The Missing Ingredient

It’s been almost a month since I read Emma Mars’ Hotelles, the story of a young escort led on a journey of sexual discovery by her future brother in law, and I still have Thoughts. Some of these Thoughts are the result of the Rough Riders series read I’m in the middle of and the contrasts between the two.

Both are slotted into the erotica/erotic romance genre, but the similarities end there. So far, all the books in the Rough Riders series, from Long Hard Ride up to Rough, Raw, and Ready feature detailed sex scenes, and plenty of them. And as the stories progress, you can see the turning points in the physical relationships where the emotional ones start to catch up (and I thought it was particularly well done in Ready). I’ve enjoyed them so far, and I’ll probably keep on enjoying them.

But they’re lacking something.

One of the things I’ve always loved about European films is the sense of freedom they have when it comes to nudity. There’s nothing embarrassing about a woman’s breast, or a man’s bare ass. Sex and Lucia is probably one of the hottest, most intimate films I’ve ever seen, followed closely by Room in Rome (which is done by the same director). They don’t draw attention to their bodies in any way. They’re just there, and there’s a sensuality to it that’s missing in most American films.

Apparently that translates to books, as well, because Hotelles oozed sensuality. You learn Annabelle’s body as she does, how each new adventure heightens her perception of the world around her – and how her body reacts to it. The sex scenes were fewer (though still detailed) and the reactions of her body and mind were so fiercely entwined it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began.

Going back to the Rough Riders books after that was like plunging into an icy lake.

I feel like the American media has taught us to be ashamed of sex, of enjoying it, of reveling in it, and the end result is we either slink off into our corners and mutter amongst ourselves or we put it out there, parading it around under bright lights. It’s like we’re saying, “You want me to be embarrassed? How about I embarrass you?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love that there’s a wide variety of sex-positive literature to choose from, and that it’s gaining in popularity. But I want something softer. I want something that focuses on the beauty of the human body, on what it can do and it how it fits against another person. So often we see the word explicit and immediately think graphic, no-holds barred nudity, something pushing the boundaries of lewdness. We’re so preoccupied with the many nicknames and slang terms we’ve come up with for our various body parts that we can’t help but think raunch, even when we’re trying to project love.

One of my new favorite Tumblr feeds is coffeestainedheart. Some of the pictures there are exactly what I’m looking for. They’re intimate and sweet, and yes, sensual. They’re a reminder of the time you were so enamored of your partner you’d happily spend days in bed, learning the curve of her shoulder, the dips of his back, how the lines of your hips locked into place with theirs. How the sight of an arched back or fingers clutching at sheets conveys more ecstasy than a string of fuck fuck fuck fucks. They take their pleasure and let us see it, but they’re not putting on a show for us. It just is.

When do we stop performing and start being?


5 thoughts on “The Missing Ingredient

  1. I haven’t read Hotelles (thought now I might) but at one point we’d talked about doing back-and-forth reviews of R,R&R, so I’ll throw in a couple thoughts here…
    There was too much sex in that book, imho. I liked the characters, and I liked the story, but by about 3/4 of the way through, the reliance on sex scenes to fill pages got a little tiresome. I thought the author did a decent job of developing the menage angle, though at times I wondered why Hot Brazilian and Saintly Wife didn’t just take off on their own, because Our Hero was kind of a jerk. Sex scenes are a great way to show character development, but some books seem to forget that there are other ways to facilitate change, and some of those ways even let the characters keep their clothes on.

  2. Agreed. So far, the others have been the same, to the point I can almost predict what sex trick they’re going to do next. I get that the point of erotic romance is to show the development of the emotional relationship through the physical, but there’s a line somewhere, between just enough and too much, and I’m pretty sure she left it behind a long, long time ago.

  3. You’re right in that it’s a subtle distinction much like showing a magic trick that might be impressive initially but tires with repeated demonstration. At the same time, I’ve read work that seems to have a slightly mechanical feel to it too. The scenes that work have the right mix of emotion, introspection, tenderness and energy to them but they have to have context in the story that you’re trying to tell. I enjoyed this post and will look out for Hotelles.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if romance authors run out of ways to make sex interesting. After you’ve written so many scenes, it’s difficult to make each one feel different.

      1. I try to see it as an extension of the character and whatever stakes are at risk. What do you gain or lose from the act itself often informs the tempo and underpins the scene.

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