Sex Scenes: Who, What, When, Why, and How Many

“How many sex scenes?” is a perennial question in the National Novel Writing Month Erotica Forum. Meaning, how many sex scenes should an erotica or erotic romance novel have? Just this week, I saw the same question asked on a private Facebook group and felt compelled to write this blog post with the answer and an explanation.

The answer? Wait for it…

As many (or as few) as you need in order to tell your story.

Seriously, that’s it.

I know some people believe there’s a (magic) formula that X number of sex scenes equals an erotica story. That is simply not true. As I’ve stated before, erotica is a literary form where the core of the story is sexual in nature. As a literary form, erotica has plot, themes, character development, goals and motivations, conflicts and resolutions, and all the other elements that make up a story. But in erotica (and erotic romance), all those elements deal with something sexual in nature. Generally, erotica/erotic romance plots focus on the sexual journey of a main character, or the journey of a couple/group of lovers. This is what I write.

Erotica and erotic romance is not defined by quantity of sexual content, but sexual content is the major thrust (if you will) of the story.

So, underlying the question “How many sex scenes should my story have?” are some technical writing issues:

Understanding Your Story

In erotica and erotic romance, sex drives the character development and the plot. Sexual content is not gratuitous. There are plenty of genres where sex scenes are gratuitous — “high-heat, sexy” romance and porn immediately come to mind — but erotica and erotic romance — SURPRISE — are not among those genres.

Which means if you are asking “How many sex scenes should my story have?” you might not fully understand your characters or plot. Ask your characters about their sexual journey. Ask yourself, as narrator of this journey, how sex and sexuality propel the plot and character development.

Defining Sex Scenes

You might need to review your definition of “sex scene”. To me, a “sex scene” is any scene that involves the physical, intimate, sex lives of my characters. That could include masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, non-penetrative sex, penetrative sex, thinking about sex, an attempted seduction, a thwarted seduction, a fantasy, a sensual kiss/touch/tantalizing invitation that sparks arousal… I could go on, but I imagine you get the point. A “sex scene” does not always include full-on, love-making, penetrative, orgasmic sex.

Remember erotica is about the sexual journey, not about the sex.

I have actually written an erotica short that has no sex. Yep. And it was published by a well-known erotica publisher.

Check Your Pacing

If you think erotica and erotic romance is defined by the quantity of sex, you might end up with pacing issues. I’ve read stories where all the sex scenes are clumped together. That does not reflect a character’s sexual journey so much as a character’s physical frenzy. Such stories are tiring for the reader.
To make your pacing more consistent, you might end up deleting sex scenes. That’s okay! You want to tell your story in the most efficient way possible. Or you might need to analyze the structure of your story. Perhaps you can rearrange scenes so the sexual content is spread more evenly.

Tricks To Increase Sex Scene Density

So maybe you really want to have lots of sex in the story, but you don’t want to end up with the H/h (where “H” and “h” = hero and/or heroine in any combination) simply boning all the time (which can get really boring). Here are some ideas to incorporate into your erotica or erotic romance story:
– masturbation scenes, where the H/h goes it alone with or without a fantasy element
– include each sexual point-of-view for a story about a couple’s (or group’s) journey of sexual discovery
– give a main point-of-view character multiple partners, hence multiple scenes
– instead of just a H/h, include multiple points-of-view in the novel. This is what I typically do in my novels.

But always keep in mind erotica and erotic romance are not about quantity; they are about quality. The quality of a story about:
– the sexual journey of a heroine
– the sexual journey of a hero
– a character’s comprehension of his/her sexuality

How many scenes your characters need on their journeys is how many scenes your story needs.