Wednesday, April 28, 2010

X is for X-Rated: 18 and up, please and thank you.

I don't write sex scenes, and maybe that's a mistake.

Now, I write sexy scenes. I write my characters in the shower, en route to bed and post-coitus. I write them wherever I can show their sense of intimacy, something meaningful about their character, or even just a snippet of really funny dialogue.

But I don't write sex. I assume anyone reading my novels knows what sex looks like, and as I don't write romance or erotica (not for public disemination, anyway), it seems a bit unnecessary to me to write a sex scene per se.  Besides, even if I wanted to, there is no word I can use for the male organ with a straight face. Including the phrase "male organ", just so y'all know. Clinically, I can say "Penis penis penis" all day (not that this often comes up as a necessity), but when it comes to fiction, saying such a thing seems odd and medical. The slang all seems too rough. And the female side of the house -- that might be worse!

Sometimes, I read writers' worries that the lack of sex in their books makes it seem like a YA book or whatnot. This always makes me pause and try to remember how many books I've read have had sex scenes in them; honestly, there's no single trend among the great ones (or the terrible ones, for that matter).  Some have sex; some do not.  Where it furthers the story, it's a good thing, in my opinion.  I've just never had a story that required a sex scene.

But if I ever do have a sex scene to write, I'll be looking up this guy for some pointers (links only for the mature, hmm, which by the way I hope you are if you're reading this, just because I said "penis" all those times. And again. Which is not something you should do if you're writing a sex scene, it turns out -- ruins the mood).

Do you think sex scenes help delineate an adult novel from YA? I write so-called "transition" fiction (about girls in college/early 20's) that tends to fall on the line between to some extent, so I wonder if leaving sex scenes out is a mistake.  And if you write sex scenes, what are your favorite pointers?


Stina Lindenblatt said...

You obviously haven't read some of the YA books I've read lately. ;)

Sexual content doesn't determine if a book is YA or not. The mc, her trials, and the theme are among the determining factors. When sex exists in YA, it should be there for a purpose . . . and that doesn't mean to put the book on the bestseller list, contrary to what some writers think.

I think the only books I've ever read that were graphic in the description during the act were the historical romances by Shirlee Busbee. And I read those as a teen. Talk about giving the wrong impression of sex. At least sex in YA is realistic. It doesn't set you up with unrealistic expectations. Turns out, having sex on the back of a horse isn't as easily as Shirlee made it seem (from what I've heard). :)

Jen said...

First off excellent job on the X I racked my brain and never came up with x-rated *blushes*

Secondly I don't think sex needs to be in the novel to make it Adult, I've read a ton of excellent books that didn't even have a love story in it and I thought they were brilliant. Not every book has to be about sex.

Old Kitty said...

I've just read that article by Steve Almond and after much giggling and blushing and feeling coy and silly - I though his pointers on what not to write and how when it comes to sex scenes pretty good!

Thanks for that link!

Take care

Tara said...

Aside from YA, I don't think you need to have sex in a novel to make it adult. Sometimes a really great sex scene is just the innuendos leading up to it. I've seen some seriously spicy stuff that I had to go back and reread just because I couldn't believe how hot it was without! Diana Gabaldon seems to be a master at this (along with writing the sex in as well).

It's all about the writing, I guess.

Talli Roland said...

I totally agree with you! You don't need sex scenes for something to be sexy. A great example of this is 'Something Borrowed' by Emily Giffin - she manages to really ramp up the sexual tension between the two main characaters without going into hardly any sex detail!

Summer said...

Because usually the anticipation is better than the actual event!

But I write sex scenes a lot. Especially in the ms I'm working on--it's a big part of the character. Fortunately, I've read a lot of sex scenes, so I know what doesn't bother me, word-wise, and I know what will make me pause for laughter.

I'll check that link out.

Anonymous said...

I definitely don't think adult books have to have sexual content. I don't like to write it either, for the same reasons you shared. I have more important things to cover in the story. :o)

Cynthia Reese said...

Sex scenes are difficult for me to write -- even the ones that leave the bedroom door closed, and especially the let-it-all-hang-out scenes I've blushed over in other people's books.

I can't help it. I just keep thinking about The Kiddo and the ladies at church and there's just no way I can string together anything explicit, and I write romances!

Gina Leigh Maxwell said...

Hello, my name is Gina, and I'm a Romance with Sex Scenes addict. I read 'em and write 'em and love every minute of it. :)

I love stories about romantic relationships. I love reading how the people connect or don't connect, what tears them apart or brings them together. AND I love the sex scenes. To me, sex is a vital aspect of any relationship. I don't look at it as wrong or unnecessary. It's VERY necessary. People may argue that just becuz it's necessary in a relationship doesn't mean we have to read every sweaty detail - that it's enough to just elude what's going on behind closed doors. And that's fine for some people, but if I'm going to go through everything else with this couple, then I want to go through everything. People experience A LOT during the act - they can have revelations, realize fears, finally let go, or even get cold feet and back out in the middle. I want to know what happens.

Then of course on top of all that I actually LIKE reading them for the pure lascivious pleasure of it. ;)

Julie Dao said...

I agree with what everyone has been saying: sex does not make a novel YA or adult, since I've seen sex scenes in both. I think what delineates a YA from an adult (in terms of sex) is that YA sex more often develops a character while adult book sex develops a relationship. That's just what I have seen in general. The technique also differs in that YA sex more often than not "fades to black" while adult book sex can be more gratuitous or descriptive in nature. But I definitely don't mind a sex scene when it's vital to the character/relationship and fits within the boundaries of the story. I think you should go for it if you feel like the story needs one, but don't pressure yourself if you feel uncomfortable. I know I would feel uncomfortable writing stuff like that (can't imagine my mom reading something that like coming from me - yikes) but it just comes down to personal preference :)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Stina - LOL!

I write dark comedy & do have sex scenes but they are usually there for comedic purposes so are not x-rated in a standard way. I always fade to black before anything graphic happens anyway.

I agree with what Talli says - sexy can be accomplished in a million other ways.

Like anything, I have no issue reading them if there's a reason there in there. However, I DO NOT care for them in YA books - especially if the author sneaks them in to titillate. I think it's WAY gross for grown-ups to entertain teens with anything sex-related. Teens entertain themselves with that enough as it is.

sarahjayne smythe said...

Great X post. Killer first sentence. :)

Piedmont Writer said...

I've written sex scenes for 3 books. Then I took them all out. Not because they were schmaltzy but because the sex wasn't important enough to keep it in there. (No pun intended.)

I don't think sex makes or breaks a good book, no matter the genre. I've been reading historical romance for years and the ones I truly enjoy are the ones where the tension between the H/H will literally drive me to make a drink. (I don't drink.) The tension is the key.

Guinevere said...

Stina, I'm obviously missing out on some YA books - I haven't seen that before. I agree with you, though, sexual content doesn't determine the type of story (or how popular it is). That's funny about the Busbee novels -- I read some graphic scenes in romance novels in my teens, too, and found them quite puzzling!

Jen, I agree with you!

Old Kitty, I'm glad you like that link too! I loved the bit about the nipples. lol.

Tara, that makes me want to read Gabaldon! I might take that as a recommendation... :)

Guinevere said...

Talli, I might have to check that one out too!

Summer, I don't agree in real life, but I definitely agree in fiction!

Yeah, E. Elle! I'm glad we're on the same team there.

Cynthia, that is too funny. I can see where it would be weird to think of your kids ever seeing your romance novel with, um, intimate moments. lol. I read about a woman who is in investment banking, a very conservative industry (well, in some ways anyhow) and she writes erotica... she writes under a pen name and is very protective of her anonymity! I'm not sure how easy it is to protect your anonymity these days, though!

Guinevere said...

Gina, that's a very eloquent (and fun) defense of sex scenes in novels! I agree that sex is a big deal... if I ever had a novel where it felt "right", I would include it.

Julie, I think you make a very interesting point about different developments from the sex scenes in YA or adult. I never thought about that.

Ok Disobedient, I could TOTALLY get behind comic sex scenes. That's one thing that always kills me in romance -- how come no over EVER gets a cramp or complains about being cold or "lands" awkwardly?

Thanks Sarahjayne!

Piedmont, that's interesting that you took the sex scenes out of three books! I can understand how that would feel right to put in at first and then right to edit out, if it wasn't character developing.