Okay, so here's the thing: I have nothing against sex in books. NOTHING. If it's well written, in character, and fits the tone of the book, it's perfect! Take a book series like J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood: that series SCREAMS for the sexual content it carries.
TELL ME THOSE DON'T INVITE SEXUAL CONTENT!
It fits all of my criteria: well-written, in character, and fits the tone; Ward's vamps are VERY sexual beings--there's no Victorian sublimation with them! I'd venture to say that the sex in her books is largely their raison d'etre (I know I sort of skimmed the subplots, everything about those baby-powder smelling dudes--I can't even remember what they're called). They're erotica-lite, right? Sex happens early. often, and carries the story. And that's absolutely fine.
Then there are romance novels, chick lit, and popular fiction. THOSE are where handling of sex is more of a tightrope walk--sex may be important, but it isn't usually the primary driver for the narrative. As a writer, I can't even begin to express the headaches it can cause, and the temptation to really overdo it to appeal to those that are looking for a rush of blood... somewhere (lol). It can be an ego stroke to have people rave about a particular scene... but is that ALL you want them to be talking about? Is that ALL you want them to take away from your narrative?
Here's a personal example: In the first drafts of Cocktails and Dreams, there was a lot of sex. A LOT. It's fun to write, people like it, and it gets you word count for the day (Writers: you think about this, don't lie). Here's a scene that was ultimately cut from the final manuscript:
Nicholas would never get tired of showering with Jena. Watching the last of the shampoo slip from the ends of her hair as she tipped her head back under the spray of water and ran her hands from her hairline to the dangling, silken ends, her lips slightly parted, made his mind go blank and his heart speed up alarmingly.
He tried to remind himself that someday soon this would be old hat, and he’d barely notice the way she turned so gracefully to nab her bath pouf. He probably wouldn’t even register the low humming she always did when she was content, and he definitely wouldn’t notice the soft smell of her, which he had finally identified as lavender.
Jena looked up suddenly and caught Nick’s open-mouthed stare, and her soft laugh coupled with the delighted look in her eyes instantly drew his smile. What a crock of shit. There would never be a time that he didn’t notice everything about her.
“See something you like, Nicholas?” She turned, chuckling, to rinse the scrubby, and Nick reached out to trail a finger lightly from the base of her skull to the end of her tailbone.
“Definitely,” he whispered. Nicholas stepped behind her. “Interested?”
Jena turned in Nick’s arms, touching his chest lightly with her fingertips as she stretched on tiptoe to kiss him lingeringly. “Always. I always want you, Nicholas.” The plain truth evident in her voice made Nick catch his breath.
“How do you always do that to me? Make me stupid, I mean?” Nicholas ran his hands slowly over Jena’s back, stroking her soft skin and sleek hair as he inclined his head to kiss her temple. “No one is supposed to be as honest as you are.”
“It’s that verbal filter thing again, I guess. I told you before, you get what you see, Nicholas, the good and the bad.” Jena shrugged, twisting to hang her pouf on the bath caddy before snuggling against him with a sigh. Her hand ghosted across Nicholas’ stomach.
“Nothing bad. All good.” Running his tongue lightly against the pulse in Jena’s throat, Nick felt it speed up.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m pig-headed as hell and I hate to lose.” Her hands gripped Nick’s shoulders.
“Determined. That’s good.” The tip of Jena’s breast was too tempting to resist, so Nick licked it as she arched back slightly, moaning.
“I have a big mouth,” she gasped
Nicholas laughed, arching an eyebrow as he looked up at her. “That’s bad?” He was rewarded with a visible blush that even heated the skin under his tongue.
“You can’t look at me like that and expect me to make any sense, mister.” Jena cupped Nicholas’s face with her hands and pulled it up. “I mean, I can’t keep my mouth shut.”
“Again, that’s bad?”
Jena smiled and shook her head, kissing Nick’s chest. “You’re bad. Here’s something else. I’m lazy.” One hand tugged at the ends of Nicholas’ hair while the other drifted to his hipbone. Nicholas captured her hand and wrapped it around him.
“You’re only lazy about laundry, and I like that. You know I like to imagine you not wearing underwear most of the time, and I know I’m right at least some of the time.”
“Perv.” She laughed softly, her breathing elevating as she looked up from watching her hand and caught Nicholas watching her. “This is probably a bad idea. I just started the pill –-- it’s not enough for a few weeks.”
Nicholas grinned and stuck his hand out from behind the shower curtain, groping for the nearby counter and coming back with a foil packet. “I was sort of hoping…”
Jena shook her head. “I’m so predictable already? Maybe I should say no. Don’t guys like girls who play hard to get?” She playfully pushed at Nick’s chest, and gasped as he kissed her, capturing her tongue and thrusting against her at the same time.
They were both breathing hard when Nicholas finally loosened his hold on Jena and rested his forehead against hers. “Really stupid guys, maybe. I like ‘yes’ to mean yes and ‘no’ to mean no. Which is definitely not encouragement to say no, because I think I’m past that point.”
“Yummy,” she purred. She took the packet out of his hands and quickly tore it open, holding his eyes with hers while she rolled the condom on by touch alone.
‘You’re very good at that, Ms. Baker,” Nicholas murmured, watching his hands as they ran smoothly down her sides. He hooked his thumbs inside her hipbones and rubbed them in the gentle dips there before sliding his hands around to cup her behind and squeeze.
“Lots of practice lately.” Jena looked slightly concerned. “I’m not sure how this will work. I’m a shortie. We can adjourn to the bed again.”
“Uh-uh. Can’t wait that long,” Nicholas murmured, dipping his knees and pulling her closer. He licked her neck, and she moaned, straining up on tiptoe to allow him inside her. No dice.
“Wrap your legs around me,” Nick suggested, lifting her and almost dropping her on her ass when their wet skin just slid apart. Damn, she was slippery!
Jena giggled and clutched his shoulders to keep from falling. “That always did sound a little too ‘romance novel.’.” Her calf slid across Nick’s ass and he staggered, grabbing onto the wall. “One wrong move and we’re going down, sweetheart,” she said
The feeling of her skin sliding against his and the soft pressure of her body against his as she laughed kept Nicholas hard, even as he snickered along with her. He felt the tip of his cock just enter her, and they both gasped. Jena ground down, eyes closed, seeking full penetration…
And Nick’s foot slipped.
With a yell, he reached out and grabbed for any purchase he could find, and stared at his hand stupidly as the towel bar broke away from the wall and they were falling. Jena shrieked with laughter as Nicholas hit the bathroom floor on his back, shower curtain billowing around them, thankfully catching herself before she crushed his balls.
“What the fuck is going on in there?” Conor bellowed as he tried to open the door. Luckily, Nicholas’ head was against the wood, and Conor couldn’t open it more than a fraction of an inch.
“Go away, Conor,” Nick barked, groaning.
Conor knocked again. “Jena? You okay?”
“Fine,” she gasped out between giggles.
Conor hesitated outside and then slapped his hand against the doorjamb, muttering, “Holy God… you people will get your freak on anywhere.” Nicholas heard his door slam and chuckled.
“Two guesses what he’s doing right now.”
Jena slapped at his chest. “Gross. I don’t want to even think about that.”
Reaching up to tangle his hand in the hair at the back of her head, Nicholas brought her face down for a deep, lingering kiss before he whispered in her ear, “Liar. You love to think of me coming for you.”
He laughed breathlessly, hugging her. “We’ll have to work on that shower sex thing.” Nicholas kissed her hair. “I’m not ready to give up yet, even if you are slippery when wet.”
Jena laughed as she got to her feet. “It’s nice not to be the only one whose mouth doesn’t consult their brain before talking.” Pulling Nicholas to his feet, Jena whistled before shutting the water off. “You look pretty good for an old doctor-guy.”
Nick tossed her a towel. “Is that a hint? Am I an old doctor and you the sexy nurse for the party tonight?” Just imagining her with skintight polyester hugging every curve, and the front opened enough to show cleavage, was getting him going.
“Nice try, Nicky.” Jena grinned as Nick grimaced at the name. “You’ll find out in about an hour. And besides, I told you it was a group costume. What are the others?”
Jena snickered and continued to dry her body.
By the time they got out of the bathroom, Conor was gone, leaving a one-word note on the fridge:
It still makes me laugh. And I had a good reason for writing it: I'd noticed a rash of unreasonably easy shower sex in stories I'd been reading, and this was my semi-satirical answer. Nick and Jena had the accident that's coming whenever this is attempted (lol), but everything got to end reasonably well.
When I was finishing the manuscript for publication, though, I had to take a hard look at what my goal was for the story arc. Was it "Adventures in Sex" (there were more scenes in this vein-lol), or did I want the reader to get something different from the story? Ultimately, what I decided was that sex was important to the story--it started with the aftermath of a one-night stand, after all--but it couldn't carry the story. I wanted the reader to ask his or herself whether this relationship had 'legs'; whether it had a chance of succeeding after it started in the middle, so to speak. If I emphasized sex scene after sex scene (all pretty satisfactory, if I do say so myself), that might not occur to the reader. Sex becomes a distraction rather than a plot mover.
SO. What I decided was to de-emphasize the actual sex (though there is plenty implied), and to focus more on what REALLY carries a relationship long term: COMMUNICATION. Anyone who has been married a while will probably agree with me on this.
As I recently told an author for which I edit, unless you're writing erotica, think of sexual description the same way you do food or clothing description: unless it is important to the story, tells us something important about the characters or their relationship, or moves a plot point forward, we don't need the details.
JUST TELL US A GOOD STORY.