Romance Authors Remember the First Sex Scenes They Read
While it's true that there's a lot more to the romance novel than the sex scenes, you can't dismiss their impact. At some point, once you start reading romance, you'll come across that first lovemaking scene that totally blows your mind, whether it turns you on or completely upends your expectations--sometimes both.
Most readers vividly remember that one scene, even years later, and romance writers are no exception. We asked several beloved authors to share their memories of the first love scene that took hold of their imaginations--whether it was their first introduction to sex, or what inspired them to start writing romance.
"It was a Barbara Cartland in which, at the end of the book, the heroine 'drifted up to the sky on a bed of thistledown.' I hadn't the faintest idea what was going on. Really. No idea.
Then I discovered 'The Flame and the Flower' [by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss]. Even then, I remember sitting on the school bus and puzzling over the positions of the hero and heroine. What could he be doing? I finally figured out a possible configuration of bodies--my introduction to sex that wasn't in the missionary position."
"I bought Judith McNaught's 'Almost Heaven' by accident in the supermarket. My then-preschool daughter Amber was with me. When I went down the book aisle, a novel with a pink dress on the cover caught my attention. I picked it up, and my mischievous daughter escaped. I threw the book in the shopping cart and ran after her. I forgot all about the novel until I got home. I was 30 years old and had never read a romance, but within one page, I was riveted.
What I recall about the love scene was that it was set in an inn, and the heroine was extremely innocent. The hero plied her with wine, and even though he was über-alpha, the heroine managed to break down his defenses. I loved it."
"'Desert Hostage' by Diane Dunaway. I ended up finding it later on, on eBay, and bought it and kept it. Because of course I felt that the very first book that inspired me to be a writer should be on my shelf. It's totally an '80s romance, though! It's very definitely along that bodice-ripper style, but that's what we had back then.
It was pretty hot, I think even for that time period. I haven't read it in years, but there are vague scenes where they're on a ship. He's half-duke and half-sheikh, and he kidnaps the heroine from England because she doesn't want anything to do with him. And of course, he can't take no for an answer, he's obsessed. They have some pretty steamy interaction on the ship over, and then they have some in the desert across the way, and she's kidnapped a couple times. It was just pretty wild. He was definitely seriously obsessed with her. By the time they get to his palace, though, she's madly in love."
"I love the love scene in Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s 'Crown in Candlelight,' between Owen Tudor and the queen in front of the fireplace. I haven't read that scene for decades, but I remember reading it when I was about 14, and it just seemed so beautiful and poignant and sincere. I haven't reread it because I just want to remember it the way I see it in my mind.
I remember discovering Daphne du Maurier for myself. Of course, the first book I read by her was 'Rebecca,' but the book I loved most was 'Frenchman’s Creek.' I absolutely adored so many scenes in that novel. Two that stand out are the dinner scene where the men are all gathered to hunt down the pirate that’s been sailing up the creek, and he bolts right into the dining room and makes fools of them all. It's so bold and sexy. And of course there's the fabulous farewell scene at the end when he tells Dona that they must part because a woman's heart will eventually want things he cannot give her, but perhaps when the moon is full and summer comes again, she might sail with him once in a while."
"A jillion years ago--I think I was still in high school--I picked up a classic book, 'How to Make Love to a Man (Safely)' by Alexandra Penney. I bought the book with my own money, and I don't even think anyone knew I had it. The cover was pink, with a huge pair of hot pink lips. It was my first exploration into this world of lovemaking in the written word. I remember the details to this day, and how she created a 'scene' that would not only be hot sexually, but enchanting, almost magical. The scene that stands out most was where the woman removed her clothes in front of a man, almost as if she were putting on a show for him. The slowness and the delicate movements were so exciting to the man watching her. No one rushed, which made it more emotional.
The sensuality of that stuck with me forever. Maybe some of that imprinted itself, because now, when I am writing a love scene, it is more emotional than graphic, with visual detail and extreme sensuality. I want to take the reader 'there' with my characters, so feeding all the senses is the highlight of any scene I write. What she sees, feels--both emotionally and psychically--and what she smells. All of the senses are really the most important elements for me."
Ron Hogan is the co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon, the first monthly reading series for romance fiction, and the creator of Beatrice, one of the Internet's first book-themed websites. He currently hosts The Handsell, a video series where authors and booksellers share their reading recommendations.