Posted On March 4, 2013 by Print This Post

Handsome Hansel presents: Sex Is Not Romantic…Or So I’ve Been Told

Greetings, RU Crew! Your characters have exchanged longing looks across the room, held hands and possibly, shared a few kisses. And now, they’ve arrived at a major turning point in the story. I call it the love scene. Others might refer to it as the sex scene. So, what’s the difference?

RU’s regular contributor Handsome Hansel  explains why sex and romance aren’t the same thing.  

Welcome back, HH!

I suppose we all knew we’d get here eventually, huh? After-all, we can’t talk about writing romance without talking about the sex which comes with it. 

I am tempted to write this post full of double entendres, witty quips, and well placed euphemisms but I’m going to try and be a good boy.

Aww hell, who are we kidding! 

I started writing romance accidentally. I WAS the epitome of a hopeless romantic when I began writing which I’m sure steered my writing. Perhaps it was a void in my life, perhaps it was a wanting. Whatever the reason, I wanted Romance. I wanted to both be the swooner and the swoonie. (Romance works both ways Ladies)  It pulled and pushed at me to the point where it eventually found its way on paper simply because I needed the release. 

Fast forward to me writing my stories and sending them to people I trust. 

It turns out… the sex scenes, while (in their words were) completely hot, weren’t romantic. Upon further reflection, I realized I was being a guy writing a story instead of being my hero as a writer. Things had to change. 

When I sat back and analyzed where I was coming from, I could see that I was forcing myself into the characters. Speeding things up as it were. I needed to do what I would normally do in real life and slow it down. Take the time needed to build up to the moment in which real intimacy happened. The point where in real life, people would, within the blink of an eye, decide whether or not this person was the one they wanted to be with. I found even in the swiftest of decisions there still needed to be buildup. 

I had to take the approach that I am dating my readers. Sounds strange but bear with me. While most of us have had one night stands, I think we can all agree that in the whole scheme of things they are meaningless, forgetful (most), and simply serve a pent-up need. There is no substance there. No different than if we throw a half-dozen sex scenes on paper and simply call it a Romance novel or Erotica. When it comes to adding the sex into our Romance stories, we need to give them a purpose other than “it’s been 50 pages so I better put one in”.  After-all, you wouldn’t expect a man to awkwardly grope you at the end of your first date, would you? (Ok, which one of you said, “It depends on where he took me to dinner?) 🙂 

Our readers, just like our characters, want to be courted. They want our writing to gain their trust before they can squirm, continually recross their legs, and enjoy with any amount of honesty the sex scenes we pepper our stories with.  While our readers ARE always looking for the hot sex and in some cases read at a faster pace in order to get to them, it is our responsibility to really bring the heat by fanning the flames before they get there. Don’t we all want that build-up in our own lives? Sending a sexy text in the morning followed by a quick phone call telling our lover we can’t wait to get them alone in the evening. It makes the sex hotter when we do those things in real life so why shouldn’t we translate that into our writing for our readers. Court them, tease them, make them not be able to wait anymore. 

So, how do we do that? For me, I feel the need to simply take what I would do in real life and put it on paper. Or, take what I would want done to me and put it on paper. (For the record, I’m not talking sexually here so get the minds back on track!) What I mean is what would turn me on before the sex even started. The foreplay before the true definition of foreplay. Those moments when we can’t wait to be together. Those moments when we are inside each other’s heads way before we are in each other’s pants. Anticipation breeds expectation which breeds lust and desire. In a lot of cases it is a set of circumstances which keeps the two lovers apart. They want/need to be together but can’t because of certain conflicts which seem to never go away. 

What I have learned from the critiques of my writing is that those moments when things are hot and heavy between our characters and the flesh is dripping sweat, the heat is exchanged through anticipatory breathing, and nothing else exists within our character’s rawest of moments, is that if we haven’t done our job as writers beforehand, it’s emotionally shallow which translates into the shallowness of the sex. Which…let’s be honest, may turn a few on for a while but ultimately, as authors, we’re not life long partner material. 

For obvious reasons I get a lot of Nicholas Sparks talk headed my way. What I have noticed is that what stands out most in his readers minds is not the love making. It’s “the canoe ride”, “the kisses in the rain”, etc.

Sex is desirable but it’s not romantic. Sex becomes desirable to our readers when we build up the romance before it. 

Throughout my critiques I’ve learned a lot. Mostly, that romance lovers take their genre seriously. We owe it to them to deliver. Let’s “date” our readers and become the authoring partners they desire! 



How would you “date” your reader? What romantic gestures would your characters make before taking the plunge? 


Sonali Dev presents: Inspiration Hunting in the Publishing World on Wednesday March 6th.


Bio: Like most of us, I’ve been around the block a time or two (or three) in the relationship world. I like to think of myself as having a pretty thick skin, however, that skin doesn’t surround the heart.

I’ve been in love; I’ve been in lust. I’ve been hurt and got up to do it all again, each time having learned more of myself as well as “wants” and “don’t wants” for my next relationship. Amazingly enough, I never gave up on that one true love wrapped in Romance. You can visit me here, at

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30 Responses to “Handsome Hansel presents: Sex Is Not Romantic…Or So I’ve Been Told”

  1. Morning HH!

    I like that – dating our readers! =)

    A year or so ago, I took an online course on writing sexual tension with Nicole North – SO worth it! Amazing instructor and she really shows you how to build up the tension. Here’s a post she wrote with us here at RU a few years ago.

    I love the build up – the romance, the anticipation. It makes the sex scenes SO much more than just the sex.


    Thanks for posting with us again HH!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 4, 2013, 8:24 am
    • I feel you can create the atmoshere to make the sex more romantic. How about a picnic basket packed of some little goodies,a tiny blanket, hand in hand with your man underneath the stars while the Ocean tides roar with delights! Or if you are in a hotel room, you can suprise him with some candles, a bottle of wine, and massage oil..That will turn up the heat and bring the romantic sides out in sex..

      Posted by Lisa Sorensen | March 4, 2013, 10:51 am
      • Lisa,

        I couldn’t agree more. Yet we are still talking about the buildup to the sex scenes. Planning the picnic, Packing the candles, etc. That anticipation is built into each of those acts.

        As a guy, sometimes the build up can me in wondering what she is wearing underneath her dress. When a writer can really get inside his/her characters heads and reflect those lust filled thoughts back to their readers, it works.

        Glad to see you here, L!

        Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:15 am
    • Good Morning, Carrie!

      (Thanks for allowing me my last minute change.)

      I truly believe the build-up to the “love scenes” is far more romantic and erotic sometimes than the scenes themselves. When done right, the reader will feel the physical tension building inside themselves as well.

      Thanks, C!


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:12 am
  2. Hi HH,

    There definitely has to be a getting to know each other period of time. Build up the tension until they both discover they have found the one and only.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 4, 2013, 9:03 am
    • Mary Jo,

      I certainly agree. The reason I wanted to touch on this topic was that my first “critique” came after someone whose opinion I value read my first “love scene” and simply said, “You have to decide right now if you’re going to write romance or erotica.”

      Thankfully I got what she was talking about instantly. I concentrated more on my characters acts than their feelings/emotions during.

      Have a great week, Mary Jo!

      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:19 am
  3. I think you can have perfectly good sex without love, but I think the very best sex is permanently attached to romance.

    Posted by Pucci Laveau | March 4, 2013, 9:56 am
    • Pucci!

      So glad you stopped by.

      I agree there is always the chance of good sex without the emotional component, but when there is heartfelt emotion attached it really can make it the kind of sex which is unattainable any other way.


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:27 am
  4. I couldn’t have said it better myself, HH! I have found that it’s the build-up that makes it romantic. By the time the reader gets to that coveted scene behind closed doors, they have to want it themselves – which means they have fallen in love with the leading man or lady. And that takes the kisses in the rain, the hand-holding, the little somethings that must be carefully laid in the book… Can’t wait to read your books, HH!

    Posted by p.m.terrell | March 4, 2013, 10:23 am
    • Trish,

      Thanks for taking the time and stopping by! After BookEm North Carolina and all you did there, I would swear you’re still recovering! 🙂

      Our jobs as authors (no matter the genre, really) is to ratchet up tension which keeps our readers fingertips on the edge of their Kindles. When we do it right, we earn their respect.

      (Btw, still engrossed in your book: Exit 22, I picked up at BookEm. Thanks for what you wrote inside as well!


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:37 am
  5. HH. Great post! I agree with the comments in your post and from other commentators above, it’s the building up which are often romantic 🙂 It’s a chalenge for an author to make the actual sex act romantic, although they can be hot stuff.

    Posted by Junying Kirk | March 4, 2013, 10:28 am
    • Junying,

      You are right. I think if you really took a poll of Romance readers, while they will say they read it for the love-scenes, they really are reading it for the relationships between the characters. After-all, if they didn’t care about them the sex scenes would be hard-put to turn our readers on.

      Thanks, J. I really appreciate your stopping by! See you on Twitter.


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:39 am
  6. You had me at ‘Swooner and swoonie’. You’re cuteness factor went up a notch. (Pretend I’m that annoying little sister who’s now going to tease you and call you swoonie. :P)

    You really don’t need to tell me or sell me that romance goes both ways. I’ve been preaching that since I can remember.

    YES! (Sorry, didn’t mean to eh, be so loud.) But, yes, I really do like the build-up, the tension, the hawtness that makes me not know what to do with myself. I really like that in my stories and in real life. Little teasing, but not too much. But also not having this hard to get kind of thing where the sexy time happens way at the end and it’s a snoozefest.

    I feel the need to apologize, that my mind tends to go to there, to that naughty corner in my mind. Because I have to admit, SOME sentences in this article made me go ‘Oh baby! Is it hawt in here OR WHAT!’. Which is SO awkward now that I think about it. Bad mind! So, sorry. *looks down, gives you a quick hug and runs away.*

    Posted by Soraya E. | March 4, 2013, 10:37 am
  7. Truly being with someone is about the connection, all the little details. Making even the smallest of moments special. I am a big believer in connecting on all levels. Emotional, mental, spritual, and physical. If you are really connected and have put in the effort with all the details leading up to sex then it can be an amazing experience. Relationships are work and require attention daily even in the smallest of ways. I agree with you that men need the affection and care as much as women. It is most definitely a two way street.

    Posted by Terressa | March 4, 2013, 11:49 am
    • Hello Terressa!

      It’s no secret that when you can connect on all levels, like you mentioned, that the most intimate of moments can be pretty spectacular.

      Thanks for the comment, T! Means a lot to me.


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 12:21 pm
  8. Oh my dear Soraya,

    There is no need for me to “pretend” you’re that annoying little sister because you already are. (Said with admiration and affection.) 🙂

    Before you run off… I will say that there is something within your comment I’d like to talk about. When it comes to romance writing we are giving our readers “permission” to go to those “naught corners” of their mind. They want to go there and if they are not able to get there under their current life’s circumstances we paint a picture that lets them escape. Guilt free and no need for an awkward doctor’s visit down the road.

    Thanks for your comments, as always. And keep holding down that side of the pond!


    Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 11:54 am
  9. I got a lot out of reading Stacia Kane’s “Be a Sex Writing Strumpet” – an excellent guide!

    The most important thing I’ve learned about sex writing is that it has to meaningful to the plot or the characterisation. If it isn’t, it’s just an anatomy lesson.

    Excellent post!

    Posted by Meg McNulty | March 4, 2013, 11:56 am
  10. Meg,

    Mad Kudos for the “Anatomy Lesson” line! Bad romance summed up in two words. Thanks for that! 🙂


    Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 12:07 pm
  11. Great post HH,
    I had read on Teresa Medieros’ blog that good romance is about foreplay. Not just in the bedroom but from the first page until the H/H finally get together. And it is so true. Usually, one of the first scenes I write in a book is the first time the HH take a tumble. Then the rest of the story is focused on building up the buildup until they (and the readers, hopefully) get to that point where they are ready to explode. That makes every conversation, every argument part of the foreplay. 🙂


    Posted by Sonali Dev | March 4, 2013, 2:11 pm
  12. Sex isn’t really romantic, but making love is and is completely different to sex. It’s slower, more sensual and meaningful. It’s usually something that both have been dying to do, so hearts are racing and bodies are aching (a nice ache). This topic has got me all hot and steamy, thank you for including me!

    Posted by Slinky | March 4, 2013, 2:41 pm
    • Slinky,

      (Gotta love the name.) 🙂

      You are absolutely right that (raw) sex and love-making are two different routes to the same point in time. One of the most rewarding parts of being a Romance Writer is that (perhaps even depending on your mood) you can write both.

      Thanks for taking the time to be here with all of us today. Tomorrow, we are back to Dancing on Twitter’s Dance-floor! 🙂


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 3:31 pm
  13. Hola, HH!

    Here’s my analogy on writing love scenes for romance. It has to be a a three-way between your characters and the reader. If a reader isn’t engaged in the emotional development (the build-up and tension) of the characters to the point of no return, then the reader is like a voyeur looking through the bedroom window at two people having sex.

    Thanks for another terrific post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 4, 2013, 2:59 pm
    • Jen,

      That’s a brilliant analogy. One I wish I had thought of! At the risk of taking this thread to a place it doesn’t need to go… Badly written sex scenes are really just porn on paper.

      Now don’t get me wrong. I have NO problem with erotica and the harder stuff. Yet, this blog, column, etc is about Romance. Our readers have chosen to buy a romance book and we need to give them what they paid for.

      Thanks Jen!


      Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 3:36 pm
  14. Brilliant as usual, HH.

    Author Samantha Kane spoke at my local RWA chapter and discussed this same subject at length. It is so important for us to invest the time and effort into building the relationship between the characters in order to make the sex scenes truly meaningful. In addition to building up to each scene, it’s important that the scene itself move the story forward and further show the development of the characters. If it’s done well, a good love scene might look like sexy fun and games, but creating a love scene that truly works is hard work.

    I love your point about creating scenes that may be hot and titillate readers at the time, but without any real meaning to the scene, we haven’t proven ourselves to be “life long partner material.” Great tips and lots to keep in mind.

    Posted by Reese Ryan | March 4, 2013, 3:07 pm
  15. Reese,

    It’s a pleasure. Your comment about your local RWA chapter reminded me of one I went to. (I actually wrote about here on RU a while back if you want to search for it.)

    Thanks for your kind comments and I hope to maybe meet you in person at the National RWA!


    Posted by HH | March 4, 2013, 3:45 pm
  16. Hi HH, everyone. So many GR8 points made. i especially agree with what HH said about the writer courting the reader & the [literary] mental foreplay before the [literary] physical foreplay—after all our brains are our largest erogenous zone. There’s one point on which i disagree: the one night stand. It needn’t be thought of as meaningless or forgettable in life or in romance writing. It can serve as a invaluable way of freeing up one’s inhibitions and as a way of adding to the boudoir repertoire when engaging with one’s ultimate significant other. And even if you don’t repeat any of those actions they can serve as nice daydream material.

    Posted by sookietex | March 4, 2013, 8:37 pm
  17. I’ve been to many workshops on writing sexy without losing the romance, but it’s not easy. In some books the hot stuff is almost clinical, which quickly diffuses any romantic elements.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 4, 2013, 9:34 pm
  18. OMG… HH you know I’ve been a fan since we connected via Twitter. You are one amazing writer! I ENJOYED, I mean really, really enjoyed that blog(as I do everything else you write!) You piqued my interest with the title and as I read…I found myself laughing at the part when you said, depending on where the date took you–HILARIOUS!!!! This was a great read!

    I agree with you; there’s so much more to romance than just raunchy sex scenes. You hit the nail on the head. Our readers deserve so much more than that… the build up and back stories are so important! We need to delve into our characters mind in order for our readers to understand why the sex scenes are powerful. They’re powerful because there’s something more than just sex–there’s…love and passion!

    I totally can commiserate where you’re coming from when you said you were forcing yourself into the character. At times I have to remind myself that I’m writing the story of others and not the way I perceive their story…if you get what I’m saying.

    I cannot stop from smiling. I love your writing style! It’s very inviting! Thanks for sending me this link. I loved it!

    Posted by Nai'lah Carter | March 5, 2013, 7:03 am


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