Characters, plot and GMC are integral components to any story, but in the romance genre, it’s the sexual tension and correlating emotions that add to the drama. Author Vonda Sinclair  shares her tips on heightening sexual tension by utilizing the five senses.
I’m thrilled to be visiting with you guys again! As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic here at Romance University, sexual tension is the anticipation, the chemistry, the excitement, the wanting, and the waiting that may eventually lead to sex. Or maybe not. Tension and suspense are created when the outcome is unknown. Will they or won’t they? A strong push/pull synergy is at work. The two people are drawn together, but something also pushes them apart.
The five senses are an excellent tool to help heighten sexual tension in your romance novel. The words sensuality, and sensation come from the same root word, sense, meaning the mechanism of perception. When two people are attracted to one another, their senses are heightened and they will notice more details about each other. The five senses are, of course, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Let’s look at each sense individually and see how they can be used to create sexual tension or make it stronger.
Sight: When someone first glances at a person they’re attracted to, sexual tension is born. For instance, a woman catching a glimpse of a man she’s attracted to might notice he looks strong and muscular. Unable to stop herself from staring, she would take in his thick black hair, wicked dark eyes and maybe his spellbinding smile.
If he happens to catch her eyeing him, their gazes might lock. If he also feels an attraction toward her, the eye contact might last several seconds. This indicates to each of them that the other person finds them attractive. If one of them smiles, this shows strong interest and even flirtation.
When your characters are seeing each other for the first time, or meeting, take the time to allow your point of view character to notice a few important details of the other person—the details he or she finds most compelling, especially the eyes. Eyes are the mirror of the soul, and we (the readers) want to see and feel what it’s like to peer into the eyes and soul of the hero. Describe how this view makes the heroine feel inside. Bring the excitement across to the reader. Eyes express emotion—they can be narrowed or wide, the pupils can dilate or shrink. She might also notice other details about him, such as dimples, a five-o’clock shadow, or a naughty gleam in his eye.
As you write your story, show various interesting visual details of the hero (and heroine) here and there. Not the same ones over and over, but new, inventive ones so that we see the character in more detail with each scene. If you do this, we can easily understand why the heroine is drawn to him. And vice versa, show more compelling details of the heroine so we know why the hero perceives her as incredibly beautiful and irresistible. Bring in unique, personalized details to show how these two characters are different from all others. Make your reader feel what the view of the heroine does to the hero. Do this through thoughts, internalizations, and even internal physical reactions. When one character notices signs of arousal from the other person, this can cause the sexual tension to skyrocket.
Sound: From the heroine’s point of view, the sound of the hero’s voice can inspire sexual tension or even arousal. Maybe she loves the depth of his voice, or his teasing tone. He might be murmuring, talking in a hushed tone, or whispering into her ear. Show the reader what his voice does to her. Give us glimpses into her thoughts and perceptions of him. When more aroused, he might growl or rasp words. This shows how strongly he is affected by her. You can also show what that does to her in her point of view. What does his impassioned voice make her feel, emotionally and physically? Maybe he has a sexy accent you can use to further increase sexual tension.
The same applies when the hero is listening to the heroine. You might describe how her feminine voice affects him, and when more aroused, what her gasps, purrs, or moans do to him.
Smell: Pheromones play an important role in sexual attraction. I’m sure you can remember a few instances when you caught the delicious scent of a person you were highly attracted to. In modern day (and even in the past) perfume or cologne is used to accentuate this sensual smell, but it isn’t necessary. When writing your sensual scene, just make sure there are no stinky body odors involved. 🙂 A person’s clean skin will give off a faint fragrance of soap, and once this wears off, the natural scent of the person will come through. Sometimes this scent can be almost intoxicating. Aside from soap or cologne, a hero might smell like the ocean, the woods, or horses and leather, if he’s been riding.
Touch: This sense plays a huge role in creating and heightening sexual tension. Two people who are attracted want very badly to touch each other, but sometimes touching is forbidden. A handshake or other causal touching of hands is the first step. More trust is needed for intimate touches. For instance, a woman must trust a man in order to allow him to stroke her face or neck because it is a vulnerable area. Women’s skin is far more sensitive and softer than men’s. You can show this when describing touches.
When two people who are attracted come into contact, there is a certain electricity between them. But don’t rely on the old cliché of the zap when their fingers accidentally brush. Think of a creative, fresh and inventive way of showing the spark. When someone is aroused, their skin becomes even more sensitive. Kisses use touch in a big way and they definitely raise sexual tension. You can also use skin temperature and texture. For instance, the hero’s skin might be so hot it feels feverish. And the hero will notice how soft and velvety the heroine’s skin is, because it’s so different from his own. Another great way to increase sexual tension is to describe the hardness of the hero’s muscles, or the scratchiness of his beard stubble from the heroine’s point of view.
Taste: The way this sense is used to increase sexual tension is in kisses. If your hero has been drinking whisky or eating an orange just before the kiss, then his kiss will have a definite appealing flavor. Get creative with this because the possibilities are endless. Sweet, spicy, herbal, or fruity flavors are great. You can also describe the hero’s sexy, masculine flavor or the heroine’s sweet, feminine flavor.
Here is an example from my latest book, My Rebel Highlander, which shows the five senses being used to increase sexual tension:
In the soft, golden light of the fireplace and the lone candle, his gaze burned into her with a spark of the passion they’d shared in the wood that day. “We’ve had no time alone since we left Tummel Castle.”
“Aye.” Suddenly, she missed Tummel, the coziness of the small tower house and the privacy they’d had before his friends and the garrison arrived. Kissing in the garden, making love in the wood. ‘Twas like they’d been in a different world—the wild Highlands, away from the towns and cities.
Rebbie stepped closer, tipped her chin up and stroked his fingers along her cheek. With fathomless eyes, he watched her beneath lowered black lashes. With a simple touch and a look, he could strip away her resistance… not that she’d ever had much where he was concerned. Nay, the first time she’d seen him, she’d set out to seduce him. Though she’d been terrified at the time, it had turned into the most enjoyable task of her life.
When he leaned down and brushed his lips across hers, she drew in a sharp breath of his delectable scent—clean soap and man—and kissed him back. All the nerve endings in her body tingled and yearned for him. There was no way in hades she could resist him. Her body was so sensitized to his kiss, his touch, she already ached for him.
The kiss deepened and she opened for him, savoring the spicy, mulled wine flavor of his kiss. Eager for more, she wound her arms around his neck. His moan vibrated against her lips. (My Rebel Highlander, copyright 2014 Vonda Sinclair)
I hope I’ve given you some ideas for increasing the sexual tension in your story by showing detailed descriptions of what the characters are experiencing via their five senses. What is your favorite way to use one of the five senses in a romantic scene, or what is a great one you’ve read?
Known for his wicked wit, fierce loyalty, and skills in battle, Robert “Rebbie” MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, loves freedom and has no plans of marrying anytime soon. But when his father, a powerful Scottish marquess, signs a contract betrothing Rebbie to an earl’s young daughter, he is furious. If he has to marry, he’s determined to choose his own bride, though he has no inkling who he would wish to wed until fate intervenes to remind him of one fair-haired, nameless beauty and the passionate night they spent together years ago. A night forever etched in his memory.
Lady Calla Ferguson, a penniless widow with a young son, is forced to seek employment as her cousin’s companion in order to pay her late husband’s massive gambling debt. Having been ignored or mistreated most of her life, Calla has become a resourceful survivor who will stop at nothing to get what she wants—safety and security for her son and herself. Wealthy merchant, Claybourne cares little for the money the Earl of Stanbury owed him; he simply wants the earl’s beautiful, voluptuous widow and he’ll do whatever it takes to get his hands on her, even kidnapping and blackmail.
When Rebbie happens upon Claybourne abducting Calla, he rescues her and hides her in a secluded castle deep in the wild Scottish Highlands. Calla conceals her passionate spirit beneath reserve and duty, along with closely-guarded secrets which, if exposed, could ruin both her life and her son’s. Years ago, she lost her heart to a dark-eyed stranger she never thought to see again, but now he’s her protector. Rebbie craves another pleasurable night like the one they shared in the past, and she cannot resist the fiery passion that echoes deep in her heart and soul. Soft but strong, Calla sparks within Rebbie a desperate hunger and a need to protect her. But will her secrets tear them apart?
Bio: Vonda Sinclair  is an Amazon Top 100 bestselling author whose favorite indulgent pastime is exploring Scotland, from Edinburgh to the untamed and windblown north coast. She also enjoys creating hot Highland heroes and spirited lasses to drive them mad. Her books have won an EPIC Award and a National Readers’ Choice Award. She lives with her amazing and supportive husband in the mountains of North Carolina where she is no doubt creating another Scottish story.
- Building Sexual Tension with Vonda Sinclair 
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- Janice Hardy presents: Five Ways to Describe Emotions Without Making Your Character Feel Too Self Aware