Sex in M/M Romance: Are Readers Turned Off by Boring Sex?

Let me start off by saying that I’m not trying to tell authors how to write. I’m not a writer and I don’t aspire to be one, at least not fiction. I love the M/M sub genre and want it and the authors to succeed and I support both on this site. The reason for this post is that, as a reader, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the direction in which M/M seems to be going – there is so much sex in the books whose sole purpose seems to be to fatten the word count. Most of these sex scenes do not “further the plot”, and I’m so jaded with all the superfluous, boring sex that I skip much of it. Other readers have been very vocal, for similar reasons. You can check out some of their comments which were much more eloquently expressed in the recent poll – How Do You Like Your M/M Erotic Romance?

So, why are we being fed a surfeit of poorly written, repetitive, unimaginative sex in M/M books? There’s so much of it now in M/M “romances” that these books are getting dangerously close to the realm of PWP (porn without plot), and sometimes the only way to distinguish one from the other is the HEA/HFN endings. Should there not be a balance between the sex, a plot, character development, and a bit of prose and intelligent dialogue? Am I expecting too much? Where is the “romance” in M/M romance? Is it only the HEA ending?

I recognize that many writers are faced with a dilemma when they are told by some editors and publishers that they have to include a high percentage of sex in their M/M books or they won’t get published. Here’s a comment from one writer in another poll:

We are REQUIRED to have a certain percentage of words that are sex, REQUIRED to start sex within a certain number of pages, and REQUIRED to keep it active and hot throughout the book.

That gave me pause. Imagine being told that you have to write a certain percentage of sex. That’s enough to put you off having actual sex. The reason many of us like sex is because we get to do it when we want to, not when it’s a chore, and that’s  probably why so many of the sex scenes in M/M romances are dull and lifeless, because it seems that some authors do not enjoy writing the scenes and a large percentage of them don’t flow naturally from the story. Many authors follow the same formula:

1, 2, 3 fingers, the lube, the condom, penetration, and after a minute of vigorous thrusting, the ejaculation. The condom is thrown in the garbage (thank the gods most writers no longer tie them off), 🙁 one partner takes a warm cloth to wipe the other off and then they fall asleep.

There doesn’t seem to be any originality! Don’t writers realize how many times we read this same paint-by-numbers scene over and over and over and over again? I hate to say this, but most of the sex scenes in these books that are supposed to titillate, are identical to those in other M/M books which are just as dull and boring. It takes skill to write a sex scene that will raise anyone’s body temperature as well as entertain, but a lot of writers are uncomfortable writing about sex and it shows. Let’s not even talk about oral sex!

A few authors who write wonderful romances with sex scenes that I  read again and again are Laura Baumbach – A Bit of Rough, Mexican Heat; Jordan Castillo Price – PsyCop, Channeling Morpheus, and Sweet Oblivion series, or any of her books for that matter; J.L. Langley – any of her books but especially My Fair Captain and The Englor Affair; M.L. Rhodes – any of her books but especially The Draegan Lords series; Chris Owen – Bareback, 9-1-1; Sean Michael whose book Secrets, Skin and Leather gives me goose bumps whenever I re-read it.  It’s not the sex I can’t stand, but the unimaginative sex. The authors mentioned above are examples of writers that, in my opinion, can include a lot of sex in their books and make it hot, and that’s because their sex scenes are both well written AND advance the plot. Another author who does this very well is Ally Blue – Easy, Forgotten Song, Catching a Buzz. There are many other authors whose books I love who are excellent writers and their sex scenes are not just an excuse for two horny guys jumping into the sack (not that there’s anything wrong with that occasionally, just for fun). That’s another aspect of the sex that I miss – the FUN.

How can writers make sex so boring? It’s almost sacrilegious!! ‘Sex’ and ‘boring’ should not even be in the same sentence!

I asked Jordan Castillo Price this question when I interviewed her a couple of days ago:

How do you write such steamy sex scenes that are exciting and never boring? You are probably one of 3 authors who can write an entire book filled with sex scene after sex scene and I would enjoy the book and not want to throw it against a wall. Is there an art to writing sex so that the reader is not bored to tears?

Her response –

The sex scene is always about something else, and you can never come right out and say what that something else is, because the characters shouldn’t be aware of the subtext. But the “something else” should inform the actions of all the characters. I’ve eavesdropped on some readers saying that they skim the sex scenes in books where the scenes are too numerous, and I think if there was something else going on internally while the characters were doing the deed, there would be no way they could possibly skip ahead.

That is called “advancing the plot.” Perhaps some of the newer M/M authors might want to take a page out of Jordan’s playbook.

Here’s a quote from an author a couple of days ago who commented on Jordan’s interview:

I’ve taken to skimming sex scenes in some books for that very reason. If the house is on fire the characters should not be ripping their clothes off until they are outside the house and away from the fire! …..

Some writers do seem to be following an obscure formula that says there must be a graphic sex scene every x thousand words no matter what else might be happening with the plot. I’m greedy and want plot to happen during sex, not just as something to link the sex scenes.

Or maybe I’m just missing the subtle clues of plot and character development hidden in the thrusting and grunting.

If authors as well as readers skim the sex in M/M books, and make fun of the lack of plot and character development, there must be a reason. I skim all but 30% of the content in some books because that’s the percentage that contains an actual story. Maybe some of the writers need to rethink what they’re feeding us. Or perhaps most of them don’t care, and it doesn’t matter if we read the books as long as we buy them. The statistics indicate that sales of these books are through the roof, but has anyone ever checked how many of them are DNF? About 45% of the M/M books that I buy are DNF because the stories were not worth my time to finish them. On the flip side there are many excellent books which are “comfort reads” for me, and that’s because they are actually stories with all the elements we expect. One M/M novel that I absolutely loved had one full-out sex scene but the touching, the kissing, the emotion, the intimacy between the characters, the dating, and all the “moments” reminded me that there’s something called “romance” in M/M romances. That book is The One That Got Away by Madeleine Urban and Rhianne Aile. This is partly what I said in my review of this book

The One That Got Away is like a bottle of vintage wine that only gets better as it ages in a cool place. The slow pace and build up to Trace’s seduction and deflowering, the emotions between the two characters which is seldom done well in erotic books, and the authors’ timing were all impeccable, as the love affair unfolded. There is humour, friendship, and lots of fun between the pages of the book, with Trace and David exploring this new and scary world in which they find themselves as they navigate unchartered waters including their new closeness, intimacy, the first date, and even jealousy.

If you want a love story between two terrific characters that will grab you by the heart and never let go I recommend that you buy The One That Got Away, a really sweet love story where each protagonist courts the other….. This is not a book with sex on every page, au contraire, and you may want the romance to move faster, but you have to trust Urban and Aile to time the pacing just right so that you experience the flow of this exquisite story.

Those editors and publishers who demand a high percentage of sex in M/M books are not doing their authors a favour. Are they aware that many of us don’t even read the sex scenes in M/M because they are so boring? (Except John) 🙂 When I asked on another poll a long time ago if there was room for sweet romances in M/M, one publisher said that these books are supposed to be erotic, therefore they must contain a high percentage of sex. I ‘get’ that erotic books must contain sex and I love to read erotic books, when there’s also a plot. Most M/M readers want a story, not PWP. If some publishers are indeed demanding that their authors pump up their books with sex to bloat the word count, they are doing a disservice to this sub genre.

I’ve been reading gay romances before they were called M/M, over a decade or two ago, when authors gave us stories with two male protagonists who fell in love, had problems that they resolved (or not), and ultimately they either stayed together or decided to seek the open road. If you’ve read as many of these books and for as long as I have, understandably much of the sex in the books is no longer fresh and new but rehashed. Any theme gets stale after reading only 50 books of the same old same old, and I have read over two thousand of these male/male romances over the years  (okay I don’t have much of a life other than books and sports and men :)), so maybe that’s why I want a story I can enjoy to go along with the sex. I love sex when it’s hot, just like everyone else, but that’s not what I’m reading in M/M lately where the sex is like doing the dishes or having cold cereal for breakfast instead of a beautiful omelette or crepes with strawberries.

I’m the first to admit that tastes vary and everyone has their own views about the amount and quality of sex in M/M romances, and some of you will disagree with this post but remember, there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica. So, how do you like your sex in M/M romances, readers? Authors, you are readers too – how do you like your M/M sex? Many authors have said the amount of sex should depend on the story and there should be no limit. But what about the quality of the sex in these books? What if there’s no story and it’s mostly sex?

Have your say. You can bitch slap me now. 🙂

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

80 comments

  • Well, to be fair, the descriptions were fine, it was the setup I found unconvincing. But I have JCP now, so all is well.

    Reply
    • I think I said that JCP was one of my favourite writers so if you’ve found her books you are in a good place. There’s a post on the site today about a sale on the first two books in Jordan’s PsyCop series – 2 for 1 – so if you haven’t bought or read them as yet, you’re in for a treat. Happy reading. 🙂

      BTW there are many authors who everyone else loves that I, too, can’t figure out why. 🙂 It’s simply a matter of taste.

      Reply
  • I read “The One that Got Away” on your recommendation, and was sorely disappointed. The characters were unconvincing and the plot nonexistent. I was bored to tears by the end.

    On the other hand, I also read “Hemavore” by Jordan Castillo Price and had a jolly good time with it. It is a suspenseful mystery/romance where the two main characters happened to be male and gay. To be honest, I could’ve done with just a little more sex in it, but it was such an enjoyable read that I don’t mind. I ordered three more of her books.

    Reply
    • Sqyd

      I’m very surprised that you were disappointed by The One That Got Away. You’re the first reader who has ever expressed disappointment with this book. I guess this proves that tastes in books run the gamut, because this is this writing partnership’s best selling book.

      At least I’m happy that you enjoyed Jordan’s books which are totally different. Perhaps your expectations of TOTGA were for a different type of book rather than a sweet romance. In my review I said that there was no conflict but I loved the book because of other reasons.

      Reply
  • Coming in late! Though I’ve enjoyed reading the comments I’ve been a tad distracted. Anyway, I think for me it’s not a question of how much sex. There could be loads and I might still find the story riveting, it’s what I call interchangeable sex scenes that bother me. The ones where in emotional terms at least you could shuffle them around into different parts of the book and nobody would notice.

    Okay, I don’t want people overthinking during sex, but I do still want to see something of their inner lives and what they think this particular bit of sex means for the development of their relationship. If it’s a more established relationship then okay, it’s more routine, but if it’s a new relationship as is the case in most romance stories, they can be learning something new about each other the first few times.

    Reply
    • Hi JFM

      >>Okay, I don’t want people overthinking during sex, but I do still want to see something of their inner lives and what they think this particular bit of sex means for the development of their relationship.<< Maybe a few authors need to re-think what they are feeding us. As I said in the post, I have no problem with a lot of sex in these books. I read a few M/M/M romances that I love, but when the sex is meaningless and just shoehorned into the story for no purpose other than to bloat the word count, I don't finish the book unless I have to review it . And to top it off, most of the sex is paint by numbers, which makes it boring.

      Reply
  • Sex for the sake of sex novels really annoy me. I’ve deleted SO many of them from my Reader.

    If the novel doesn’t have an actual plot or interesting, endearing characters I don’t usually finish it. Long, uninspired sex scenes have me turning and flipping pages in speed read mode.

    But I always try to give the novel a chance. For instance, I started a novel (I actually forgot I’d had on my Reader) earlier this week. It was “A Matter of Necessity” by author McKinney. I was somewhat dismayed to open it to page one and, bam, sex. But I was pleasantly surprised when, once I got to chapter 2, it turned out to be a really fun, wonderful read with characters I fell in love with. The dialogue was quite clever and the secondary characters a hoot. Anyone know if there was ever a sequel to “A Matter of Necessity” ?

    Pages and pages of sex just doesn’t work for me at all. I need a story, a plot, characterization, i.e. Josh Lanyon, Tere Michaels, Sean Kennedy, Libby Drew, Katie Allen.

    Reply
    • Hi MaDonna

      >>But I always try to give the novel a chance. For instance, I started a novel (I actually forgot I’d had on my Reader) earlier this week. It was “A Matter of Necessity” by author McKinney. I was somewhat dismayed to open it to page one and, bam, sex. But I was pleasantly surprised when, once I got to chapter 2, it turned out to be a really fun, wonderful read with characters I fell in love with.<< All of the authors mentioned by you are my favourites. I'm glad you brought up A Matter of Necessity by T.D. McKinney because I absolutely loved that book and rated it 5 stars exactly 2 years ago. I sent the author an email today asking her whether she intends to revisit the characters any time soon. If you email me in a few days I should have an answer for you. 🙂 UPDATE T.D. McKinney responded to my email. Apparently she has a plot outline for a sequel but it might be a while before she can write it because she has three stories ahead of it.

      Reply
  • Wow, that was a LOT of comments! I’m afraid I kind of skimmed…

    Wave, thanks for an interesting and informative post. I am honored to be included in the list of authors whose sex scenes make the grade for you, so thanks for that as well 😀

    I have to admit, I tend to be kind of brutal toward any form of entertainment — books included — that I find lacking. That said, however, I usually save my worst scorn for plot problems *g* I’ve skipped many, many dull sex scenes, though (not lately because I haven’t had time to READ anything lately), and it does irritate me if I end up skipping a significant portion of the book that way. Sex should always, always forward the plot in some way, usually through character development. FSM knows I try to do that, though I’m sure I’ve failed at times. We all do. Nobody’s perfect, after all 🙂

    I’ve never had a publisher ask me to add more sex. Well, okay, once, but that was for a story that I already knew was supposed to be super-sexy — one of those special calls — so that really shouldn’t count. I’ve been very lucky to work with publishers and editors who allow me to write the story the way it needs to be written, and let the sex happen — or not — when, where, and how it should.

    BTW, Kleenex sticks to a guy’s dick when he wipes off with it after sex. Little pieces of Kleenex all over. Just sayin’ O_O
    (and I’ve never used little Kleenex bits in a story and DAMN but now I wanna and it’s ALL WAVE’S FAULT! heh)

    Reply
    • >>BTW, Kleenex sticks to a guy’s dick when he wipes off with it after sex. Little pieces of Kleenex all over. Just sayin’ O_O<<

      One of many reasons why I like historical novels – handkerchiefs are far less likely to fall apart, lol.

      Reply
    • Hi Ally

      >>Wow, that was a LOT of comments! I’m afraid I kind of skimmed… < < WHAT? You thought you were reading a M/M book with lots of sex? Lucky for you this is free or you would have wasted your money. 🙂 >>I am honored to be included in the list of authors whose sex scenes make the grade for you, so thanks for that as well 😀 < < I'm sure many guys must have told you (when you were dating) that having sex with you made the grade. LOL >>I’ve been very lucky to work with publishers and editors who allow me to write the story the way it needs to be written, and let the sex happen — or not — when, where, and how it should.< < Ally, you have been very lucky to work with editors at Samhain which is one of the better publishers, but many authors complain about being requested to shoehorn sex into their books in scenes where it's totally unnecessary. Of course there are many sleazy publishers who basically tell new authors to either get with the program or get out. On the other hand, if enough authors tell them to f**k off maybe a few of them will see the light. >>BTW, Kleenex sticks to a guy’s dick when he wipes off with it after sex. Little pieces of Kleenex all over. Just sayin’ O_O
      (and I’ve never used little Kleenex bits in a story and DAMN but now I wanna and it’s ALL WAVE’S FAULT! heh)<< Remember what I said in the post about sex not being fun anymore in these books? Well I dare you to include this scene in your next book. I dare you!!!

      Reply
      • You are ON! I’m doing it! Keep your eyeballs peeled for that speshul Kleenex moment, bay-bee! Ha!
        (not in the next two that are coming out though because they are already written and edited… but the one after THOSE!)

        Reply
        • I’ve created a monster. I always knew that these Friday posts were educational. 🙂

          I can’t wait .. please don’t make me wait too long.

          I keep telling M/M authors that we need more FUN when the guys are having sex and you’re going to prove my point by giving them a demonstration. !! LOL

          Reply
  • I’m with you — sex that doesn’t pull its weight in the story, that is, doesn’t advance the plot, or show character, or develop the relationship, or something bores me and I skim over it. If I do more skimming than reading, I start thinking grumbly thoughts about most of the money I spent on the book was wasted. :/

    Some writers definitely do pack as much sex as they can into their books. There might be an excellent plot, well-rounded and sympathetic characters, and great writing, but of chapter after chapter is pointless sex, that’s annoying IMO. I think of these books as twenty pounds of sex in a five pound plot.

    We are REQUIRED to have a certain percentage of words that are sex, REQUIRED to start sex within a certain number of pages, and REQUIRED to keep it active and hot throughout the book.

    I’ve heard that too, from multiple writers about multiple publishers. All I can say is that I’ll probably never submit anything to those publishers. [shrug] That’s not the kind of story I enjoy reading, and that’s not the kind of story I write. I mean, sure, if you’re writing a short story with even one sex scene in it, there’s going to be a lot of sex in the story proportionally. But once you hit novella and novel length, pointless sex for the sake of sex really stands out. Mind you, there’s a market for it — plenty of authors write this kind of book over and over and they keep selling gangbusters, so obviously there’s a good sized audience that likes that sort of thing. Good for them, and I’m glad there are books for them to read. I just wish there were some way of differentiating between the pointless-sex books and the books where all the sex (however little or much there is) pulls its weight, so the people who like twenty pounds of sex in a five pound plot can find what they want, and those of us who don’t care for that kind of book can avoid them.

    This is one of the reasons I like my publisher. Torquere doesn’t require any particular amount of sex in a book, or any sex at all. I include sex when the story requires it, period, and if that means 1.5 sex scenes in a 72K word novel, that’s what it means and that’s fine with my publisher. The standard wisdom around this end of the business is that HOT!HOT!MOREHOT!!! is what sells best, and looking at the top-selling publishers, that seems to be true. For myself, though, I’m willing to accept the likelihood of less money if it means I’m free to write my books however I like, and include sex only when I myself think it fits and is necessary.

    And when I run into other authors who write the same way, they become favorites of mine as a reader.

    Angie

    PS — one of my own favorite examples of how to get lots of sex, and a lot of it kinky, into a story while still making sure that every bit of it serves the story and pulls its weight is Laney Cairo’s Bad Case of Loving You. The first few times I read it, I came out with the impression that there wasn’t much sex in it. It was only after these kinds of discussions started a few years ago that I went back and read it again while paying attention to how much sex is actually in it, and realized that it’s quite a lot. That’s how I prefer a book with a lot of sex in it.

    Reply
    • Hi Angie
      Thanks for commenting

      >>Some writers definitely do pack as much sex as they can into their books. There might be an excellent plot, well-rounded and sympathetic characters, and great writing, but of chapter after chapter is pointless sex, that’s annoying IMO. I think of these books as twenty pounds of sex in a five pound plot.< < I think I'll use your last sentence - I love it. Why can't authors see this if the readers can? >>I just wish there were some way of differentiating between the pointless-sex books and the books where all the sex (however little or much there is) pulls its weight, so the people who like twenty pounds of sex in a five pound plot can find what they want, and those of us who don’t care for that kind of book can avoid them. < < Unfortunately that's what reviewers do - we tell readers which books to avoid - and authors get pissed at us when we say there's no plot only sex in their books. They complain to their publishers who get mad as well, but someone has to tell the truth. >>The standard wisdom around this end of the business is that HOT!HOT!MOREHOT!!! is what sells best, and looking at the top-selling publishers, that seems to be true.< < You're right. However I'm usually looking to buy a book with a plot and the last time I checked sex wasn't considered "plot". There are many authors whose books I avoid because I know exactly what they are selling and I'm not buying. Funny you should mention Laney Cairo's Bad Case of Loving You because Alexi just reviewed it on the site. Here's the link in case you want to read what she had to say 🙂 http://www.gaybook.reviews/?p=25449

      Reply
      • [goes to read]

        [comes back]

        Alexi has excellent taste. 🙂 I had to comment over there too, and rave a bit with like-minded folks.

        Feel free to use the “twenty pounds of sex in a five pound plot” line; I’d love it to become common. [innocent humming]

        Sex can be plot; it depends how the writer uses it. Unfortunately a lot of writers either haven’t figured that out, haven’t figured out how to manage it, or just don’t care. And considering how well some of the SEX!SEX!SEX!!! authors sell, I have to admit they don’t have much incentive to change how they do things.

        And seriously, so long as there are readers who like that sort of thing, I’m fine with writers writing that sort of thing and publishers publishing it. As I said above, I just wish there were some way of marking which books those are so that the people who like them can find them, and the people who don’t like them can avoid them. Kind of like Dreamspinner has their Timeless Dreams line for their wallpaper historicals, so people who like them know where to find them and people who don’t can avoid them. (Which I think is an awesome idea, and one they haven’t been given nearly enough credit for.) Why can’t publishers have a special “Moar Sexxorz!!” line or designation, so the sexxorz fans know where to spend their money and the rest of us can spend ours elsewhere? [sigh] I’d spend the same amount; I’d just choose differently. Heck, I might spend more if I didn’t have to be so cautious.

        Angie

        Reply

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