Friday, November 8, 2013

Real Sex in Erotic Romance: A Guest Post by Cara McKenna




Please join me in welcoming RNFF's first romance author guest blogger: Cara McKenna, a smart woman who writes smart erotic romance


I do my best to write realistic sex in an escapist genre.

The sex in Romancelandia is pretty glorious, I have to say. Typically everyone gets an orgasm or three, heretofore virgins respond ardently, the requisite oversized romance-wangs are easily accommodated sans lube even in moments of the most spontaneous (and vigorous) boning, and the resulting fluids are mysterious absorbed into the ether, allowing everyone to fall into a clean and blissful post-coitus sleep. It's a fairly rare denizen of Romancelandia who shuffles lock-thighed to the bathroom to tidy up, lest she drip the spoils of her conquest on the bedroom carpet.

This is all awesome. It's fiction, after all, so why not make sex as perfect as possible? It'd save us all a lot of time, not needing to launder our long-suffering sex towels, or explain to our swarthy new lovers how exactly they might succeed in making us come.

Weirdly, perhaps, I love the more unglamorous, not-so-dignified, and sometimes inconvenient aspects of sex, so I put them on the page. My characters own lube. My heroines' clitorises are stimulated during intercourse. Lacy thongs are generally absent. Pubic hair is generally present. Foreskins occasionally make an appearance. Bladders must be emptied and bad breath mitigated before morning action can break out. Even carefully-planned three-ways get awkward and sometimes implode. Jaws grow weary during epic blow jobs and gag reflexes are triggered. Petite heroines get punched in their cervixes by overly-endowed heroes. Intercourse precedes oral on occasion, and so the taste of latex and condom lube is endured. There's lots of rug burn and slapping skin, and yes, those post-coital shuffles to the bathroom happen, or else nearby articles of jettisoned clothing become the casualties of clean-up.

When I was new to writing romance and got to the point where I noticed myself slipping these details in, I wondered if I'd gross my readers out, wither their excitement with all those granny panties and the rubbery aftertaste and the surprise of bottoming-out. But the delightful thing is, I've been told again and again by readers that they love those moments, the real stuff. It seems to strengthen their connection to the characters, seeing them living the less-glamorous realities.

I don't believe it's my duty to present realistic sex or anything like that. I do get clucky mother-hen fretful when imagining the younger generations (girls and boys alike) cobbling their sexual educations together exclusively through the lessons imparted by commercial pornography—coming away from those viewings expecting that hairless junk and hands-free female orgasms and insta-anal are exclusively what actual sex looks like, in the wild. That those things are expected, or required. I'm distressed, yes, but not so much that my tendency to write what I see as realistic sex crosses over into personal-mission territory. I write imperfect, messy, sometimes awkward sex because I think it's actually pretty fucking sexy.

I love the intimacy of a hero asking a heroine, "What do you need?" Or if you like it a bit rougher, the thrill of a pushy hero demanding this information. Or the confidence of a heroine coming out and naming those things without a prompt. What does she need to reach orgasm, and can he make that happen for her? Clitoral stimulation, a certain speed or position, to feel or to be treated a certain way, to be relaxed, to be ever so slightly frightened. I love a guy who knows that his possession of a hard cock is only going to take him so far, and who cares enough to ask for instructions, and is man enough to take them (and a sturdy enough flower that if the heroine needs to do these things for herself, his petals will not drop off in a fit of sad-penis feels). That man isn't threatened by the knowledge that his wang is not a magic meat wand whose mere attendance in the festivities is sufficient to get a woman off. I love that man!

We all have idiosyncracies in bed—the highly personal particulars we need to have done or imagine or to hear or to say, to get there—and so should fictional characters. There are greedy areas of the body that require spoiling, and sometimes cagey ones that prefer to be left alone. The hero may need to be told about his cock, or a heroine to hear her lover's moans to get over the edge. Some might require perfect silence and concentration. Then there are the things we need to feel—pretty, big, overpowered, strong, dirty, safe, coerced, used, worshipped, angry, exposed, cherished, known. Needs that may reflect our out-of-bed personas, or confuse them, or outright contradict them. The things we crave the most but may also be the most afraid to come out and name.

So much of arousal and sex is wrapped up in power—the having of it, the taking of it, the surrendering of it. Conflict doesn't exit stage-right the second genitals get hauled out. Sex ushers in an entirely new landscape to navigate, hopefully one that enriches (or further complicates) every other dynamic the characters have been struggling with, before they dropped their pants. I think perhaps that's why I get a touch bored when romance sex is too perfect. It can buff the sharp edges right off a story, when actually it's barbs you need, to keep your attention snagged and your nerves fraying. Your readerly chair should be just slightly too hard, to keep you awake and just a little worried about the characters.

And I think showing imperfect, realistic sex can be powerful and effective for another reason. When a reader detects aspects of their own sexual reality in a work of fiction, it becomes easier to connect with the characters, and to imprint on them for a few hundred pages. The intimacy becomes something that one is not simply reading about, but recognizing. It brings the characters alive in a way that no artful purple description of the most crashy-wave Calgon-take-me-away orgasm ever could. Plus, as I wrote someplace, in some book or other, who masturbates over the memory of an orgasm? Very few of us. No matter how amazing the release might've been, it's the build-up we crave and revisit. The tension. And there's no tension to perfection. Perfect is pleasant. But awkward is hot.

Now do excuse me—I've got a scene to write where the hero bravely tries to fuck his way through a charley horse without the heroine noticing. And it's going to be sweet.

Photo credits:
Lube lineup: Wikipedia
Sad penis: Someecards







Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. A little dark, a little funny, always emotional. She also writes red-hot romance under the name Meg Maguire. She loves writing sexy, character-driven stories about strong-willed men and women who keep each other on their toes, and bring each other to their knees. Cara's latest book is Unbound.


14 comments:

  1. Cara, I was delighted to see this link on Twitter this morning, since I just happened to read your Meg McGuire story Thank You for Riding last night after nabbing a copy at RWA and I truly enjoyed it. I love realistic sex in romance novels, I think for many of the same reasons you've described. And a romance is more profound to me when people who already have reasons not to be together also have awkward, self-conscious sex and still find a way to get together. Perhaps because as most of us know, that's the real world that love has to grow and endure in. This is that week in my day job when I get to the sex-ed thing with teenagers, and talk about clitorises and the ways in which porn isn't realistic, and how sex is both one of the most mundane and transcendent things we do--which is what makes it so fascinating to read and write about! I love authors who do that well, and I'm looking forward to After Hours and shuffling it up in the TBR.

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  2. You teach sex ed?!?! All the karma ever upon you! We had the usual awkward nineties film strips when I was in grade school, then the old condom-on-a-banana lessons in high school, all sandwiched in between learning about the dangers of drugs and seeming certainty of drinking leading to deadly car crashes. More than a lot of schools offered, true, though my mom and Judy Blume and yes, romance novels, did a better job of convincing me why sex might be AWESOME in addition to possibly ruining my future and marring my genitals.

    Molly O'Keefe *just* wrote an amazing post for Smart Bitches (yesterday, I think) about accidental sexual self-education, to the tune of stumbling across her brother's porno-mag stash when she was young, and promptly making off with the lot of it (and subsequently getting busted by her folks.) I feel sort of sorry for the younger generations, that they probably won't experiences those intoxicating, accidental, creepy-thrilling stumbles into the world of adult sexuality. Magazines—how analog! They'll probably see more hardcore shit online by age twelve than I'd conceived of by the time I was in college. It's a strange time in our society, when swiping a clandestine issue of Hustler sounds downright quaint.

    But keep up the important work! You're fighting such a worthy fight.

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  3. Realistic touches do makes us connect regardless of the genre. Thanks for the post. Sofia

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  4. "Some might require perfect silence and concentration." Yes!!!! Shhhhh, some of us are trying to concentrate.

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  5. Loved this post.
    Perfect intercourse between possessive he-men and pliant she-women requires far too much suspension of disbelief for me. It's like reading a car chase scene where the hero manages to shoot out the tires of the fleeing villain's car while driving over a pot holed road through a winding forest. Nope!

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  6. This is the best post I've ever read on sex in romance! My friends and I have been discussing this a lot recently. I don't need the fantasy, I want a real connection. Sex isn't always pretty and perfect. It can be messy and silly and FUN. I think one of my favorite aspects of Unbound (OMG Rob Rush!) was that Rob and Merry felt like real people sharing a real connection.

    On a side note: unrealistic sex in books sets up unrealistic expectations for men, as well.

    Thank you!

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  7. All so true! Excellent post! I much prefer more realistic hero and heroines having more realistic sex.

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  8. Cara! Great blog post to your point about the charming nostalgia of a porn mag - have you read this? Quick side note - I find REMARKABLE the sidebar pictures on an article about what porn does to kids - the huge number of paparazzi photos of women in bikinis. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Molly, for this pointer. Wonder if any PBS stations will be showing the documentary it discusses here in the states?

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  9. Dear Miss McKenna, I have a tendency to skip most of the sex scenes in the romances I read but I think you may prove to be an exception! Off to buy a book of yours! Loved this so much. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. The first thing I thought after finishing Unbound (besides wanting to read it again immediately) was I'd much rather see this as a move (rather than 50SoG) and it should have Gerard Butler as Rob.

    A border collie should be his dog for the Highlands. But an incontinent border
    collie would insulting to B.C.'s the world over.

    Oh yea,maybe Rachel Ward as Merry.

    Hey, a gal can dream!

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