I love a good sex scene. I mean, of course I do, right? I write erotic romance! It’s practically in my job description. But I really do feel that there’s nothing like that moment when the characters get together for the first time — the strong emotion, the (expected or unexpected) intimacy, the pleasure and its aftermath.
And yet it occurred to me the other day that my very favorite sex scenes aren’t actually the good ones. They’re the bad ones.
Now, when I say “bad,” I don’t mean “badly written.” I mean “bad sex.” As in, something goes awry. Sometimes horribly awry. My very favorite? The first full sex scene in Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation, a.k.a. “the lamp-throwing scene.” Heroine Sophie and hero Phin are getting it on. And then . . . Sophie gets bored. Bored! And Phin’s all, “What’s up with that?” and she’s like, “No, no, don’t worry about it. It’s . . . you know, it’s not you. Just forget it.” But he’s affronted, and then he’s determined to figure out how to rev her engine, and he ends up breaking two lamps while someone’s coming up the stairs and about to discover them, because he figures out that the threat of getting caught is what gets Sophie off.
It’s hilarious. It’s awesome. And man, is it ever sexy.
Another bad sex scene that I loved is in Molly O’Keefe’s hurry-love-by-molly-okeefe”>Can’t Hurry Love. The book’s hero, Eli, is such an emotionally stunted wreck of man that he’ll only have sex in his truck, or in a woman’s apartment. Never take them home–that’s Eli’s position on sex. And the heroine, Tori, is down with that. The truck sex happens, and it’s fast and furious and superb . . . until it’s over, and Tori kind of goes, “That’s it, huh?” And then she notices that the closed truck is kind of humid and smelly, and the cowboy’s still . . . you know, there. She’s disappointed, because she’d pinned a whole lot of fantasizing on this guy, and now she’s flat on her back in a track, second-guessing herself.
But that’s not it. Because it’s what happens after that that’s amazing. As in the Crusie lamp-throwing scene, the hero twigs to the heroine’s disappointment, and he doesn’t like it. Eli wants to know what went wrong. He insists. He makes Tori tell him what she did want, and she starts reeling off a list of her fantasies.
And then things get really, really steamy.
Similarly, Cecilia Grant’s marvelous A Lady Awakened contains a great deal of bad sex. Scene after scene of cringe-inducing, humiliating sex between a cold, morally superior heroine and the man she’s essentially using as a stud. Martha, the heroine, doesn’t like our hero, Theo. He doesn’t really like her all that much, either, and it’s humiliating for him to not be able to please her in bed, because it’s just about the only thing he thinks he’s any good at.
The marvelous transformation in A Lady Awakened takes place outside the bedroom, as Martha slowly learns to have regard for Theo, and Theo becomes someone worth regarding. And we see their bedroom interactions transform as well, so that when they’re finally in a position to have mutually pleasurable sex, they’ve earned it.
I think, in the end, that this is what I like about the bad sex scene — that it manufactures disappointment, and it requires the characters to deal with it. Perfect, bone-melting intimacy is fun to read about, but I want characters to have to deserve it, and the bad sex scene forces them to. It puts them in a position where if they want intimacy and pleasure, they have to communicate with each other about things that people find difficult to communicate about.
I also feel like bad, awkward sex is just humanizing. Sometimes sex is funny. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. It’s hard not to sympathize with two characters that are trying to fumble their way through a less-than-mystical first time. Especially when someone gets poked in the eye or kneed in the crotch.
I thought perhaps my love of bad sex scenes was idiosyncratic, but then I mentioned it on Twitter the other night, and my Tweet stream exploded with examples. Clearly, it’s not just me — other people love these scenes, too, or at least find them memorable. Here are a few that got mentioned—
- A disaster-prone scene between the hero and heroine of Meljean Brook’s Demon Bound
- Several scenes in Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It
- A “lie still and be quiet” scene in Mary Balogh’s A Precious Jewel (loved and loathed, depending on whom you ask)
- A hilarious shower scene that ends with a wounded hero in Selena Robins’s What a Girl Wants
- A wedding-night disappointment in Karen Stivali’s Meant To Be
- An overexcited hero, a virgin heroine, and a cave in Amanda Quick’s Ravished
- That wonderful, funny, poignant first sex scene in Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd in Shining Armor, in which the hero burns the soles of his feet so badly he can’t walk the next day
- The all-arms-and-elbows first menage in Samantha Hunter’s Two Perfect
- The “that one was all for me” scene in Kalen Hughes’s Lord Sin
- The hapless lasagna three-way in Cara McKenna’s Ruin Me (as well as the “oh, lord, it doesn’t fit” scene later in the book that is kind of mysteriously wonderful)
- The sex-in-a-closet-gone-awry scene in Suz Brockmann’s Unsung Hero
All of these came up in the span of about fifteen minutes. That’s a lot of bad sex!
What about you — do you see any merit in a funny-bad or emotionally difficult sex scene? Do you like to read them? Do you have any favorites that didn’t make it onto the list? Comment by midnight EST on October 31 to tell me what you think, and I’ll choose one random commenter on Thursday, Nov. 1, to win a copy of whichever bad-sex-containing book on the list they find most intriguing.*
*(Winner to be announced here; I’ll also e-mail if you include your e-mail address.)
Book Copy for ROOM AT THE IN, part of the Naughty and Nice Bundle:
Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.
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