and what they want to convey about the emotions of the characters.

    Some sexual tension is a gentle sort of tension and doesn’t require a lot of details. Some sexual tension is scorching and taut. The heavier and hotter the tension, the more explicit I expect the sex scenes to be.

    • Barbara Monajem

      That’s a good point, Christina. I hadn’t thought about the correlation between the tension and the sex scene.

    • eileendandashi

      Christina, I liked your comment about ‘if there are too many of them’ for I, too, will just skim. I mean you’ve got the same two people and after they have this shattering experience, of course after all the build-up and kiss scenes etc., how many more times does the reader have to go through it to make a point?

      • Barbara Monajem

        I agree with this most of the time. The second or subsequent sex scenes are necessary only if they are a substantial part of the character arc–something that changes the relationship dramatically.

  7. Kathleen

    I like the tension and build-up that is scattered throughout until the big moment, and then, if the big moment is well done, I’ll read through that. But where I start skipping is all the multiple orgasm scene that makes me roll my eyes. I like writing hot love scenes, but I’m not writing the multiples.

    • Barbara Monajem

      LOL, Kathleen. I don’t think I’ve ever written a multiple, either. 😉

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Ella. I tend to skim, too, but on the other hand, I don’t want to miss anything truly earth-shattering, LOL.

  8. Angie W

    As a reader, I would say I am not fond of the “Earth shattering” orgasm scene. Sometimes I find myself skipping them. I have only read a few that were well written, I can not possibly remember who’s words they were though. LOL I agree with another poster who said it is about the emotions tied to the act. So if the emotions are there, you don’t need to really spell it out in so many words, if that makes sense. Some writers use the act way too often and I find that makes me want to put the book down. But a well done chaste sex scene is much better for me. I like to use my own imagination.
    The excerpt is wonderful! I wonder what happened next!

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Angie! I’m glad you’re wondering what happened next. :~))
      Totally agreed re using your own imagination. Suggestions are often far more titillating than anything explicit.

  9. Barbara Monajem

    Thanks for the book recommendations, Kathy. 🙂

  10. allybroadfield

    Really enjoyed the excerpt, Barbara! I too am horribly uncomfortable writing these scenes. I usually try to go for a bit of tender humor and focus on the emotions, and generally only have one per book. I admit as a reader I tend to skim over the love scenes.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Ally. For me, the number of love scenes depends on the characters. Some characters seem to be focused on the physical along with the emotional, while for others the physical is kept at bay while the emotional relationship builds.

  11. Collette Cameron

    Wonderful excerpt.

    As far as the love scenes go, I don’t like them to drag on forever. A sex marathon, with vivid details isn’t for me. I’ve ready many books where the final moment isn’t detailed and loved the book. I’ve read some that I swear the heroine will need surgery or Superglue to reassemble her she’s so “fragment, shattered, etc.”

  12. Lani

    Loved the excerpt!

    Take in mind I have taught sociology, my specialty is human sexuality. So, yeah, I think the orgasm is super important. I was just a TA when I taught and relatively young too, but every semester I’d get bombarded with women who wanted to know the secret to a good orgasm. Granted, I know statistics and cultural mores regarding sex, but how to help a woman orgasm? Ha! I was worried enough over my own, you know? But it was such an eye-opening situation.

    So for me the orgasm is all about the man ensuring she does. That shows a lot about his character. You know, how giving he is. From my classes I learned there are SO many men who don’t do this. And I know the statistics, the women in my classes weren’t alone in their frustration of not achieving an orgasm. I can understand from a writer’s point of view trying to make sex sound new and elegant. But I don’t think the majority of women really want that. (Well, they do, but they want more too.) They want to read about a man who cares, cares enough to hold off his own satisfaction for his partner’s. And then you have a reader in love with your hero.

    • Christina

      Excellent point! Every intimate scene should be achieving something, whether its a deepening (snerk) intimacy, or showing us who a character is. The man wanting the woman to orgasm and actively seeking it is a man who puts his needs second and for women, who are raised to always put their needs second, that is the sexiest thing a partner can do.

  13. eileendandashi

    Such an edifying posting Barbara. I’m enjoying all the comments, too. And that book, it’s a must read for sure.

    • Barbara Monajem

      Thanks, Eileen! It’s great to see you here. 🙂

  14. Joanna M

    To me it’s more about the build up and the moments that lead up to the actual moment. And once it’s happening, I really don’t need that much details as far as the how-it’s-being-done but I really like when the emotions and feelings are put out there for me to enjoy 😉

    • Barbara Monajem

      Totally agreed, Joanna! The emotions matter most of all, and when they ride on sexual tension the combination is dynamite.

  15. hollybushbooks

    Your blog title is cracking me up! The first time I wrote a sex scene, I reread it a few days later and realized I had written the hero with three hands. I laughed and thought about what a happy wench she must have been! Sexual tension is so much better to read than the actual sex scene, I think. This excerpt is a perfect example, too. It’s sizzling!

  16. Barbara Monajem

    LOL. Hmm, that third hand certainly might come in useful. I’ve read some sci-fi where the characters had extra appendages–which sure could make for some variety in the love scenes.

    Thanks, Holly!

  17. Polly Iyer

    Though I’m primarily a suspense writer, I’ve written three eroticas under a pseudonym. And they are hard. I admire writers who can keep the sex fresh, as in not boring, but after a while it got to me. I have love/sex scenes in my suspense novels and have been chided in reviews for that, but I like the interaction between the H/h. I’ve put a warning on my Amazon page that my books contain language and adult situations to keep those who find it offensive to skip reading my books. I wrote a blog for The Blood Red Pencil about Love Scenes vs. Sex Scenes. I posted it on my Goodreads blog.

    • Barbara Monajem

      That’s a great blog, Polly. Thanks for posting the link here. I like complicated stories, too, with sexual as well as other interaction between the hero and heroine.

  18. saraleee

    What an interesting topic and I’ve really enjoyed reading all the discussion in the comments! Normally, I prefer to read scenes with sexual tension, lively banter, and unexpected developments — in stories that are mostly about the hero and heroine coming together, there’s often something so final about the actual sex scene. The tension is resolved — and that’s a problem.
    Also, when the author tries really hard to make the sex as intense and earth-shattering as possible, it becomes even more anti-climactic. I like it when the characters are real and human in their lovemaking, not over-the-top. In those cases, I really want to know that they’re both satisfied and happy. It helps if they like to cuddle a little afterwards, too.
    As people have mentioned already, the emotion and the tension between the characters is the key to making a sexy scene enjoyable. It’s not an easy task, but when it’s well-done, there’s nothing better.

  19. Barbara Monajem

    Hi, Saralee. I like that you mentioned wanting to know that the h & h are BOTH satisfied and happy. I really like a love scene where the heroine is as concerned about the hero’s enjoyment as her own. In romance we’re used to seeing considerate heroes who want the heroine to have her orgasm, but I love love love scenes where the heroine is just as happy to see how much her guy is enjoying himself, too.

    • saraleee

      Thanks! I agree! When they’re concerned about their mutual pleasure, it makes them both a little more grown-up. It’s not like she’s all brand-new to this sex thing and the guy is responsible for her pleasure — it’s that they are sharing this intimacy. That’s what I like. Even if, as it happens, she is actually new to this sex thing (as is often the case in historical romance).

    • Christina

      Agreed. One of my favorite sexier romances is Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl and her heroine not only uses a toy (which blew my mind because I’d never read anything like that in a romance) she goes down on the hero and enjoys it and enjoys his reaction. That is something that I think lots of women like but it’s rarely ever mentioned in romance. Her hey-nanner-nanner gets it’s jollies but it’s rarely the other way around. And I get it, I mean it’s about the woman’s pleasure fantasy but sometimes it’s a joy to give pleasure to someone else.

  20. Barbara Bettis

    Late to the party, but I really enjoyed your excerpt and the excellent responses. In my first book, I wrote around the love scenes then added them at the last. And I agree–sometimes there’s “too much of a good thing” in a book. When the forward movement of a plot must be halted for yet another such scene, that’s too much.

  21. Barbara Monajem

    Thanks for coming, Barb! It’s been a fun discussion. 🙂

  22. Sharla Rae

    I think a lot of writes leave out the play by play physical details and describe the emotions. That works to a point but I think some physical stuff has to be there. The ultimate trick as you suggested is writing differently from every other love scene. The only way to do it, is to use the character emotions and their personality. Would he or she be playful in this instance? Would they be nearly overwhelmed with finally doing it? Why do they have sex in this scene? Lots of things come into play and that’s the only way to make the scene unique because there are only so many ways of performing the act. 🙂

    • Barbara Monajem

      Exactly! The physical act has limited possibilities, but the emotions don’t.

  23. Christina

    You know, I’ve been pondering your post for a few weeks now. I am in the midst of figuring out WHERE to put a sex scene in my novel. It’s a delicate thing because sex breaks the tension and it must be rebuilt. I note that a lot of authors I like save the sex scene for the end of the book. I’m stuck because my hero and heroine are horn dogs and I don’t think they’ll wait, but I hate to break the tension when I’m only a third of the way through the story. How do you decide WHERE to put the sex scene?

    • Barbara Monajem

      What’s going on in their relationship apart from the sex? Does this first encounter leave them emotionally satisfied? (I assume it doesn’t.) What doesn’t work about it? What *does* work that makes them want to persevere? Or is it so cataclysmic that it frightens one or both of them into backing off?

      I think you can put the sex scene wherever you like, as long as it creates an even greater emotional tension than before.

      • Christina

        I know that for any two steps forward in vulnerability, the characters should take a step backward. In this case, I have a hero with body and control issues who only does it in the dark and a heroine who enjoyed herself but wanted more intimacy (even though she doesn’t realize that was the problem). It satisfied their bodies but not their minds or hearts.

        I hadn’t considered having it be so spectacular that it actually frightens one of them away. That plays right into my hero’s neuroses perfectly. Thank you!

  24. saraleee

    The issue is whether or not the sex “breaks the tension.” I think the way around that is to have two different things going on — the sexual desire and the lies/misunderstandings/secrets between the characters.
    If they have sex, but one of them is keeping a secret from the other while they have sex, then the tension is not lessened because the reader is like, “well, that was great sex but wait until he finds out about…”
    The key is that the sex can’t be the answer to all of their problems. They have to want something from the other in addition to sex.