THIS WRITING LIFE: Sex and the Rural Romance Author

Got your attention? Good, because this is serious stuff!

There was an interesting article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers recently about ‘heat’ ratings in romance novels, which prompted me to ponder sex in our home-grown rural romances and what reader expectations might be on that front.

Heartland by Cathryn Hein coverI have no idea, and that bothers me because I’m all for fulfilling my readers’ expectations, but I’ve had no feedback or seen any comment about the sex in my books at all. The explicitness has varied with each release, so what then do readers prefer?

For me it all depends on the characters. Callie and Matt in Heartland, being the people that they are, seemed to suit spontaneous, rompy sex and I had a hell lot of fun writing those scenes.

Matt stumbled his way to the single bed until they fell in a tangle of sweaty arms and legs amid creaking springs and laughter. Callie’s shorts winged across the room, following his cargo pants, the last of her underwear sling-shotting after them. Callie laughed as Matt’s jocks caught on his springy cock, enjoying his hungry, almost pained expression as she levered him out and tugged them over his hips and down his legs. Grinning, she twirled the jocks around her finger before flinging them toward the wardrobe.

I would have felt awkward doing the same for Sophie and Aaron in Promises because they were quite sweet characters, while describing the bedroom antics of my 2014 release Rocking Horse Hill’s privileged heroine would have made me feel like a dirty perv. She’s definitely not the sort of person who would appreciate others being privy to her private life (although, given Rocking Horse Hill’s sexpot hero, I bet she has an amazing time in the bedroom).

So I asked a couple of rural romance buddies how they decide how explicit to be with their sex scenes…


Fiona Palmer, best-selling author of The Family Farm, The Sunburnt Country and other great rural reads is of similar opinion to me:

Cathryn, I agree that it is up to the characters. In one of my books it happens on the back of a ute and in another book the sex scene called for a more soft gentle approach.  The Outback Heart by Fiona PalmerSo I go with what I feel, what I think the characters would do and see where it leads. I do love good sexual tension in books and so I like a little sneak peek of when they get to finally act on this tension. I personally enjoy the hot parts, but it doesn’t sway my like or dislike of a book if it has hot sex or not. Just like in Pride and Prejudice, sometimes just the touch of a hand can mean so much more.

I haven’t heard back from any readers saying they didn’t enjoy the sex scenes in my books. (In fact I have the blokes asking for more!) So I will just keep going based on what I think the characters need and want.  Here is a snippet from my latest book The Outback Heart and this paragraph is the raunchiest of the whole sex scene.

‘Amazing.’ Troy’s gaze swept across her breasts as she arched her back, waiting for his touch. A shaky hand caressed her soft skin, his thumb flicking over an already hard nipple. Indi tightened her legs around his waist as he bent to taste one bud, before moving to the next, his tongue flicking and teasing. His hand went down to where she was hot and moist. Indi dug her fingers into his shoulders as a moan fell from her lips.


Rachael Johns, best-seller and Australian Romance Reader Award winner expands on the sex depends on character theme:

I consider my rural books very much romance books and therefore exploring the chemistry between the main characters is a must for me. But how heated and graphic that exploration is really does depend on the hero and heroine in each book.

Outback Dreams by Rachael JohnsThings such as whether the characters have just met play a factor and also their previous relationship experiences. In my first book Jilted, Ellie and Flynn were high school sweethearts and the attraction between them was always spicy but at the beginning of the book they are trying to fight it because of the hurt they both carry.  In Man Drought, Imogen and Gibson experience instant attraction but they both have reasons to steer clear of the opposite sex, however each interaction between them gets hotter and hotter till it blows up in his ute on the side of the road. That might be my sauciest rural romance scene.

If I know my characters well, I find the sex scenes almost write themselves. In Outback Dreams, my latest release, Faith and Monty have been best friends forever but have only just realized they also find each other attractive, so their first sex scene had a different tone again.

Her smile gave her consent and within seconds they were tumbling backwards, pausing only to tear up the zip on the tent, before collapsing on top of their waiting swags. She couldn’t tell who hit the ground first but they both reached for each other, tearing at each other’s clothing like hungry beasts. In complete darkness and with no method to their madness they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so Faith pulled back and took care of her own clothes. Monty did the same and when he reached for her again, she felt his warm, naked flesh against hers.

A moan of approval slipped from her lips.

Damn the dark. She willed her eyes to adjust so she could look her fill at the specimen beside her.

And then he was touching her. He pulled her towards him, tugged a blanket over the top of them and smoothed her hair. ‘You okay?’

Okay? Words could not do justice to her level of okay-ness. Why had they never gone here before? ‘Yes.’

I like reading about the sex between two people who are in love or at least on the road to falling in love, and so I like to give a glimpse of this to my readers as well. However, I don’t get too graphic with my sex scenes as I believe it is the emotional not the physical side of a love scene that is most important.


Karly Lane, best-selling author of North Star, Morgan’s Law and Bridie’s Choice is also mindful of her readers:

I’ve noticed a steady increase in what my editor and publisher expect in my books. In North Star I was asked to trim a lot of the scenes, but in Morgan’s Law I was asked to show the readers more!Bridie's Choice by Karly Lane I think publishers are aware of the whole Fifty Shades of Grey epidemic and that women’s fiction is undergoing a shake up at the moment, and so they’re willing to stretch the boundaries a little more than they may once have.

I personally, write what suits my plot and characters. I won’t write an explicit love scene just to keep up with a current trend. I had a reader who told me she allowed her young teenage daughter to read my books because she knew they weren’t too overly explicit. I’m very conscious of what my readers like which is why I won’t be jumping on the mommy porn band wagon just for the sake of it.

This quote from Bridie’s Choice gives a good example of Karly’s boundaries.

She heard him groan softly next to her ear, and she urged him onto his back, following him down until she straddled him. His surprised chuckle soon faded and was replaced with an intense look as he cupped her face in his hands, holding her gaze silently for a long moment. The depth of feeling in that one shared look made Bridie quiver with a mixture of emotion and lust. Leaning forward, she kissed him, pouring into the kiss the feelings she knew she couldn’t voice.

His hands slipped to her waist, holding her firmly as she began to move slowly against him. The gentle moans of their mutual need drifted away on the breeze above them.


Mandy Magro, best-selling author of Rosalee Station, Jacaranda and Flame Tree Hill has a different take:

I like to leave the bedroom door wide open, in ALL my novels. Driftwood 3Actually, I love to take my characters out of the bedroom to make it even steamier 🙂 When two people fall in love, the most intimate way to show this is through love making, be it slow and sensual or hungry, hot and steamy. I love writing these scenes and will endeavour to include them in each and every one of my future novels.

Mandy demonstrates just how steamy with this excerpt from her November 1st release, Driftwood.

Taylor panted as she reached out and gripped the sides of the rock, her hips arching into Jay’s lusciously warm mouth, his tongue and lips seducing her into seventh heaven. Her eyes closed in ecstasy as she teetered on the edge, her entire body quivering. How could a man send her into a sexual trance so beyond the normal realm she felt as though she was floating into an abyss? Finally, succumbing to his enchanting mouth, she toppled over the edge of self-control and screamed out his name, pulsating against his ravishing tongue as she climaxed to the point of breathlessness, every centimetre of her shuddering.

So, dear readers, what do you prefer? Well described sex or more teasing hints? The door open or closed? Do you need sex to complete the romance side of the story? Or does it depend on the characters or plot?

Comment away! Fiona, Rachael, Karly, Mandy and I would love to hear your thoughts.

If you’d like to know more about Fiona, Rachael, Karly, Mandy and their books, or wish to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, you’ll find all the links on their websites. Just click a name below to discover more.

Fiona Palmer

Rachael Johns

Karly Lane

Mandy Magro

Cathryn Hein



0 thoughts on “THIS WRITING LIFE: Sex and the Rural Romance Author

  1. AvatarPaula Beavan

    The level of steam doesn’t bother me if it suits the characters. I don’t write explicit sex scenes as I’m not comfortable with my sister reading them LOL. But you all managed to write scenes well enough that the explicitness or lack of, is right for the characters. So long as love scenes don’t jar or stand out as just whacking a bit of sex in to spice it up, is fine with me. I think it either way, sweet or steamy, done right is perfect. But I have spoken to a few people who like romance but don’t want willy’s and wizz’s stuck in their face, so to speak. (blush) ;P

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      My sentiments too, Paula. It has to suit the characters. LOL about your sister reading them! My dad reads all my books so I have that thought to contend with. Eek!
      There will always be people who prefer things hotter and those who cringe at even the hint of sex…or should I say willys and wizzes? Fortunately we have writers that cover the spectrum.

  2. Avatarrwhyte2010

    Honestly to me it feels like everyone I know that reads real romance has read all of these authors and has come to expect a certain style from each writer. For example in outback heart I knew that Troy and Indi would have gentle sex because Troy had so many issues. I also knew that Fiona’s characters are always a little different to say Rachel Treasures characters who are larrikin like..the reader expected Charlie and Bec to hook up in the tractor because they were larrikins in a young relationship (at least in jillaroo). So like others have said, it is up to the characters, but to me also the style of the writer. There are some writers I leave on the shelves because I know they have raunchy scenes in their writing but the writing style is tedious.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      That’s a really insightful comment, rhwyte2010. I know myself when it comes to choosing reads that I’ll pick certain authors over other because I love the way they write and know what to expect with their stories. The characters dictate the action but the way the story unfolds, the author’s voice and the language they use can have an enormous impact on our enjoyment.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. Avatarpamelacook

    Great post Cathryn. There’s certainly a variety of approaches and as everyone says it’s up to the characters to determine how steamy – or not – the scenes get. The only people who comment on my sex scenes are friends who want to know if they’re based on fact! Pervy buggers!!!

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Ha ha ha! People seem to love asking that, Pamela. Silly moos.
      When I was handing out advance copies of Heartland to family and friends I warned about the swearing and sex. The reaction? Nothing but excitement!

  4. AvatarFiona McArthur

    Love the excerpts and the explanations by the authors, thanks so much everyone, and enjoying the comments very much. I’m mostly a closed bedroom door person, and often skim the sex when I read it, though it was a bit hard to skim it in 50 Shades. 🙂 but some characters are just plain naughty while others make you sway in time to their seduction. looking forward to more comments. xxFi

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Very hard indeed to skim it in Fifty Shades, Fiona! Although compared to a lot of eroticas there wasn’t really that much I thought. Maybe there was more in the other two books? I only read the first.

      Characters have minds of their own, don’t they? I think that’s what makes this writing biz so much fun. Every story’s a new adventure.

      Thanks so much for joining in the conversation.

    2. AvatarRachael Johns (@RachaelJohns)

      You know this is very reassuring to read. Cos my latest book isn’t very sexy at all (the wip) and sometimes this worries me cos there’s so many REALLY sexy books out there at the moment. It’s nice to know not everyone is after that! 🙂

  5. Avatarwritenote1

    I hadn’t really thought about the characters determining the level of heat, as such … I just thought some authors were really brave!

    I don’t really need to know everything – I like a bit of mystery and when that mystery is well-written, the chemistry is just as obvious. But when the door is a bit open, I’m not worried as long as it fits the characters and isn’t just steamy for the sake of it. I read one scene in a fan fiction novel that made me laugh out loud because it was so completely ridiculous! Oh, I really don’t like certain words, like the c*** word in these scenes. It grates on me.

    Overall, I think the emotional side is just as important and that’s what I want to feel – their emotions. For me, I like some things left to my imagination.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Really, writenote1? How fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing that and LOL about the bravery. It’s hard to write sex when you know people won’t be able to help wondering “is that what she does?” Oh, cringe!!

      That is so, so true about the emotional side. It’s that which keeps us coming back to an author for more, I believe. We want to experience all the feelings that the characters are, suffer their lows and relish their highs. If it’s just rumpy pumpy without emotion we don’t get that. Then it’s just sex and we’d have more entertainment reading Penthouse letters.

      Thanks for taking the time to contribute. Most interesting!

      1. AvatarKarly Lane

        I still have a little voice in my head that reminds me that ‘your parents are going to read this!’ but now I just write what I need to write and tell them what page numbers to skip (although i’m fairly sure my Dad turns to THOSE pages and reads them first!) Fortunately they now realise i’m telling a story through fictional characters and it’s not necessarily something I would say or do….well some of it anyway!

  6. AvatarHelene Young

    Wonderful post, ladies. I have to agree that the characters drive the level of heat, or lack of, in any scene. I think you’ve all done a wonderful job of staying true to your characters and their needs and desires 🙂

    I also agree with writenote1 that the emotion is just is important and it’s that heart that makes all your stories so memorable.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Thanks Helene. It was a fun post to do up and we were all curious as to what readers other writers thought about the topic.

      I agree that it’s all about character. Some characters just seem to suit having their sex life written about, while others it feels horribly intrusive. And then sometimes come the moment they surprise you!

    2. AvatarKarly Lane

      And Helene knows what she’s talking about! I’m sure most readers of Cathryn’s fabulous blog are already familiar with Helene Young, but if you haven’t read any of her books yet, you should check them out- A-Mazing.

  7. Avatarmandymagro

    Hi Ladies 🙂 Love reading all your comments, and a big thank you for popping by the blog. It’s great to get an insight into what readers want out of rural romance novels. And a BIG thank you, Cathryn, for inspiring such a fascinating topic. You’re a champ! Hugs to you all. Mandy xx

  8. AvatarPaula Beavan

    I’ve just been reading through all the comments and had a funny thought, or perhaps realisation. I liked more explicit sex in my romance novels before I’d had sex myself. Now, old married lady, sort of skim if it’s very explicit. I wonder why that is? LOL

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  10. Avatarjulie Mccullough

    I do like to read the hot stuff. I find it a bit frustrating when there is so much build up to it and then……it’s all over and you were supposed to just use your imagination. NOOOO, I’m paying the author to entertain ME with THEIR imagination. I agree with other comments that it does depend on the characters and their situations. In my first novel, out in early Nov, I have about 3 highly erotic, but tasteful scenes, and couple of other shorter ones, one being quite comical and also that many people would relate to, I’m sure. I am self publishing and it is entitled – “Of Wolves and Wildflowers”, a romance thriller with some adventure thrown in.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Ha ha! I know what you mean, Julie. It’s like, what? that’s it??? I see that more in movies or on telly than in books I suspect.
      Thanks for dropping by to comment. All the best with Of Wolves and Wildflowers. Nothing more exciting than a first release!

  11. AvatarChanpreet

    As an American reader of Australian rural fiction I’ve read books by many of the authors on this page. I’ve never thought about how an author writes sex in their book before or the fact that they have to worry hat a loved one might think about it. There are times when I wish the scene might have been a little steamier but that’s far and few in between. I really enjoy the romantic tension between the characters.

    I think it’s great author’s write sex scenes based on their characters. I read a book earlier this year which wasn’t a rural romance but the characters had raunchy sex about 70% of the way through the book that was a complete 180 degrees from the way they were before. It completely changed the tone of the book and I ended up not enjoying the book as much as I would’ve if the scene had been different.

    So keep writing the way that suits you. The readers will continue to read it and if they’re not satisfied with the heat can always find spicier books.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Chanpreet, thanks so much for visiting the blog and taking the time to comment. I’m so excited to hear you’re a reader of our home-grown rural romances. That’s wonderful to hear!

      Romantic tension is so important when it comes to reading pleasure, isn’t it? There’s nothing quite like feeling breathless and squirmy as you wait for the hero and heroine to get it together. It’s almost drug-like, and it’s why readers return time and time again to romance.

      Thanks again!

  12. AvatarS E Gilchrist (@SEGilchrist1)

    Interesting blog post. Thank you Cathryn and ladies for raising this topic. I enjoyed reading your opinions and how you set about writing sex / love scenes in your books. I’ve written some very hot scenes (Awakening the Warriors) and others fairly mild (Dance in the Outback – coming soon). I believe that’s because my characters and the story itself have dictated the degree of steam. I do think, however, that readers expect a lot more ‘openness’ now than ever before — quite possibly a legacy of Fifty Shades of Gray. And as a reader, I will read from hot, hot books to sweet books. If I like the writer, I will read the book no matter the heat level.

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      I think you’re right with that, SE, although there are, naturally, those who don’t want the bedroom door left open, but it does seem that in these post Fifty Shades days there is more acceptance and even perhaps demand for steamier sex scenes.

      What a good point too about liking the author. It’s amazing what we’ll tolerate from our favourites. It’s about trust I think, and the belief that the story will keep us hooked regardless of minor irks.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. You’ve made excellent points.

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    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      An absolute delight to have you involved, Fiona. As you say, it’s the romance that matters not matter how steamy things get (or don’t get). That fantastic emotional tug of love. Adore that!

  14. Avatarjulie Mccullough

    I have a 90 year old lady really keen to read my novel when it is out soon. There are some erotic scenes, explicit, I suppose by some peoples standards, other people probably won’t batt an eyelid, BUT……I get a bit embarrassed thinking about what she will think of them. I have warned her….. 🙂

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  16. Avatarsuzannebrandyn

    It’s definitely in the voice, and the writing style of the author. Actions should reflect that particular character and the heat level doesn’t worry me as long as it’s not blunt, after all it is supposed to be romance.

    Great post. 🙂

    1. AvatarCathryn Hein

      Yes, it’s that emotional connection, isn’t it, Suzanne? The way we connect with the characters and get carried along on their journey that grips our hearts most.

      Thanks for dropping by.