Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I was having lunch with a writer friend yesterday, and we got chatting about sex, as you do. (Message to our respective Hubbys - no, relax, we weren't talking about you.)

We got talking about the place of sex in literature, and as writers, our approach towards it.

There are plenty of examples in writing where you can think of well done sex scenes, and there are abundant examples of really bad ones. In fact, don't they have an annual award for the worst?

One of my early influences in mystery writing was Elizabeth Peters and the wonderful Amelia Peabody. Amelia is a fabulous character; intrepid, courageous, stubborn, impulsive, incorrigibly nosy and rather fond of sex. This is where Elizabeth Peters excelled. The reader knew emphatically that Amelia and Hubby Emerson enjoyed a good romp, and indulged frequently, BUT we were never made to cringe with the details. We saw up to the tent-flap, and perhaps after the tent-exertions, but never the goings on under the canvas. That was up to the imagination.

I'm with Elizabeth when it comes to writing about sex, and I don't think it's being prudish. Sam Shephard enjoys a good bonk, probably doesn't get enough, and has a tendency to let her emotions get the better of her judgment. And that is what is important. The sex is included because it tells us about the character, their needs, their fragility and their emotional state. So we don't need to know whether they can contort and stretch with Karma Sutric precision, and we certainly don't need a blow by blow account.

To me, graphic sex scenes, particularly in crime fiction detract from the story. They're fine in a novel where I'm expecting it, because of the subject matter, but if I wanted to be titillated, I'd go buy a book of erotic stories or a Mills & Boon. When I encounter graphic sex scenes in crime fiction, the first thing I usually think is, oh great, token gratuitous shag scene, urgh, cheap shot. And as for a horror graphic sex-crime and violence scene - just don't.

Characters in crime fiction have to be believable, and have lives outside of the job. They have carnal impulses, just like everyone else. So sure, let them bonk, shag, have a good time, just spare me the details.


Chocolate Cobwebs said...

Hmmm... an interesting entry! I agree with you about sex scenes in literature. Sure, they can be interesting/titillating, but none of the books in my Top 10 Favourites list include graphic scenes. That's got to mean something.

It can definitely get boring for readers, especially if it's a crime novel and not a romance/erotic novel (as you talked about).

Vanda Symon said...

Ha, someone finally commented on this post. I thought either everyone disagreed and were too polite to say, or everyone was too shy! So thank you.

I find sex scenes jarring when they're tossed for no really good reason into a book. When they're expected, or a natural progression of the plot, then fine, but not too graphic please, but when they're added in like a write by numbers - must add token sex scene - nah.