A recent couple of tweets by some writerly peeps got me thinking about the benefits - and detriments - of keeping the bedroom door closed in romantic fiction. I write for a line that keeps the door closed - if characters have sex, it's generally off screen. I've had to tone down scenes a time or two and while in most of my books my characters stop short of the bedroom (or sofa, or kitchen counter, lol) sometimes it happens.
Now I can't speak for every "sweet" romance author out there, but here's my take on it, and it might go a way towards explaining why Jenna Bayley-Burke (Modern Heat, Samhain) says I write sexy cowboys with no sex.
The fact that the door is closed is, for me, inconsequential. What's important is if the sex changes the story - and it should change the story, and the characters, otherwise why is it there? So for example, in Marriage at Circle M, Grace and Mike fall into each others' arms. It's what happens afterwards that gets so messy! Now I totally understand that some readers want to see it happen, but some don't, and so we leave Grace and Mike heading to the bedroom and return to Grace waking up in the sheets alone. Same thing with Jenn and Drew in One Dance with the Cowboy. One moment you know they are in that precious moment where everything is going to change. And the next time you see them, Jenn is remembering how it felt to be in his arms. In his heart. In his SOUL.
And that's what's important. And it is funny how I can describe things by having my characters remember them, because what they remember is the feelings and impressions and the language is somehow more...I don't know, circumspect?
I also don't think keeping the bedroom door shut is indicative of sexual tension, either. I always try to keep the sensuality up - it's just using different language and methods. A lot of it is in awareness. Little touches. Looks. The way the hero cups her neck before he kisses her. The way she sighs after he takes his lips away. In other words - layering in the senses. I want to feel that breathless anticipation. I want my readers to feel it too. And if my characters go all the way, then so be it. We'll catch up with them in the morning. We'll see what an unholy mess it's going to make. If they don't...well then I can just keep building and building the tension.
Plus - in the Romance line I need to go deep with the emotion. That is not to say the Passion lines are not emotional, they are, very much so! Passion isn't just sexual - those characters are passionate and larger than life in many ways. It's a different way of writing, and a different promise to the reader, but at least for me it's no less satisfying. And in case you're wondering, I have written hotter stuff. If you've read Sold To The Highest Bidder you know that. If you read Breathe (coming in November) you'll see that too. It's not that either way is better than the other. They are just different. Sometimes it has to do with knowing your voice. And sometimes it has to do with knowing your readership.
And another trade secret - even if I can't put it IN the book, sometimes I write the scene anyway, and just keep it in a separate file. That way when I move on, I know exactly what happened. I know what feelings the characters had and how profoundly they were affected. I leave it in the file, leave the act unseen and move on to the emotional consequences.
Not everyone finds reading non-explicit romances gratifying, and that's okay. Not everyone enjoys writing them either, and that's okay too! If you don't like it, you shouldn't do it. You need to find where your voice fits. I'd be a complete failure at Presents (and I have the rejections to prove it!) or Blaze or Spice. I think I just read the tweets and it sparked a thought about what I like about writing "sweet". I do enjoy it. I embrace it, rather than feel like it is a restriction.
Bottom line is I do enjoy both ways, and I read both styles as well. More than whether the sex is on or off screen, I'm way more interested in if the characters are people I care about and root for. If I don't give a hoot about your characters, I'm not really going to care whether or not they're having great sex. I won't put a book down because there is or isn't sex in it. I will put it down if I'm not invested in your characters.