Charlotte Loudermilt, beta reader, lesbian fiction lover, and sex scene expert offers her insights into intimate moments in wlw books.
Let’s talk about sex scenes in books. Authors usually hate writing them, and readers usually love reading them. And that’s the problem.
How can authors get steamy sex scenes in books to come alive if they generally don’t enjoy writing them? The result is writers will often spend far less time ironing out the wrinkles in the fictional bed sheets than any other part of their lesbian romances. That can create everything from uninspiring intimate moments to anatomically impossible actions.
That’s something Charlotte Loudermilt knows all about. She’s been a beta reader for several lesbian fiction authors and she has a specialty talent for deconstructing sex scenes in books. Her eye for detail picks up many an issue on a topic that humans are squeamishly bad at talking about.
When not beta-reading, Charlotte, a former teacher, reads hundreds of lesbian fiction books for pleasure.
So, let’s peek under the hood of sex scenes in books, as Charlotte offers some entirely unserious, wholly unscientific sexpertise. (It’s a word.)
Why do we need sex scenes in books?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I do think that if there is a well-written sex scene it can be educational. My first time with a woman was purely instinctual but had I had even the most basic of prior knowledge, I think it would have been invaluable to the experience. Not that anyone had any complaints mind you!
I’m also a believer in representation. There is a special type of intimacy that occurs when women have sex with other women, and when an author can convey that on the page, it not only makes for compelling reading, but it is life-affirming.
Or do we need sex scenes in books at all?
Well, sex does sell. No, I don’t want to trivialize it. Of course, books can be wildly successful without sex scenes. I do, however, think that if a book is labeled as a romance there is a level of expectation attached to it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a vivid/overly descriptive account of tangled limbs.
For example, if an author chooses the fade-to-black route, then as a reader I am going to want to feel that emotional connection on an intrinsic level. The loaded looks, slight touches, and shallow breathing all need to resonate to the point that the reader can feel the want and sexual tension just as the characters do.
There are readers who simply don’t want to read a graphic sex scene and that’s perfectly fine. We have readers who have been sexually assaulted, readers who are asexual, and readers who have always felt that sex should just not be discussed in detail.
I’ve also seen parents/guardians wanting their young-adult child to have a safe option to read and those books need room to exist on the shelf too.
I’m the type of reader who will give just about anything a chance. However, disappointment can come about if the author or promotional team has lauded their book as something it’s not.
What makes a good sex scene?
The word moist. Ha! Actually, believability is my first thought. The worst thing that can happen is for a reader to be taken out of the story.
It irks me if I have to stop because of out-of-character behavior or if I have to question whether a position is even physically possible.
On that point, once there was a scene Lee Winter had sent me but I just could not figure out how it was physically possible. So I grabbed my wife and asked her to help me act out the scene. Not only did we have a bit of fun, but I also realized we just needed to replace the words left hand with right hand.
Next, there also has to be authenticity regarding the hotness and steam.
Some authors think that if they just throw around some dirty expletives that will automatically make the sex hot. Often one well-placed “fuck” (no pun intended) will have a much larger impact than several strung together. But beyond the dialogue of a scene, I like to see where the panties are slowly slid down or where the teeth gently scrape the exterior of a lacy bra.
Is it hot in here?
What makes sex scenes in books bad for a reader?
Oh, it’s so sad when bad sex happens to good characters!
For me, it comes down to failing any of three things: Believability, physically possible, and authenticity.
What are common mistakes you see authors making?
If I have to read one more time where Character A feels electricity because of Character B then I hope the power goes out. There are thousands of ways to describe attraction, flirtation, desire, etc, yet so many choose electricity as though it’s the only word that exists.
Also, recently there has been an uptick in the age-gap genre (not complaining because I do love an age-gap romance). But I have noticed that some authors seem to struggle with nailing dual perspectives when it comes to the sex/intimate scenes.
A 50-year-old woman is going to view sex and her body in a much different light than that of her 25-year-old lover. It’s such a critical component but completely missing in so many of the scenes I’ve read.
And there is always the contortionism of the characters. Let’s talk about thumbs for a minute. There is no way a middle and ring finger are deep into a woman while simultaneously rubbing her clit with the pad of her thumb. Authors, you are going to have to choose!
Narrators mention that characters ignoring consent is a big issue in the het-fic romance world. Is this a concern you’ve noticed in lesbian sex scenes too?
It’s rare for me to read this type of scene or to find consent an issue. I’ve been impressed by the number of scenes I’ve read where, if a character says no for any reason (eg feeling overwhelmed), then all action is immediately stopped. Showing that type of care and concern can lay the foundation for further intimacy later.
I will say that if you ever want to witness a masterclass in how consent can be conveyed, then read the sex scenes in [space romance] The Lily and The Crown. The main characters are a young master and her slave. I was approached to beta read this story specifically to look at its consent issues.
I was immediately conflicted as to how this dynamic could work and be perceived. But Roslyn Sinclair did something beautiful with the tightrope we were walking, by giving the slave all of the power. It’s absolutely poetic.
What advice would you give someone uncertain about how to tackle writing a sex scene?
Have sex. Good sex. Masturbate, fantasize, read other authors, and ask questions without shame. Do it ALL without shame. Honestly, this is a great example of writing what you know. If you aren’t comfortable with sex in general, it will undoubtedly translate onto the page.
It can be easy to think about what you like, what turns you on, and what feels good to you. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that you must stay true to your character. Just because you like getting spanked, doesn’t mean your character will.
Naming body parts: clinical vs metaphors – what’s your preference?
Obviously, my favorite is the “Devil’s doorbell!” There is a lot of debate about what readers like when it comes to the naming of body parts. For me, anything overly clinical or crass is a no.
Are there any times when you just can’t face reading one more sex scene in books?
I never beta read a sex scene if I’m already horny/turned on. For instance, Lee Winter had sent me a scene to look over but I had just finished reading a piece of fanfic that left me reaching for the nightstand drawer. And I knew there was zero chance of me being objective at that moment. Lee could have sent me a photo of a living room rug and I would have thought it was the most romantic place in the world to have sex right then.
Are you available to beta read for authors with sex-scene angst?
I’m very particular with who I work with because I don’t typically beta just the sex. For me, it’s a much longer process because I like to get to know the characters prior to them hitting the sheets or kitchen counter. How am I to know if the sex is good unless I’m familiar with their chemistry?
But if I do say yes, oh yes, then be prepared for absolute brutal honesty. And if I say no, then please find a beta reader who will truly give constructive criticism.
If the only feedback you receive is positive, then your beta reader is lying to you or simply not good at offering direction. Because there is always room for improvement when writing first, second, and even third drafts.
On that note, beta readers: Be completely honest with the author you are working with. You and the author are not going to agree on everything and that is perfectly fine. Also, there is a difference between criticism and constructive criticism. If there is something you don’t like, then help the author by giving them an example of what might make it better.
And the thing I love most about working with Lee Winter and Roslyn Sinclair is their humbleness and willingness to truly listen. It can’t be easy to turn your work over to someone for the sole purpose of critique.
Why do you love lesbian fiction so much?
I am passionate about it because lesbian fiction is transformative for so many who read it. There are people who have felt different their whole life and who can pick up lesfic and see that what they’re feeling is accurate and okay. You never know when a questioning person may pick up your book for affirmation so I believe it is imperative to get it right.
If authors want to contact Charlotte for her sexpertise, she suggests: “Just send me their panties in the mail. Ha ha! Or, I guess they can send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.”