“When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, open my legs and think of England.” – Lady Alice Hillingdon, 1912
Poor Lady Hillingdon. Methinks she and her partner just weren’t doing it right.
Too often I think this frigid mindset about sex persists today, particularly in fiction. Certainly, some people believe that sex is like venereal disease — you know it exists, may even have personal knowledge of it, but never, ever talk about it in polite company, and certainly not with humor.
In my opinion, sex is not something to be hidden under the cover of darkness and talked about in whispers. It is a natural function, one that should be experienced with joy, and celebrated in both life and fiction.
As far as quality of life goes, sex and laughter tie for the top spot on my list of must-haves for a couple of reasons. Both can give greater dimension and intimacy to a relationship, and let’s face it — both make you feel good. Or at least, they should for most of us (I believe Lady Alice got the fuzzy end of the lollipop on that one).
Why on earth wouldn’t I want this same dynamic combination in the romantic fiction I read and write?
My characters almost always laugh with and at each other and the world around them. Their relationships are forged with sarcastic one-liners, with witty banter, and even a couple of pratfalls now and then. They tend to laugh often — even in bed.
Yes, I admit it. I’ve broken the cardinal rule of writing sex scenes more than once and had my characters chuckle between the sheets. Hey…art imitates life, and I freely confess I’ve had some of my best laughs in bed.
It’s my contention that humor, done correctly and with the right timing, can be the world’s most effective, cheapest, and least messy lube. Humor can break the tension; giving readers (and characters) a much need respite from the build-up of intense emotions. It can be a catalyst for the shedding of inhibitions between characters. Most importantly, it can hammer home a sense of reality to the scene that can strengthen a reader’s connection with the characters.
In far too many of today’s movies and books, sex scenes are either all about the physical act, or just too damn serious. In real life, sex is often full of fumbles and near misses, of bumping noses, clacking teeth, and noggins smacking the headboard. It’s full of interruptions, from phone calls to kids barging in, to pets wanting attention at the most inopportune moments. Showing these all-too-human foibles periodically in sex scenes can strike a resonant chord with readers, reminding them of some of the more awkward, intimate moments of their own lives.
In other words, humor can give characters life.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Kiernan, won’t sticking humor smack dab in the middle of a sex scene throw the reader out of the moment?”
The answer is, probably.
I’m not being contrary. When I talk about writing humor into a sex scene, I don’t mean stopping the characters mid-coitus to have one or the other jump up and smash a watermelon with a mallet. I certainly don’t mean having one partner stop drilling the other to do a stand-up routine. That would be just…wrong. Timing is the key. A little gentle humor, a quick chuckle between partners before things get hot and heavy, can go a long way.
Unless, of course, you want the sex scene to end. Coitus interruptus is tried and true method of building sexual tension, and humor is a great way to do it.
Humor after sex is particularly effective. It can show an easy camaraderie between long-time partners, or discomfort between almost-strangers, and it’s especially useful in providing post-hot-and-sweaty-coital tension relief for the reader.
What type of humor you use is an individual choice. I think most writers create characters that appeal to them physically, and the brand of humor written into a story should be no different. Writing humor that you don’t enjoy personally would probably fall flat. My humor is often of the sarcastic variety, although I’ve been known to throw in a little physical humor if I believe it fits with both the story and the characters. Basically, if it makes you laugh, go for it.
To the Alice Hillingdons of the world: lighten up. You might just loosen up enough to find out what the rest of the world already knows — that good sex can put a smile on your face.