Kudos to Erastes for her blog on gay historical romance (see below from December 6). A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought to mention anything but heterosexual encounters in a discussion of the sex act in romantic fiction. Thank heaven the world of publishing is opening up to LGBTQ fiction. Having said that, I have to admit that my expertise is currently limited to male/female interaction, and that’s what I’d like to address today. Perhaps, we can persuade Erastes to educate us further in the near future.
I adore reading love scenes in romance novels. Back in the days before e-books, I used to open my new print books toward the middle and search for the passage where the hero and heroine first indulged in the ultimate. It’s harder to do that in e-books, which is probably a good thing. There’s a reason for the build-up, and that is to make the pay-off all the sweeter, and my enjoyment is enhanced by the foreplay.
When I began writing, I knew in my bones that I’d make my stories as hot as possible within the constraints of the genre. After twenty years, I’ve written a lot of sex in a lot of time periods. Please, indulge me in a few random thoughts.
Random thought #1: Species homo sapiens sapiens hasn’t changed much physically for tens of thousands of years and probably won’t change any more for the next dozens of millennia. That means that people’s sex drives haven’t increased or decreased throughout our history. The same things that feel really good now felt really good when we lived in caves, ancient Roman villas, the American plains, medieval castles, or stately houses on Hyde Park. People explored and experimented in ages past the same way we do today. There’s not much new under the sun. Granted, under periods of deprivation people had less interest in sex, but in times of plenty, people messed around with the same creativity and vigor we do now.
I come from the “free love” generation of the 60‘s and 70‘s. We think we invented sex and everyone who came before was repressed, closed-minded, and ignorant. The truth is that our foremothers had the same urges we did and often acted on them. The main difference is that they had a lot more “early” babies because they didn’t have as many contraceptive options as we did. (Although they had more of those than we give them credit for, too.)
We often assume that progress of sexual liberation goes in a linear fashion from repressed to open as we go forward in time. In fact, freedom of sexual expression goes in fits and starts. Some of the ribald passages in Shakespeare’s works would make a modern miss blush. Even within the last 40 years, the culture of the United States has become more subdued sexually than when I was young. People of younger generations often express surprise at some of the things that come out of my mouth and laugh with disbelief at some of my stories. (And no, I’m not repeating any of them here.)
Random thought #2: If you’re writing in a sexually repressed period such as my favorite, the Victorian, your hero should be conscious of the dangers of sex outside of marriage for his heroine and should be willing to take responsibility for his actions. In other words, he shouldn’t ruin her reputation and/or leave her to take care of an unexpected pregnancy.
Unless your heroine is independently wealthy, a rather iffy prospect given the property laws at the time, the quality of her adult life may depend on her marriage. If her reputation has been tarnished, she’ll have a difficult time making an advantageous match. Furthermore, as authors, we don’t often include contraception in our historical stories. If she becomes pregnant, he needs to support his child. If he’s a nobleman, the child may very well be his heir.
Consequently, it’s my feeling that a romance hero who’s taken the heroine’s virginity should immediately offer, or demand, to marry her. I can hear you saying, “But, Alice, you just said that people are the same across centuries. A Victorian man is no more likely to want to marry a woman because he’s slept with her than a modern man.” To which I say, that’s true, but we’re not talking about an average man here. We’re talking about a romance hero. Though he may be dark, difficult, and tortured, he’s always honorable.
Of course, if the heroine has already lost her virginity and the hero isn’t her first lover, the burden of responsibility doesn’t fall on his shoulders so heavily. However, he should still assume responsibility for any child she may have conceived.
Random thought #3: Making love to the virgin. I don’t know about you, but my first experience was…ahem…shall we say…not the stuff of romance novels. As a reader, I can suspend disbelief about the joys of the first intercourse to a certain extent because I’ve followed all the breathless kisses and intimate caresses that lead up to the first love scene. Still, I need to see the hero put some effort into making sure the heroine experiences the minimum of pain and the maximum of pleasure. A few touches to the naughty bits and then slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am isn’t going convince me that he could truly satisfy her. This isn’t the place for a quickie. If at all possible, give them the setting, adequate time, and especially the hero’s attention to the right places on her body for a long and satisfying scene.
I've read too many books that were otherwise enchanting only to be disappointed with the first love scene. If the hero doesn't put a lot of thought into making the sex really, really good for the woman he loves (or will soon come to love), I fall out of love with him a bit. Once that happens, the story loses some of its shine. Make the encounter good, and I’ll hang in there, enjoying every delicious moment.