Stream of (Sexual) Consciousness

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

This excerpt from Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart is anything but a typical or generic sex scene.

The two main characters in this historical romance are Stuart Aysgarth, a viscount, and a woman called Emma Hotchiss. Emma has a very shady past but at this point in her life she is an utterly respectable and unremarkable woman who owns a sheep farm in Yorkshire. Stuart gives her cause to seek him out when he causes harm to her livestock, but after getting no satisfaction she takes matters into her own hands. Thus, he catches her in the act of robbing him (I’m simplifying this, please note). So he ties her to a chair to keep her from running off, but more importantly because this is an opportunity he had been hoping for. With her questionable connections and background, she can help him with a problem — or if she prefers, he can call the sheriff.

There is a long, interesting, complex discussion between these two while she’s tied to the chair, business negotiations and personal observations, all fraught with a great deal of sexual tension arising from strong mutual attraction. Emma is experienced and not easily frightened, but she is at a bit of a loss on how to handle Stuart, who tells her she must give up two minutes of her time to experience the personal trespass he has suffered over a longer period.

This initial confrontation, discussion and negotiation takes many pages, and eventually they get to kissing (another couple pages). Remember that Emma is still tied to the chair where this excerpt begins.

Untie My Heart. Copyright Judith Ivory.

Somewhere along the way his hand returned to her knee, light, dry, warm possessive. Just his hand on her knee. For balance. Still, for a second, she knew a tiny panic. He stroked it away. His thumb rubbed the inside of her knee, two soft, short strokes along the bend, the first reassuring, the second bringing such a shocking physical rush of blood to the core of Emma, she nearly lost her breath. Her legs … dear heaven, her legs. She felt all at once exposed … aware how close he was to… well, he could have put his hands, that thumb, those fingers anywhere.

Almost gentlemanly, sweetly, as if he read her mind, he broke away long enough to lean over sideways. With one hand, he yanked at the ties at her legs, ripping them in part, setting her right knee free first –oh, lovely!–coming back to kiss her again briefly–then stopping long enough to lean in the other direction. She lifted her free foot out, straightening her knee to stretch, as he undid her other one. Not that he was letting her free or up exactly, because as soon as her legs were freed, he came back to that astonishing kiss, having her rather trapped against the chair.

Then, the next thing she knew, his hands hooked under her knees, and he lifted her legs up as he moved forward and straddled the chair himself, sitting, while in the same movement lifting, running his hands under her legs down her calves to her ankles. He sat, taking her legs up over his. He still had to bend forward slightly, he was so much taller, but he was less awkward, more comfortable, she thought, sitting on the chair-until he moved forward and brought their bodies close, up against each other. She would have slapped him perhaps. Maybe. Difficult to say, since her hands were still held behind her. In any event, it was a shock at first to feel him — his male body up against her spraddled female one.

He bent forward, kissing her harder. One moment, his hands were at the sides of her, gripping the chair posts over her head. He curved his hips hard against her, and she knew the heady thickness of him. All so oddly familiar, yet not. The next moment, one of his hands was between them, at her waist, then the back of his hand glided down her belly, almost protective. Then he took his hand away–and nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing whatsoever was between them. Unless one counted something else she hadn’t felt in a very long time: a very capable, fully naked, and perfectly beautiful male erection.

He either knew or was inventing on the spot how to have sexual congress on a chair … they were about to…she was letting him … no, she jerked on her hands, they weren’t free in back….she was his prisoner…wasn’t she? Was she letting him? She wet her lips to say stop. The word didn’t come out. Did she want him to? Now was certainly the moment to say so. Decisions seemed to hang, demanding her attention, yet her brain couldn’t seem to keep up with her body.

She felt herself swollen, lit, as the head of his penis dropped against her. It slid down the length of her in an instant acknowledgement of how ready she was. The warm movement of his hand was there, adjusting himself into position – here was certainly the moment to protest. Did she want to?

Then it was too late to protest anything. With a swift, sure movement of hips, he thrust himself deeply, thickly inside her. Her body all but pulled him into her, swallowing him up. His arms were at either side of her again, enfolding her against the chair, against him, his chest, the spicy-warm smell of him…his strong, muscular shoulders hunched toward her, one hovering at her face till the starchiness of his shirt rose into her nostrils like steam, till she tasted it in her mouth. . . his hips under her, his presence inside her, hot and substantial, driving … intrusive, amazing . . . he lifted into her with a kind of rhythmic spasm that was so satisfying she bit down on his shirt, clenching her teeth. Seconds. It lasted seconds — perhaps three deep, solid stokes of Stuart’s body into hers. While her own contracted around his the moment of entry and simply kept contracting… tighter and tighter and tighter. . . until an explosion… or implosion, things collapsing and shoving and moving inside as she couldn’t remember in years, maybe ever, . . with both herself and Stuart making such noises, mutters, animal sounds, groans.

She came to her senses again like this, her heart pounding with him right there in her face, his body up against her, still inside her.

Two minutes. Had it taken two minutes? Feasible. It was entirely feasible.

When I read this over again I am entirely taken in by Emma’s voice, her very distinctive voice as we follow her thoughts through this scene. She’s such a down-to-earth, practical woman, unprepared but not particularly upset by Stuart’s direct approach. More upsetting to her is her own inability to produce the reactions she knows she supposed to have. She’s supposed to not want this; she should be protesting. But her body has the upper hand, and her body wants Stuart, and she goes along for the ride, amazed, dumbfounded, but absolutely able to acknowledge the pleasure it brings her. This has nothing to do with love; she never even thinks about that.

The approach here is very explicit: we see what Emma sees, and feel what she feels. Every one of Stuart’s actions is recounted, but in rather sober, vaguely surprised language. She registers things: the shock of his body against hers, the familiarity of a male body still after a long dry spell, and a very calm assessment of his body in a state of sexual arousal. What kind of woman, in this situation, thinks a very capable, fully naked, and perfectly beautiful male erection. Notice the juxtaposition of the sensible observation (capable) with the appreciative one (perfectly beautiful).

She debates with herself what she wants, and her role in this whole business. I’ve read this many times to see if I could talk myself into believing that she is being abused or raped, but I can’t see it. She knows perfectly well how to stop him, considers doing that, and doesn’t. She never makes a direct and conscious decision to go ahead and have sex with the man; it’s more of a decision she makes by letting opportunities slip by. Once the act has actually begun, she’s caught up in the physical sensations, and they are provided for us in detail: the things she smells, tastes, feels, sees.

Her final thoughts — Two minutes? Entirely feasible are completely in character, and perfectly caught.

I’ve wondered too what to make of the lack of dialog between them in these two minutes — they certainly chatter away in the first twelve or so pages of the scene, and now complete verbal silence. This experience is for Emma a fairly solitary one; if she looks into Stuart’s eyes we don’t know about it; it’s all about what’s going on inside her own head and her own body.
Has Emma changed in the course of this encounter, has the narrative shifted? That’s something you’d have to decide for yourself by reading the whole novel, but I think that this is in fact a turning point for her, and for Stuart.

I think I like this and find it to be successful because it is unique and unusual and evocative. I’m curious what y’all think.

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6 Replies to “Stream of (Sexual) Consciousness”

  1. Sex scenes … um.

    I was about seventeen when “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (spell check?) was allowed to be published in England and, of course, I just had to get a copy. And, of course, during the last 45-odd years, I have been witness to, at the extreme, anything and everything becoming readily available on the internet … well get into Google and type in “kiddy porn”.

    Some claim that this “loosening of morals” promotes all manner of practices, whereas I think that all that’s happened is that people now openly talk about all manner of things which were once taboo, but which have always gone on … and I have personally found that it has all become rather boring: so that I tend to skip descriptions of “sex scenes” in what I read, or watch.

    However:

    What I do notice is a kind of formula and, as someone else has observed, one could easily cut out chunks of narrative amongst different authors and substitute amongst them, without noticing any significant difference.

    The commonality is what I can allude to as merely a more explicit form of the genre represented by Mills and Boon, or Barbara Cartland, for instance.

    To the extent that female authors now comprize a kind of “leading edge” in describing human sexuality; I suggest that it is only an overly romantic exploration of the fact(?) that, on average, females have always been as keen to have sex as males have long-since been accused of.

    O.K. I may have stirred a hornet’s nest, but, if so, I will wait for “stings back” before trying to elaborate my case.

    Meanwhile, for me at least, sex scenes are redundant and it WOULD do to say “and then they had sex”.

  2. Funny you should mention Lady Chatterley, I was thinking of looking at one of those scenes.

    Okay, so here’s the deal — of course some readers can do without sex scenes altogether, the way others have no interest in reading about battles. But for readers and (especially) writers who do consider such scenes relevant to characterization or narrative, sex scenes present some particular challenges. What I’m trying to do — and it remains to be seen if I can pull it off — is to break down these scenes to see how they work, or don’t. I could do the same for battle scenes, and maybe I will, at some point. If people are interested in that.

    I’m glad you spoke up — I did start this by saying that there would be a great variety of opinion and reaction — and I hope you’ll post the rest of your thoughts.

  3. I am glad if I happen to have made a contribution and I will try to go deeper into why I have come to think/feel the way I do, though I have already explored sufficiently to say some things … for instance:

    Please don’t suppose me to be saying that sex scenes, battle scenes, or whatever, shouldn’t be written.

    To the extent that a narrative is cathartic, for instance, for both author and reader alike, it is important for everything to be included.

    If this hadn’t happened, during my life-time, then I suppose I would still be as “hung-up” about sex (and sundry other stuff) as I was in my teens and, I suppose, Western Civilisation(?) would still be in the grip of Catholicism and/or Puritanism.

    It would be bad, I think, if an author got to feel obliged to be constrained on this or that – like when the Inquisition made Descartes tread very carefully.

    Those days it was very real that saying the “wrong thing” could cost you your life, but these days – thanks to the incremental efforts of “free thinkers” – it seems to me that we are well on the way to gaining liberty, equality and fraternity (regardless of sundry dark clouds, e.g. Iraq and such as George Bush).

    So, Sara, write as you see fit to write and just know that your readers will somehow see the overall picture and take, or leave, whatever bits and pieces they happen to gel with. (Obviously many things gel with a myriad people, withall their differences.)

    It is impossible to please everyone, but it is obvious that you please the many thousands who enjoy your stories.

  4. I often find most sex scenes in romance novels a little tame for my taste. I read this book a few months ago – and I was impressed too. Whenever I see a Judith Ivory book that I haven’t read, I buy it.

    I think that sex scenes should be shocking, hot, fun, silly and vibrant. Seduction and domination make the scenes hotter. I love it best when both partners are totally “in to it” in spite of themselves. The conflict is pretty hot. Like the “I shouldn’t be feeling this way but I do.”

    The only thing sex scenes should not be is boring.

  5. As for battle scenes – Jerry Pournelle with Larry Niven, and Elizabeth Moon are among my favourites. Elizabeth Moon’s “The Deed of Paksennarion” contains great examples from full battles, to one-on-one battles, to training sessions. They do have a point to the plot – one woman’s reluctant realization of her vocation as a religious warrior.
    Another series that seems to have died out, but was excellent is written by S.M. Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. “Saber & Shadow” and “Lion’s Heart” are a couple of the titles. Beautiful stuff where characters come to know each other better through the various attempts on their lives by others. Isn’t it a truth that where trust is required, self-knowledge and knowledge of the other is essential? So sex scenes and battle scenes – a couple of ways to tell the truth about your characters.

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