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Nipples shouldnt do that! and other musings on romantic fiction

When it comes to those hot n heavy scenes scenes in fiction (yes, wink wink, nudge nudge), most would argue that its usually the male appendage (I say appendage, not penis, because its usually denoted by a euphemistic moniker a la manhood, member and so on) that gets all the attention from the authorial pen.

But this is not so!

Penises pale in comparison to nipples.

The darling buds of May

And why not? Nipples are far more egalitarian: both sexes have them, so its double (quadruple?) the fun. And, it turns out, nipples have a far superior range of movement.

In fact, where penises are limited to activities that wouldnt be out of place in a sword fight (thrust! plunge! impale! [ouch]), nipples have far more up their, er, sleeves.

And, yet, none of them remotely plausible.

Ive read about nipples furling, an action that brings to mind an umbrella being rolled up after a heavy downpour. Nipples apparently also pearl and bead, although how they do so without rolling off the body in question is difficult to conceive indeed.

They also take on floral properties: they have been known to bud (but hopefully not sprout, although I suppose this works well with the term seed). Ive even read of nipples that would be of interest to a cartographerthese, apparently, form peaks. (But not stiff peaks, as those are only appropriate to meringues.)

bud1 Nipples shouldnt do that! and other musings on romantic fiction

Exhibit A: not a nipple

Lingua Franca (aka, tongue of a French guy)

But we cant single (double?) out nipples here. Theyre fairly harmless in the scheme of things, really, just sitting about until theyre needed as a signal that things are about to get steamy.

Now, lips, on the other hand, have something to answer for. They have agency. And, lips, it turns out, are in todays romantic fiction directionally challenged.

Lips dont kiss any more.

Rather, they angle and slant on to each other. In the next few years Im sure well see isosceles and hypoteneuse as viable kissing-related verbs. If you gave todays romance fictions lips a sobriety test, theyd fail: under no circumstances would they be able to walk in a straight line.

Of course, perhaps this is because the structural integrity of our average heros/heroines lips is undermined by what their tongues are getting up to. The vocabulary term of the moment seems to be lave, meaning to lap against or cover or swamp with water. This term becomes even more romantic when its confused with lathe. This is a lathe:

 Nipples shouldnt do that! and other musings on romantic fiction

Please dont kiss me with that.

What is to be done?

Now, Im not necessarily advocating a return to Patrick White-esque sex scenes where all the good bits are so shrouded in metaphor you honestly think that youre reading about two peacocks cooing over each other (see A Fringe of Leaves'for the passage in question that left my entire year 12 Literature class baffled). But I do think that when it comes to writing sex scenes, its time that we step away from the thesaurus and, certainly, away from nipple-based calisthenics.


  1. Hi-larious! Love this post. Its so true, tacky wording just takes me out of the book and puts me off. Why cant they just call it what it is?!

  2. Stephanie /

    I think sex scenes must be fiendishly tough to write, which is why the behind closed doors approach often works so much better. (Sort of like how its always preferable to imagine a monster in a movie rather than seeing the dodgy special effects version). But there are surely classier ways than delving into the world of icky synonyms!

  3. Hear, hear, Stephanie!! Im running a workshop for the NSW Writers Centre in March on this very topic. Well, not nipples as such, but the whole fraught area of writing about love and sex. And I will certainly be recommending that they step away from the thesaurus when writing a sex scene!

  4. Very funny! I can imagine its very hard, I mean difficult, to write love scenes well. And if you think reading them is bad, try audiobooks. Having it read to me gives me a fit of giggles.

  5. That lathe is kinda sexy, you know

    Furling nipples. Furling! I cant get that mental image from my mind. Im obviously reading the wrong books

  6. I love your post. Thanks for a Monday morning giggle. Furling nipples? Sounds painful. Im not sure I would be able to continue reading that book.

  7. Hahaha! Greaterpoints. Buds are too prepubescent; it immediately conjures up Lolita-esque scenes, and who wants that? Nothing ruins a good sex scene more than insane euphemisms for the naughty bits. Granted, penis, vagina and the like are not the most romantic words, but there has to be better terms than manhood or womanly center.

    Topics like these make me glad I am not a writer.

    And I totally agree with Chris. Sex scenes on audio are a definite no-no. I want to imagine my own sex scenes and do not need some strangers voice interrupting my fantasy! (Listening to them at work is even worse. Im always afraid someone is going to be able to hear what is coming through my headphones.)

  8. Stephanie /

    Dianne: Oh, the thought of a workshop student rifling through a thesaurus as part of a class exam cracks me up. Im definitely of the less is more group when it comes to sex scenesI have quite a ribald imagination when I need it, so a neat scene break tends to be perfectly sufficient for me!

    Chris: Chortling over your use of difficult/hard! And oh dear, I can only imagine the audiobook versions. Do they get breathy or steamy? Id imagine that the most hilarious would be those read by someone with a really stiff-upper-lip British accent. I say, old chap! he said, unsheathing his weapon of manhood

    Michelle and Jami: Clearly youre both missing out. The furling has remained in my mind for years (I read it in a Stephanie Laurens novelLaurens uses the term a good ten times a novel, by the way), and its just such an odd word that I cant forget it. Let me know if ever you need recommendations! ;)

    Michelle: Youre right, it is a bit Lolita-ish, although I suspect that Nabokov wouldnt have stooped to such perversions of language ;) Youre spot on about some of the truly awful euphemisms used for body parts. Womanly centre is certainly an awful one, but my personal pet peeves are mound (mound?! that makes me think of compost!) and core (which sounds like something that needs to be drilled). Im also cracking up at the thought of you listening to steamy romance novels while at work!

  9. Ebony McKenna /

    What a fun post.

    But . . . It all depends on the mood really. (of the book and the reader at the time)

    If its good writing, if it makes the reader feel something, if it feels like a natural progression of the story, then it works.
    If its too much or too weird, then it breaks the mood and it feels wrong.
    I guess another problem is if you read a whole slew of books that coincidentally use similar words, the next time you see those words youll get the giggles. Especially if a lathe is involved.

  10. Stephanie /

    Great point, Ebony. I think sex scenes are amongst the hardest to write because theyre so heavily reliant on feeling, emotion and mood, and they can so easily be made trite or awkward. I think it must also be tough to keep writing within a genre where sensual scenes are a requirementI read a book recently where it felt as though the sex scenes had been copy and pasted, they were so similar! But really, how much can you mix it up within one book (perhaps I shouldnt ask)?

  11. Haha! Slanting lips do drive me nuts. I guess by the hundredth or so sex scene, romance writers have to say something more than They kissed. They kept on kissing.

    His lips lathed hers? Ooh la la!

    • Stephanie /

      Jaclyn: I always wonder whether it gets tiresome writing sex scenes. Actually, I might interview some authors and find out! I did read one book where the three sex scenes were *identical*. I swear they were copied and pasted. Im cool with they kissed, though! At least it doesnt make me giggle :)

      Mary Beth: Im so glad your 2 year old didnt understand what was going on! I read your comment walking to work and had a good old giggle at the nipple-as-flag concept. And oh, the column of manliness! It brings to mind the Tower of Babylon, only fleshier

  12. Lol! This is awesome. I started having a giggling fit and my 2-year-old walked over to see what the heck was going on. At this point your Exhibit A was even more hilarious because he just did NOT understand what was so funny.
    The nipples unfurling gets me too- what, theyre flags now? Ive decided to name mine Old Glory and Dont tread on me, with the nickname of red, white and blue reserved for a few special books.
    Regarding manly euphemisms, years ago my sister got her hands on a super-smutty book and brought it home. We read bits of it out loud, laughing hysterically, my mom peering into the room trying to decide if we were up to something or not. It was basically one, big, bawdy sex scene and I will never forget how the author described the Fabio-esque guys penis: a column of manliness. That has stuck in my mind and I still giggle when it pops into my head which has led to some rather awkward moments when I happen to be in the company of people in front of whom it would be impolite to discuss things such as peak-y nipples.

  13. Oh these comments above have distracted and horrified me. Sex scenes on audio Nope. I think Ill avoid that too. And kissing with a lathe. Ouch. I dont read a lot of romance but perhaps this is part of the issue I avoid sex scenes in books. They just dont work well. hah

  14. Stephanie /

    Hmm, perhaps they could just substitute some heavy breathing on the audio versions instead? Its definitely not just the romance genre thats to blame here, though (although they may cop more of the giggles given that they often proportionately have more sex). Ive seen hilarious sex scenes across all genres of fiction (I think I just read something last night about a vagina being described as a sticky stamen).

  15. Ugh I dunno. Heavy breathing would creep me out too. hah. And I think romance novels do the sex scenes better or at least Id assume so cuz they have more of them. I try to avoid sex scenes in ANY books ;)

  16. Stephanie /

    Im going to start including a little contains hilarious sex badge on my reviews as applicable from now on. ;)

  17. I love that idea!!! heeheehee