I think using Kresley Cole as an example to follow is a great idea. I also love that you (and several other folks in the class) have mentioned how sex helps the characters grow and heal past wounds. That’s definitely an important part of the writing process.
My stories are steamy time travels and urban fantasy
1– I like to read historicals–ancient cultures, regency, middle-ages as well as suspense and mystery.
2 — I have no problem with heat level–but I get some strange reactions–I am 69 and look like a grandmother.
3– my level of intimacy would be spicyésteamy but just short of erotica though I have seen authors at the same heat level called erotic. ( define erotic and higher as more emphasis on the sex than the emotions) Kresley Cole has this down pat –you need asbestos underwear to read her–very graphic but the emotions override everything, that sense of happiness and love pervades all her love scenes and is front and center despite being very graphic.
4 reader expectations– I think they expect this level.
5– While I try to balance some serious and darker issues in the plotline in my books I also try to weave in some comedy– I see our lives as a mix of serious and light moments. so I have on occasion even put the comedy in the love scene. My characters are striving to love and trust again and like us all wonder who we are and why and where we are going.