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Pros and Cons of having sex scenes in your book

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message 1: by A.B. (new)

A.B. McFarland | 36 comments Curious what others authors think about including sex scenes in books. What are the pros and cons of doing so, in terms of finding an audience?

I’ve got sex scenes in book two, and one of them especially seems important to the plot, but I have this feeling that since my first book was so innocent, that I will scare aware my audience by having this extra dimension in the second book. Though FWIW, the second book is not a sequel to the first, so maybe it won’t matter much.

Still, if you’ve included sex scenes in your own book(s), did you find it presented any problems in terms of marketing, or how the book was received?

I’m writing in the literary fiction genre, by the way.


message 2: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I would need a little clarification from you first.

What's the general age group of your targeted audience? There's tons of YA literary fiction novels now, so I can't be sure.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Parent | 126 comments In adult genre fiction, fine by me. It works better if it plays into the plot somehow, or follows, begins, or coincides with something meaningful to the story and isn't just a sex scene for the purposes of throwing in a sex scene, excepting erotica and similar genres


message 4: by Lynxie (new)

Lynxie | 10 comments I agree with Jason. Adult fiction is fair game for sex scenes, but don't chuck them in for the sake of a little spice...

I will have several sexual scenes in my novel, but it's a Dark Fantasy and very much adult fiction. I expect that my readership will be more niche because of the sub-genre and the content.

Some more context around your book would help with the decisions.


message 5: by Quentin (last edited Mar 10, 2015 04:17PM) (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 380 comments I think it all depends on how explicit the scene is as well. You can put a sex scene in almost any genre but if it's too explicit it can sometimes have the wrong effect on readers.


message 6: by Lena (new)

Lena | 187 comments Quentin wrote: "I think it all depends on how explicit the scene is as well. You can put a sex scene in almost any genre but if it's too explicit it can sometimes have the wrong effect on readers."

I'd have to agree with this. I don't read romance or erotica, and if I was reading literary fiction and came across a blow-by-blow (pun intended;) sex scene, it would take me out of the narrative flow. Just my opinion, of course. It might not distract others.

I'd say know your genre, read a few sex scenes from similar authors in the genre, and edit accordingly.


message 7: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 380 comments Ive had it happen. I was reading a pretty cool crime drama, and it only had a few sex scenes. The sex scenes were short, less than a paragraph in most cases. But the terms were crude, and it jarred from the story momentarily. The sex scenes werent gratuitous, but could have just been worded differently and meshed into the story much smoother.


message 8: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1352 comments Mod
The pro if your book is not an erotica is to have a few scenes and place and tell them accordingly. The con would be if you have too many it may come off as a erotica or steamy romance which you may not want if the book is YA or whatever.


message 9: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn Sex is an inescapable facet of life; it's bound to find it's way into a story.

As previous Fringers have stated, consider 1) relevancy and 2) taste. Are the scenes vital to the story? If so, how detailed do they need to be in order to impart the emotions/mentality of your characters that you want to relay? And finally, what sort of impact do you want the scene to have on the plot? on your audience's perceptions of the characters? etc.

Ultimately, how your scenes are judged by readers is a matter of taste. A good rule of thumb is: if it gives you the heepie jeebies, chances are it will do the same for your reader. If not, write it proudly and brush off the naysayers.


message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Lawston (andrewlawston) | 44 comments I'm not in favour. I've cut several sex scenes from my stories, and the stories have never suffered as a result. And if you can cut something without damaging your story, you probably should.

My favourite blog of all time was the (now defunct) 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. When talking about sex scenes, the writer suggested you could delete just about any sex scene in literature, replace it with the words "and then they did it", with no net loss to the book's quality.


message 11: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn Lena wrote: "if I was reading literary fiction and came across a blow-by-blow (pun intended;) sex scene, it would take me out of the narrative flow. Just my opinion, of course. It might not distract others. "..."

For me, too. If it's poetic, lyrical writing I'm fine. But if it's blunt and vulgar, it's a turn-off for me. It can destroy the mood of an otherwise great story, especially if it's not marketed as erotica and comes upon the reader unexpectedly.


message 12: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 517 comments depends on the context. if you can give the story to someone uber conservative who read the genre you're writing, would they fuss at you? if so, it can be cut without loss of story flow. if it somehow moves the plot (is the characters shacking up the only way to gain the plot coupon?) then leave it in.


message 13: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments There was a good discussion of this subject, buried in a "Catcher in the Rye" thread https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

It skips posts — there are several different conversations going on, lol — but it's there and relevant.


message 14: by A.B. (new)

A.B. McFarland | 36 comments Thanks for all the answers so far.

I always appreciate when writers are creative enough to subtly hint at sex without getting into graphic details. I did that in "Pieces of Home," my first book, which was literary fiction for 14+.

The book I'm currently writing, which is for a slightly older audience, follows a bisexual Catholic man who is conflicted about his sexual feelings and how they relate to his religion. He and a female friend in the book were sexually abused by persons of the opposite sex when they were children, and in what I feel is an important scene, they have sex with each other in order to get over their trauma. So it does follow blow by blow, interspersed with an understanding of how they are coping with the situation.

So on the one hand, I feel like the sex is important. On the other hand, since the narrator character (the bisexual man) is nervous and repressed, there is a part of me that thinks he would never describe things in such vivid detail. So for that reason, I am tempted to try to rewrite them out or convey them in a more creative, subtle way.

But...if we could step out from the book/writing itself, what I'm also curious about is in terms of marketing and genre, what kind of box am I putting my work in if I include graphic sex scenes? I read somewhere, for example, that certain places wouldn't allow books with sex scenes to be entered in certain contests (not that I plan to enter any contests, but still). And I've always assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that there is no sex in YA novels (I've been told I'm wrong though).


message 15: by Gem (new)

Gem Larkspur (gemsl) | 62 comments Since I write 'erotica' it's pretty much a given there will be sex scenes. I have found review and distribution sites that refuse to take 'erotica.' I don't know of any that flat out reject 'sex scenes,' although I'm sure it's possible.

Sex scenes are pretty common in romance which is a huge sector in both Trade and Indie publishing. In other genres, it's pretty much what folks have already said - it should be appropriate to the story.


message 16: by Longhare (new)

Longhare Content | 59 comments How old is the audience you are writing for? I would say there is plenty of sex in YA novels, though it isn't exactly hard core. New Adult novels aim at a slightly older audience than YA and can be a bit steamy.

A.B., if you feel like you weren't able to nail the man's experience, there may be more to your problem than to-describe or not-to-describe. It sounds like you are excavating the psychology of these two people, which happens to be closely associated with their biology. If you were writing about bulimia, for example, you might have some descriptive writing about vomit, masticating, and other uncomfortable things--but you would be weighing how gross is just gross for grossness' sake, which details and how far to go with them to serve the real purpose of exploring the psychology of the bulimic and not just scoring points for shock value.

If your sex scene strikes you as inappropriately erotic for its purpose, then you need a new approach. If your character is blocking out parts of the experience or isn't reflecting on certain things, the pointed absence of those things in his POV is significant. You are trying to convey what he experiences, not what the reader would experience in his place.


message 17: by A.B. (new)

A.B. McFarland | 36 comments Longhare:
I would expect the audience to be older teens and up.

Yeah after reflecting on his character I'm thinking some rewriting is in order :)


message 18: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1352 comments Mod
Anyone ever read Speak? While I know it's not exactly consensual sex in that book it is told in such a way that when I first read it I didn't know what she was talking about. So sometimes when talking about it even if it's in a certain nature it can be abstract and amiss because of the way it's told.


message 19: by Longhare (new)

Longhare Content | 59 comments And that's why writing is so hard and anyone who does it well deserves boatloads of respect.


message 20: by Melissa (last edited Mar 11, 2015 08:23PM) (new)

Melissa Veracruz (melissaveracruz) | 59 comments I'm suffering the same hesitancy. My second book has more angst, deals with different issues, and the MC is polar opposite from the first MC. I'm glad you were brave enough to post your concerns. Definitely following this conversation.


message 21: by Lena (new)

Lena | 187 comments Justin wrote: "Anyone ever read Speak? While I know it's not exactly consensual sex in that book it is told in such a way that when I first read it I didn't know what she was talking about. So sometimes when talk..."

That's funny that you say this, because this book was apparently on the banned books list because some parents thought it was 'pornographic.' Personally, I knew exactly what happened in the rape scene, but it was VERY brief/not detailed.

That said, I've also read some YA that made me a little uncomfortable with the level of detail. But certainly not blow-by-blow, which is common in NA.

As to the OP--to me it does sound like you wouldn't want a graphic sex scene, as your focus isn't on the hot sex these ppl are having but on the emotional/psychological effect it has on them.


message 22: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Speak is a fantastic book and in discussions about how to handle rape, I alwyas use Speak as an example. It's handled very well. The tree painting is brilliant.

Sorry. I love that book.

Anyway, now that there's more info, here are my thoughts.

In the literary genre, I find the audience tends to expect everything to be at lest somewhat metaphorical. Sex scenes are fine of course, the audience will already know where babies come from. But I would consider writing the scene scene in a more metaphorical way so that it's more consistent with the genre.

That way, when the sex scene comes up (up lol), it will just flow. Only in erotica does an author need to use graphic words, I find, and an erotica audience would expect it.

For marketing, when you're satisfied with your sex scene, avoid descibing anything like an erotica novel, and it should be fine.

If, however, you want it to be Literary Erotica, you'll have to be WAY more graphic throughout the story, otherwise the audience will be disappointed and might call your book a DNF.


message 23: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay I totally have no experience in erotica but yeah, I guess that's one of the very few genres where graphic and blow-by-blow descriptions would be seen as something positive.

Also, maybe some stories which are supposed to somehow, uhm, "shock" (for the lack of better word) readers; horrors, thrillers, that kind of stuff; not getting very descriptive but also taking a step further than just "and then they did it". Jack Ketchum's "Off Season" is a pretty good example, I guess. It's full of semen splattering everywhere and descriptions of all kinds of sex yet it's so far away from being considered an erotica or a porn book.

So I guess it's once again up to a certain story, a certain audience and a certain reaction you want to achieve. Sometimes it's OK and justified to go descriptive, sometimes you need to stick to "and then they did it" kind of thing. No universal rule to follow.

(am I free to show up how I have done it in one of my drafts?)


message 24: by Imowen (new)

Imowen Lodestone (lodestonethedawnofhope) | 9 comments This is very broad topic:
It depends on the author really, as for me the sex scene I wrote, the writing took me there. The pros, in my opinion is this.
1. you don't censor yourself-which is very good
2. You weed out real readers from fake ones.
3. Test yourself as writer
4. Get to the point.
To me 4 is the most important. When I wrote the sex scene...I call it the lust scene. I focused on the main characters' desire and pride to take this man in her life and own up to it. So I got nasty/ to the point. To clarify holding on to him tightly ect. The key element express the emotion through the characters actions when doing the mattress shuffle.
My main character sex scene was like a 4 hour long breed session. I hope this helps.


message 25: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 380 comments "A 4 hour long breed session?" Can I ask what genre this was?


message 26: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments Next to my current suspense fiction series, with most of the sex scenes of the 'fade-to-black' sort, I'm currently working on an erotic suspense novel, that features of sensual/sexual scenes. Since sex is used as a way to determine the relationships between the characters, the scenes can definitely not be removed without damaging the integrity of the story.

If you read books like The Lover by Marguerite Duras, the sex scenes are necessary for the story, just like the shower scene in Hiroshima, Mon Amour. If the scenes are not an integral part of your story, you can choose to remove them. It's up to you.


message 27: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Rand Honestly, I don't know if there is a right answer to this. Whatever you do there will be people who think you've gone too far and people who think you shied away too early.

Personally, I wouldn't be bothered by reading a sex scene in my late teens. Chances are I was watching/reading worse with much less literary merit.


message 28: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1352 comments Mod
They say sex sells so if you write it well enough and can sell it then all the power to you.


message 29: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments The main problem is the prudes. Some people consider a blow job 'porn star sex'. I'm not saying that rimming, snowballing and anal sex should be considered vanilla, but oral sex?


message 30: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Ironic, isn't it? It's not so much the sex itself, it's the prudish reaction that tends to define sex.

Anyways, it's up to AB. She did say the moment is intergral to the story. I suppose it's the presentation that's more in question.


message 31: by Imowen (new)

Imowen Lodestone (lodestonethedawnofhope) | 9 comments Quentin wrote: ""A 4 hour long breed session?" Can I ask what genre this was?"

Not was 'is' the genre is horror. Instead of doing the dull love sex scene...I figure intense lust would suffice. I love a challenge when I write...show the reader, raw emotion to me that's how you get real readers on your side. Like I always say I don't hold back from anyone when I write.


message 32: by Lena (new)

Lena | 187 comments Imowen wrote: "
1. you don't censor yourself-which is very good
2. You weed out real readers from fake ones.
3. Test yourself as writer
4. Get to the point...."


This is more true if you are focused on the writing process rather than the reader response. And while it's always good to rest yourself and get to the point, I think she was more worried about how the audience would perceive a raunchy sex scene v. fade to black v. something in between.

But mostly I'm curious what you mean by weed out the real readers from the fake?


message 33: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Interestingly, this was part of an e-mail I subscribe to from a successful writer (who has left the ranks of the *published* to go it on her own as an Indie). The subject was envy:

So POINT TO PONDER #1 is this:

Would I be happy having my name on Betty Author's horrible
bestseller, and would I be happy if her fans were my fans?

Or would I rather reach the people who care about the same things I
do, with stories that matter to me?



message 34: by Lena (last edited Mar 13, 2015 09:03PM) (new)

Lena | 187 comments Assuming your book is not a 'horrible bestseller' though, but actually good (because probably no one, including Betty Author, thinks her own book is horrible), the question is, do you want to be a commercial success and have lots of fans, or have a few 'quality' fans who really get your vision.

Is it just me, or do these discussions always seem to boil down, at the heart, to the motivation for writing? :)


message 35: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Motive is the heart of everything.


message 36: by Longhare (new)

Longhare Content | 59 comments Is it just me, or do these discussions always seem to boil down, at the heart, to the motivation for writing?

Well, writers in writing mode do tend to end up there one way or another. But if we want to go back to A.B.'s original question and take it from the reader's POV, it doesn't sound like this is the kind of book anybody is going to pick up in hopes of a little nightstand titillation.

A.B. is right to try and find the right way to get to the point, but a sexy sex scene--which may be entirely on target for a different book or even a different episode in the same book--doesn't necessarily answer here. How the reader receives it matters.

As Justin said, sex sells. Lots of books have sex scenes for precisely that reason, and people are buying those books because they want erotic reading pleasure--and it isn't only erotica. Unfortunately, sex scenes sometimes come across as obligatory rather than pertinent. Some authors insist that sex is so natural and important to human beings that it must be included in order for the characters to be realistic, but people do a lot of things that are natural and important that aren't interesting enough to mention in the course of a story. As a reader, I don't appreciate the sex-for-sex's sake scenes and would much rather the narrative just moved on unimpeded by the author's unwillingness to censor him/herself. Just because it's sex, doesn't make it censorship--sometimes it really is just judicious editing.

Some readers are uncomfortable, for religious or other reasons, with explicit descriptions of sex, and rather than call it prudery, lets just say it's a matter of taste. If a writer is writing for a G-rated audience, they are well advised to avoid the racy stuff. Those readers don't have to read steamy pages any more than erotica readers have to read about chaste relationships. Readers will pick up what appeals to them. I would say, though, at least in a perfect world, that a well written book can cross all kinds of aisles.

So whatever you are writing, even erotica, if a sex scene just seems to be, well, dangling out there, chop it off and throw it to the alligators. No one will miss it. If it is integral to the story, make it do its job. Readers will take care of themselves.


message 37: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments I was irritated the other way around, when Anal Steel in FSOG would refer to her genitals as 'down there'.

On the other hand, I also wondered what 'that way' was, whenever she described how Christian's pants hung from his hips 'that way', which apparently got her hot and bothered. I kept imagining some high school student with the crotch of his pants hanging between his knees.

Basically, I think Anal Steel irritated the shite out of me...


message 38: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 517 comments bwahaha martin i feel ya bro. but i think it was supposed to show her inherent naivete.

anyways i always have a hard time writing sex scenes (too technical, cold & clinical) and yet have no problem reading erotica and the like. i guess i still unconsciously self censor... i applaud those who can hammer it out easily.


message 39: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments K.P. wrote: "bwahaha martin i feel ya bro. but i think it was supposed to show her inherent naivete..."

I found the slut-shaming extremely irritating too. She was knocking boots with that Grey asshole, but every time her roommate was happy and snuggling with her boyfriend at the breakfast table, in her head Anal was always 'Get A Room, Jeez'.

I even started wondering if ELJ had written her on purpose as a whiny twit, just to have readers get some emotional response to her delusional ineptness...


message 40: by Renee E (last edited Mar 14, 2015 07:07AM) (new)

Renee E | 395 comments She was actually one of the characters (Bella, I think?) in Twatlight. The names were changed when it jumped from online serial fanfiction to publication. So, I guess Meyer deserves some of the credit for her being a whiny twit.


message 41: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) As much as I find this off-topic comments hysterical and I'm laughing, I feel in order to help for this topic, let's try not to participate in book bashing :)


message 42: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Character assassination? ;-)

On the subject: there are (so far) a couple of sex scenes in The Black Dog Dialogues. And mixed reactions, but mostly on the side of "leave it in." Even the kneejerk "ewwww, sex, naaaasty" reactions have said it's well written and serves the story and can't answer my question, "if I fade to black, how is the change in the relationship — and the character shown?" No lucid answers to that other than, "you're good, you'll figure something out."

I just bite my tongue when I hear "you'll limit your audience and won't be able to sell many books."

Write the story. Give it whatever it needs. Damn the torpedos!


message 43: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Well said!


message 44: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments The readers who read a book because they WANT to, not because it's popular or has snob appeal, or because it's a book you're *supposed* to read?


message 45: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Rand A.B. wrote: "...did you find it presented any problems in terms of marketing, or how the book was received?

I’m writing in the literary fiction genre, by the way."


I think as long as you aren't marketing it to children it won't be a problem. Taking a long term view, which is usually better with literary fiction, being brave is worth it. Don't leave in sex scenes if the narrative can't sustain it, but if someone came across your book in ten years, 30 years, 60 years, will they really raise an eyebrow?


message 46: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Phillip Roth raised a lot of eyebrows and received a good bit of censure when he first hit.

Now he's part of literary canon.


message 47: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) A bit off topic, but I took Imowen's point to mean readers vs skimmers. People who read the whole book for the story itself vs those who only skim looking for the sex scenes and couldn't care less about the story.

I seriously doubt the latter would be AB's audience.


message 48: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments Lily wrote: "As much as I find this off-topic comments hysterical and I'm laughing, I feel in order to help for this topic, let's try not to participate in book bashing :)"

Discussing FSOG is not off -topic as many people credit FSOG as the book that pushed erotic romance into the mainstream. The main problem I have with FSOG is that I didn't find it erotic at all, while I'm apparently a minority, with millions of women considering CG a romantic ideal.

I think the sex scenes (and the BDSM scenes) in FSOG are tame and the phrasing awkward and often juvenile, but apparently it struck a chord with many people who consider it deliciously naughtly.


message 49: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Martyn V. (aka Baron Sang-Froid) wrote: "Lily wrote: "As much as I find this off-topic comments hysterical and I'm laughing, I feel in order to help for this topic, let's try not to participate in book bashing :)"

Discussing FSOG is not ..."


I disagree and I'm the mod. :) If you want to discuss this further send me a PM.


message 50: by Longhare (new)

Longhare Content | 59 comments Martyn V. (aka Baron Sang-Froid) wrote: The main problem I have with FSOG is that I didn't find it erotic at all, ..."

But my dear Baron, FSOG wasn't written for you. Or for billions of other people. Portnoy's Complaint and Gravity's Rainbow also take sex as a prominent theme--neither of which is erotic--and have reached bestseller status despite being works of literary genius. Sex, like any other appetite, can be explored in any number of ways for all kinds of reasons, and what readers will connect with is anybody's guess.


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