I was watching a movie that could best be described as a suspense recently, and as I was watching it, I had a wee epiphany.
Physical intimacy in a romance is like the danger in a suspense. It raises the stakes and puts the characters in jeopardy. In a suspense, it is often literally a matter of life and death. In a romance, it's the life or possible death of the relationship that can be at stake.
And then I thought, physical intimacy in a romance is also like the scary parts of a horror movie -- a time that provides, for both the characters and the reader, a heightened emotional response.
Those are also the times, whether it's making love in a romance, running from the bad guys or facing a monster, when the characters are shown in high relief. All pretense, all their social masks, are stripped way. In the case of romance, they are often literally naked, but that's not nearly as important as the laying bare of their emotional selves -- their hopes, their fears, their needs and lust and longing -- just as in a suspense, a chase can show the characters at their most determined, most clever, most self-sacrificing. Facing the monster shows a character's bravery and urge to protect others.
But let's not be all gloom and doom.
Physical intimacy in a romance can be like the pratfalls in a comedy -- when the characters do something embarrassing ("Oh, my gosh, I kissed that guy and now I find out he's going to be my boss!") and we laugh because, well, we're not them. What's happening may be painful to them (emotionally) but we know it's a romance (comedy), so it'll all work out in the end. If a character slips on a banana peel (real or figurative), we can chortle safe in the knowledge they won't suffer serious, debilitating consequences.
For some people, physical intimacy in a romance is like the forensics in those CSI shows. They expect it, and a lot of it. Don't have it, and they simply aren't interested.
You know, I can spend hours on this sort of thing. However, I have a book I should be writing, so I leave further comparisons to you. :-)