Apologies for a slightly tardy post. The entire development lost internet and the ISP spent the bulk of the day and night setting that straight. I hesitate to say much more lest this brief window of stability shatter.
Sex in my novels. Yes. I do write sex into most of my novels. The intensity varies based on the needs of the characters and their stories. So far my sex scenes swing from sweet to just shy of erotica.
As to when and how I use sex scenes, my intent when I write them is usually to mark passing a trust milestone for hero and heroine. But. When I look back at the scenes I've written, they almost always slant into being a means of prying up the edges of my characters' defenses in ways they never imagined or intended, especially in the SFRs. I like a lot of action in my stories. I'm all about the good guys being chased by bad guys with guns. Into that action, a lull must come. A tiny space suspended between conflicts where two people who've been forced to learn to work together while battling insurmountable odds can finally explore the physical attraction that's brewed throughout the story. Yes. In the SFRs I make them wait. Mainly because most of those books are enemy to lovers stories and building trust to the point of a sex scene not being forced takes a little time. Still. In each of those sex scenes, there's a power dynamic in play and that enemy to lovers energy is never far from the surface. It's because when something like sex, intimacy, and vulnerability break a character open, it's the perfect lead in to shattering the trust that's been built. It's the perfect time to force these two changed characters back into the enemy roll they'd once fit into so easily - only now it pinches in the worst way. So yes. If my characters are gonna get it on, I'm going to use it to fuck with their heads and their hearts. Always.
In the urban fantasy books, sex is a means of establishing control. It's a little more graphic, but, I hope, not rape-y. The heroine absolutely buys into the activity and gives enthusiastic consent, but she's also possessed by a demon who's tried using sex to debase and humiliate her. Isa manages to turn the tables on him. When the demon possessing you doesn't consent to sex but you do, what is that?? Regardless, the point of that scene was to complicate relationships and up emotional stakes for all three characters involved.
So sex scenes. When? When the characters and the story need them. When a sex scene would enhance or heighten conflict or increase stakes. How graphic? Depends entirely on the needs of the story. I know we all keep saying that. But everything that isn't sex scene in your story has a specific tone that dictates what you can and cannot get away with in sex scenes. If you read widely, you very likely already recognize this. How does it change my characters? Sex scenes usually break my people open. They demonstrate both to the reader and to the characters that they've passed a threshold and can't go back to what they once were.