The Erogenous Zone

Most romance writers these days – or their editors, trolling (that was a typo from telling, but I’m leaving it!) them to write what sells – are under the impression that they know where all the erogenous zones are, and they march through the checklist with their characters to steam their work up. While I don’t have a problem with smut, it does sell, I do have a problem with many literary (and probably film, although I’ve seen less of that due to censorship laws, thank goodness) depictions of sex. They miss the point entirely.

You see, the erogenous zone where you want to hit the reader is not located between the legs or on the chest or face or wherever… It’s wrapped up inside the bony case of the skull and can’t be touched directly. Especially for a reader, if you want to make a book reek of sex, you must get inside their head. Once in there, you’ll realize that their imaginations are all different, unique, and you couldn’t possibly write sex scenes that would turn every reader on…

I joke that I am a sapiosexual, but it’s not entirely a joke. What attracted me first to the person I later married wasn’t anything physical. I’m not sure I’d even seen a picture of him before we were good friends and slowly moving toward flirting. I fell for his mind, not his body. Readers are, more often than not, similarly inclined. Which means that to seduce them with a book, you are appealing directly to the erogenous zone of their brain.

It’s not that I would never write out a sex scene blow-by-blow. It’s that I think I would be failing my readers to do so. My idea of what is good sexytimes is almost certainly not theirs. Sure, there are sex acts that are the same the world over, but sex is -and ought to be – far more intricate a dance than simply ‘insert tab A into slot B’ which gets frankly boring to write more than once, not to mention the tediousness of finding euphemisms for the equipment involved.

I’d rather write up to a certain part and leave the rest to the reader to interpret according to what heats up their own personal erogenous zone. There are several ways to accomplish this: closing the bedroom door on your lovers completely, wandering in their with them and only describing high points, describing action up til their subconscious takes over, or the romance genre stroke-by-stroke method. I’ve written the first, the last, and then dumped those scenes. My preference as a writer and a reader is some combination of the first two options. But I’m not writing erotica… That would be a whole ‘nother post, not for this blog.

The other big objection I have to many romance novels (or in my recent cranky rant about mystery novels that are really romance novels) is the whole ‘we’ve just met, we instantly fell in love let’s f*ck’ which isn’t fun to read. I want more literary foreplay, I don’t know about you. I also object to love in all the wrong places, by which I mean sex in the midst of a running gunfight, or while the pair are being held captive by a psychopath (and he’s on the other side of the door), or… I recognize that adrenaline rush does weird things. I prefer my characters to not be a raging ball of uncontrollable libido.

I’m willing to bet if I asked folks to list what their favorite sexy but not explicit book was in the comments, I’d get as varied a list as we have readers. Because everyone’s erogenous zone is unique.


I promised I’d report back on the promotion I did for Pixie Noir. I realize there wasn’t a lot of interest in that post, but I did say I would, so you can skip this part in good conscience.

The highest sales peak of other books in the series came ten days after the start of the free days. To my surprise, sales of Pixie Noir itself were up slightly after the promotion as well. I suspect the momentum bumped it up on people’s radar and on Amazon as well. As of now, I have four new reviews on PN, all favorable, all obviously from new readers. The also-bot profile for the book has changed significantly, being Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy but not Correia and Butcher, more romance-style, for better or for worse.

Finally, my KU reads for the whole series tripled with the advent of the promo – and have stayed almost steady at that level for two weeks now. The First Reader asked me when I would break even from the expenditure, shortly after the end of the giveaway, and I gotten up sales only… And was already in the black. So it’s been well worth the investment already.






47 thoughts on “The Erogenous Zone

  1. On writing sex. I would put that in the category of something I don’t even want to try currently. As well, there are times when I run into those scenes I skip them to get to the rest of the story if they go on overly long.

    As to your promo. Thanks for the follow up. Good to see more experiences that follow the Baen free library idea they started out with years ago.

    1. the overly long thing is a good point – unless you picked up the book in order to read the sex, you probably don’t find that it adds much to the plot if it is described in loving detail.

      And yes, I do adhere to the Baen school of marketing 😀

  2. Best romance ever is Song of Solomon. True love in spite of enticements of many people, even a king.

    1. According to one theory. A lot of people still stick to the idea that it’s actually about Solomon- -and the only woman he really *loved,* in the middle of all the political marriages and “I’m a king, concubines are a job requirement ” harem stuff.

      1. the thing is that it’s so lyric that the story has to be read into it — and you could probably read more than one.

  3. The out of place gratuitous sex scene is very much like the gratuitous nude scene in the film Logan’s Run. It’s something put there only to attract readers, and says much about why they think someone would read that book.

    1. And I know there are people who buy books for the sex. Nothing wrong with that, really, but I still say it’s not the best way to write steamy sex. That needs to engage the reader’s brain, and let them fill in the details – you can’t possibly hit their buttons better than they can themselves.

  4. That is a really tough question for me and I spent a lot of time chewing it over. The answer I came up with was Ursula Le guin’s “The Lathe Of Heaven.” The idea that George and Heather would not just find each other, but continue to find each other as the universe changed around them, is deeply satisfying to me. What is important between them as man and woman survives when everything else in flux–in fact, the implication is that the big noticable things are really superficial and transitory, while the simple ordinary things of life are eternal. “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”

    As far as my own writing is concerned, I tend to write sex scenes only when I feel like I have noc choice and can’t say what the story demands any other way. I don’t enjoy writing them, and I don’t find them erotic, which I think comes across to my readers–they aren’t sexy scenes, they are emotional scenes in which sex happens as part of the interaction.

      1. Its funny, in my case I have the reverse problem. The emotions and all the moo-moo cow eyes and etc. leading up to the event are both obvious and easy. The characters never do anything else! Constantly with never-ending kissy face.

        The “main event” itself? It turns out so dumb. OMG, the dumbness. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so lame.

  5. The one thing I can add to the comments on your book promotion, is that it worked for you because you had a good book (good books) to begin with. Helping readers discover the treasure is what a good promotion does (not promoting trash as treasure and hoping people buy).

    Glad it is working!

  6. I really hate it when they interrupt a good romance with hawt sex.

    On the other hand, I enjoy the formula I’ve read several times in the past few years, where the couple gets married, has sex, and then falls in love. Still, I don’t need that much detail.

    On the third hand, I’ve got a character who wants a lot more detail put in than I really would rather have, and when I object, just smiles demurely at me. I’m hoping to be able to compromise with her.

    1. I suppose that the former standard of most marriages being arranged (probably all or nearly all of them at some points in time and in some places) has led to a lot of ‘get married, have sex, and then fall in love.’ There are chemical reasons (pheromones) for this — a built-in mechanism to help people grow attached to one another when they must spend the rest of their lives together. (Keeping in mind that divorce used to be much less common than it is here and now.) The so-called Stockholm Syndrome derives from similar mechanisms and exists for similar reasons — attachment to others comes from physical closeness as much as anything. Of course, bad behavior can negate that, but barring that, it’s normal and probably desirable to grow attached to those with whom you spend the most time (and possibly a good reason to make sure your husband’s secretary is a man rather than a good-looking younger woman, LOL!).

  7. I lean toward #1 into #2 and then fast forward to what used to be the cigarette scene (couple smoking in bed afterwards. [Do NOT try this at home, or anywhere else, kids. Keep any and all burning things away from soft, napped combustibles.]) There’s the lead up, the “yep, it’s going to happen,” and the companionship after. Although it varies from character to character and book to book. I find any and all of my attempts to do the anatomical description are bad. Not funny bad, either just seriously awkward bad.

    1. Well, I’m forced to admit I’m a bad writer. I tend to stop making observations at a certain point, and can never recall well enough later to describe it in detail. Or what I can recall seems physically impossible!

  8. People have asked me to put sex scenes in my stories. (Ok, two people who don’t know each other; that may not constitute a trend.) The answer is not only no, but HELL no. I know what they meant by “sex scene.” I’ve picked through a few erotic romance novels. My reaction wasn’t disgust. It was befuddlement. Sex doesn’t work like that. It’s playful, silly, and utterly specific in form and function to the people engaging in it.

    I’ve read a mere handful of sex novels that I’ve enjoyed, all of them a long time ago. They were written by one man, Ted Mark (pen name of Theodore Gottfried) and they were all humorous romps, mostly skewering the tiresome secret agent fad of the late 60s. The humor was very broad and very good; definitely laugh-out-loud funny. (That was almost 50 years ago. Maybe I should track a couple of them down and read them again as an old guy and not a hormone-addled teenage nerd.) For anyone interested, the ones I recall are *The Nude Who Never,* *The Man from ORGY,* *The Nude Wore Black,* and *The Pussycat Transplant.* He was very prolific, and there are dozens more.

    As postscript, I *did* write a sex scene in my latest novel, and sent a copy to the woman who thought I’d be good at sex scenes. It was even a *menage a trois*…between three AIs, conducted in main memory. I didn’t have to think of poetic words for body parts, as body parts were not involved. She emailed me and said that that was not what she meant. Oh, well. (Cedar read that book and may recall the scene.)

    The bottom line: For me at least, “serious sex” is a contradiction in terms. So I suspect I will write no more sex scenes.

    1. I don’t remember if he wrote this one but the titles you list sound like it:

      The Man from Special Territories and Unique Developments…..

      Too Long Don’t Read: Lesbian Vampires plot to take over the world by Voodoo……

      Found it in a Memphis TN garage sale when I was 12…..

    2. As postscript, I *did* write a sex scene in my latest novel, and sent a copy to the woman who thought I’d be good at sex scenes. It was even a *menage a trois*…between three AIs, conducted in main memory. I didn’t have to think of poetic words for body parts, as body parts were not involved. She emailed me and said that that was not what she meant. Oh, well.


      Housemate installed something that allows one of our computers to answer back. He must have been bored, because he asked it the other day if he should order some food from Cherry Blossom, and when the computer didn’t understand, he said “A restaurant that serves Chinese food.”

      The response? “Cannibalism is bad. Consuming humans, Chinese or otherwise, is considered by most cultures immoral. You should reconsider where you obtain food.”

  9. I have to admit that when I’m tired or otherwise not feeling good — something that has happened way too often over the last year or so — I tend to read romances. I prefer Georgette Heyer, but have read nearly everything she wrote, most of them several times (why, oh why, Georgette, didn’t you write about three hundred more good stories?!?), and there aren’t that many other good, clean romance writers. So I often end up reading books with explicit sex scenes. Thank you, Amazon, for KU, because I don’t feel the least bit bad about dumping a book only a few pages into it! Like Cedar said, I don’t like stories that are all about the sex and the story is patently only there as a thin background. I don’t like characters who jump each other in inappropriate situations — seriously, when they are being shot at? Or otherwise in imminent danger of their lives? I don’t like stories where both main characters seem to be nothing but sex objects. And page after page after page (try whole chapters) describing one sex scene in intimate detail?!? Sheesh. Rarely is the story good enough to just skip over all that and pick it up again in the next chapter. So against the virtual wall it goes.

  10. Steamy sex books have their place but I’m long past the point in my life where I’d pick up a book for that reason, they just don’t engage my intellect. For me the sexiest relationship going in the books I read now are Tyler and Dana from John Ringo’s Troy Rising and they are not even anything but friends.

  11. I initially misread the title as “The Erroneous Zone”, which could actually be an interesting point about how writing sex scenes can completely fail for some readers (or most readers, depending on how badly it’s written).

    1. I think it was Amanda who posted a link a year or so ago to a side-splittingly funny essay by a romance writer on horrible sex scenes. Not “badly written” but the kind that seem so popular. The kind that when you really think about them… eeeeearrrrrgh! No, run away run away! Doing the deed while on horseback was one example. (Danger of falling off moving horse, hygiene, chafeing, getting scraped off horse by branches…)

      1. CSI:Las Vegas did an episode that looked like a very weird murder that turned out to be merely (!) mildly weird sex. The tourist suspect was cleared of all charges, but now she gets to explain this to her husband…

    2. This actually reminded me of a paperback version of the book with the similar title, circa late 1970s. The guy on the cover had an expression you’d associate more with a flasher, or a younger version of Laugh-In’s Dirty Old Man.

  12. Yeah, I’m not interested in reading it, and I’m not interested in writing it.
    Close the door, fade to black. That sex happened might be important to the story, but the description almost never is.

  13. This week I got a chance to watch Hitchcock’s North by Northwest on the big screen and holy cow, the innuendos! Anyone who says there’s no sex in old movies isn’t paying attention.

    1. Non-Hitchcock example: Stanley Donen’s CHARADE. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn at their most innuendo-tastic.

      (It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized why spouses cheered up so much in old movies when their partner made a point of saying they would “wait up” for them.)

  14. Oh yes, all this. I’ve stopped reading Urban Fantasy altogether (except for Harry Dresden) or similar offerings because I’m sick of being expected to fall for the guy just because he’s on screen and Hawt.

    I’ve heard somewhere that men fall in love with their eyes and women fall in love with their ears. Hawt isn’t even on my list of what gets my heart beating (it doesn’t hurt, but it’s just not that important.)

  15. RE: Porn

    Description of mechanics without engaging what excites the reader is dull, and might as well be a description of a HAAS CNC mill in operation. “Then the tool changer replaces the 1/16 drill with a 1/8 two flute ball nose mill.”

    I think think of a couple of courses of study for someone who wants to write porn. a) Find someone you trust to recommend quality porn, and really take it apart. b) Find a source of a lot of porn, and research until you can tell good from bad. But beware of tastes differing.

    1. RE: Quality Porn. This would require looking at older eras back when there were such things as a plot in the movie. If one can overcome the bad background music I would be thinking 70’s and 80’s for such beasts. And no sequels.

  16. Thanks for the sales update. I’m glad it seems to have worked, and I’ll definitely think about that when I conclude a series early next year.

  17. I’ve just recently re-read Bujold’s The Sharing Knife (4 books). Romance and sex aplenty, but it’s bits such as, “I let my eyes enjoy the sights” (not a quote, but close). Or even “We could share a room. For frugality.” Hints, much more than directions…

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