I finished Susanna Kearsley's The Shadowy Horses a few days ago and I started thinking about "fade to black" or "bedroom door closed" books. As a generality, I prefer my fictional bedroom doors wide open and the lights left on. But I started to wonder why that was - and why some books which do fade to black work really well for me. And here's what I came up with.
I think there are two aspects at play during a sex scene in a romance (as opposed to erotica) - there is (often) something physically arousing about it and there is something I'm going to call, emotionally arousing. I can't say I'm immune to the physical "symptoms" of a well written sex scene but for me, the bigger payoff is in the emotionality. I think very often the sex scene creates a "shortcut" to the emotional arousal I'm seeking - the heightened emotions which are often present being key here.
Fade to black books, with only kisses (and few kisses) do not usually give me the emotional arousal I'm seeking when reading romance. What causes this emotional arousal? Well, it can be kissing or handholding, the hand on the small of her back as they walk, her hand in his (or his in his for that matter). It might be internal dialogue or conversation (conversation is the better of the two) where the couple's emotional connection resonates (“When the day shall come that we do part," he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” Jamie to Claire in The Fiery Cross - although The Fiery Cross is in no way a fade to black book of course.). In a sex scene it can be the desperation of one to physically connect to the other, the primal claiming of "mine", a more tender or reverent loving after a crisis perhaps, the delight one partner takes in the body of the other, the care taken in ensuring his/her satisfaction - the physical display of the emotional connection.