CharactersCraftDescription/ SettingGenreSavvyBlogVoice

Sexual Tension, Without Any…You Know… Sex by Alice Gaines

(Note: Because I’m a romance author, I’ll use the standard romance terms – hero and heroine (h/h). Your sexual tension may not occur between two protagonists. Also, I don’t mean to imply that romance or sexual attraction are restricted to members of the opposite sexes.)

Because I write romance, all my stories include physical intimacy between hero and heroine (or hero and hero, heroine and heroine). I tend to write very sensual and erotic stories, but there are sweet romances out there, too, where intimacy doesn’t go beyond a few breathless kisses. Other types of stories can include sexual tension, as well. The hard boiled detective may have a heated flirtation with his secretary or one of his clients. People can fall in love in space or on other planets. I’ve read sexual tension and romance within fantasy. Many of these stories want to include sexual tension without taking us into the bedroom. How do you portray sexual tension without any actual sex? There are many ways. I’ve outlined a few below.

The first encounter
Beginning writers often make the mistake of having their characters drooling all over each other from the first time they meet. Even in erotic romance, a character seldom goes from neutral to sexual excitement when an intriguing new person enters the room. What they emphatically will do is have a heightened sense of awareness of the other person. In general, your h/h will always be aware of each other’s presence unless one of them is hiding or comes into the room while the other isn’t looking. In that case, your character may still have some kind of spidey sense that the other is around.

How to portray the awareness: Time stops briefly while the two people become aware of each other for the first time. In romance, your h/h often meet in the first scene of the book, and almost always in the first chapter. This is not a good time for slowing things down, and it’s certainly a bad time for long and elaborate descriptions.

What you need is a beat while their “eyes met across a crowded room.” (Note: Eyes don’t fly out of people’s heads.) Now, notice one thing or two maximum about the other character. Personally, I don’t like striking beauty at this point and not prettiness at all. It’s much more memorable to notice the way the person holds his/her chin in defiance or the fact that the woman is wearing a modest dress while all the other women have plunging necklines. Noticing his/her laughter is fun.

Continue the scene, dropping in more details as you go along. When the two characters interact, make clear that the non POV character has also noticed things about the POV character. Does he focus on parts of her body? Does he comment on her personal attributes in his dialogue? (“I’ve never seen you here before.” “Do you smile like that at every man?”)

Indicate interest with eye contact. Typically, pupils dilate a bit when we look at something interesting. The classic indicator of feminine interest is for the woman to make eye contact, look down or away (perhaps smiling or biting her lip), and then make eye contact again. That should tell your reader that she’ll welcome a man into her personal space. It’ll get a man’s attention, for sure. For shier women, a blush and looking away suggests interest that she’s afraid to show.

Men are probably more forthright in expressing interest with eye contact. If the non-POV man does this, it may fluster the POV woman in a pleasant way. Her skin may grow warm, and she’ll almost certainly look away.

It’s best for the awareness to go both ways during the first meeting. You can certainly have a meeting where h/h observe the other person from a distance. That isn’t really a meeting. If during the first meeting, one person is hyperaware of the other but the awareness isn’t reciprocated, you don’t have sexual tension.

Note that one or both of them may not consciously welcome any kind of involvement at all. If he’s rich or famous, he may be suspicious that all women are after his money and this one’s no different. She might find him arrogant. His smile might remind her of the last cad who tried to seduce her. They don’t have to approve of each other or consciously want any relationship, but they can’t change the fact that this person has stepped into his/her world. In fact, the conflict between the attraction and the fact that they don’t want to be attracted can be a lot of fun to play with.

Next step – personal space
It’s a well-known psychological phenomenon that people consider a certain space all around them personal, and any invasion into that space creates a feeling of intimacy – welcomed or unwelcomed. We’ll deal with the welcomed type here.

Shortly after the attraction between h/h is formed, one is certainly likely to enter into the other’s personal space. In historical romance, this often takes the form of a dance at a ball. This is a socially acceptable way for the two people to embrace, but that doesn’t mean it’s a trivial matter for either of them. Again, one or more of them may experience a flush of excitement, although it won’t be felt as truly sexual. All the senses may be heightened. Your character may notice the rustle of skirts, light and shadow in the hall, and various smells.

Dance or no, once the characters are up close and personal, they’re literally within breathing space of each other. That is, if their faces are pointed toward each other, they’ll be able to feel each other’s breath. Naturally, they can smell each other. One hopes, they smell good, whether that’s historically accurate for your book or not. Soap, shampoo, cologne, skin lotion come up often. Unsmoked tobacco has a lovely scent, but you’re suggesting your character smokes. Leather works for a horsewoman/man. If they’re in a greenhouse, they may associate a green smell with each other. If she’s wearing flowers, he’ll be aware of their scent.

H/h will be aware of each other’s height relative to his/her own. A man might note where the woman’s nose reaches on his body. Does it come up to his shoulder? To his chin? Especially if he’s much taller, he may feel protective of her, which can be frustrating if she insists on maintaining independence. She may feel a bit overwhelmed by his height and the breadth of his shoulders. If she’s always felt ungainly, she may enjoy the feeling of being petite next to him. They very likely will be aware of each other’s body heat.

You can play with physical proximity. If she’s bent over the craps table at a casino, he could reach for the dice, bringing his body close to hers. She can duck under him to help him find a file in the file cabinet. Either can reach past the other to push the elevator button. They can be stuck in a carriage or a cab together.

If you’ve ever found yourself in this position with someone who isn’t a lover or good friend, you know how awkward it feels if you’re not attracted to them or how exciting it feels if you are.

Sexual banter
The main form of sexual tension in dialogue falls under the category of sexual banter. This can range from quite innocent to quite explicit.

Innocent:
She stared out over the ocean. “What a beautiful view.”
“It certainly is,” he answered.
“But, you’re not looking at the ocean,” she said.
He gazed into her eyes. “There’s an ocean nearby?”

Less innocent:
“What have you heard of me?” he asked.
“That you’re a terrible rake.”
He laughed. “Then, I’ll do my best to be a more accomplished rake.”

Even less innocent:
She yawned.
“Late night?” he asked.
“Coffee, please.”
“Who’s the lucky guy?”
She stared at him. “William Shakespeare.”
“When he needs a stand-in, let me know.”

Quite explicit. There’s an amazing scene in The Taming of the Shrew where Katharine and Petruchio first meet. There’s a lot of great banter in there, but one of his lines is amazing. They’ve been going back and forth about tongues and telling tales. When she tells him she’s done and she’s leaving, he answers, “What, with my tongue in your tail?” I first heard that about 45 years ago and have never forgotten it.

How far on this scale you want your characters to go is up to you and the demands of the story.

If you’ve been wanting to insert more sexual tension without any sex scenes into your story, give some of these techniques a try. Let me know how they work for you at [email protected].

 

Alice Gaines writes for Harlequin Spice Briefs, Red Sage Publishing, Changeling Press, and Avon Impulse. Most of her work is ultra-sensual or erotic, but her stories always have a happy ending.

Alice lives in Oakland, California with her pet corn snake, Casper. When she’s not working on a story, you’ll usually find Alice tending her tomatoes, cooking, or writing hymns for her church, where she serves on the altar guild. Alice is a passionate fan of Oakland’s own soul band, Tower of Power. She knows what is hip.

You can find Alice at her blog or twitter.

 

Miss Rosalind Weaver is on a mission. She must convince the Duke of Fallon to marry her, or her father will give her away to the next highest bidder, a man she cannot stand. She thinks all the Duke desires is reassurance that she can give him an heir, but she soon learns he wants a more thorough test of how she will fare as his wife–in the bedroom…

Buy ‘The Devilish Duke’ at Harlequin.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.