Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to Use Sexual Tension to Cause Conflict

This is from information I gathered at Mary Buckham’s class.

This is the list of the 12 stage of intimacy. I was surprised and pleased to realize I instinctively used these in my books, without knowing the reasoning behind them.

The 12 Stages of Intimacy – by Desmond Morris

1) Eye to Body

2) Eye to Eye

3) Voice to Voice

4) Hand to Hand

5) Arm to Shoulder

6) Arm to Waist

7) Mouth to Mouth

8) Hand to Head

9) Hand to Body

10) Mouth to Breast

11) Hand to Genital

12) Genital to Genital

These are the stages you use when bringing your hero and heroine together through the story. You don’t have to do it in this order, but this is the order in which the woman would slowly become attracted and trust the man.

This information is based on an anthropological study. And the mating or courting ritual is a great way to cause tension and conflict in a romance.

Men and women are genetically attracted to one another. That attraction and the risks involved in consummating that attraction are what create strong sexual tension.

The body is telling you one thing- “Go for it” while the head is telling you – “No.”

Sex creates conflict – To have sex means physical risk, to deny sex means emotional risk – thus conflict.

Sex demands the relaxing of vigilance. For animals other than man it is a quick coupling because during that time they lose all track of time and place- thus making them vulnerable. So in the wild the act of mating can be a flirtation with death.

Women have through the ages looked for the most aggressive and strongest male. They want a mate who can protect them and their young. Long courtships give the women the chance to look over and judge potential mates in several ways- willingness to commit and ability to provide. Men just want to have sex.

Courtship allows a woman to commit once she’s reassured a male is willing to put off immediate returns [sex] if and only when he’s determined the prize [her and his offspring] is worth the wait.

If at any of the 12 stages a woman gives a man clues that his advances are not welcome, she is telling him she is withdrawing and, if he does not force the issue and force her to change her mind, the relationship is terminated.

Three fourths of the 12 stages of intimacy, from stage 1-9, can and usually are conducted in public, for no other reason than to increase the trust level of the female.

Courtship is the means by which the male of the species coaxes the female of the species into noticing him, responding to him and if all goes well reproducing with him. If he is male and she is female this pattern exists.


For man, courtship is very prolonged by animal standards.

The courtship phase is characterized by tentative, ambivalent behavior involving conflicts between fear, aggression, and sexual attraction.

The nervousness and hesitancy- the conflict - is slowly reduced if mutual sexual signals are strong enough.

A woman makes her evaluation of a man more slowly if she wants him for long term. And if another woman offers a differing opinion, she may change her mind. Mate choice for women is not just about fertility. She likes tall, dark, and handsome [because that is the traits of a man who can protect her] but he also has to prove by his actions that he will care and provide for her and offspring.

Love is not Easy

It’s not always neat and pretty.

Doesn’t always come along in the expected way

Or at the perfect time

In fact, just the opposite happens more times than not.

These are four points are what make a good book.

POINT 1 - Understand Conflict

Hard issues that are not easily solved until one or both of the main characters grow and change.

Where one or the other must compromise

One relinquishes something dear and important

That pits one’s deepest wants and needs against another’s deepest wants and needs in each and every scene.

POINT 2 – best books pinpoint the twelve stages

Every time one of these stages is met, instead of life getting better it gets worse.

Because the conflicts and stakes have been raised.

POINT 3 – Don’t skimp or skip the 12 stages

Linger, dwell, focus a reader not only on the physical action of each stage, but the emotional reaction.

Words, powerful words, are used to alert a reader to the fact that something monumental is happening, whether the characters want it to happen or not.

POINT 4 – There is not only a physical response.

Focus on the development of intimacy, trust, and emotional response.

If you show a reader a physical description of a touch, a look, a kiss then show the impact of the action.

Sexual tension combines awareness with desire, denial, and restraint.

My next blog will go into detail about the 12 stages of intimacy.

Do you instinctively use the stages to bring your characters together and to spark the conflict that makes sexual tension and keeps the reader tuning the pages? I know sitting through this class, I realized I do this instinctively without knowing why I did it. But did learn I need to dig deeper for point 3 and 4.


Alice Sharpe said...

Good blog, lots of interesting facts. One thing struck me because of the results of recent studies and it was this:

"(a woman) likes tall, dark, and handsome [because that is the traits of a man who can protect her] but he also has to prove by his actions that he will care and provide for her and offspring."

Recent studies have shown that for sex, women do desire tall, dark, ruggedly handsome. But for long term commitments, women tend toward men with softer features, bigger eyes. The theory is she doesn't trust the other kind to stay with her and her subsequent children.

This has nothing to do with romance novels, of course, because romance novels are fantasy!

Karen Duvall said...

Good info, Paty. Those 12 steps have made the rounds, haven't they? 8^) I have the list copied from a workshop that I downloaded eight years ago, and it's just as helpful now as it was then.

Your blog makes me think about a recent episode of Mad Men I watched on the AMC channel. Mad Men is a dramatic series about advertising in the 60s, and it's so disturbing to watch the accuracy of how women were treated back then. I was just a little kid in the 60s, but I recall a lot of issues the show brings up as it applied to my mom and the mothers of my friends. Kind of like watching old home movies! We've come a long way, baby.

Barbara said...

Thanks, Paty. This is a good, detailed description of what is needed in developing a romance. I'm sure it will be useful when/if Jim and I ever get back to writing on our wip.

Paty Jager said...

Alice, I should have wrote down the name of the person who did the study, but she also said that power and money will trump tall, dark, and handsome. Myself, I don't go for that, but I guess there is a portion of women out there that deem money and power as what they need to provide for their offspring - or maybe just themselves?? But I can see where women would lean toward the softer features and bigger, innocent eyes. Hmm..

Karen, Yeah, she didn't say when this study was made. That could make a difference in how women and relationships are evolving.

Glad this is useful for you Barb!

Anonymous said...

Good blog, Paty.

You said, "Focus on the development of intimacy, trust, and emotional response.

If you show a reader a physical description of a touch, a look, a kiss then show the impact of the action.

Sexual tension combines awareness with desire, denial, and restraint."

This is what, as a reader, I prefer in a novel. The restraint, though there's obvious desire. It's much more exciting and makes a better read, in my opinion, if it's not all spelled out for the reader. Lets me use my imagination. Know what I mean?

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great list, Paty. I'm late in responding but lots of interesting info here. Thanks for sharing!

Genene said...

Thanks for sharing, Paty. Good list!

I think sometimes I jump around on the list. In spite of my love of lists, I don't follow them to the letter, but rather use them as idea generators or guidelines.

However, who a woman chooses as a mate can be very revealing about her if you dig deeply into her motives for who she chooses. Hmm...