She moaned and her breasts heaved as he thrust his throbbing member into her hot, wet channel. When his sword filled her to the hilt, she cried out. Never had she imagined his manhood would so completely fill her. His body hit her womanly bundle of nerves over and over until she finally came apart inside, a white hot explosion that stole her breath and her heart....
What makes a fictional sex scene good? Or bad? Or boring? Or off-putting? Or humorous (intentionally or not!)? The answer is, of course, that what might be effective and compelling in one story might not work at all in another. Different genres make different demands and set different expectations, and how the author has sold the developing relationship determines a lot about what will be believable and effective. So, the very unhelpful answer is: we know a good sex scene when we read it. And what's "good" might vary from reader to reader.
But, certainly there must be some elements that help push a sex scene closer to the "good" end of the spectrum. For me, these elements include:
1) Necessary. A sex scene that is included because it is somehow fundamental to A) plot development, including progression of the romantic relationship, or B) character development. Sex scenes for sex scenes' sake can not only feel gratuitous but can also get tiresome. Now, I like a good sex scene as much as the next reader (and maybe even more!), but too many of them have the potential to take the thrill out of a few well-placed, steamy ones.
2) Variety. Missionary sex might be the most common position, but most readers are probably willing to suspend reality long enough for the hero and heroine to try a different position in each sex scene. At the least, there should be something substantially new tried or achieved during or as a result of a sex scene.
3) Limit/vary use of euphemisms. 'Penis' and 'vagina' are probably too clinical for most of us to be used frequently in a good sex scene, but the phrase "throbbing member" probably makes us giggle or roll our eyes on sight. If the book is erotica or has in another way been primed for explicit and intense sex scenes, then more explicit and hard-core word choices probably not only make sense, but work to heighten the eroticism of the scene. But a lot of romance falls somewhere in the middle of heaving bosoms and, well, various four-letter c-words... ;) The key then is to find the language that fits the story, fits the characters, and that isn't repeated to death (I once read a draft of a story that used "hot sheath" every time it referenced anything about the women's nether regions...).
4) Heat and heart. This one might not apply to every scene an author might want to write, and certainly I can perceive an enticing story where the earlier encounters might be all heat and no heart, making the introduction of more emotional connections between the characters even more intense later. But, for me, the most intense scenes are ones that involve both the emotional and the physical connections. And seeing the hero reveal or admit or give into his emotional needs is, gah, always a turn on.
5) Talking. And not necessarily dirty, although, again, big fan of the concept! Talking can heighten both the emotional and the physical connection and intensity. But, like with use of euphemisms, it takes some finesse. Most of us, and most of the characters we connect with, don't talk like porn stars. And, if our characters are otherwise mild-mannered and avoid expletives, it isn't likely they experience a massive transformation in the bedroom (unless that's part of the story). It's important to make it real, serve a purpose, add to the intensity rather than distract from it, vary the dialogue, and keep it in character.
What do you think? What makes a fictional sex scene work for you? Or not?
Thanks for reading,