Writing Sex in Fiction

So, first off, this is likely to be my most popular post this month. And secondly, it’s not going to be “dirty.” Instead, this is intended to be a serious discussion of sex in fiction and how it should be portrayed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying some sexual acts should be portrayed but not others. Heck no! The sky’s the limit these days depending on what kind of reader a writer wishes to attract. However, I am saying that sex scenes need to fit within the context of the larger story, and not be considered apart from that. Otherwise, they are a needless distraction at best and a turn off at worst.

If the story is not about sex or romance in particular, an author can simply shut the bedroom door on the readers when sex arises. Two or more characters engage in some kind of lead up, and then they go away someplace to have sex. The story then resumes after the copulation, and the reader then discovers what the results of the sex were as far as plot and character development.

Naturally, if your story is a romance, the sex should be a little more explicit. However, as the term “romance” implies, it’s not about the physical act of love as much as the emotional content of it. The reader should find the scene compelling because of the emotional weight the characters feel while engaging in sex. Sure, some “naughty” things will be mentioned, but that’s not where the emphasis should be.

And then there’s erotica, or “porn” if you will. In this type of fiction, the reader should know what they’re in for on page one. Let’s face it, many people are uncomfortable with explicit sex scenes, and they have a right not to have it thrust in their face. However, for those who do choose to read erotica, they expect their money’s worth. Here, emotional content and plot take a back seat to explicit descriptions of fornication. And that’s fine. However, the challenge of erotica is for a writer to make it interesting. Face it, folks, the mechanics of sex itself are pretty boring and unless the author can get creative in the descriptions, the whole thing can be rather dull.

And here’s where I feel compelled to mention my good friend Seka Heartley. As of now, her adult book; Passion Pirates of The Lost Galaxy is selling so well she’s working on a sequel (after having promised never to write a book like that again). In her case, she uses humor and over the top metaphors to liven up the sex scenes. And, recently she received an extremely high compliment from a veteran SF master who said; “What I like about the sex in this book is that neither party is being exploited. It’s all mutual.” She liked hearing that because she very much wanted the reader to have as good a time as the characters she wrote about.

Sure, for reasons of plot, some other fiction may contain less than pleasant sex. If the story is about a rape victim recovering from the trauma, we may need to read about the experience to get into the character’s head. But pleasant of not, I believe sex scenes in fiction must merge with the work as a whole.

Therefore, I’m just as comfortable with writers who close the bedroom door as those who describe all the sorted details. For me, it simply depends on what kind of story is being told that determines whether sex is an enhancement or a tedious distraction of the tale.

By Clayton J. Callahan


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