Monday, July 07, 2008

How much is too much?

***Warning! This post probably skirts that NSFW line. You know I endeavor to keep it clean even when talking dirty here on the blog (I am a lady, after all :-) ), but you might not want over-the-shoulder peepers here.***

So here's what I was doing today. Which is actually Thursday, but I'll be posting this Monday, as I've already committed to answering questions on Friday.

Or rather, here's what I was NOT doing.

I certainly was NOT Googling myself to hunt for new reviews and mentions of Personal Demons online. But, in the course of not doing that, I did happen to find a small discussion of a book which may or may not have been mine, which discussed a sex scene I may or may not have written in that book. But I probably didn't. This post has nothing to do with that.

And as long as I'm disclaimer-ing, here's a real one: as always, readers have a right to whatever opinion they have. This is NOT an argument with a reader in any way shape or form. It's just an interesting thought that those comments about the sex scene which may or may not have been the one I wrote in Personal Demons inspired. It's not a rebuttal or anything of that sort; it's not really about the comment, but about how I write scenes, and the comment made me think. That's all.

So what was said was, that although the male half of this couple in this unnamed book may have performed an act of oral gratification on the female half of the couple, the idea of her reciprocating was not apparently even thought of.

And I found this so interesting, because it really strikes at the heart, I think, of where that scene went and was intended to go, and what the difference is, for me, between scenes in books like that and scenes in my erotic romances.

Of course I thought of having the act reciprocated--or, um, I would have, if it had been my scene and my book we're discussing. But I decided not to. Because I felt (or I would have blah blah blah) that carrying the scene into that would have taken it too far. Would have extended the scene too much, would have felt a little paint-by-numbers for me.

It seems to me there's a line that can be crossed, where a scene stretches too far and becomes sex for its own sake rather than sex to deepen or illustrate or consummate a relationship. And to put it bluntly, often blow jobs are that line.

It's not my female characters won't give head. They do, all the time. ***SPOILER! SPOILER! Highlight to read mild spoiler!*** .In fact, in the second book--although it's not described, for one reason because if I went into detail every time Greyson and Megan have sex in that book it would be practically nothing else, they're like bunnies, those two; for the other I'll explain below--it is very clearly and definitely implied that such an event occurs. When Megan walks up to Greyson, fondles him, then opens his zipper and sinks to her knees on the floor in front of him I think it's pretty clear not only what she's about to do, but that she enjoys doing it and really wants to do it. And, as I say below, I really wanted to show her as the sexual aggressor, her as the one who is in control, which is especially important when you have an Alpha-type like Greyson. I didn't want Megan to be always the passive recipient of sexual advances, which is one reason why I really like that scene. (The other is I just think it's a really cute, sexy little scene. You'll see.)***END SPOILER*** I mean, these are modern women. There's no "I'm not putting that thing in my mouth, are you kidding? Eeew!" here.

But. First of all, blow jobs are difficult to describe. Well, okay, no, they're not. But unless you're in the male's POV, they're difficult to describe for any length of time without just starting to inch over the line between hot sex scene and graphic sex scene. They're a great way to illustrate the power the heroine has over the hero, but again, I felt I'd already demonstrated that amply.

I've written countless blow job scenes. Almost every one of them was initiated by the woman, and was (I think) a hot scene. But in this book, in this scene, I thought it would be too much. I didn't think it would actually show the reader anything about the characters and how they interact, to be honest. So we find out his hands are gentle in her hair or something? We already know that; he's been gentle the whole time, why would he be different here? A sex scene shouldn't be just about the sex. It should be about the relationship. In a relationship there's really no need to do everything every time, because you know there's time for that later. So why make sure you've fit everything into one scene?

Then there's the pacing issue, and the paint-by-numbers one. Sex scenes can start to feel a little Tab-A-into-Slot-B if you're going by a very particular set series of events. They kiss. Her clothes come off. His clothes come off. He goes down on her. She goes down on him. Etc. etc. etc. It starts to feel like little kids taking turns, which doesn't appeal to me. I like to mix it up. Heh heh.

And really, doesn't a blow job mean more when she initiates it on her own, not because she feels like she has to reciprocate? And vice versa? I like how having her initiate, out of the blue, shows the female as the sexual aggressor. I like how it shows she has confidence in the relationship, or confidence in her ability to please and be pleased in return, or whatever else I'm having it show. I want it to show something; I don't want it to get lost in a "Well, he did it to her, so..." scenario.

We also have the "I have to HAVE you" element. I know men love blow jobs. DUH. But isn't it really, really hot to think he's so desperate to actually have sex that the thought of encouraging oral pleasures just isn't there? Let's be honest. This is a fantasy. It may be a very realistic fantasy, sure. But the hero in a romance, or the love interest in a non-romance, is not going to grab the heroine's head and force it below his waist (well, okay, he might, because that can be hot as shit. I wrote a scene where the hero orders the heroine to her knees--in a low, sexy whisper, no less--and I thought that was pretty damn hot, and still do. But that's a different type of scene, and the overall feeling and mood of a sex scene is important and shouldn't be messed around with unless it's for a specific purpose.) We're not talking about that type of scene. We're talking about the type of scene where the hero is essentially begging the heroine to let him into her pants, and a man in that position is, IMO, likely to want to move on to the main event.

Of course, it could be argued that if he was that desperate, why would he go down on her? Well, because I said so, that's why. :-) No, really, in a way it is. It's my scene and my characters. Some men may not do that, or might not do that in that situation, or whatever. But come on now, we're all well aware that women do not climax as easily as men do from straight intercourse (geez, that sentence could have come from a freaking textbook, huh?) So while a blow job might be simply icing on the cake (was that a bad image to use?) for a man, oral sex could very well be the only way a woman gets to finish. What gentleman could allow her to go without, especially the first time? Even if he's dead confident he can get her there a second time, it's still only polite, isn't it?

But really, what it comes down to for me, what it came down to, is that adding the blow job lengthens the scene and makes it more graphic than it needs to be. Those of you who've read both my December books and PD saw--and quite a few commented on--how different those scenes were in tone, language, and action. Because I felt that difference was necessary and important.

It's not that I think the addition of a blow job automatically makes a scene porn, or too erotic, or whatever. I'm not saying that at all. It's simply--and if I wasn't so wordy I would have just said this and it could have been the whole post--that not every scene calls for every sexual act. Very few of my erotic books follow that he-does-so-she-does formula; to be honest, it bothers me a bit when they do. It feels frankly disruptive. It messes with the smooth flow of the action, IMO, or at least it would have in that scene and in quite a few of my December scenes too. There's no need to prove some point by making sure everybody gets a little mouth action in every scene; sex shouldn't need to be egalitarian.

I'm sure there will be some who disagree with me, and I'm really looking forward to that discussion. :-) But like I said, that comment really did make the think about why I didn't put that in there, why I considered and discarded the idea. I didn't really put a lot of thought into it at the time, although I do have a very clear memory of considering having her reciprocate at the moment and deciding not to, because she was laying down (or lying? I'm never sure) and he was looming over her and I thought it would be sort of clumsy and graceless to fit that in, and it just wasn't where I wanted to go.

So...what do you guys think?

You know what? Maybe I'll do my summer series on writing sex scenes. That sounds really fun, actually. Hmm.


Bernita said...

Um...I think your reasoning is sound.
I do wish the terms, like "blow job" were not so...what's the word?...crude? sexless? lacking in sensuality?

December/Stacia said...

I know! It's actually that term that led me to put the warnings on this post. I guess I could have said "fellatio" but that just sounds kind of silly, to me anyway. There really aren't any good terms for either, are there? Overblown or crude seem to be our only options.

BernardL said...

If we are speaking of Personal Demons, D, I don't think it matters. It was a good story, not a platform for sexual endeavors. I thought it had a perfectly adequate amount of sexual content, which did not detract from the story.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks, Bernard! That's what I thought too. It didn't need to get too acrobatic; it's not that sort of story.

Seeley deBorn said...

Well, I gotta say that head (not sexy either is it?) never crossed my mind in that scene. I agree with bernardl that you balanced the sexual element in there nicely with the other elements.

I can't actually recall a book I've read recently with a fellatio (yup, silly word) scene. I wonder if it's because erotic romance is aimed at women, some of whom I know fantasize about never having to do it. I have a scene with it, heroine initiated, that does explore an emotional side of things, but it is difficult to deal with the mechanics and not feel like I'm writing a letter to Penthouse Forum.

And yet, writing the inverse of that equation doesn't seem to generate the same mechanical feel.


laughingwolf said...

still awaiting delivery of pd [at least two more weeks, i'm told], so no comment on the book

but i agree with your observation, and bernita and seeley's...

if it's YOUR book/scene, it has to be written YOUR way, to hell with the armchair quarterbacks, trying to second guess your motives, they can write their own books/scenes!

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, if the tone is meant to be romantic or relationship focused then I think that "generally" coitus is better. At least at the beginning of a relationship. After it's clear that the two people are emotionally linked then oral sex could add a very hot element, from either male or female, or both, sides. But if the first sexual act is oral sex then that seems a bit more pornoriphic to me.

December/Stacia said...

And that's another important element, Seeley; the fact is, that even women who enjoy doing it don't necessarily want to read about it all the time. As much as I love and adore male readers and men in general, I write my sex scenes with women in mind.

Laughingwolf, two week? Where did you order it from (if you don't mind my asking)? Sheesh!
Lol like I said, it's really, sincerely not my intent here to rake a reader over the coals, not at all. It just got me thinking about why I write these scenes the way I do, and how I decide what does and does not go into them.

Right, Charles. It just felt like too much for their first time; it didn't need to be a full-blown acrobatic orgy.

writtenwyrdd said...

I will read this as opposed to skimming quickly when I am home from work, lol. However, I agree, the bj term is very crude. I rather like the term "hummer" however. And referencing the car in the same sentence? Priceless! Been dying to try doing so at some point, especially since I find the H's all so pointlessly overcompensatory, yannow?

Robyn said...

A sex scene shouldn't be just about the sex. It should be about the relationship.

And this is why I have such a crush on you. There are as many reasons to have sex as there are ways to have sex. I love the By God I Will Have Her factor, where it's desperate and frantic; when it's gentle and lovely and more about affection than gratification; and when one partner simply says, "Lay back. This one's about you," even though you know he/she is enjoying the power as much as the giving. I find them all hot.

And Personal Demons was made of awesome.

kirsten saell said...

So while a blow job might be simply icing on the cake (was that a bad image to use?)

Nah. Bad image would have been "cream on the cake".

sex shouldn't need to be egalitarian.

Hee, you are my hero, D.

You know what? Maybe I'll do my summer series on writing sex scenes. That sounds really fun, actually. Hmm.

Please do!

I prefer the term head to blow job or hummer (which are both silly, IMO), but for my writing they're all anachronistic, so I'm kinda stuck with fellatio.

And yeah, it's no good to just stick the act in there out of a sense of obligation or reader expectation. I will go so far as to say my m/m couple do that a great deal more than my m/f couples, for obvious reasons of course, but also because the dynamics of the relationship feel very different.

Nothing gets me madder than to be reading a romance (or even an erotic romance) only to discover every sex scene is basically the same. How does that reflect a changing relationship?

And I think Seeley's point about the mechanics of BJs is bang-on. That much *ahem* piston action can't help but be evocative of internal combustion engines.

laughingwolf said...

ordered from, weeks ago, dee... maybe slow cuz they have other books with yours?

lol @ kirsten, so right on the piston metaphor ;)

and yes, most sex scenes are about relationships... other than rape, but then, that's about power

Kerry Allen said...

I'm got stuck at the notion that all things sexual are expected to be 100% reciprocal every time. What's the reasoning--"I'll do this only with the understanding that you're going to do that to pay me back"? That's selfishness masquerading as generosity, and I don't think that's sexy at all, in fiction or in real life.

Oddly enough, discussions like that make me think more about real-life relationships than the book being discussed (couldn't be PD, which was all win), and the whole sexual scorekeeping concept is dysfunctional enough to make me feel sorry for anyone involved in that relationship.

Who knew lip service was a competitive event?

December/Stacia said...

Hee, Written, "hummer" is so insoucient. I like it too, but I've never actually used it. Hmm. (heh heh.)

Right, Robyn! Variety is the spice of life. I like the idea of a couple having stuff left to explore, you know?
And thanks. :-)

*spittake* Cream on the cake!
Yeah, that bugs me too! Why does everything have to be done every time? Doesn't that get boring? It's like choreography or something, you know? What's the fun in that, really. And yeah, we should be able to see things change, see them become more comfortable and more daring both.
Piston. Tee hee.

Wow, laughingwolf, yeah, I guess so. I'm sorry! And yes, rape...ugh. Never written it. Written an attempted and have plans for another which I really hope I get to write (not in the Demons books)...but I haven't written actual rape and I don't ever want to.

Lol on "competitive event", Kerry. And yeah, I've had a couple of comments on livejournal about that exact thing--if you're keeping track like that, what does it say about the relationship? If you feel like you HAVE to reciprocate, what does that say about the relationship? And isn't a man who gives because he expects to get in return just being a selfish prick? I certainly don't do certain things in order to have them done to me, and I would hope my husband doesn't either (blush). I would never dream of writing a hero in a book who was a selfish lover. That's not heroic.

laughingwolf said...

thx, but not your fault... i think i have a total of four in that order...

and yeah, can't blame you for shying away from the violence, though there COULD come a time it has to be written about, but not in fiction

i have a few friends who were brutalized in that way

they have yet to recover fully, 11 and 20 years ago... nor will they, ever :(

Anonymous said...

LOL I agree, almost exactly. Oral for women is like foreplay. Oral for men may be all they get and end the sex "scene". Perhaps women aren't really that reluctant because of other reasons so much as because they know if they go there that'll be that and then there's a chance that it'll be them and their trusty bullet all alone. Sure not all men are like that (aren't we lucky when we get one who isn't?) but the nature of the beasts (male vs female) means that what is a turn on for one is an end point for another. That must be maneuvered if both are feeling particularly greedy so that both are left satisfied. In a sex scene both should be satisfied, where as in real life the chances of there being a round two (even if the next day or later) are larger. In fiction there might be a break up, or monsters capturing the couple... you know... THE PLOT so unless the point is to tease the reader (versus character/relationship building) then a sex scene should be satisfying, which doesn't always mean everyone gets a turn. (This isn't the Anita Blake ride after all.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, I have to agree with that LKH comment. The annoying thing about her sex to plot ratio isn't the amount of sex and partners she has, but the incessant dialog about everyone getting their share-- of love, of orgasm, of what they want, of control... Bleh. The scorecard factor kills the sense of joy that should be there. Also the "I have sex a lot and I like it but I really have a legitimate reason because people will die if I don't" angle is old old old...

December, your sexy scenes are about it being fun. Kudos on that one!

sylvia said...

OK, maybe I'm being a bit difficult here but it would not occur to me that receiving oral pleasure from my partner (or date!) means that I must reciprocate on the spot. In fact, I'd be absolutely upset at that implication from a partner or a friend.

NSFW: Last night he performed oral sex on me. Some time in the next week, I'm sure there'll be some moment when I decide I'd rather be on my knees. But I don't get the turn-taking thing so much.

(Note: I didn't read the spoiler. Some random person received my amazon order so you'll be pleased to find out you might have accidentally landed a new reader. It's taken me this long to get the confusion sorted out and the order re-shipped)

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Laughingwolf, I know it's not my fault, but I still feel bad.

And yeah...tbh, I think one of the things that keeps me from writing such a scene is the knowledge (thankfully not firsthand) of what a HUGE emotional/physical impact that has. My planned attempted is going to be earth-shattering enough. I really don't have a strong desire to explore all the ins and outs like that, and anything less would be shortchanging. Maybe that's wrong of me but it's just not a place I want to go. I do have a character who was seriously abused as a child but that's in the past; it's been dealt with as much as it can be.

Right Michele! I hate to call it a pointless activity, because it's not, but there is a lack of immediacy with it at times.

And yeah, you and Written both--the constant discussion about fairness and who's getting what and what's owed to whom is exhausting. Again, it's just not something I want to write about.

Sex scenes should be fun! At least in some way. Heh heh.

Lol, Sylvia, yay for new readers! And yeah, I don't think I've ever thought, after that particular act has been performed, that I better get down there and pay him back for it. Sure, there have been occasions where I wanted to, but in general, honestly, if I'm going down there I'm probably staying until the end.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, and the spoiler relates to the second Demons book. So you can come back and read it after the first if you want. :-) It really is only a very minor spoiler.

laughingwolf said...

thx dee, just proves how good your soul really is :)

pacatrue said...

It seems there are a few ways to take it. 1) The reader is really into a certain type of sex, i.e., he believes in reciprocation, loves scenes with bjs, etc. That isn't a terribly useful reaction to you as a writer. You can't cater to everyone's preconceived notions of hot sex. But, 2) the person thought the heroine was not displaying real, believable sexual desire for the hero; that the scene wasn't mutual, but instead just about her. With the #2 option, there's a more legit emotional reaction to the scene which just manifested in a "more bjs" comment.