Saturday, September 14, 2013

Technical Topic - Why Are They having Sex on a Cactus?

Someone mentioned --
this is a kinda summary and paraphrase here --
the unlikelihood that our Hero and Heroine would fight a pitched battle in the morning, scamper like hell cross-country in the afternoon, and then fall onto their bedrolls in the evening with energy enough to stage a six-page sex romp.

And I have to agree.
Even when I was young and and limber I could manage no more than two out of three of those on a good day.

So why do we see love-on-rocks romps and stufflikethatthere in good Romance?

Why do skilled writers give us this sort of over-the-top scene?
More to the point -- why do readers love these scenes?
Why does the reader suspend disbelief here, when she'll go ballistic on the authenticity of the fish knives?

Couple of tropes at work here.
One I think of as 'Naked in the Heather':

genuine heather
Our redoubtable hero and heroine think nothing of stripping down to the buff and having at on a heather-covered hillside in the Highlands, in March, taking no notice of gorse bushes and rocks and bristly heather and, well . . . March in Scotland.

genuine sand
The H&H make love on beaches, (with sand in every crack and crevice and I do not mean among-the-tidal-rocks crevices,) in haystacks, on New York City ledges high above the traffic, and in public toilets at the airport, (Ewwww.)

The other trope I call 'It's Only a Flesh Wound, Honey', which is often also Glad-to-be-alive Sex.

Our H&H take time out for some nookie while fleeing packs of ebil men armed with AK-47s or rising hurricane waters or, nowadays, zombies. Nor are they deterred by various wounds acquired in their travels.
One can only marvel at the good health and general enthusiasm of all concerned, frankly.

Why are these tropes not merely tolerated, but popular?
I haz theories.
genuine passion
One is that readers see sex in these unlikely situations as a sign of overwhelming passion. They know they would be distracted by the prospect of hermit crabs scuttling over their private parts on some secluded beach.
The heroine isn't ...
because she's transported by passion.

Many folks come to Romance genre for a fix of exactly such overwhelming, transformational, the-world-well-lost-for-love, crazy passion . . . an indifference to gorse bushes and gunfire being absent from most folks' real lives because they are not fruitcakes.

And readers enjoy the mix of desperate, adrenalin-producing action and sex because it's just plain exciting. They'll tolerate the unlikelihood that one would pause for a quickie in the middle of hot pursuit if the sex is really, really good.

Romance writers use these old reliables because they work. The tropes heighten emotion. They feel familiar and comfy to long-time readers. 

Now.  Full disclosure here.  I did the Glad-to-Be-Alive-Sex thingum once that I know of.  It was in  .... um ... My Lord and Spymaster.  Jess and Sebastian have escaped, unhurt, from the lair of Lazarus.  Jess had done some knife fighting in that incident.

genuine Romance book

Oh, but she was amusing him, wasn't she? 

 [Sebastian said,] "When you brush up against death, you want to couple afterwards.  I found that out years ago.  I didn't know it worked the same with women.  Does it?"

"Does this time," she said frankly.  "Mostly I was real young.  And the last couple times I was so seasick I didn't want to do anything but curl up and die. 


So that is my own particular contribution to this trope.

Writers have the special joy of watching really good writers subvert these tropes.

not quite a sex scene, however
Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where a bruised, exhausted Indy falls asleep before the H&H can make love? Spielberg pokes fun at 'It's Only a Flesh Wound, Honey,'and makes the writers in his audience fall in love with him.


  1. I have to admit I've gotten upset at authors for the second trope. Sometimes they just take it too far.

    1. They use this in thriller and mystery All The Time.

      Our intrepid investigator gets conked on the noggin and knocked out. Ten minutes later he's up and raring to go.

      Admirable, of course, but I have to remind myself to suspend disbelief.

  2. Hey Jo,

    that are very interesting observations. I hadn´t realized it until now, but I do fall for such unlikely scenes in Romance, too :)

    Your theories make sense to me.
    I don´t think the way things work out in books is always likely to happen that way in real life, so I can enjoy these scenes as well :)

    Great post,

    1. I think these sorts of scenes just would not be used in books all the time, by really good authors, unless they touched something basic in the reader.

      They work. Readers like them. I think we can maybe sometimes be just a tad unrealistic ...

  3. I've talked to a few guys who swear that a good fight does indeed leave them horny, even aroused. Gracious, the evolutionary ramifications of an association between violence and arousal...

    Another factor at work: We do crazy things when we're young and options are limited. A hay mow is crazy, a sandy beach crazy... the back seat of a Volkswagen Bug is really crazy (I'm here to tell ya). I draw the line at Highland gorse in March.

    1. There's an old Punch cartoon -- from the Thirties maybe -- of the bright young thing pushing an amorous male away from her in the back seat of a car.

      Saying, "What kind of girl do you think I am? A contortionist?"

  4. Jo, thanks for pointing this out! I've always wondered why writers do this can't-wait-to-get-safe sex. Maybe that's why I only read really good romances like yours. ;-)

    1. *g* Thank you.

      I don't know whether that sex+violence exactly works for me or not. Has to be well done, of course. I'll enjoy fairly iffy plot points if they're well done.

      I was searching my mind -- so often a fruitless expedition -- for examples of this being just magnificently performed in the genre, but I couldn't shake any scene in particular loose. This is an example of dire need for coffee ...

  5. Loved this post, Jo. I am a very visual person and sometimes when I'm reading along in one of my historical romances, I come to a sudden halt, thinking, "Wait...that's physically impossible," or "Eewe...that's icky." And, really long drawn out sex scenes have me skipping paragraphs (it's kinda like get to the good stuff already; enough kissing of feet.")

    1. I love that, "enough of kissing her feet." That's one of the difficult lines to draw ... how much peripatetic around around the place before the set to?

      I love the physically impossble stuff. Always makes me grin.

  6. That was always one of my favorite Indy moments. The movie with Sean Connery as his father when Indy tells him, "I was the next man dad," made me laugh aloud and it had big ewwwww possibilities.

  7. I have to tell you that I am a Sean Connery fangirl. Not just a pretty face. I love where he went after "Bond. James Bond."

  8. This post reminds me of something the divine Lois McMaster Bujold wrote in SHARDS OF HONOR: "Youth, it appeared, was full of illusions as to how much sexual energy two people have to spare while hiking forty or so kilometers a day, concussed, stunned, diseased, on poor food and little sleep, alternating caring for a wounded man with avoiding becoming dinner for every carnivore within range--and with a coup to plan for at the end. Old folks, too, of thirty-three and forty plus."

    Offhand, the Kevin Costner ROBIN HOOD jumps to mind as an example of this trope. Marian's almost been raped. Robin's just been catapulted over a wall, jumped through a window, fought a desperate duel to the death (with Alan Rickman no less!). Robin and Marian both almost get killed by a crazy witch. They're sweaty, bloody, of course they begin to immediately and passionately make love.

    As you do. ^_^

    I don't think I've done this in my own stuff yet...but now I sort of want to. ;)

  9. Love this.

    I didn't remember that quote from Shards of Honor, but I have that Bujold on my Keeper shelf and will now reread it, anticipating that snippet.

    Isn't it wonderful to have these writers in our heads? And there are people who don't, poor things.

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