Realism vs Romance by Ethan Stone

frotting1Ethan Stone loves to ask your opinions about controversial topics in M/M romance. This one is REALLY touchy, although it’s humorous. I know what I think but he’s more interested in  YOUR opinion. 🙂

Today I’m talking about realism versus romance regarding sex in books. I want to clarify up front this isn’t about the m/m genre getting it wrong because the het romance books do the same thing. And it isn’t about authors getting it wrong. We know sex in real life isn’t always like it is in the books. And it certainly isn’t about male writers doing it better than women writers.

Sex in books is always hard and rough fucking or sweet, romantic love making. The men spew like geysers and hardly need anytime at all to go at it again and again. It’s not that guys can never have orgasms close together, but most can’t do it every time. My ex-boyfriend was a rare exception, even at 46 he could still shoot multiple times in a night and do it again the next night and the next night. Unfortunately that’s about the only good thing I can say about him.

In real life there are things that occur that are not romantic or sexy at all. Anal intercourse can be messy. Forrest Gump said it best ‘Shit happens.’ And it can happen before, during and after sex. Is this something readers want in books? Personally, it’s not something I want but there are others who might like the more realistic approach.

In Dance with Me by Heidi Cullinan one of the MC’s, Laurie, thinks about the messiness of anal sex including lube leaking out of his ass when his partner pulls out.

“This was the part he had resented, he remembered now. The mess. The slight squickiness of sex, the sometimes serious squickiness. The awkward part where everyone cleaned up, where he’d stand and find himself involuntarily expelling the air that had gone in with his partner’s cock and then, inevitably, had to come back out. His first time with anal sex had seen him padding across the plush carpet of another dancer’s bedroom floor, face flaming as he farted his way to the toilet. This was the messy part of sex, and it was, he admitted, the reason he’d worked to avoid it.”

The mention of Laurie farting his way to the toilet grossed me out and took me out of the story but others raved about the realism of it. A reviewer at another well known review site liked it because it was “real, it’s true, and it’s a far cry from the romanticized, fantasy anal sex in m/m romance we usually see.” The author said it was a nod to a friend who had that happen. “It always resonated with me, the realism of it. For whatever reason I was all over that for that book,” she said.

Does that mean readers want to read what happens if a man isn’t totally clean when he gets poked. I don’t think so, but you never know.

frotting4When it comes to oral sex I like it when the characters aren’t perfect at it. Because that is realistic. I’ve had guys who are brand new to the gay scene and are awesome at giving head and there are guys who have been having gay sex for years and years who can’t do it well at all. It’s all about the teeth, guys, watch the teeth.

But there are other things that can go wrong during oral sex. What happens when the blower zigs and the blowee zags. Years ago I had a friend who showed up with a black eye one time. She was hesitant to tell me what happened but I got it out of her. She was giving her boyfriend a blow job and he was going so fast that when he pulled back and then pushed forward he poked her in the eye.

Another friend was sucking his boyfriend and using a dildo on his ass when the boyfriend fell asleep. What a downer that would be.

Fuckus Interruptus is something that has happened to me a lot in real life, but is something you don’t see too often in m/m. When I was married our kids seemed to know when we were going at it because that was when they needed something. Even nowadays it’s right when I’m in the middle of my private time when my son decides he needs to tell me something very important—like he needs batteries for the remote control.

In het romantic novels the women never have yeast infections, wear granny underwear or have random rogue hairs near their nipples.

Real life sex involves spilled lube and leg cramps. In real life men have trouble coming or even staying hard. For me nerves play a huge part in sex whether it’s with a long time boyfriend or a one night stand.

How often are these things seen in novels? Is this something readers want more of or not? Enquiring minds want to know.


  • I too like my romance fantasy with a dash or two of realism. Perhaps that’s because I was raised on het romance and the semen fairy has been in that genre for years magically making semen vanish no matter how often or hard are hero has spread it around. I’m okay if the semen fairy makes appearances in m/m as well. I read for the relationship and romance as much as the sex and if my guys are going to roll over and snuggle and say sweet words to each other than I’m good with skipping the potty break to fart out semen and lube stuff. I read Dance with Me as well and that scene was fine and made sense where it was put but I can see how the same thing in a different way would pull me away from the closeness and relationship.

    Yes sex can be squish and icky and I always liked Patrick’s tirade on it in Amy Lane’s Clear Water. On the reality, I need to know everything’s clean if any rimming is going on and it doesn’t take more than a few words for the author to let me know. Otherwise I’m yanked from the story and looking for mouthwash. I’ve heard that anal sex is difficult if the bottom has already gotten off so if an author pulls that in too I’m happy. But I don’t throw the book out if he/she doesn’t.

    • You mentioned another of my peeves. Having the bottom get off BEFORE getting poked. Seriously not a good idea. It’s much better to wait even if the bottom explodes three seconds after being penetrated and that is something that happens as well.

      • Guys

        There is an excellent post about this by Damon Suede written over a year ago about why this is SO not a bright idea. I wish more female M/M authors would read it and STOP doing this. Here’s a link to Damon’s post:

  • I like a dash of realism in my romance as well. Note, a dash, not the whole bottle of hot sauce. It helps to have something to carry me over the bridge into fictional believablity and not a “rolling my eyes” situation. 🙄

    As others have noted, having the “perfect sex” is rather boring. A bit of angst over the condoms falling behind the headboard, suddenly find the bottle of lube is empty, cleaning up your partner can be an intimate move after the rumpus, admitting that deep throating just ain’t gonna happen (my peeve – perfect throat control…riiigghht) and for gods sake, give someone some little love handles! :grumble:

    Fun topic today, thanks! :wave:

    • Yeah, the perfect throat control can be one of my peeves too. Especially if the suckee suffers from BCS (Big Cock Syndrome). Very hung guys have trouble finding guys who can deep throat what God gave them. How I do know this? That is my secret. :evilgrin:

    • Kris, have you read ‘A Lie I Can Live With’ by Eden Winters? Otis, one of the main characters, has some love handles. He’s also geeky. It’s a fabulous short story.

  • I don’t mind some realism. Like the “fart” scene described above, if it helps me get in the mindset of the character or demonstrates something about the relationship between MCs, I can appreciate it. As long as it isn’t repetitive or gratuitous. What I enjoy most is when a story is both unique and enjoyable, and a little realism can really make a scene more memorable. On the other hand, I get really tired of reading books that use the same old tropes constantly. Now, every time I read about a character throwing the washcloth on the floor after “clean up,” I want to yell like my mother, “Stop leaving your wet towels on the floor! This isn’t a locker room!” :grumble: But maybe this is just my own issue. 😕

    • I think that throwing the wash cloth on the floor could be a guy thing. After sex I just want to go to sleep and don’t care where the cloth ends up. That can be taken care of later.

  • I think there’s a place for a limited bit of realism here and there – I liked that Cullinan story very much – but ultimately I don’t read or write kitchen sink drama. I read and write romance and what I’m looking for is to be emotionally transported by the story. Personally, I’m most transported when the characters share an intense physical (though not only physical) connection. A little bit of realism can enhance that, but it can’t all be warts-and-all.

    The flip side of portraying the warts side of sex, is portraying the reality of what it is to be swept away by sex. That’s what I’m looking for. I read plenty of scenes in which the protags go through sex like an air hostess doing the in-flight safety demonstration. Or as Lady M put it, very amusingly, “one two three fingers”. I’m uninterested in seeing protags executing a perfect facsimile complete with immacuate lube and condom application and textbook pre-penetration-stretching. I want to see the real free-for-all of it. Out the plane we go, plummeting to earth, tugging on our ripcords and hoping for the best.

    • I know I’ve fallen victim to the “one, two, three fingers” trap in my writing, even though it hardly ever happens during my real life encounters. On the other hand slamming right in isn’t always realistic either.

  • I like some realism. I don’t want the guys coming out “grim” as we call it, unless it’s a plot point. Farts and lengthy bathroom visits afterward are unnecessary.

    But I like interruptus. My boys seldom have anyone other than the phone to do so. But even that has been known to end relationships. One guy’s ex-lover answered the phone during sex, and replied “oh, nothing much, what are you doing?” while our hero was doing his manly best. There’s a reason he’s ex.

    (Just wrote it for my het: heroine gets to screaming while kilted hero is down on her. landlady barges in to rescue her, can only see the kilt, and chews her out about being a lesbian)

  • Imo, little dashes of realism are good. Nods to the messiness of it can be fun or sexy. As Woody Allen said: “Sex is only dirty if you do it right.” However, you don’t wanna go overboard.

  • Fuckus Interruptus, LOL! I like a little realism in contemporary romance. A bit of awkwardness is great, as is not having everything perfect (but it still has to be HOT). I’m much more forgiving in paranormal, I guess because I’m already suspending my disbelief. But please – nothing too gross! Don’t tell me if shit happens.

    Thanks for the great (and funny) post.

  • “have random rogue hairs near their nipples.” women have rogue chest hair? 😯

    Great post!

    I think an awkward sex scene can add quite a bit of charm to a romance story. I’m thinking of Adrien and Jake’s first time, when nothing seemed to go right and Jake says something like “you’ve done this before, right?”. Love that scene.

    So some realism is fine with me, throw in some leg cramps, some spilled lube, some bad oral but please hold the farting and anal leakage. 😎

  • Realism vs. Idealism in romance… Does having the perfect world of romance raise our expectation to a point where real life just can’t compete?

    I guess but if I wanted full-on realism I will turn on the news, look at my own trauma dramas or read a non-fiction. I read/write romance for the lovely fantasy that everything is going to work out in the end. I read/write in this genre because I want to have the beauty in the world highlighted and embellished for me.

    I do think writers need to be conscious of the dangers in reinforcing stereotypes or giving unrealistic expectations. I think a little dose of realism is a good thing but remember this is a genre that guarantees a HEA. I think it is one of the places writers can stretch with the readers to find how far we all want to go down the road to realism. Hugs, Z.

    • Hi Z- I’ve had the same thoughts myself about romance raising expectations. When I was in a relationship I wondered why it couldn’t be like the ones in romance. I know how messy real life is, that’s part of why I like the escapism of romance.

      • I ask the same question of these pictures of beautiful men… how could any normal male live up to those images…
        We build these perfectly beautiful flawless characters so does this mean average men go unappreciated? But do we want to read about average men/women?
        But some of us are looking to escape average with these romances…

        • So true. I fight with that myself IRL. Would I love for a hot, handsome stud to fall for me? Yeah! But how important should looks be? Unfortunately in the gay community looks play a far more important factor than they should.
          As for the average man/woman in romances I don’t think most readers would go for that on a regular basis. Do you want to read about a chubby, balding guy with arthritis who has trouble reaching orgasm during sex?

          • which is why the realism and romance paths have difficulty meeting… but i still think we as writers can stretch with the readers and we as readers can keep an open mind allowing characters out of the box of perfection we like to keep them in.
            interesting double edged sword: over-the- top,not realistic, too perfect…. takes the reader out of the story with icky details best glossed over, characters cardboard and too perfect…
            i am coming to the conclusion i need to be as true as i can to the voices in my head while keep all these thoughts of realism, stereotyping, crying, etc in the background as reality checks.

  • This is a het example, but there’s a scene in Jennifer Crusie’s novel Faking It, the first time the main couple has sex, and they totally screw it up and it’s not fun for either of them—and I thought there was something really charming and realistic about that. I read that book a number of years ago, and it was the first time I’d run into a sex scene that wasn’t all waves crashing and fireworks, you know?

    Although, generally, I am all for magical fantasy sex when I’m reading romance novels. Sex is messy and gross sometimes, and I know that, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it on the page. It strikes me as being more romantic if both parties fall into each other’s arms at the end instead of going, “Uh, I guess we should change the sheets?” While, granted, physics-defining feats of bedroom acrobatics will pull me out of a scene, so will harsh realism. (When I’m writing, I tend to gloss over these things, frankly.)

    But, still, Romancelandia is a magical place where everyone gets it right the first time, condoms never break or kill erections (unless for plot-related purposes), orgasms are frequent and plentiful and never faked, bodily fluids clean themselves up, etc. It’s fantasy. I’m okay with that. 😀

    • I love Faking It for that same reason! Jennifer Crusie is great at introducing just that light touch of realism with not everything going perfectly (I’m pretty sure that in Welcome to Temptation there’s an awful lot of tension-building from interruptions, though I’ve not read the book for a while…)

      I can’t think off the top of my head any equivalent m/m examples, but I’m sure I’ve read some… and as for the topic in general, I used to get pretty narked about how in books sex always seemed to be perfect and wonderful and soul-searchingly romantic, and not just silly and fun and mostly filled with noises that make you want to giggle. I felt I’d been lied to when I was younger!

    • Thanks for your opinion, Kate. I tend to be with you. I like the romantic side of things without the realism. Well, a little bit of realism is nice. But I live in reality and see plenty of in my day job. When I read I wanted love and sweetness.


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