May 8 2013 2:30pm

To the Extreme: Extreme Sex in Romance Novels

Willing Victim by Cara McKennaWriting extreme sex in romance novels is a tricky business. To push the boundaries almost beyond comfort, to stretch the limits of traditional convention, and not veer into straight erotica, requires acute skill and careful balance. But that combination of intense, hardcore sex and a gripping, equally powerful love story heightens the entire experience of reading romance, and for those who can handle it, it can be addicting to glimpse the darker side of love. Whether it's rape fantasy, polyamorous BDSM, or orgiastic dystopia, among endless possibilities, love that knows no bounds and has little restriction can ultimately be the most romantic of all.

Of course, extreme sex isn't without controversy. Cara McKenna gives her take on consensual rape play in Willing Victim, about two people who need it rough. Laurel is just discovering this about herself, longing for something more; Flynn freely embraces this part of himself, but never forces it on the women he's been with. She's drawn to him, he offers his preferences openly, and they circle each other, a tentative cat and mouse chase that escalates realistically until we're hooked. The raw Boston setting, Flynn's predilection for underground boxing, and Laurel's own assertiveness, never for a minute giving the impression of a helpless victim in any way that she doesn't want, all serve to entice even the wary. Certainly Laurel's and Flynn's experiences have shaped them to be who they are, and they have baggage the same as anyone, but there aren't any glaring skeletons or psychological fodder to be dealt with. The greatest thing is that this isn't an unhealthy addiction; it's a preference, and in that, Laurel and Flynn's romance is like any other: perfect just for them.

“And how do I fuck you?” he asked, voice turning harsh, hand slipping beneath her panties, tickling her pubic hair before his fingers found her folds and banished all other thoughts and sensations from reality. She moaned.

“Tell me how I fuck you.”

“Hard,” she managed to say. “And mean.”

“Am I forcing you?” Two fingers penetrated.

“Oh God.”

“Tell me. Do you want me to force you?” He pushed deeper.

“Yeah,” she said, barely able to form the syllable as his fingers thrusted into her.

The Billionaire Bad Boys Club by Emma HollyEmma Holly lends her own unique, high sexualized and deeply intellectual style to the popular vein of BDSM and billionaires with The Billionaire Bad Boys Club. Zane and Trey have been best friends and lovers since high school, attended Harvard together, and built a business empire celebrating the indulgent. They also love women, and when they meet Rebecca, the executive chef at their new restaurant, there's something about her that intrigues both men individually and draws them toward her. All three of them have very tragic pasts that aren't glossed over, and these help bond and seal them. Holly takes special care developing the separate relationships, so when they progress naturally together, it's a smooth transition. And in usual Holly fashion, the sex scenes are over the top, a sort of extreme Fifty Shades on a whole new level. Roles are interchangeable, and each one builds until the three are linked together forever.

“Prisoner,” Zane said, his manner all authority. “You're going to take ten strikes, and you'll count them aloud for me.”

Trey counted. Each stiff blow was hard. At first they were welcome, because they helped him back off the edge, but soon they excited him as well. For whatever reason, he was wired to respond that way. His ass was on fire within a minute, his inner muscles twitching with their desire to be fucked. Zane seemed unlikely to satisfy that craving in front of Rebecca—a fact that only made Trey want it more. He wanted to fuck and be fucked simultaneously. The instant he acknowledged the desire he knew he was stuck with it. This was his obsession, the yearning no amount of wooden paddles could beat from him. He wanted Zane and Rebecca at the same time.

Beyond Shame by Kit RochaAnd the writing duo known as Moira Rogers has made their mark as Kit Rocha and created a gritty alternate world in Beyond Shame, with a broken society and class structure on a physical plane as outwardly barren and destroyed as many of the inhabitants who have survived. But in the dark realm known as Sector Four rules the O'Kane gang, who embody the philosophy “anything goes.” Literally out of Eden, the prestigious capital city, falls Noelle, a princess of the highest order, and she tumbles right into O'Kane hands. She instantly finds a protector in Jasper, the quiet, commanding right hand, who gives nothing away and throws Noelle completely. She's a moth to the flame, captivated by this new world that answers a call she wasn't aware of to be truly alive and experience everything. There's Dallas, the gang's fearless leader; Lex, the tough-as-nails chick no one dares challenge; tattoo artist master Ace; fighter Bren; and a close-knit band of brothers and sisters who have fierce loyalty to each other and a strict code of honor as they guard their territory and protect the bootleg monopoly they've established. All while enjoying each other thoroughly in the process.

Noelle wants nothing more than to explore her new-found freedom and takes us along for every minute of the ride. Sexual expression of every sort is found here, and of every imaginable configuration, with the promise of more to come. The lovely thing about it, though, is that for Noelle it all becomes significant only with Jasper by her side. As she engages in physical self-discovery, the juxtaposition of her developing emotional ties with Jasper adds grace, beauty, and balance to the story.

“This is about Noelle.”

About her. All about her, and she was already melting at the thought of it. She twisted her head and tried to catch Jasper's mouth, but he held her back and licked her lips again. “When Ace has you fixed up, honey. Then I'm going to kiss you while he fucks you with his tongue.”

She had to pant to get enough air to speak. “That's so dirty.”

“Mmm.” Jas reached down to grip her leg, his fingers curving along her sensitive inner thigh. “You can tell him not to touch you.”

Did he want her to? Was this a test of loyalty? Tension started to curl around her, until she realized her answer was the same either way. “He can if you want him to.”

Ace clucked his tongue. “If you'd ever had my face between your legs before, you'd sound more excited.”

Noelle ignored him and stared into Jasper's eyes as the world floated around her. “Anything, if you think it'll make me feel good. I want to feel good.”

Jas's fingernails dug into her skin, just a little. “You can't separate them, can you? Whatever I want will get you off.” He bent low, spoke directly into her ear. “I want you to have other people, find out what you like. Get and give pleasure before you settle on me.”

The appeal of extreme sex in romance is that there are no rules. This is where some of the most creative work can be found, offering a freedom from inhibitions that makes the romantic relationships more visceral and real. The added element of extreme sex can make us feel more connected to the romance; these are the stories that stick with us, and once you find them, it's hard to let go.

For more coverage of erotica and erotic romance, head to our NSFW collection.

Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.

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Jennifer Proffitt
1. JenniferProffitt
I was absolutely in LOVE with Beyond Shame and now I'm reading the sequel Beyond Control—such a great series: great sex, great characters, great story. Love love love
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I won't go onandonandon about how much I love Willing Victim, but I did read Beyond Shame recently, and absolutely loved it. Apparently I do like extreme sex (in romance). I read Emma Holly eons ago, but haven't for a long time.
3. jessn1017
"To push the boundaries almost beyond comfort, to stretch the limits of
traditional convention, and not veer into straight erotica, requires
acute skill and careful balance."(emphasis mine) - I fail to see how these books DON'T veer into straight erotica. Having read both romance and erotica and knowing what I typically see as the main differences, I would classify the books listed as straight up erotica, with romance included - not romances with extreme sex scenes. The extreme sex scenes are exactly one of the things that bumps something into the erotica category. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with erotica, but, come on, let's call a spade a spade.
4. Lizzie Dee
I also really like Beyond Shame and Beyond Control. To me, what makes them not straight erotica is that there is a story line beyond the extreme sex. To me, straight erotica is just about the sex without the build-up, the follow-up, the character building, etc. that happens in a "regular" book.
5. Carolyn @ Book Chick City
What a fab post. I hadn't read any erotic romance until recently, but now I love it. I'm still finding out what I like regarding sex in romance but it's certainly makes for fun discovery.
6. KateRothwell
I read a really shockingly violent but rather touching BDSM m/m book Uneven by Anah Crow recommended by Sarah Frantz. The story is about a delivery boy and an executive. (of course neither of them are what they seem) The way those two come together makes McKenna's books look PG. It is not for the weak-of-heart--but I don't usually get the appeal of BDSM (most of the props make me roll my eyes) and I loved that story.
7. kwon
Hi, wonder if anyone knows what book I'm looking for. The only thing I remember is that the blurb or article contains the line "when he asked her to pick a toy, he wasn't referring to Monopoly" or something similar. It's driving me nuts!!! Thanks for your help!
Tiffany Tyer
8. TiffanyTyer
@jessn, to tack on to what Lizzie Dee has said, some of the finest authors in erotic romance have told me the difference, in a nutshell, is that erotica is the sexual awakening/exploration of a single character, which may or may not end in a happily ever after but usually doesn't, whereas romance is the journey of two people finding their happily ever after together. The examples I've put forth, through the whole of the novels, are focused on the romance throughout, first and foremost, while including these incredibly erotic love scenes. It always comes back to the romance, so the sex never feels gratuitous to me. That's where my admiration comes in, that these authors have struck this balance so well. When it's done well, these stories allow me to feel so much more overall, which is why I really enjoy them.

Thanks, everyone, for the input!
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