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Archive > Sex and Death in Books - Why is one "ok"?

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message 1: by Karina (new)

Karina (kphmittten) | 3 comments I apologize if this has been discussed but this is something that popped into my head while reading a current book.

The book in question is a Young Adult High Fantasy that is advertised as "perfect for fans of Game of Thrones." While reflecting on it, I thought "it is fairly similar - there are kings trying to overthrow each other, sorcery, possible incestuous feelings, and gratuitous killing to drive the plot. The only thing it is lacking is sex."

Which made me question why is murder such a focal point of novels and media in general yet sex is more often than not a fade to black moment? Why are we more accepting of death than sex? Is it because murder can be a plot point (revenge, etc) whereas sex is seen as a filler? I feel like when there is an intimate scene it is more of a "I can't believe they wrote that" moment whereas, unless it's a beloved character, the death of characters is more of a glossed, forgettable moment.

I'm curious for other thoughts on this. I also apologize for spelling/grammar mistakes -my power is out so I'm typing this on my phone.


message 2: by Gerd (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Depends on the genre you read, if you look at romance it's practically the opposite (there is a reason a lot of people put romance right next to erotica/sex stories).


message 3: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra (CassandraT) | 8 comments I am interested in the question of sex and violence mostly due to the censorship. We are numb to violent movies, and censor sex. The question about plot points is different, but makes me wonder about the role of death versus sex in motivating long term life decisions. Which one is really more central to our stories? I often think sex scenes and fight/death scenes are superfluous, so I would choose neither. but, I think death motivates us to make bigger changes in our lives more than sex does.


message 4: by Pam (new)

Pam | 648 comments Karina wrote: "The book in question is a Young Adult High Fantasy "

I think you answered your question right there - it's YA. This book is written for tween eyes and older. Parents who want to keep their children as children for a few more years do not want them to learn about sex for as long as they can - and they will put up a big fight to keep it that way.


message 5: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2299 comments Pam wrote: "Karina wrote: "The book in question is a Young Adult High Fantasy "

I think you answered your question right there - it's YA. This book is written for tween eyes and older. Parents who want to kee..."


And then there are people like me who still get the books they want.

But yeah, sex is really something that has somewhat of a taboo in our society:( What's so bad about it? Really, young adults do it anyway:)


message 6: by Dana (last edited Jul 01, 2017 11:24AM) (new)

Dana | 21 comments I think it is because of our puritatical roots and because withholding sex (who can have it, reasons for having it, what parts are natural, etc) is a very large power move. Men have sexualized women to hold power over them. "You exist to procreate" ensures women couple with men. "You should not dress like a slut" ensures that you remain modest and also repressed. It also suggests that wanting sex is negative. "You shouldnt be a prude" covers the problem of consent by literally saying, after all else, when, how, and why you have sex or think sexual thoughts belongs to me, not you. On top of that, they use this power taken from women to sell things to men afraid of where they may fall in the power structure. Sexual repression is the ultimate tool in creating power structure. It is sold as morals or ethics and bought because it is one of the oldest tools. But it is effective because like death, it is a garuntee it will happen and unlike death, if it does there will be living people afterword that can bare the weight of the shame needed to keep up the rouse.


message 7: by Dana (new)

Dana | 21 comments MeerderWörter wrote: "Pam wrote: "Karina wrote: "The book in question is a Young Adult High Fantasy "

I think you answered your question right there - it's YA. This book is written for tween eyes and older. Parents who..."


I agree. And "innocence " is another way we perpetuate the cycle. The end of the Giver is deeply disturbing and discusses death. We have no qualms there. Violence and death appear in many "childrens" books and stories. Sex is absent because keeping education about sex, real sex, consent, etc. Is key to keeping the power structure in play. It is proven that sex education NOT based in abstinence is far more effective than abstinence based sex ed and yet we have many many people who refuse sex ed and will begrudingly allow only abstinence only sex ed. As kids ask, we should be forthright and honest but again keeping people uneducated about the power structure and hyped up on masculine fed violence helps maintain our broken system. Systematic oppression has many facets and so it is not just a matter of male and female, cis or trans, etc. And the things that cross all those lines are our natural state and how we control it. Just my 2 cents.


message 8: by Gerd (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Dana wrote: "it is a garuntee it will happen..."

Really? Is it?
I don't think there are guaranties on anything in life besides Death and Taxes.


For the rest, I'm not sure about that.
Sex is a big seller, so it's makes little economical sense for the publishing industry to repress it, also NA is practically all about the sex - but truth is, most sex scenes are so ineptly written that books are better off without them.

Also, like violence sex seems to get caught up in a downwards winding spiral when used, you'll have to forever ante up the "shock factor" once you start using it.


message 9: by Ross (new)

Ross | 1434 comments case in point Harry Potter, JKR included sex death cruelty, weakness strength imperfections, good won in the end but not without great cost. In my experience most Young Adult attitudes err towards maturity and awareness.

Shame we seem to lose as we get older, present company excepted of course :)


message 10: by Dana (new)

Dana | 21 comments Gerd wrote: "Dana wrote: "it is a garuntee it will happen..."

Really? Is it?
I don't think there are guaranties on anything in life besides Death and Taxes.


For the rest, I'm not sure about that.
Sex is a bi..."


Sex absolutely is a garuntee. I mean not for every person but for society? There will always be people having sex, just as there will always be people dying. And using sex as a shock factor shows how it is valued. It, mostly, shouldnt be shocking, since its so common. And "sex sells" isnt actually true. Sex sells in very distinct ways. I agree with the original poster, the tendancy to gravitate to violence over sex says a lot.


message 11: by Gerd (last edited Jul 02, 2017 07:12AM) (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Ah well, I guess we have a different perception/expectation of the market there - me, I always wonder why authors stress sex so much when it usually has so little to do with the story.


message 12: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2299 comments Dana wrote: "I think it is because of our puritatical roots and because withholding sex (who can have it, reasons for having it, what parts are natural, etc) is a very large power move. Men have sexualized wome..."

That is a really good post about sex and power! Thanks for sharing with us, I never thought about it that way!


message 13: by Emma (new)

Emma Clement (emmatclement) | 1809 comments Dana wrote: "I think it is because of our puritatical roots and because withholding sex (who can have it, reasons for having it, what parts are natural, etc) is a very large power move. Men have sexualized wome..."

You make some really good points, thanks! Never thought about it that way.


message 14: by Paula (new)

Paula S (Paula_S) | 28 comments Death, as in other peoples deaths, is something we might experience very early in life, but sex only when we are grown up, so it makes sense to me to find death discussed in a picture book or children's book, but not sex. As the intended reader gets older both death, violence and sex in books becomes more graphic, but it seems to me like death has a head start before sex.


message 15: by Dana (last edited Jul 02, 2017 04:13PM) (new)

Dana | 21 comments Paula wrote: "Death, as in other peoples deaths, is something we might experience very early in life, but sex only when we are grown up, so it makes sense to me to find death discussed in a picture book or child..."

I think it's also important to highlight that the book is advertised as Game of Thrones like. This is not a young kids book but a YA book. And I think it should also be stated that death and violence are different things as well. As murder is a subject beyond just death that children are likely not exposed to regularly. I think it still holds that introducing children or young adults (depending on how you define them) to violence and murder is more troubling and more harmful than sex. It just makes everyone feel uncomfortable because we've been culturally conditioned to find it morally objectionable. For example, the romantic scenes in Hunger Games are very mild and chaste where as the violence is very exact. And while I LOVE that series and I think she did wonderful things with it and made wonderful commentary, it does show how we value things like sex and murder. I think the problem is there are so few writers who know how to write honest and realistic sexual relationships. Sex is either written as a shocking disgusting plot point or it is written as overly pornographic (describing only the physical things happening with absolutely nothing deeper being revealed). This isn't real sex. There are YA authors who broach these topics in way but they are considered Chick novels and I think that's mainly because portraying confident young women sexual aware of their ability to not only consent but to determine how it all makes them feel is something boys "just don't need to read." Rainbow Rowell talks about these things in Eleanor and Park and Fan Girl. Julie Murphy touches on it in Dumplin. But these are female authors writing from a female perspective (mostly). In addition there are some authors who could not do justice to sex in their books and so they don't. And in some ways that's a good thing, but in others it just perpetuates a cycle. I think this is a very good topic and once you notice the proclivity to violence and the demonizing of sex in society you can't stop noticing it. My husband and I have been talking about this for years (as we have small kids and we see it all the time). One study recently found that sexy ads actually sell LESS than ads where sex was meant to be the motivating factor to sell. I think that the ear-worm "sex sells" exists because it helps maintain objectification and repression of women.


message 16: by Dana (last edited Jul 02, 2017 05:02PM) (new)

Dana | 21 comments Dana wrote: "Paula wrote: "Death, as in other peoples deaths, is something we might experience very early in life, but sex only when we are grown up, so it makes sense to me to find death discussed in a picture..."

In addition I would say we take a look at the sex we DO see. Violent portrayals of sex in Game of Thrones. Female nudity. (*edit* as opposed to male nudity or equality in nude scenes) Women using sex as manipulation or to express their warped and immoral side. If we are seeing sex between a man and a woman, the point it is often hinging on has something to do with the woman and how she has made a mistake, is morally inept, or is 100% in love and morally reached her peek. Those are not even 90% of the reasons we have sex in real life. I think it's as important to look at HOW sex is portrayed as it is to look at how often it's not. And to that end, it's important to note that violence has very few moral or ethical reasons and yet it is almost always seen as noble, necessary, or heroic.... things to think about.


message 17: by Gerd (last edited Jul 02, 2017 09:31PM) (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Dana wrote: "In addition I would say we take a look at the sex we DO see. Violent portrayals of sex in Game of Thrones...."

That is a point I'm willing to agree to (I do know Game only from hear say though, so here my evaluation of the series might be totally off the charts), from all I get to hear about that show there's very few actual sex in it, and mostly sexualised violence used.

So, that's a point I have to concede, the ratio in which we encounter sexualised violence in media (and which, I feel, not seldom stands in for sex in these books, in as much as it is used equal parts for "shock value" and to excite the public) stands in no proper relation, and there positive portrayals of actual sex are severely lacking.


message 18: by Emma (new)

Emma Clement (emmatclement) | 1809 comments Gerd wrote: "So, that's a point I have to concede, the ratio in which we encounter sexualised violence in media (and which, I feel, not seldom stands in for sex in these books, in as much as it is used equal parts for "shock value" and to excite the public) stands in no proper relation, and there positive portrayals of actual sex are severely lacking. "

I've noticed that as well. Often, if sex is chosen to be included in TV or movies, it seems to be portrayed in a violent or unrealistic way, rather than a positive way.


message 19: by Dana (new)

Dana | 21 comments I think another point I have to make is that I'm coming at this living in the United States, which is a very different culture from many European countries. Our culture tends to be overly religious and uses shame frequently as a tool. Most books written by US authors and television shows produced here or by someone who is targeting a US market will likely be different from what maybe happening else where. As a teen here, it is FAR more likely to hear your parents say "If you get pregnant or I find out you are gay I'll kick you out!" then to be reprimanded for being violent. I witness it all the time with kids. My nephew, for example, got a slap on the wrist for saying he wanted to kill another kid in school. He was told "look, we know it's an expression and you were angry but you shouldn't really say that." Where as girls are pulled into the principles office and expelled for wearing shorts shorter than their fingertips when resting. While this is certainly something you can see throughout history and over time, it's also something very noticeable in the US and perhaps less so in other, more progressive countries.


message 20: by Ashley (new)

Ashley | 81 comments Dana wrote: "I think another point I have to make is that I'm coming at this living in the United States, which is a very different culture from many European countries. Our culture tends to be overly religious..."

I have been noticing the same thing! Girls in school are being reprimanded for their clothing choices, because they may be "a distraction" to the boys. The boys should be taught that girls are not objects.

The violence example that you brought has certainly hit home with me. My son was threatened at school (elementary school)- they had to put the school on lockdown and call the police. The violent boy was not given any punishment- I had to request my son be removed from the same class as him. But my son gets distracted and talks to much and they call me into the school and we have 5+ meetings about it.


message 21: by DebsD (last edited Jul 03, 2017 12:24PM) (new)

DebsD (debstr) | 9 comments Ashley wrote: "I have been noticing the same thing! Girls in school are being reprimanded for their clothing choices, because they may be "a distraction" to the boys. The boys should be taught that girls are not objects."

Women should of course be offended by these kinds of instructions - but so should men. Surely we have more faith in the characters of men than to believe that they are incapable of controlling their behaviour just because someone in a low-cut top or a short skirt or tight jeans happens to be present!


message 22: by DebsD (new)

DebsD (debstr) | 9 comments Dana wrote: "I think another point I have to make is that I'm coming at this living in the United States, which is a very different culture from many European countries. Our culture tends to be overly religious..."

I have to agree. The USA does seem very often to be very uptight on issues related to sex and/or nudity, compared to most of Europe.


message 23: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2299 comments Debstr wrote: "Ashley wrote: "I have been noticing the same thing! Girls in school are being reprimanded for their clothing choices, because they may be "a distraction" to the boys. The boys should be taught that..."

Everyone should be offended by this. "a distraction" - isn't it the saying that we humans are different from animals because we can refuse the callings of our instincts... more testosterone doesn't mean that one cannot control themselves.


message 24: by Dana (new)

Dana | 21 comments MeerderWörter wrote: "Debstr wrote: "Ashley wrote: "I have been noticing the same thing! Girls in school are being reprimanded for their clothing choices, because they may be "a distraction" to the boys. The boys should..."

Agreed. I find it offensive that men are assumed to be impulsive when it comes to sex. So much so that it keeps men out of nurturing positions. My husband is given weird looks when he asks to hold a family member's baby or when he hugs our daughter and I feel like that is a product of the way we treat sex in our culture. It has literally stripped away so much of what a man can be and left him only with a small platform on which to stand. It's important that we show that sex is 1. more than physical connection and 2. ALL humans can control impulses and 3. it is a natural part of life, as natural, if not more, than violence. I find the whole thing pretty troubling.


message 25: by Gerd (last edited Jul 03, 2017 10:17PM) (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Debstr wrote: "Women should of course be offended by these kinds of instructions - but so should men.
..."


I do belong to the group of people who belief that a dress code at schools is not a bad thing to have as it can potentially take out pressure off an already unfriendly environment.

However, the way dress codes are handled is completely arbitrary. At some schools they appear as nothing more than enforced sexism, girls _have_ to wear skirts, at others the rules seem simply to be what ever is on the mind of those in charge:
I recall a fb post from an author whose daughter attended a Christian school and got reprimanded for a dress code violation - wearing a dark long sleeve and a long skirt... I can only guess it wasn't black Friday.

Lastly, when ever I read that somebody (usually a teacher!) feels distracted by how his young female students dress - like complaining about them being braless (how in Hell could you even notice, perv?) - my gut reaction is to question if the man is really of sound mind to educate young people, because you _do_ have to wonder what is on the mind of a guy who feels distracted by the way girls/young women - who surely more often than not could easily be his daughters - dress.


message 26: by Indigo (new)

Indigo (Indigo_Denovan) | 96 comments I agree a lot with what Dana said.

Sex is used so much to control, that it's considered a "shock" factor, and a reflection of one's "moral purity." You're "not a man" if you're a virgin, and you're "not a woman" if you had sex before marriage. Two different sides of the same thorny issue that impales us all.

And yet violence is often celebrated and idealized. Seen as "good" and much more acceptable for young ones than anything related to sex or procreation. Leading so many young ones to grow up and become adults utterly clueless about how to have sex (if they want it) or safely refuse it (if they do not), and if they wish to have children, then how to go about having them and raising them.

One is life and the other is (literally) death. One can be wonderful pleasure and the other is often agony. So why do we valorize the death, the agony of violence, over the life, the pleasure of sex?

Why?

Because sex is a wonderful control, just like violence. If we encourage men to be violent (especially white men) and unleash them to maintain this strict and harsh society (in effort to cover it's crumbling base), and use the "punishment" of not getting sex as a motivating factor... then you're able to prop the broken society up for another year. Use women as the "reward" for the violent men, and force women to "stay in their place" so that they are seen as a "just reward" (aka virginity) and then few men who are then judged as "worthy" to "get the reward" are then satisfied. That small result, leads the rest of the men to crave and slather over the thought of being the "lucky few" and work all the harder in violence to be "judged worthy enough" for that "reward."

Is that sick? Very. Is that cruel and wrong and distorted an image of humanity? Quite.

Do we stop doing it? We should. We should've centuries ago. But there's no time like the present so we can work harder to stop it now and finally free ourselves of this horrible toxic culture that has rotted far past its expiration date.

We must change things for the sake of all of us, and this planet itself with all the other species living upon it. Think that hyperbole? Then what is the other socially accepted outlet for toxic masculinity violence aside from beating each other up and shooting each other to death? Hunting for sport. One of the big contributors to the decline of wild species around the globe. Not to mention the idea of power = money = destruction of natural resources so nobody else can get them besides you, that carves up huge swaths of the natural world for human's greed and ego power plays.

So yes indeed it is vital to stop this toxic culture NOW before we utterly annihilate the very planet we are so dependent upon.

The saddest thing is that this isn't an exaggeration... at least not in my eyes...


message 27: by Keith (new)

Keith | 635 comments What a fascinating topic.

It's a long time since I read any YA material, but I tend to agree with Gerd - in most cases authors just don't seem to know how to write about sex. And let's be honest, this applies to any genre.

There have been any number of books I have read where a sex scene has been added for no apparent reason except to fill up space. There is no relevance to the plot and they are generally described in a very mechanical way. It's almost like turning a page and finding a toilet scene described in gruesome detail - yes, we all do it, but I don't necessarily want to read about it.

The depiction of death, in its many guises, has been around for millennia and maybe it fascinates us because of the finality it describes.

War is a something none of us would wish to experience (I hope), but we are drawn to it in novels, films, plays etc. time and time again. We seem to make violence and death a badge of honor, something to attain to prove our worth to others. In this respect I quote Harry Patch; 'The Last Tommy' of WW1:

"I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder."

It's poignant, as it is just over 101 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme - do we ever really learn?

And Indigo? - totally agree with every word and, no, it is no exaggeration : (


message 28: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2299 comments Indigo, it's great to see you again!

I agree, as does Keith, with every word you said, and I also fear it's no exaggeration!

And Keith: In my opinion, Harry Patch summed it up pretty good.


message 29: by Erin (new)

Erin Wienand | 37 comments Here is a good article I found that relates to the topic.

http://stories.avvo.com/nakedlaw/biza...

Why is violence generally more acceptable than sex? Sex (in my mind) is seen as a natural part of life that most people will experience in their lifetime. It is essential in order to procreate, yet is a taboo topic. Many schools in the United States have banned sex education, even though it is beneficial for many kids, especially those whose parents do not ever talk to them about sex or similar topics.

As someone who works in the elementary school system, I see boys fight, hit, pinch each other, etc and the most they get is a slap on the wrist. It's like that old saying 'Boys will be boys.' Yet when a kid asks us a question about sex or anything that relates to their bodies, we are supposed to give them a general answer and get them to change the topic. We are taught from a young age that violence is more acceptable than sex, and we see it in movies, books, and TV.

The ratings article mentioned above really got me thinking, especially the part where they talk about what generates an R rating. A shirtless man featured can get a G rating, yet a shirtless woman will get a PG-13, most likely an R. A nude man will earn a movie an R, but a nude woman is acceptable in a PG-13 movie. In some instances, minor violence can get a PG rating, which is the most common rating among Disney movies.

Why is it more acceptable to see a naked woman than a naked man? And why is it more acceptable to see violence than sex in a movie? This is the message our culture is passing to our kids. It's really disturbing to think about.


message 30: by Gerd (last edited Jul 05, 2017 11:49PM) (new)

Gerd | 389 comments Erin wrote: "Why is it more acceptable to see a naked woman than a naked man?
..."


I guess the first question to ask is, why has showing nudity become inacceptable in the first place?
After all, it's only the "how", that's questionable about it.


And why is it more acceptable to see violence than sex in a movie?
..."


Must be a cultural difference there, I do get to see very few movies that do not feature a useless sex scene at some point, even if the script authors have to tack one on where in the original story was none included.
In Movies here it has almost become a "Oh look, there's a guy and a woman talking with each other, wonder how long it will take them now to have meaningless sex."


message 31: by Emma (new)

Emma Clement (emmatclement) | 1809 comments Erin wrote: "Here is a good article I found that relates to the topic.

http://stories.avvo.com/nakedlaw/biza...

Why is violence generally more accept..."


Very interesting article. This quote below from it really summed up the disparity between views of nudity of men and women. Why is it more acceptable to see a naked woman than man? I find this so frustrating.

"4. Nudity
This is a tricky one: Shirtless men are allowed in G-rated films, while topless women usually earn at least a PG-13; but naked men nearly always garner an R-rating (see: Sideways), while fully naked women are routinely seen in PG-13 movies (see: Titanic, rated PG-13). And you can forget about sex. Even non-graphic depictions of love-making will render an otherwise tame movie unacceptable for 16-year-olds (see: Never Let Me Go)."


message 32: by Erin (last edited Jul 08, 2017 06:20PM) (new)

Erin Wienand | 37 comments Emma,

After reading the sex chapter in The Beauty Myth, I think a lot of the reasoning behind this has to do with society sexualizing women in almost everything, from ads to books to movies to magazines. The woman's body was, and still is, used to not only sell product but to objectify women and demoralize them in the workplace. It was looked at as free speech to use a naked woman's torso or silhouette in advertisements, but anything that used a man's body was censored for being vulgar. After a while it became the norm, and unfortunately we are still living in that society.

I think it's crazy how much of this is still an issue today. I remember thinking even a few years ago that women did not experience as much of the hardships they used to, but it is simply not true. Women are still overly sexualized in the media, experience sexism in everyday life, and are still dismissed as overly emotional whenever we have the gall to bring any of these issues up. It still clearly is an issue with the rating system still using this outdated logic to give movies the ratings that they do.


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