Vaginal Fantasy Book Club discussion

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Book Discussion & Recommendation > The Status of the Sex Scene

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments I've noticed a recurring comment when judging the value of a romance novel:

"If you can take out the sex scenes and it still works, it's a good novel."

I disagree with this statement. 'Why?' you ask. It is the writer's job to present their readers with a story that is full (replete, if you will) and is not lacking or in excess of anything within the narrative. I do not think that when people make this statement, they mean stories do not need a sex scene. Rather, I just notice it does not help the perspective that sex scenes can actually be good writing.

If someone is going to throw a sex scene (or several) into a story, it better belong there. I want it to be so integral to the story that the reader will miss something by skipping it. Because the sex-scene has such a second-class status, I feel it is treated as a throw-away scene when written. Here is where a writer can fall into the cheesy tropes of genre, whereas if the sex scene were regarded as more important, a writer might take the steps to make it something that matters to the story.

So, what I am wondering is what other people think on this. Does the sex scene deserve a higher status? Or should we still keep quiet about it like the estranged cousin no one really mentions anymore at the family gatherings? What prompts people to not talk about these scenes or consider them with a literary lense? Or do we already do this and I'm just crazy?


message 2: by Sile (last edited Sep 25, 2012 08:05PM) (new)

Sile Enis (sileenis) | 16 comments I think you have a point. The origin of that phrase probably has to do with really raunchy romances, such as ones where there is a little plot relative to the sex scenes in it. If there is enough plot and character development without the porn then it must be a good novel. I think that's what the sex scene gets relegated to: porn. Perhaps because it some cases that's all that it is.

However, I would also agree that sex scenes, just like restaurant scenes, bathing scenes, fighting scenes, any kind of scene, can be an integral part of the story. Just like all those other potential scenes, if done right, it can reveal character, create character development, and forward the story.

So, the question seems to be what makes sex scenes different, is it society telling us that sex is wrong? Also, can sex scenes be elevated to the same literary relevance as other scenes with character interaction?


message 3: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Challenge accepted.

Sex scenes can totally be made as literary as relevant as any other part of the story if we believe they are! Sile, I believe I have read some stuff by you that employs sexual scenes as necessary parts of the story. I think you are right. It has to engage the characters in a way that makes them grow, or we have to see something about that we could not previously realize.

I fear sex scenes do suffer from the societal stigma of being "wrong." So when we do include sex scenes in our writing, we tend to go for the big final romance scene that these characters have dreamed of forever. It's almost a trope. It can be well written and the only way to resolve a romance. However, I feel we blind ourselves to alternative ways to explore a romance because of these.

More people! Discuss!


message 4: by Jensownzoo (new)

Jensownzoo | 10 comments I've really only been reading paranormal romance for about the last year (I've been urban fantasy etc. prior) and regular romance novels don't really interest me. I've read some books with really good writing and some where the writing was really awful. Anyway, i've noted two main things:

1) I am most drawn into the sex scene when I have become invested in the characters and their story outside of the sex.

2) There are a lot of cookie-cutter sex scenes out there. It's like the writers have a sex playbook where they tick off items/positions/etc. to include as they lay out the scene. VERY quickly got boring, even when the rest of the writing is good.

So, in short, sex scenes really should be integrated into the rest of the book...if you can take them out and the book still "works" then they weren't needed in the first place. And variety is the spice of life.


message 5: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Jensownzoo wrote: "So, in short, sex scenes really should be integrated into the rest of the book...if you can take them out and the book still "works" then they weren't needed in the first place. And variety is the spice of life."

Thanks for saying this! I totally agree. I think this is a slightly more eloquent way of stating my original thought behind the post.

But I still wonder why people put so much pressure on the sex scene not being so integral then...


message 6: by Hotmama (new)

Hotmama (Kytcha) | 3 comments My favorite romance authors...and really the only ones I even bother reading from any more have intimacy such an important part of character development and/or plot that you would certainly miss something important without it.
If there is just a scene in the book to be there...why is it there?! it could be having the characters literally eating lunch together, and unless it leads and feeds the reader, I feel as though I have just eaten fluff and am not likely to want to even consider another work from that author.
I think the important the sex scenes the more it makes the work Vaginal Fantasy rather than just some 200 pgs of airy smut.


message 7: by Lyson (new)

Lyson Smith | 18 comments I think you're misunderstanding. The conception that if you remove the sex scenes and it still works isn't saying that they aren't important.

The real question isn't whether you can remove a scene but whether removing it makes the story better or worse for it's loss. Most scenes aren't in fact necessary to the plot of a story, they help the narrative but they could be removed and no one would notice. Does that mean they served no point? No. They shape the narrative. They're not needed but they help.. they tell a better story. The reason for this quote isn't saying that the sex scenes should just be there it's saying that if you remove those scenes and you still have a story, then you've written a good story. It's how you differentiate between a good romance novel from a bad one. A bad one has no content beyond the sex scenes, A good one should still have content beyond the sex scenes.

So the line "If you can take out the sex scenes and it still works, it's a good novel." Actually means that if you remove the sex scenes and the story falls apart then you haven't told a good story. The sex scenes should contribute to the story but not be the story. Yes? It's kind of like taking the fighting out of an adventure story. There should still be a story around that fighting. It's not unique to sex scenes and romance novels. Or even novels. It's often used in movies, particularly action movies in refrence to fight sequences and explosions. The conception is that if you focus only on these aspects and without them you have no story, then you failed to tell the story. Not that their absence wouldn't be noticed or leave the narrative lacking only that they shouldn't be the entirety of the narrative.


message 8: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Maybe it should be "A good book's plot will still work if you remove all the sex scenes, but the character arcs will be incomplete if you do so because they are integral to the character's growth"?


message 9: by Emy (last edited Sep 28, 2012 08:21AM) (new)

Emy (emypt) | 67 comments Caitlin wrote: "Maybe it should be "A good book's plot will still work if you remove all the sex scenes, but the character arcs will be incomplete if you do so because they are integral to the character's growth"?"

Hmm, yes and no (for me). I think added aspects to this could be:

* A good book can function without sex
* A bad book can rely on sex scenes to cover up the lack of plot
* A book that has a sex scene which isn't necessary to the plot might need a better editor

To me it's both a commentary on a type of book (those with no plot beyond sex) and also a question of "why is there sex in here, at this point". Not questioning why there is sex, but why is it there, then - what purpose does it have to move the character or plot. So, a story that works without the sex scenes, is possibly one that needed an editor to say "cut this" or just to ask why it's there...


message 10: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments I believe the whole point is that many modern romance novels ( we talked about the addiction of sex scene to the classics in another thread) use the sexy time to move the plot, but some if the sex scened would be romoved, would crumble like a raw of domino blocks lacking something. and that's a terrible novel if skipping the sex scene the plot has holes. On the other hand there are novels that contain sex scenes but in case someone ( for example someone really puritan) would like to skip the smexy parts, she/he would still be able to follow the plot and the interpersonal bond between the heroine and the hero


message 11: by Bitchie (new)

Bitchie (matron) I love a good sex scene, and it usually annoys me to no end when we get a whole bunch of buildup and sexual tension, only to have the scene be closed door/fade to black.

But on the other hand, so many books these days are a very thin plot solely designed to string a bunch of sex scenes together, and that's frustrating too. When I notice myself skimming the sex scenes, I know there's too much! That's why there are so many authors that my fellow smut loving friends rave about, that I just can't read. I need more than just a mating heat or oops I fell on a penis as reasoning behind sex scenes.


message 12: by Lyson (new)

Lyson Smith | 18 comments Emy wrote: "Caitlin wrote: "Maybe it should be "A good book's plot will still work if you remove all the sex scenes, but the character arcs will be incomplete if you do so because they are integral to the char..."

Just because a scene can be removed doesn't mean it isn't necessary, dear heart. I could write you a list of scenes that could be removed from a number of books without altering the story or depriving the audience of much. The story would function and still do so well, but the story would lack something. Each scene helps to flesh a story and character out. It designs the narrative. It creates the flow. They add meat to the meal if you will. And like a meal, you can remove some of that meat and still have a meal. But if you remove that meat, and all you have is the bones, then you don't have a good meal. Proper vegan metaphors lacking, mind. That's the point of it. It's saying "If the only reason you read this book was for the sex scenes, then it probably wasn't a good book to begin with."

Now there are some sex scenes which are in fact "Key Scenes" (A key scene being a scene that is a driving scene in the story. These scenes are necessary to the story and without them certain elements of the story don't work. Removing them can damage a story, but the story will usually still function but be severly lacking.) and some are "Supplemental scenes" (Pretty much everything else that's not a key scene here. While most of them can be altered, changed, or even removed at times, not having them can effect the story as welll. They help to build the book beyond bare bones, they give you insight into characters and their nature the key scenes might not afford. Etc.") and some are just sex scenes lacking content.

At the end of the day this is two pronged:

If you can remove the sex scenes and the story still reads like a story, then it is a good story.

And were the sex scens necessary?
If they contributed to the story and the book is better for them then without them, then they were necessary.


message 13: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Lyson wrote: "If you can remove the sex scenes and the story still reads like a story, then it is a good story.

And were the sex scens necessary?
If they contributed to the story and the book is better for them then without them, then they were necessary. "


That's basically what I was trying to say, but you have stated it more eloquently.


message 14: by Lyson (new)

Lyson Smith | 18 comments Caitlin wrote: "Lyson wrote: "If you can remove the sex scenes and the story still reads like a story, then it is a good story.

And were the sex scens necessary?
If they contributed to the story and the book is b..."


We all have our days. I fancy myself a writer so I make my business with words. This same argument goes with action movies and other such where there's a tendency to create scenes that are expected of the genre and not give them context or focus so heavily on them that they forget they need a story to make those scenes worthwhile. I mean, Expendables is just pretty much a stream of action sequences with barely a plot to string them together. I'd hardly call it a great or even an arguably "good" movie. But it is a really enjoyable one. There is at least some story to it even if it's a weak one.

I'm rambling. Sorry.


message 15: by Eddie (new)

Eddie (eddielouise) | 117 comments We discussed this at the Orange County VF meet-up yesterday. We wondered how much of the way sex is treated in books comes from the puritanical impulse to keep sex and sexual feelings tucked 'out of sight'.

Do authors write reactionary? I CAN TOO write about sex if I want to! or cautious 'Fade to Black' in response to the idea of what is 'proper' or allowed or even usually 'done'.

Having lived in Europe, I do think that American publishing over-all has more of a hang-up about sex and where it belongs in our books that creates some of these funny paradigms.

For me I think the writing about sex should be relational to the story I am telling. If I am writing about a teen girl's sexual awakening then it would be dishonest to NOT write the sex - even though in general YA fiction shies away from it due to the threat of book banning.

If I am writing Fantasy/SciFi/ActionAdventure - then I ask myself - is the sex a complicating issue for the couple? Does it solve or create any plot problems? If so, then I feel I MUST write it. If the sex will in no way change the story - then writing it is voyeurism plain and simple.

Lastly - some novels are written purely as an exercise in voyeurism - 50 Shades, anyone? But I tend not to like that type of writing.


message 16: by Mari (new)

Mari As a woman, the best male writer writing from a female perspective is Wally Lamb. You wouldn't be able to tell he was a man after reading She's come undone.

I feel a lot of men write women they wished existed. Their ideal woman, a super woman. It's great, I love it. But not realistic. They talk a lot about her positive traits, and none of her negative. She has a "take no prisoners" attitude, but no mention about her insecurities or fears.

As far as the flip side, I don't think I've ever read a female writer who wrote a realistic male lead character, at least to me.


message 17: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Eddie Louise wrote: "We wondered how much of the way sex is treated in books comes from the puritanical impulse to keep sex and sexual feelings tucked 'out of sight'.

Do authors write reactionary? I CAN TOO write about sex if I want to! or cautious 'Fade to Black' in response to the idea of what is 'proper' or allowed or even usually 'done'."


Thank you for saying this. I think it expands on the argument nicely. Now, I recognize that there are books like 50 Shades that are just a string of body parts doing stuff, but I think there's something noble in trying to make the sex scene something integral to a story, something that's not a "oh, well, we can cut that," sort of thing.

I have read stories that were almost nothing but sex scenes, but they were amazing pieces of work because they explored the emotional development of two characters on the only platform they could communicate through at first: sex. I'd call these pieces of writing good fiction. Heck, they're great, and if we chopped out all the sex scenes, nothing substantial would be left. No more character development. No more moving message. I think the failing of cheesy sex-scene stories is that they are intentionally just a string of body parts. The main character is just a pair of pants one can slip into and fantasize through for a little while.

But if the two characters engaging in these many, many sex scenes are individuals with complex thoughts? Then perhaps these sex scenes are vital. They are suddenly necessary to the telling of the story.

This is just one example of the extreme end of the spectrum.


message 18: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Mari wrote: "As a woman, the best male writer writing from a female perspective is Wally Lamb. You wouldn't be able to tell he was a man after reading She's come undone.

I feel a lot of men write women they..."


guilty as charged!


message 19: by Emy (new)

Emy (emypt) | 67 comments Eddie Louise wrote: "We discussed this at the Orange County VF meet-up yesterday. We wondered how much of the way sex is treated in books comes from the puritanical impulse to keep sex and sexual feelings tucked 'out o..."

I think Eddie Louise sums up what I think much more clearly that I was trying to say :D


message 20: by Sile (new)

Sile Enis (sileenis) | 16 comments Lyson wrote: "I think you're misunderstanding. The conception that if you remove the sex scenes and it still works isn't saying that they aren't important.

The real question isn't whether you can remove a scen..."


Yes, that is precisely it. Good authors add things deliberately, if they are going to add a sexual scene then it will serves some service to the characters and thus furthers the story. If you were to remove a sex scene or an action scene and it derailed the story then those scenes were necessary, thus elevating them from being just "arousing" porn or just "exciting" violence.

I have read stories that were almost nothing but sex scenes, but they were amazing pieces of work because they explored the emotional development of two characters on the only platform they could communicate through at first: sex. I'd call these pieces of writing good fiction. Heck, they're great, and if we chopped out all the sex scenes, nothing substantial would be left. No more character development. No more moving message. I think the failing of cheesy sex-scene stories is that they are intentionally just a string of body parts. The main character is just a pair of pants one can slip into and fantasize through for a little while.
Michelle, this is a great example of how sex scenes can be necessary to a story.

I think that sometimes authors will add sex into the stories, not because it is strictly necessary but just because they know their readers will enjoy watching the characters get it on, aka voyerism, and that will make their books sell better. Or perhaps it's something their editors persuade them to do.



message 21: by Hotmama (new)

Hotmama (Kytcha) | 3 comments Eddie Louise wrote: "We discussed this at the Orange County VF meet-up yesterday. We wondered how much of the way sex is treated in books comes from the puritanical impulse to keep sex and sexual feelings tucked 'out o..."

Thankyou for explaining much simpler what I was feeling.


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