Getting to read tons of romance and erotica is a terrific job perk. But with the amount I read as a RT reviewer, it sometimes takes a little more "oomph" to get me to perk up and take notice. By the same token, I think everyone has their own set of what the heroes & heartbreakers blog dubbed "squick" words: the ones that make you clench in all the wrong ways when you read them.
One of my own personal Waterloos when it comes to sex scenes is the word "cream." That sentiment was echoed in an informal Twitter survey I took of romance and erotica authors. That being said, however, when it's used by the right author in the right situation? Still hot. A perfect example is author Karen Erickson's Tangled, the amazing chemistry between her characters takes you right past the verboten word:
Her breath caught, he heard it and it made him smile. "Then I want you to touch yourself, gather up all the cream from your pretty little pussy and come back out. Let me have a taste."
If there's another word she could have used there, I definitely can't think of it. And it helps that the chemistry between the characters would make Walter White excited.
Obviously, I have my own thoughts on what words shouldn't be used when writing about sex ("testicles," "lurched," and "womb" being a few), but I thought it would be an even better idea to take it to the authors themselves. What words are turn-offs for romance and erotica writers? The ones they hate seeing and swear they'll never use themselves? An informal Twitter poll netted some hilarious — and often contradictory — results:
As you can see, while there's certainly some agreement, the range is wide, and many of them cite words I know I've seen again and again and again.
So what works? What makes a scene sexy as hell?
In the eleventy bazillion sex scenes I think I've read in my day? It's more about what you don't say than what you do. The more precise and anatomical a sex scene is written, the more it sounds like a science lesson and less like, well, people having sex. Unless you are having some seriously bad sex, I'm not sure you're thinking of the precise mechanics.
So when Griffin started to push inside him, Michael did nothing but what he'd been ordered to do. He breathed out, hard and slow, and only after his second long exhale did he let himself focus on what he was feeling.
Michael buried his face in his arm and groaned.
Griffin dug his fingers into Michael's hips.
"Good?" he asked, his voice tense and breathless.
Michael nodded. "Good, very good."
No anatomy discussed at all, yet the language gives you a full sense of what's going by focusing on the feelings.
Still, I know there are some of you who prefer more "balls to the wall" (every pun intended) down 'n dirty. For that, I'm going to defer to my one of my mother's (what? You don't share your erotica with your mother?) current favorite books: Maya Banks' Burn:
He winced when his hand made contact with his dick. He was so hard and so close to coming that even his own touch was painful.
"Are you all right?" she whispered.
"I will be in about three seconds," he murmured back as he slid a finger inside her to gauge her readiness.
Just a few sentences and I'm fanning myself. Hot without heading into medical exam territory, and even in that little snippet of a scene, you can feel all the tension and arousal.
Ultimately, it's clear that for both readers and authors, there's a wide range of what's hot and what's not. There are probably terms that the majority of us can agree on, but in the end, it's the writing that sells it, no matter the terminology. The best writers could probably use "moist testicles" and make it sexy. In the end? It's all about setting the scene and writing characters with off-the-charts chemistry.
What about you? What are your turn-ons and turn-offs when it comes to sex scenes? Leave your favorites (and least favorites) in the comments! And for more on sexy stories, be sure to visit our Everything Erotica page.