Anne Tenino In Defense of Erotic Romance


Sex is such a personal and hot-button issue that there are as many opinions as there are people. In terms of our fictional characters, reader preferences span from subtle to in-your-face graphic. Arguably, those in the M/M community are well-versed and much more comfortable discussing sex in casual conversation, and are probably chuckling a bit at the recent mainstream discovery of erotica, erotic romance, and kink in general.

Here is Anne Tenino to talk about her feelings and how she approaches the sexual aspects within her own books.



Romance as a genre gets a bad rap. It’s “women’s lit” at best and trashy at worst. If you’re a regular romance reader, you know this isn’t true, but as much as we try to inform the literati otherwise, that still seems to be the general message from our culture (who the hell is making this culture anyway? How do I get in on that?). I’m not going to go into the reasons why romance gets a bad rap, except to say that it seems to be partially because of the focus on sex. Not all romances contain sex, but c’mon, we all know that’s where they’re leading, whether it’s on-screen or off.

I write erotic gay romance and I’m very interested in what culture has to say about what I write, because ultimately that’s a reflection on me. If romance by itself is trashy, what does that make romances that put a large focus on sex? Well, apparently, erotic romance is “mommy porn.” Do I need to tell you how completely insulting I find that? I think not. Instead, I’m going to discuss the sex I work into my stories, and why I’m proud of what I write.

Apparently, I write “sugar kink.” In other words, mildly to moderately kinky sex that Joe Average might have with his partner on a particularly wild night. I was both relieved and a bit disappointed when someone informed me of this. I mean, I’m trying to be unique—an original. I’m supposed to write sex scenes no one has ever imagined before, in a way that will leave my readers panting for more (so to speak—and yes, literally).

Eh, maybe it’s an okay thing, actually. As a woman writing about two guys getting it on, it’s reassuring to know the sex scenes I write are recognizable as such. Judging from comments and reviews, at least some people enjoy the way I write sex, and that’s even more reassuring. Not that I only write sex, of course. I write things with identifiable, germane plots that naturally lead to hot times. It just so happens that the said times tend to be just a bit north of the vanilla kind.

Not everything I write has sugar kink in it, but most of my works do. The next novella I have coming out—Love, Hypothetically, second in the Theta Alpha Gamma series after Frat Boy & Toppy—is more vanilla than anything I’ve written, but the characters just didn’t want to get up to any shenanigans. They had way too many other things to get up to, and issues to work out. My first rule of writing sex into a story is that the sex needs to be about the relationship, not the other way around.

James and Matt from 18% Gray, Turning Tricks and Happy Birthday to Me have a loving but decidedly Ds relationship. Brad from Frat Boy & Toppy is happiest when Sebastian’s calling the shots. Nik and Jurgen from Whitetail Rock and The Fix are involved in a constant power exchange (some might say “struggle”) and it makes them sizzle together. As for future works, Paul and Trevor from Love, Hypothetically have a more equal sexual balance, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to write about or (hopefully) read. And Sam and Ian from Too Stupid to Live (the expected release date is January 14, 2013)? That’s the work that my main beta reader loves the most, and yes, it’s largely because of the sexual relationship. But in each of these cases, the emotional connection and personalities of the characters determine the type of sexual relationship they have. I think approaching sex scenes this way is the best way to write them successfully.

Writing a hot, engaging sex scene is difficult, and sometimes seems impossible. Yet, as a writer, I have to find a way. If I don’t manage to, what the hell business do I have writing it at all? I should write romances without sex; focus solely on the emotional relationship. The thing is, I like my romances with sex, so I push myself to write it. It boggles the mind that one of the most varied and profound things that occurs in life takes so much work to describe adequately, but I think that’s exactly why it’s hard to write. Some experiences are so profound that our language simply can’t describe it easily. I put my brain through mental gymnastics and try to describe sensations that seem to defy words. How do you describe that particular effect a person’s touch has on you? That feeling of being tuned in to them, resonating at their frequency? And how do you describe it repeatedly, in multiple works, without saying it the same way all the time? How do you successfully join emotion with the physical using only words?

The problem is, I don’t always know, but I do my best. Not for my readers, but for me. That’s my second rule of writing sex into a book or story—I write what I like, not what I think is going to sell well. Looking back I’m happy with what I’ve produced thus far.

So there it is, boys and girls. I write sex into my work because I want to, and because it’s a challenge. I write it because it enhances the relationships that are at the heart of the stories I tell. I like the way I write it, and I’m proud that I’m able to do it well enough to please myself (most of the time…). As I said earlier, sex is not all my works are about, it just a big, fat, juicy chunk of what I write. I’m a nearly middle-aged heterosexual woman with kids whose most treasured accomplishment in life is sharing the sex lives of gay fictional gay men, and I am serious about doing it well. I own that. I’m happy with that lot. And whoever thinks it’s mommy porn can go find something else to read.

Raised on a steady media diet of Monty Python, classical music and the visual arts, Anne Tenino rocked the mental health world when she was the first patient diagnosed with Compulsive Romantic Disorder. Since that day, Anne has taken on conquering the M/M world through therapeutic writing. Finding out who those guys having sex in her head are and what to do with them has been extremely liberating.

Anne’s husband finds it liberating as well, although in a somewhat different way. Her two daughters are mildly confused by Anne’s need to twist Ken dolls into odd positions. They were raised to be open-minded children, however, and other than occasionally stealing Ken1’s strap-on, they let Mom do her thing without interference.

Wondering what Anne does in her spare time? Mostly she lies on the couch, eats bonbons and shirks housework.

Check out what Anne’s up to now by visiting her site. WEBSITE | DREAMSPINNER | RIPTIDE

Anne is offering up an e-book from her backlist. To enter, comment below about your preference … how important is sex in romance? Where do you fall in the subtle to graphic scale?

Open until Wednesday, August 1st at 11:59 pm (PST).

Anne has added a print book to our GRL Reading Challenge Grand Prize. Remember to post your list for your chance to enter.

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18 thoughts on “Anne Tenino In Defense of Erotic Romance

  1. yganoe July 31, 2012 / 1:17 pm

    Sex may not be the entire relationship but it sure is part of it. Romantic sex is nice but hot and kinky works too.
    Yvette
    yratpatrol@aol.com

  2. Juliana July 31, 2012 / 6:00 pm

    I think sex is very important in romance. A relationship must be based on other things, in like and books, but the sex needs to be compatible. In romance books I think the more explicit the better!
    OceanAkers @ aol.com

  3. louharper July 31, 2012 / 6:17 pm

    As Monty Python said: “I’m opposed to all this sex on television. I mean, I keep falling off.”
    😛 But seriously, something is wrong with society in general when the public gets more worked up about sex than violence.

  4. jonmichaelsen July 31, 2012 / 6:31 pm

    Great posting, Anne. Gay men – especially young gay men – are hypersexed early in developing relationships; they have lots of sex – so, it always amazes me when writers of gay romance or then m/m genre avoid detailng the sex for the most part; lets face it, guys have sex! It’s most often what brings the men together in the first place; love and committment come later.

  5. dsmq July 31, 2012 / 6:33 pm

    I like a book with good sex scenes but it doesn’t have to have any for me to want to read it if I think I’ll enjoy it. It really does have to add to the story though because if it doesn’t it really is boring and repetitive. That being said I have to add that Anne has just the right combination of all that makes a book a great read. I haven’t been disappointed with any of all of her books that are available. She’s an automatic buy because I know I’ll love it.

  6. Evaine July 31, 2012 / 6:36 pm

    How important is sex in romance? I like some sex, at the very least in the romance I read. Unless it’s like, Georgette Heyer, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. But I think that sex is an integral part of the whole romance thing anyway! As for subtle to graphic, I really have no overt preference other than whatever fits the tone of the story the best. Sometimes that’s a few hot kisses and fade to black and sometimes it’s let’s get out the leathers and floggers! 🙂
    evaine13@gmail.com

  7. Gina July 31, 2012 / 6:49 pm

    A romance without sex? Perish the thought. I don’t care who’s shagging who as long as the love is strong and the sex long!

  8. Anne Tenino July 31, 2012 / 6:56 pm

    Wow! People have opinions on sex-who knew? hehehehe

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. I love to get feedback from readers and writers about how sex enhances the story. I agree with all of you—I even like stories with fade-to-black scenes, but I prefer some on screen action. Once I turned 40 I decided I wasn’t keeping my mouth shut about it anymore, either. 😉

    Thank you for the great comments (and compliments) everyone!

  9. Penumbra July 31, 2012 / 9:17 pm

    I don’t mind books that don’t have sex in it if the story is well done. But my preference is that there has to be some UST, some interrupted foreplay and at least some hot full on sex 🙂

    penumbrareads(at)gmail(dot)com

  10. Trix July 31, 2012 / 9:41 pm

    For me, it depends on the story. A lot of the time I like a good tease, but when I read K.A. Mitchell’s COLLISION COURSE I was surprised at how the early and constant sex actually seemed to propel the plot rather than detract from it. And then there’s something like Lynn Lorenz’s THE BEST VACATION THAT NEVER WAS, which alternates the sweetest of romantic scenes with fairly no-nonsense BDSM (in the same relationship!) in a totally organic way. WHITETAIL ROCK is one of my very favorites, by the way…

    vitajex(at)aol(dot)com

  11. pendermackie July 31, 2012 / 10:39 pm

    I like the way you think, Anne. 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed stories that had fade-to-black scenes and stories with very descriptive sex scenes. When I’m reading (and writing) a sex scene what matters most IMO is not which part’s going where (though I do want to know *g*) but what’s going on emotionally for each partner during that sex scene: I want to read about the emotional intimacy as well as the physical.

  12. Anne Tenino July 31, 2012 / 11:48 pm

    Thank you, all. 🙂

    Advancing a story through sex can be difficult, but I think as long as you put in the right amount of emotional development and character development you can do it, and yes, KA Mitchell does it really well. But when I think about my life, ALL of my romantic relationships were deepened through sex—not only that way, of course, but a lot. The guys that didn’t do much for me sort of fizzled away without much of a relationship. I think for men this tends to be more true than not.

  13. Josephine Myles August 1, 2012 / 5:06 am

    You articulated my thoughts about writing love and sex perfectly, Anne. Are you sure we weren’t twins, separated at birth?!

  14. Elin Gregory August 1, 2012 / 5:50 am

    Sex as part of plot development – to make a point about a character or the way a relationship is progressing – is great and much appreciated but I don’t read it for its own sake. As for writing it, it gives me writer’s block like nothing else. I’m worried and anxious while I write sex scenes and I think that shows. UST I can do – the deed I usually FTB. I really wish I could write sex well but I guess some just don’t have the knack.

  15. scarletty24 August 1, 2012 / 9:47 am

    Sex isn’t important at all! I love an amazing sex scene more than most but for me romance is the point. I really don’t fall on the scale I can go from young adult to Sean Michael so in the middle I guess. Look forward to meeting you Anne!

  16. arella3173 August 1, 2012 / 7:30 pm

    Sex isn’t really important or a MUST HAVE in my romance. I just take it as the most delicious frosting on the cake.
    And I don’t really have a scale. I like it all over the map. Vanilla, Hard Core, Dirty, whatever, It’s all good so long as it’s hot. lol…. and of course, If it falls or feels right in the story and the charas personalities.

    Thanks for the contest! =D

    Judi
    arella3173_loveless(at)yahoo(dot)com

  17. mantasticfiction August 2, 2012 / 12:07 pm

    I often think that the chase and build up in books is much sexier than the actual sex. And it all depends on my mood, too. If I’m reading a mystery/romance and the couple keeps stopping to have sex instead of tracking down the bad guy then it almost doesn’t matter how hot the sex is … I just want them to get on with it. But then I could re-read the same book (or a similar book) later and I couldn’t care less who the killer is because I’m more focused on the couple.

    In terms of strictly romance … I think I have different expectations based on where it is placed in the book. Most romances imply a sexual relationship prior to the main characters hooking up, but stay away of either person having sex with someone else on page. While life isn’t a non-stop orgy, I don’t think celibacy prior to meeting your “true-love” is not all that realistic. I’d like to see more healthy, casual, sometimes down-and-dirty, mostly fade-to-black scenes setting up the main character’s romance.

    After that, I think the first time the main couple has sex is pretty important because it’s all new for them, and the pay-off for all the build up. Once that’s burned off then I don’t really need to see them going at it every single time they do unless it is bringing something to the story. New combinations of positioning, technique, and place; or new-found feelings and emotions. Otherwise it just gets repetitive and boring.

    Personally, I appreciate it when an author mixes it all up … great story and great sex.

  18. mantasticfiction August 2, 2012 / 12:09 pm

    Congratulations Elin Gregory … you won an -e-book from Anne Tenino’s backlist. I will be contacting you directly about claiming your prize.

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