Jun 20 2011 9:30am

Sex Without Blinking: Look Me in the Eye When We Do That

Cosmopolitan MagazineLast week, I found a recent copy of Cosmopolitan in the den; such is life when daughters come home from college for the summer. The largest headline screamed 75 Sex Moves Men Crave; naturally, that was the article I first turned to after picking up the magazine.

Of particular interest was number 50: “When we were having sex from behind, she wouldn’t turn her head to look at me. I want to be able to see a woman’s X-rated expressions as I’m doing her from behind.”

This is not an article about doing it doggie style...I promise.

It is, however, about sex scene tropes, particularly in erotic romance, and wanting to watch a woman’s X-rated expressions during sex seems a hop, skip, and a jump away from the oft-read edict from hero to heroine not to close her eyes while she’s reaching for the stars, sexually speaking.

Black Magic Woman by Christine WarrenIn Christine Warren’s Black Magic Woman, just as Asher and Daphne settle down to business, he sees her eyes begin to close. His response is to bite her lip as a warning that she keep ’em open. Not only does he pin her with his body, he pins her with his gaze. The narrative continues:

She kept her eyes open wide and locked with his. He could see the strain of it on her brow. He knew her lids wanted to close, wanted to block out the distraction of sight in order to concentrate wholly on the miraculous pleasure of their joining. But Asher would not allow it. He wanted to see every nuance of the act reflected in her face. Even as her gaze went blind and unfocused, he could see how her pupils dilated further, opening wider and wider even as her body did the same.

Got the picture? This gorgeous demon is having hot, sweaty, other-worldly sex with the woman he loves, but it’s more important to him that she look him in the eye instead of concentrating wholly on the miraculous pleasure of their joining? Really?


I can’t begin to count how many romances feature heroes demanding their heroines keep their eyes open, and I always thought it was ridiculous. Reading in Cosmo that it may in fact be a turn on to some men surprised me, but honestly, all that comes to mind when reading Asher’s thought process is that this gorgeous demon totally misplaced his priorities. I kinda thought the entire reason for hot, sweaty sex was to lose yourself in the miraculous pleasure of joining with another person, not to purposely limit the other person’s miracle.

Of course, “look me in the eye” has nothing on sex of the anal variety. Erotic romance is filled with heroines who learn to love being packed from the back. Does it appeal to authors and readers because it’s taboo...because it’s something many readers haven’t experienced...or a bit of both?

It’s a staple in historical romance that virginal heroines lose their cherries in orgasmic love scenes to hunky heroes. Virginal heroines don’t seem very realistic in contemporary romance, so this is one way to recreate that type of moment, but it certainly kicks up the kink factor immediately because, well, the two are not the same. (Although in some circles anal isn’t even considered sex, but let’s not get into those nice, religious girls who believe they’re maintaining their chastity by playing that way.)

Mac’s Law by Sarah McCartySarah McCarty actually devoted an entire book to the popping of anal cherry. Mac’s Law features a heroine who is virginal in every aspect of the word until she lands a job as cook on Mac’s ranch. She sticks her lengthy sexual to-do list in his brown bag lunch and his eyes practically bug out when he reads it. Doncha know...anal sex is one of his favorite activities, and it’s on the list! Coincidentally enough, it’s a constant on the heroine’s mind.

It seemed strange to me that the heroine obsessed about the dark, forbidden pleasure of this particular activity when my guess is that it’s more of a male fantasy than a female one. Surprisingly, though,  I enjoyed the book, regardless of its outlandish premise.

Perhaps the biggest erotic romance trope, though, is when heroes tell heroines they can’t come without permission. It makes sense in the context of stories about domination, but it pretty much comes into play in most erotic romances, whether or not D/s is involved. As I wrote in a review for AAR in 2008, “after reading a couple of dozen erotic romances with the same hero-to-heroine requirement, I’ve got to wonder how many women are wandering around out there who have hair-trigger orgasms? Lucky them—where do I sign up for mine?”

That was more than three years ago. Add a score or more to the “couple of dozen” I’d read in 2008 and you’ve got a better idea how de rigueur it is in erotic romance. On its face it is, kinkily speaking, a rather intriguing notion, but then reality hits; unless a woman is on her own, it takes quite a bit of time and effort for her to reach her peak. To me, the need to delay it is far more fantastical than being asked to do so.


Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
As someone who is ridiculously blind, it wouldn't matter, not really, if I kept my eyes open or not. I can't see much beyond my own nose with my glasses off, and if some hero insisted I keep my glasses on while we were doing it, we wouldn't be doing it, because that would just be way too silly.
I don't understand the insistence on eyes wide open, actually. But, you know, I've never been accused of being a romance novel hero.
Laurie Gold
2. LaurieGold
Megan, I asked my husband about the eyes wide open and he just looked at me like I was nuts. Of course, he's blind...and so am I. We did try kissing that way...and couldn't stop laughing!
3. dick
I've always thought sex scenes in romance fiction were best portrayed from the point of view of whichever gender the author happened to be, for it's too far-fetched to believe that a male could accurately describe the moment of truth for a female or vice versa. It's most likely that climax is one thing that can't fictionalized.
4. Maire Shelley
Bizarrely, I think women like to play to male fantasy. . . gasp. . . even in romance novels. I agree many of the situations are more male centered than female, esp in Erotica. But I guess the question is, in fantasy do women become turned on by the idea of pleasing their mate? This would seem to be the case. If you make him want you like crazy. . . Well, it makes you crazy. :D Just a thought.
5. EC Spurlock
I think guys only want you to look them in the eye so they can be sure it's THEM you're doing, not, say, an imaginary Brad Pitt. ;-)
Louise Partain
6. Louise321
Actually, my 1AO told me, oh 12 years into marriage or so, that he always keeps his eyes open because he wants to watch me. At first I just felt kind of guilty because my eyes are always closed and like I wanted to think about if my eyebrows are plucked enough and then I tried keeping my eyes open and sure enough his eyes were right there and I loved how his eyes changed color, but eventually I just went back to closed eyes.

So, whatever floats your boat.
Carrie Strickler
7. DyslexicSquirrel
I don't want to actually think about a guy watching me while we do it, I'm way too self conscious for that, I sure as crap wouldn't want to watch him watch me. Ugh.
Laurie Gold
8. LaurieGold
I would NOT want to be watched. People in the throes of it do not look their best, IMHO.

Also, it takes a good deal of concentration for many women to go over the edge, so to speak, and having to focus on somebody looking at you would not help. Then again, perhaps those who are on, as I wrote in trope #3, a hair-trigger, might not find it a problem.
9. Thalia
'"Say. My. Name," he demanded between gritted teeth' is another first-joining trope. The hero is determined to lay scorched-earth wastage to the heroine's former love life, imprint himself on her, so that she will never think of another man. Difficult to do when the chick closes her eyes and visualizes Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett up the stairs.
10. CindyS
There is a song out right now that says something like the girl he is kissing kept her eyes open - Why would she do that? He wonders and thinks it means she not into him.

I thought that was odd but after reading some of the responses I'm starting to I do things a bit different. I do keep my eyes open when kissing - sure, I close them from time to time but they are open and it's for intimacy with me.

Also, I think those who worry about someone watching them don't realize that the person with their eyes open are not seeing absolutely everything going on. When your faces are that close then only certain things register and if you are tuned that way then it is beautiful to them.

mandy troxel
some men do like the eyes open during sex. i know mine does, not during kissing though thats wierd. i love looking off and on into my mans eyes while im pleasing him its a huge turn on for me as well. just not into doing that the whole time though thats going a little far lol.
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