Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sex in Books

I’m going through an inner battle about my opinion of sex in books.

On the one hand, there’s the firm Christian in me who believes intimacy is a sacred union between husband and wife that should be kept private.

On the other hand, there’s the writer in me who wants to get into every aspect of my characters’ lives and minds, no matter how gritty, and can accept that people aren’t perfect.

I often put down books that I feel are too explicit or vulgar. At the same time, I don’t believe it’s okay to ignore a character’s sexuality. It’s an important part of life, and it defines us.

I get irritated when an author is too squeamish to include important details. It’s not enough to just draw the curtains and move on to the next scene because I want to know what happened. Not all sexual experiences are the same.

I also hate it when the character all of a sudden starts talking about something completely unrelated, like a cloud. People having sex do not think about clouds. Also, when a good character does something bad, have you noticed writers often say “he didn’t know what he was doing”? Come on. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

So, what am I comfortable with, and what goes against my standards? I have no idea.

I do believe, however, that when I find the right balance I can use my Christian roots to help me write better sex scenes. Everything I wrote would be deliberate, necessary to the plot, tasteful, and will focus more on emotion than sensations. I just have to decide what’s necessary and tasteful.

How do you decide the best way to write your sex scenes (if you write them at all)?


  1. Interesting question...I know where you're coming from, having grown up with a strong Christian foundation.

    On a personal level, I don't have a problem writing sex scenes. As explicit or as subtle as needed. However, unless it's a part of the genre, I don't think stories actually need them.

    The sensuality is the important bit. How people talk to each other, touch each other, before the 'act' happens. If you've covered that beforehand, you really can drop the scene at the bedroom door so to speak. The character's interractions before and after will imply what details don't need to spell out.

    That's just my opinion ^_^

  2. Hi Teralyn!
    I have struggled with this issue as well. While I am by no means prudish, I do not like gratuitous sex scenes in books. Unfortunately this has become a trend in not only romance but historical fiction as well. On the other hand, if one is writing a romantic story, sexual tension is the most integral part. For me, I have discovered that the level of intimacy portrayed in my books must be decided by the characters. In my first book, the primary love story (there are 2) is that of young star-crossed lovers. Sex between them followed declarations of true love forever and the scenes were not graphic. The second couple who incidentally become the main protags in my second are much more worldly and jaded. For them, physical attraction precedes love and the sex is more carnally and somewhat more explicit yet not nearly as graphic as is commonly seen these days. While I don't just fade to black, I do try to imply as much as possible without going into gratuitously graphic detail.
    Hope this perspective helps!
    Emery Lee
    THE HIGHEST STAKES, Sourcebooks 2010
    FORTUNE'S SON, Sourcebooks 2011

  3. The problem with sex scenes is that what turns some people on might turn others off, so there's a risk in going into too much detail. I must say I sometimes find them boring, especially if the writer tends to be repetitive.

  4. Thanks for the comments! This conversation is really interesting.

    Monica: You probably didn't mean it this way, but you hit the nail on the head when you said "what turns people on." I don't like it when literature arouses the reader. (To be more specific, if I want to put a book down to do what the characters are doing, it's too much.) I think it's innappropite and takes away from the story.

    Does that make sense? What do you all think?

  5. yeah, this is a tough one. I have to agree with Loralie--if the lead-up is done well enough, I think you can leave off the actual graphic details. It's a tough one. Best~ <3

  6. Hi,

    I'm sure most authors agonise over how far should I go? Is explicit content O.K., and if so should it be sensual and pleasing or raw base sex. The answer: it all depends on the characters, their situation and circumstances that led to where they are at.

    How explicit should a rape scene be, should rape be included? Again, it happens in real life, it happens in novels, but how explicit should it be? How can a reader feel sympathy for a victim if all they have is their own idea of what constitutes rape, as they imagine it to be?

    I have a rape scene in my novella "Her Favoured Captain" (available on Kindle). I wrote the scene, deleted the scene, then re-pasted the scene, because a critique partner said closing the door on it lost its impact, and although explicit in a sexual sense it is part of the story, and set in 17th century England.

    So yes, if sex needs to be explicit, crude or sensual, and vital to the plot let it be whatever it must be. ;)


  7. I think there're only two key factors:
    a)Is it integral to the plot and
    b)Does it turn you on.


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