A Frank Discussion on “Steamy” Literature

Author’s Forward: Mom, don’t read this. Also, if you’re a fan of Stephanie Meyer, 50 Shades of Grey, or any other 50 Shades of Bullsh** spinoff thereof, don’t read this. (And while you’re at it, please leave the site immediately and never come back. J/k all readophiles are welcome. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

To sex or not to sex? That, my friends, is the question.

Whether tis nobler to use euphemisms and tasteful cutaways to leave the reader guessing, or to take the dreaded “50 Shades” route and just give the public what they want… the “sex scene” debate for new writers is a problem as old as time. If our characters happen to put themselves into a sexy situation–because we, as writers, would never dream of adding such scenes merely for the sake of cheap titillation–should we give up the goods?

I’ve heard it argued convincingly both ways, and therein lies the problem.

On the one hand, we have the school that says “Sex is bad!” and thinks that adding sexually explicit (or even implicit) scenes into a work of fiction is in bad taste, or at the very least unnecessary. Those who subscribe to this school are firm believers in the “fade out” or the “cut away” method so often used in films to imply that two characters are about to do “it,” and then leave the rest up to the reader’s imagination. A perfect example of this method can be seen in the popular Twilight books, (and yes Janell, I did throw up in my mouth a little just now as I typed this) where the author Stephanie Meyer only constantly alludes to the imminent and mouth-watering sex that her two main characters will maybe possibly someday have (but only after they’re married, of course) and very classily avoids sharing the details of said hormonal Armageddon when it actually does happen. And hell, I don’t know, people seem to like that. Especially since it means that those readers with *ahem* let’s say ‘delicate sensibilities’ can delude–I mean convince–themselves that they aren’t actually reading smut.

But then there’s the other school. The one that says literary censorship in any form is SO 1984, and that in order to show our characters in the truest and most GENUINE light, we should follow them and describe what they’re doing in every important arena. No, not the bathroom. Because, let’s face it, nothing of literary importance has ever happened in a bathroom, and I don’t care what Oprah says or how many frigging bathroom books she puts on her frigging list. The bathtub will never be sexy, Oprah. It’s where Taft died, for God’s sake!

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right! Being true to the characters. As I was saying, the second school, (let’s call it, the School of Realism) believes that when characters get it on with other characters, the fact that they’re doing it isn’t the only thing that’s important. HOW they do it is also something the reader should know. And I get that frame of thinking. I do. Because in all honesty, us adults can learn a lot about ourselves through intimate contact with other adults. And who are we, as writers, to deny that kind of self-discovery to our characters?

So those are the arguments. But I still don’t know whether I have the guts to conclusively choose between the two. So what do you guys think?

Do tell, but keep it PG-13, will you?

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3 thoughts on “A Frank Discussion on “Steamy” Literature

  1. Must one choose between the two? Are the only options implication and fade away or explicit detail. I tend to avoid romances because they annoy me more than entertain. Of course, sex does occur in books I do read, but those tend to either be imply and fade out or, as necessary to the development of the plot or the characters’ relationship, one to three paragraphs and move right along with the plot. In romance novels it tends to be that sex or the persuit of sex is the plot itself.

    • I don’t disagree with that. And I do also see the merits of using vague description in “those kinds” of scenes.

      I guess my question revolved not so much around treatment, but inclusion vs. exclusion. You know?

      • Inclusion = if the plot or character development warrants it
        exclusion = if it’s for the sake of sex itself

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