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.
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.