Friday, May 14, 2010

Sexual Skimmers

Brace yourselves, boys and girls. I feel a rant coming on. I'm up in arms today about sex scenes in romance novels.

Over at Dear Author, there is a poll/post/conversation/whatever about whether or not you, as a reader, skim over or skip the sex scenes in the novels you read. The comment thread is particularly interesting as various viewpoints weigh in. I, personally, am of the non-skimming variety - but I don't skim anything when I read. (Even Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. I read every single word and I freaking hated that book.)

I think if the author is doing his or her job, you shouldn't want to skim. Ever. When you are tempted to skim, isn't it a sign that something is unnecessary? That it doesn't work or it isn't a part of the whole? Sex scenes, like any scene in the book, shouldn't be gratuitous. They should advance the plot, develop the characters, and be a sign of conflict or resolution in action. That is what makes them satisfying to me - not the mechanics.

If you automatically skim through a certain type of scene, assuming it will be no more than Tab A into Slot B then don't you run the risk of missing some poignant, character-altering moment the author has embedded into that moment? Some authors do fall into formula, but others brings something vibrant & fresh to each new scene - sexual or otherwise. My God, the idea of skipping a Jenny Crusie sex scene is a pure horror to me! She's so exquisitely brilliant! Skipping? Never! (See also: Mary Hughes, Emma Holly, Eloisa James, etc...)

And you know what makes no sense to me at all? If so many people are skimming the sex scenes, then why are hotter books selling better? Publishers aren't seeking out heat just because they have a secret kink they're trying to foist on the reading public. Those books sell. So are people buying the hot & erotic romance novels only to skim virtuously over the steamy passages? Or is it a case of buying the magazine for the articles and denying any knowledge of the dirty pictures in the fold out section?

Well, if that's the case, I fully admit to looking at the centerfolds. (Sorry, gran.) I like a beautiful written turn of phrase that captures the feeling of a moment - whether it is sexual, comedic, romantic or all of the above. And you know what drives me up-the-freaking-wall? When I get two hundred pages of steamy, detailed build-up only to have the bedroom door slammed in my face.

A deftly-handled fade away is lovely (see: Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James), but if you are describing the sizzley, tingley, oh-baby-I-need-you tension in the car on the drive home in one paragraph and the first sentence of the next paragraph is "The sex was good" then you will hear my scream of "What in the freaking hell was that?" resounding throughout the house. You threw me out of the story. There is leaving it to the reader's imagination (good) and then there is evicting your reader from the premises at a crucial moment (bad).

A writer's goal should be to keep the reader inside the story, engaged and making him or herself at home. But sex just complicates everything, it seems. Will the fact of a sex scene make a reader skim? Or will the jarring lack of one toss the reader out just as readily?

You tell me. Do you skim sex scenes? Do you (gasp!) skip mine? Are you more inclined to be enraged by an unsatisfying climax (har) or by a heavy preponderance (yeah, I said it preponderance!) of unnecessary sex scenes?

My take? To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, Let there be sex! But please, let it be well-written.


Anonymous said...

I read every sex scene the more the better and very detailed;)

Carly said...

Heading over to see what's going on at DA, but my first reaction is "yeah, of course I do." I'm an impatient reader, so by the point in the book where there's horizontal time, I'm usually skimming anyway. If I'm happy with the book and plot as a whole, I'll go back and read the entire thing slowly. I can't abide flipping to the last page without the "getting there" journey ... but I also can't abide the "getting there" journey if the ending doesn't satisfy. All that to say, I had to read The Sexorcist twice ;-)

Vivant said...

I don't skim books, I savor them. The emotional journey the author takes me on is an essential part of the pleasure of a book, for me.

Well-written sex scenes are as important a part of developing a believeable relationship between the hero and heroine as any other developmental scenes between them. And when the sex scenes are REALLY well done - as with the authors you cited, Vivi - they help build and reinforce my understanding (and enjoyment) of the characters.

Not surprisingly, I am much more likely to be aggravated by an anticlimactic sex scene - big, slow buildup to a sudden drop off like "the sex was good" - than by an overabundance of sex scenes.

Vivi Andrews said...

Carly, you make an interesting point about being an impatient reader. Now that you mention the skimming then going back to reread the good ones, I realize my mom does the same thing, though she calls it "reading ahead". Maybe skimming has less to do with certain types of scenes and more with our various patience levels as readers? Interesting thought. And I'm delighted you liked The Sexorcist enough to read it twice. :)

desi & Vivant - Sounds like your reading habits are similar to mine. Savor ever word! :)

Natasha A. said...

I don't skim sex scenes - unless they don't do it for me (but there isn't much that doesn't) or if they are poorly written.
I do skim books though. Especially if I am so into the book and I MUST FIND OUT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN!! OMG!