Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's Wrong With Sex?

In the majority of my novels and stories, sex happens off the page. When my hero, Jack Daniels, got laid, it was a fade to black and go to commercial moment.

Not that I had any fear or aversion to writing a sex scene. But it was never needed within the story.

I'm a firm believer that every scene, every sentence, every word in a story should be to move it forward. Anything extraneous, including sex, should be cut.

I wrote my first big sex scene (several of them, in fact) in Cherry Bomb. These scenes were integral to the story, revealing both plot and character.

There's a story I tell about one scene in particular, when Jack finally gets laid. Since I was writing from a woman's POV, I wanted to make sure it worked, so I let me wife read it. She came back to me, looking angry.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"This sex scene was four pages long."


"So, you've never gone four pages with me!"

Fiction, hon. It's fiction.

But I learned something important writing Cherry Bomb. I learned I liked writing sex scenes. They were fun, but they also allowed me to show a human, emotional, vulnerable side to my characters.

When I wrote Timecaster, I knew I wanted to have several sex scenes in it. I knew they would be explicit, and would be funny, and would show what type of person the hero was.

Color me surprised when I began getting bad reviews and hate mail for daring to put explicit sex in a sci-fi novel.

WTF? I thought everyone liked sex.

Next, I wrote Flee with Ann Voss Peterson, and that has a whopper of a sex scene in it. Again, it was essential to the story, revealing a very important aspect of the main character.

More bad reviews and hate mail, calling the book porn.

Huh? Five pages out of three hundred have an erotic element to them, and the book is porn?

What amazes me even more than that is the fact that my books have so much violence in them. Apparently I can stab someone fifty times and feed them to the crows while they're still alive (Serial Killers Uncut, which also has a sex scene), and that's okay as long as there are no blowjobs.

Now, I know the US is behind much of the world when it comes to being open about sexuality. But the repression goes so deep that people feel the need to tell me how perverted I am?

No one would be here without sex. It's a natural, essential part of life. Everybody thinks about it. Everybody masturbates. (Do you remember, you married guys, watching your wife-to-be walk down the aisle and thinking how nice it will be that you'll never have to jerk off again? How'd that work out for you?)

So what's the problem here? I thought people liked well-written sex. I thought erotica was a huge seller. I thought sex could make a story more interesting, more compelling, and more fun.

Am I missing something?

Do you like sex in fiction? Why or why not?


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Devi said...

Get ready for more hate mail because I bet Cherry Bomb, Timecaster, and Flee are going to get a bunch more readers now.

As for sex in books, I like it when it works with the scene, the characters, and the overall story. Like you said, things can be shown and done during sex scenes that can't be done another way. But if they're not done well then it's a bunch of text that can be awkward and uncomfortable to wade through. There's a popular author who started writing more and more sex scenes until their books became erotica. At first the scenes revealed a lot and even after books and books of sex-for-the-sake-of-sex there'd still be character development that happened while everyone was naked. But overall it was too much and the plot took a backseat.

Erotica ebooks took off before the Kindle was around. So people like reading about sex. But if they get sex in a book they weren't expecting it in they sometimes get upset. I've had to tell people "there's sex, but not *that* kind of sex" after they find out that a book or series I've recommended has romance.

Brutal violence, blood shed, abuse, and blood shed? That's a great book! Sex between consenting adults that reveals more about the characters and is a bit of fun? GET THAT SMUT OUT OF HERE YOU PERVERT!

Gina Penn said...

Absolutely nothing wrong with sex, as a fact I was sitting here thinking about it when I saw your post go up (coincidence?). It's sometimes awkward to read and, as far as genre fiction goes, at least the type we write, it isn't something that needs to be done in great detail. If I pick up a Konrath book, I expect certain things and sex isn't one of them. Kat Martin, yes, you, no. As a writer myself with a book coming out that has some sex scenes, I'm juggling in my head whether or not to cut them even though they're integral to the story. Eventually I'll make up my mind but typically it's the type of thing people skip over.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I was just talking about this with a writing friend a few weeks ago. Depending on the story, sex can be an integral part, so it should never be avoided out of a sense of discomfort.

To me, it's the perfect opportunity for that old "show, don't tell" adage. Particularly if your characters have a complicated or conflicted relationship, an intimate scene can express things neither of them are ready to say, or don't know how to express.

It's a very powerful form of communication in life, so why avoid it in fiction aimed at adults?

Brendan said...

Personally, I am not looking for sex scenes in books. Characters can have all the sex they want but I am quite happy with a fade to black approach.

Sometimes though the sex is necessary, and then you would be doing the reader a disservice to leave it out. In one book I read the sex scene ended with the line they cried out not as one, but as two people alone with each other. That line was really what the scene had been about - the disconnect that lay between these people, but you had to have the telling of their passion to get to that point. That is sex used properly.

Tyson Adams said...

Sex is great. It's even better with someone attractive.

Plus, a little outrage never hurt sales.

MeiLin Miranda said...

I was told my series would never get an agent or a publisher because there's so much sex in it--it's a major theme, not there for the sake of it, and I'm careful to make the scenes speak to character, move the plot along, or both. "Put it in a drawer and write something else." Um, no.

So I took the advice of you and many others and put book one out myself to fair sales and rave reviews, though the mainstream reviewers say, "Gosh there's a lot of sex in this, but it's good!" and the erotica reviewers say, "Gosh, there's a lot of story in this, but it's good!" :)

I have never understood America's abhorrence of sex and celebration of violence. Quite frankly I'd rather my two daughters see two people loving one another than killing one another.

Unknown said...

Joe sez:
Now, I know the US is behind much of the world when it comes to being open about sexuality. But the repression goes so deep that people feel the need to tell me how perverted I am?

Remove the question mark and you'll see nothing but truth.

It's a shame, really. The way I see it, this sort of resistance to sex only hinders writers and other forms of free expression.

Pax Rolfe said...

I have to agree with Devi and Gina. It's all about expectation. Set yourself up for that one, but Ann Voss Peterson tweeted this week and I paraphrase- as annoying as the reviewers are complaining about sex in her books, they really up the sales.

Anonymous said...

For me it disrupts the flow of the story. I guess I'd say the part of my brain that's interested in sex is different from the part that enjoys reading a good story. So when I come across a sex scene in a novel it knocks me right out of the story. It's not that I'm a prude, I like porn as much as the next fellow, but then again, I don't like annoying "story" interrupting my porn either.

I've also never been entirely sure how exactly the author expects me to respond to it. Am I supposed to get aroused by it? Because I prefer to choose where and when that happens and it probably differs from when and where I might enjoy reading. Secondly, if I was looking for some sort material to arouse myself, well, text would not be my medium of choice.

Angie said...

Welcome to the club. [hands you a card and a T-shirt] Americans are insane about sex; it's just one of those things you get used to, although I for one have never gotten past eyerolling and headdesking over it.

As someone said back whenever, if a movie shows a guy hacking a woman's breast off with a knife, it's rated R. If he's kissing it, it's NC-17. That says pretty much all you have to know about the American attitude toward sex.

Romance writers have been fighting the "porn" thing for decades, and there are still people -- some who claim to be inside our chunk of the industry -- who insist that romance is just porn for women. Even if all the sex supports the story, even if there's very little sex as a percentage of pagecount. Those of us who write m/m romance have it even worse -- you can write a sweet m/m romance, where the main characters do nothing more onstage than hold hands and maybe kiss, and it'll still be filed with "erotica" by some of the major e-book vendors. You can't even find GLBT romances on Fictionwise unless you click on "EROTICA" and look at the sub-headers.

My 73K word novel has 1.5 sex scenes (and both chunks support the story and are necessary to the book), but I've still had people argue with me that it must be erotic romance, so I empathize with you. Some people are uptight, some are stupid, and some are both. We just have to deal.


SL Clark said...

"I have never understood America's abhorrence of sex and celebration of violence."

Founded by Puritans, violent expansion with guns. Small wonder "Born in the USA" means screwed up. Cheers Joe, these will do GREAT in the rest of world when eReader saturation increases. -Steve

Mike Fook said...

What's funny is writing a book about sex - just sex, and then feeling like you're a dirtbag for doing it. Been there.

Living in Thailand for the past 7 years didn't erase the underlying subconscious guilt about sex, having grown with my mind steeped in it, back in the USA. On a day to day basis, it doesn't affect me - I've been to strip shows and go-go bars in Bangkok, and never felt a thing. I mean, about guilt. But there was something about writing the book about sex that was different. It was like I was a dirtbag for writing about sex for money. Funny, right?

I mean, I don't care if girls (or guys) bang their way through their lives - taking cash for sexual acts. I don't care at all. I'm not doing it - but, to each his own.

So, it's strange to feel weird about writing a book about sex - like I should have something else to write about instead of that.

I think what is also weird when I contemplate writing more books about it - is that my wife and child will be living off the royalties from these books after I pass... with any luck.

That gives me chicken skin.

Yaten512 said...

Violence. And sex. This comes to mind:

Claude Nougat said...

Interesting post and interesting comments. Living in Italy (and being a European though I lived in the US through my college years and initial work), I'm fascinated by the way Americans view sex, especially in politics (the Dominique Strauss Kahn affair/scandal shows this - but there's also that American politician who recently sent nude photos on Twitter and caused quite a stir!).

I think Devi and Gina are right: people don't expect torrid sex scenes from Konrath. One goes to your books for the suspense, so violence is right smack inthe middle, sex is rather peripheral. Perhaps you should write erotica under another name? I know many of my professional writers friends do (I could name at least three...all women, though that's not the point!)

The point, as I see it, is the STRAIGHTJACKET all this business about genre has put writers in! Okay, I understand very well that genre is a marketing tool: it picks out the main features of your novel and shoves it in a box where people who like that particular genre will find it. Past sales history shows how a given genre fares, so you know what sort of sales to expect.

Books that are cross genre are trouble: they're difficult to categorize, and therefore to market. Hence you have to be careful not to cross over: in your genre, too much sex means crossing over.

As I see it, there really are only two ways out: either you pick a pseudonym and write as many sex scenes as you like turning your novel into booming erotica, or you move up to the "literary" category where anything goes, and indeed where erotica and violence work well together!!

V. J. Chambers said...

Boy do I identify with people being worked up about sex, but not violence.

I write young adult books (no, they don't have sex scenes) and some of my teenage characters are sexually active, which I think is accurate. I was sexually active as a teenager. Most people I knew were. I teach high school now, and many of my students are sexually active.

But having characters in a young adult book talk openly about sex really upsets some readers. A lot.

On the other hand, no one ever says anything about the fact that they're running around with guns, protecting themselves from the bad guys. This, of course, is not a big deal, even though I really don't know any teenagers personally who carry guns routinely, so I'm thinking teenage sex is way more commonplace than violence. Go figure. :)

Angie said...

Claude -- the problem with just changing your name and calling your work erotica is that if you're not writing erotica, that doesn't work. Adding a sex scene or two or six doesn't make a mystery or suspense or romance or SF or whatever kind of story an erotica story.

In erotica, the main plot hinges on the sex -- if you took away the sexual element, you wouldn't have a plot. Using sex to advance a different kind of plot, or to show character, or develop a relationship or whatever doesn't make a book erotica, and a suspense book with a few sex scenes, no matter how explicit they might be, wouldn't do well as erotica.

This kind of misunderstanding demonstrates the problem, actually. A lot of people think that sex scenes make a book erotica, or make it porn, or whatever people think when they see sex on the page, when that's not the case. Sex is just another tool a writer can use to achieve the same goals every other writer has. Sex doesn't make a book erotica any more than two people saying "I love you" makes a book a romance, or a dead body makes it a murder mystery.


Anonymous said...

Having been an avid reader and movie goer for 30 years that sex scenes are far more out of vogue in the last 15 years then they were in the 80s. Big fat mass market best sellers like Valley of the Horses used to have long overwrought sex scenes. Casual R comedies like Trading Places threw in topless shots for the hell of it. No more. Now it's full frontal male nudity to shock -- if any at all.
Oh, but ripping someone's heart out is fine. Which is pretty sad. There are exceptions to this. HBO loves its sexposition.
Personally I like both sex and violence (and good characters) in my stories. Sexuality is a huge part of being human. I think it belongs whenever it's important to the characters or plot -- which given my experience with people -- is pretty often.

Walter Knight said...

I upset a reader once because she did not like my alien / human sex scence. Jeeze, it was only 1 page out of 214.

My human had commitment issues, and was determined to never date outside of his species again.

That upset a few more readers.

Archangel said...

there are so many longings, acts, endeavors, dreamings that come under the word "sex" that are not often found in novels. Sometimes 'sex' in novels fails to be a story in and of itself... for it has no-- man i am going to start laughing just to write this elucidation of greek drama structure that unlies most of our storytelling in modern times-- the 'sex' in the novel has no story to it, for it has no exposition to speak of, no mounting action (come on, you're laughing with me, right?), no crisis other than the 'bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that the flag was still there,' and no lysis/ resolution.

Also since 'sex' is sometimes funny, that too seems rarely shown in novels. Too, in those one or many motives re sex in each person, I sense that the ecstatic is the most difficult to convey, were an author so inclined for their storyline. In part because that kind seems beyond mundane language, bounding somewhere into the lyrical, which can be at odds with novelist's tone otherwise, perhaps. Not sure but trust that author will solve how to weave one with the other in ways that portray their vision of how it all ought go together.

Thomas Diehl said...

I'll just put it this way: When I want erotica, I buy erotica. Sex in any book other than erotica and mainstream literature is a foreign object (mch like, say, a spellcaster in a sci-fi story) and it takes a lot of work to make it fit anywhere else.

It can work, when it really is integral to the plot. But it should be used with caution. Now four pages of sex - there better be a good reason for this because after page 2 I would probably say "Get on with it" (the general story, not the sex).

Anonymous said...

We must know our genres, Joe, and write our genres.

If we do the unexpected, reviewers will fry us.

This is the new " tyranny of the mouthy reader" all authors must deal with.

Anonymous said...

From my (non-american) point of view - there is never anything wrong with a sex scene - decent or explicit. Be it in a science fiction novel, thriller, horror novel. sex is a great thing and reading a good, sweaty scene, soft, hard, whatever, in any book makes me - and my wife - like it more. So, keep it that way, please, love the sex in the books ;-)

A.Rosaria said...

I love sex. I couldn't do it often enough. Most people share this love else there wouldn't be so many babies popping out every second of the day.

What I think is that a group does like sex, but doesn't want to be confronted with it publicly. It's all fine as long it's being kept behind closed door. It's faulty logic.

There is nothing wrong about sex. In our life sex is essential, because without sex there would be no humans.

What is wrong are those humans that do feel obliged to talk out against sex. When you say sex is bad you indirectly saying we should cease to exist. We humans are sex, we just can't be without. We should celebrate sex more often. So please have sex, lots of sex, and talk with everybody about the lots of sex you had. We all should give our wives/husbands the four pages of sex.

Mel Chesley said...

Damn, I had a post all ready for this soap box topic and deleted it thinking I would piss people off.
Well here's the thing... personally (and this is just MY opinion) I don't like to read about sex in a good story. If you have a good reason to throw it in there, then yeah... okay, I can see why it would be essential to the story. What irritates the hell out of me though, is putting in sex scenes in practically every genre these days just because sex sells. I mean, it sells everything from condoms (obviously) to laundry detergent (not so obviously...). Sex doesn't sell me. I have gotten to the point where I would rather read a YA novel because I don't have to deal with the sex and get to enjoy a well written book.
Sure, it's a natural part of life, but it is like a friend of mine said. It's like peeping into the bedroom window of the character. You might masturbate in real life, but would you peep into a stranger's window to watch? Yeah, I know some people out there would say yes, but seriously... if you write a story with a sex scene, take it out and see if it still works. If it does, leave it out. If it doesn't put it back in.

Lynette Eklund said...

Having just finished writing a book about a gigolo --yet with no actual sex in the book -- I think it's more what is written about sex than whether there is sex in a book or not. There is a huge difference in making love and having sex. To me, making love (or the realization that they are not...) is character-based, whereas having sex is a physical action --and physical descriptions probably don't matter as often.

YA... From a parent-perspective, in most YA, the good guys with weapons are protecting themselves and saving others from bad guys (and I don't think most parents mind that so much --even though it's attached to violence.) But most YA sex does not address self-protection or, in many cases, even address the potential social or emotional baggage that comes from it. Then it's just sex-because-everybody-does-it-so-it-should-be-there and that's not something parents generally support or want promoted.

As long as it is neccessary to the character's development and not just an action of the character... put it in. Otherwise it is as important to the story as the character brushing his teeth or deleting spam. Everyone does it, but who wants to read it?

CMSmith said...

Gosh, you make me laugh. The truth doesn't always hurt.

Sex scenes are good, if they're good, and if they're necessary as you pointed out.

I'm not a sci-fi aficionado, but I've read Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and the classics like the Lord of the Rings, and the Dune trilogy.

Maybe you've started something new.

Edie Ramer said...

I've had the opposite, readers wanting more steam, even though I usually include a couple of sex scenes and I don't write erotica. And for my paranormal romance Dead People, two reviewers gave it 1 star because they thought the h/h were too horny. That made me laugh. Their reviews would make most readers of the genre want to buy it.

In the end, you can't please everyone. But maybe you can please most of them.

Darlene Underdahl said...

It has to work with the rest of the story, but then it's a lot of fun.

I've worked with many people in my life, and when sex comes up, in the cafeteria or somewhere like that, strange ideas crawl out of their heads. Some folks have unhealthy ideas, and some are just prudes.

Maybe it's the melting pot situation, resulting in no standard behavior, maybe it's all the kids growing up around males who aren't their natural fathers, and inappropriate behavior arises, or maybe it's just too much old-time religion and all the hypocracy that always follows.

Americans are messed up, no doubt, but I'll bet the books they condemn are dog-earred!

Todd R Moody said...

The 4 pages comment made me and my wife laugh out loud. As far as the sex itself I can take it or leave it, if it makes sense to the story I'm fne with it, but I don't need to see the vein, you know? A lot of the Paranormal Romance stuff that my wife likes to read has a great deal of sex in it, some of it extremely explicit. i guess it's all in the advertising.
Great post as always!

Darlene Underdahl said...

Yeesh, too early. Misspellings all over the place. More coffee!

Manley Peterson said...

"What's wrong with sex?"

Nothing! In fact, I'm having sex right now as I write this.

IMHO, well-written sex scenes are just fine in all kinds of books.

However, I did decide to leave sex scenes out of my children's book Bloated Goat...probably for the best, right?

And just in case there is someone out there who might take that seriously, it was a joke. Actually, I left the sex scenes in there....haha.

Manley's Bookshelf

Kathleenshoop said...

Thanks for the grins this morning, Joe! People mentioned expectations for a book--I agree with that. Some of my readers have been critical of my book because it was sadder than they expected it to be! Sadder! I guess we never know what readers are bringing to the table when they pick up our books--for good and bad. I think sex in books works for many reasons...u have the right idea--use it where it's needed and hopefully readers can see past their own issues with the matter!
Sorry for errors--on phone

Kathleenshoop said...

"that gives me chicken skin."
Hehehe--love that phrase. Thank you.

asphodelia said...

I think it's a question of balance and, as Joe said, of how the scene can tell the story. If there's a point to a sex scene, leave it in. But the balance is important.

For example, if any of you are familiar with the 'Earth's Children' series by Jean M Auel, that's a very good example of how sex can be detrimental to a story. From book 2 (Valley of the Horses) the author delighted us with really long and gratuitous sex scenes. At first they had a purpose in the narrative, but after a while they just became a joke. If you look at the reviews of these books on Amazon you will see most readers admitted to skipping them.

I have absolute faith in Joe's writing and if he thinks the scene has a place and a purpose, then I'm sure it will be worth leaving it in.

Carey Conley said...


"Apparently I can stab someone fifty times and feed them to the crows while they're still alive (Serial Killers Uncut, which also has a sex scene), and that's okay as long as there are no blowjobs."


"(Do you remember, you married guys, watching your wife-to-be walk down the aisle and thinking how nice it will be that you'll never have to jerk off again? How'd that work out for you?)"

Joe, you owe me a Coke Zero, since the one I was drinking while laughing is now all over my screen.

Marie Simas said...

Sex, swearing--American audiences are apoplectic about it. My return rate (although low overall) is twice as high in the US as it is in the UK (US 4%, UK 1.5%).

Take that for what it's worth, but I'm not going to stop talking about sex, or using the word "pussy."

Barbara Ensign said...

I am so happy that I know you will not listen to the "haters" I enjoy your writing, and really enjoyed the sex scenes, they do add to the story line. Thanks for telling us your wife reviewed that one. I was a little curious as to how well you wrote that (haha)

Susan said...

"Don't need to see the vein," I LOL'ed at that one...

I read a lot of romance, so I'm used to sex in books. However, romance novels are always looked down upon by most folks, and one of the reasons is the sex scenes.

I've never liked the fact that violence is ok and sex is not. Folks don't even care that the sex may be an integral part of the plot. If it's there, someone's gonna complain about it.

Sarah McCabe said...

Yes, everyone likes sex. Not everyone is a voyeur. That's essentially the difference. There is a specific market for erotica. Not everyone explicit sex in their reading material.

I realize that you'll disagree with me, but you asked the question so you'll have to accept that this is the answer for certain people, like me. Sex is a personal and private thing and it shouldn't have an audience. Call me repressed or whatever you want. (Though it strikes me as illogical to call someone who has had enough regular sex to get four kids out of it repressed just because I think sex is a sacred act that should stay, at least, between the two participants and at best between husband and wife.) When you intentionally write explicit descriptions of sex and then sell them for entertainment... yep, it's porn. But if you're so liberated in your sexuality, then why do you care if people call it porn?

JA Konrath said...

I don't like annoying "story" interrupting my porn either.

LOL. I think the story in porn is the refractory period for guys.

People mentioned expectations for a book--I agree with that.

I understand this, and it's true, but I don't agree with it.

How many times have you watched a movie, then watched it again a few years later and felt the complete opposite about it?

The movie didn't change. You and your expectations changed.

We all have baggage, and that baggage influences our opinions. It's been scientifically proven that expectation taints reaction.

That only means we should try harder to judge things on their merits, rather than our own.

Sasha d'Or said...

If sex is seen as perverted, isn't the seer telling us about their guilt-ridden psychoses. Unfortunately these Puritan-infested folks exist in great droves, and who wants to alienate droves of readers. But wait! If they are complaining... well then, these naughty people are actually reading this stuff. Hmmm. Might it be that the cost of liberation is the denial of its pleasures?

Christine Rains said...

Sex in fiction can be a lot of fun and it can also be a great tool for a vulnerable/emotional moment for your characters. If it doesn't forward the story, though, it isn't necessary. I've experienced the same prejudice with the stories I've written with sex in them. Some people like it, some don't. We just have to remember you can't please everyone.

Jim Franz said...

I found a book series several years ago that I loved. After a few books, there was a vivid sex scene. It didn't bother me at all. The next book had more explicit sex. The book after that had even more. Now the series is basically erotica. I don't read it anymore. It's not that I'm bothered by sex; it's just that I enjoyed the mystery/suspense that the series used to be. I never wrote a bad review about the books (and am purposefully not identifying the author or series here), as I believe other people must love the new direction. It's just not the genre I find entertaining.

JA Konrath said...

But if you're so liberated in your sexuality, then why do you care if people call it porn?

I couldn't not possibly care less what people call my writing, but the "porn" label is inappropriate. I'd feel the same way if they called my writing a "western." It's just plain lazy, and it's wrong.

To a degree, reading or watching TV or movies is indeed voyeurism. You're vicariously living through someone else. Storytelling, when it works, puts you in the story. It is, at its heart, empathetic. Good stores make us emote. We laugh, cry, cringe, cheer, and sometimes get turned on. It's all part of the human experience.

When you intentionally write explicit descriptions of sex and then sell them for entertainment... yep, it's porn.

No, it's not. It's fiction with a sex scene or two.

The main point of porn is to get off. The main point of fiction is to tell a story.

But let's take a step back. Those calling my stories porn are saying porn=bad.

What's bad about porn? Humans, men especially, are genetically wired to become aroused while viewing sex.

Porn has been shown to reduce sexual violence. (

Porn is a safe substitute when someone isn't in a relationship.

Porn allows repressed folks to indulge in fantasies they wouldn't in real life.

Porn is a good thing. It's the reason the Internet is so popular.

Ellis Jackson said...

As a rule having sex in novels makes me feel uncomfortable. It never seems realistic to me, and unless it's not only integral to the story but positively VITAL then I really don't feel the need to see it.

It's not like I'm a prude or anything (I'm a bloke, I think about sex every 7 seconds apparently), it just makes me uncomfortable, and unless it is very very key it often comes across to me as a cheap way to get more readers, much like it sometimes does in film. In both cases I prefer the "fade to black" idea, particularly if my mother is sitting next to me on the couch watching the film...

Anyway, great post as usual Sir!

Jude Hardin said...

I love what Lawrence Block said about some of his early work: "They were the kind of books you were supposed to read with one hand."

LOL. But the truth is, most of the sex scenes I've read in novels have not been very good. In fact, there are enough crummy ones to warrant an annual award for Bad Sex in Fiction.

In mysteries and thrillers, I'm all for the fade to black approach. That's what Block does in the Matt Scudder novel I recently read, and Block has more experience writing that stuff than anyone.

I wrote a sex scene (and it was not gratuitous) in the novel I turned in to my agents a few days ago, but on second reading I struck it out and let it remain offstage. Better to let the reader use his/her imagination, I think. There are only so many ways to describe two (or more) people fucking, and it just starts sounding silly after a while.

Anne Gallagher said...

There's nothing wrong with sex if it moves the story forward. As a writer of romance (historical and contemporary) I don't have it in my books. I've been reading romance for 30+ years and have skipped over so many sex scenes, they would probably fill the Library of Congress. Especially the 'bodice rippers' from way back when.

I, personally, don't like reading it as much as I enjoy doing it. Reading it, however, makes me feel like a voyeur. I don't need to watch (or read) someone doing it, just as I don't want someone watching me.

Unless, and this is a big unless, it's intregal to the story or is amazingly funny. Comedic sex is the best kind, especially with an hysterical penis involved.

Write what you love, Joe. Who cares what anyone else thinks. I do.

frank palardy said...

You don't see much sex in big movies now either. In the 80's they were always pushing for more and then they just stopped. I'm working on a book myself with two big sex scenes. One involves the president and Hillary. The other is a 35 day marathon between Jesus and Lindsay Lohan. This all take place in the future (next year).

Ellis Jackson said...

(...I think sex is a sacred act that should stay, at least, between the two participants and at best between husband and wife.)

As a red-blooded man I wish to highlight that I don't entirely agree with you on this point! ;)

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with porn (if there was no porn the internet would have given up years ago, and it certainly doesn't turn us all into psychotic rapists at a moment's notice), I just prefer to keep that separate from my non-photographic based reading materials. I generally read at work during my lunch time, and would feel excruciatingly embarrassed should the attractive girl who sits behind me were to glance over my shoulder and read a sex scene, even if it were in a 'normal' book.

Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life said...

People like the sex, but a tiny minority that are very verbal do not.

Let me explain...

Earlier this year my wife and I were on Inside Edition as the married couple that had sex 5000 times in our 16 year marriage. We are each others first and only sex partner. The interview was very cutesy and basically spun my book as cuddly-wuddly fluff. We kissed on camera a few times.

Well apparently that was enough for several members of the public and customers to hunt down our personal information and complain to our employer about us. We had an uncomfortable meeting in HR about the interview.

So if monogamous married couples can offend people, there will always be people ready and WANTING TO BE OFFENDED by any mention of sex.

So fuck em' and write what you want.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Maybe it's the surprise to have it show up from an author readers haven't seen it from before. You say the sex is integral to the scenes. Are you writing graphically about the act itself--where people touch, techniques, etc.--or what it means to the lovers? You don't have to be graphic if you're into the emotional significance of the coupling.

If it comes across as simply a way to get the reader hot and bothered or as a how-to manual, I'm not surprised many might have thought it was porn.

I prefer fade to black myself. The other stuff makes me feel like a voyeur, and I'm not into peeking in my neighbors' windows (which I'm sure they're glad about). If I want to feel hot and bothered, I'll see what hubby's in the mood for.

Just Jaye said...

Congrats on the hate mail, Joe. Any fiction that elicits a powerful emotional response is successful fiction.

ALL fiction is about sex and violence. Getting it, avoiding it, denying it, yearning for it, coming to grips with it. Sex and violence are at the heart of being human. There is no way to avoid the subjects if one is writing fiction.

That said, the key to a good sex scene is the same as with good sex, it's all in the build-up. Start the sexual tension from the beginning, take it slow, drag out the tease, and by the time the scene actually happens the readers are hungrily anticipating it. Think of it like a date. If the guy just jumps on the girl with no preliminaries, it feels like assault. Let the pair engage in long looks, kisses, touches, etc. by the time they hit her front door, well...

Mike Grant said...

Nothing wrong with sex scenes in books. We see every other aspect of a character's life (except visits to the toilet).

The only problem I ever have with sex scenes is recommending the book to my mother...or when she has recommended one to me. AWKWARD!

Oh...and I was one of those suckers who got married thinking that exact same think. I don't think a month made it before my dreams were dashed. :)

Epertase said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with sex in a novel as long as it fits. If the reader is reading along and two thirds of the way through the book there is a graphic sex scene that is out of place, it doesn't work no matter how good it is written. It works with everything, not just sex. If a book is written with a passive theme throughout, and then suddenly the climax end has a violent extended fight scene, it won't work.
Saying that, I am shocked at when adults attend my book signings and ask if my book is appropriate for children. I tell them that there is a lot of violence with sword fights and war and maybe not good for young kids. They usually ask if there is any sex or cursing. I tell them minimal cursing and only hints at sex, and they seem good with it. They'll usually buy on that advise. Oh well. I think I'd rather find out that my teenager was caught kissing a girl than to hear he was knife fighting behind the school.
I agree with an earlier comment. Write what you want to write and don't look back.

Anthea said...

"In the majority of my novels and stories, sex happens off the page."

"But I learned something important writing Cherry Bomb. I learned I liked writing sex scenes. ...
When I wrote Timecaster, I knew I wanted to have several sex scenes in it."

Do you see how readers who were used to your earlier work, and thought they knew what to expect, might feel like those expectations were betrayed when suddenly you went from sex happening off the page to several explicit sex scenes?

You already know that explicit violence isn't for everyone. Explicit sex isn't for everyone either.

I'm pretty sure that an author who went from several books with explicit sex but little to no violence to writing something like Serial Killers would get a similar amount of hate mail, just from the violated expectations!

That's not to say that it's bad to change what or how you write when it suits you - just that when you change things you'll always lose some old readers who don't like the change and gain some new readers who like your work better because of the change.

Ellen Fisher said...

"So, you've never gone four pages with me!"

Fiction, hon. It's fiction."

Bwa ha ha.

I'm lucky to be a romance writer. You can write as many sex scenes as you like in romance without upsetting most readers (though of course there will always be the random readers who have never read a romance before, or who only read the clean ones). But romance is a genre in which you can open the bedroom door wide without annoying your readers. Other genres have different expectations.

I agree with asphodelia; too many sex scenes become wearing (and Auel is a great example-- I can't tell you how many pages of sex scenes I've skipped while reading her books!). But as long as it's in there for a purpose, write it and don't worry about the occasional negative response. My guess is that far more people appreciate it than are put off by it:-).

Epertase said...

I find it slightly ironic that I wrote " good it was written," instead of " well it was written." oops.

The Daring Novelist said...

I don't get the aversion to sex and not violence either. I mean okay, in the old days when violence was extremely sanitized, I get why some would consider that more acceptable than messy sex.

But the violence in your books is too horrific for me to read, and I don't get why someone would object to sex.... other than I know others who have had people complain vociferously about the inclusion even romance in hard SF.

There are purists in every area.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

It's all those Puritan roots and the belief that we should be shocked and appalled at sex in books. I think it depends on the writer and the way the sex is used. I have been more than a little icked out when a writer talking about a character humping another character's leg and sticky sexual fluids (pre-cum and vaginal fluids) running down their legs. That was a bit too much information for me.

What I find most interesting is how little people really know about the Puritans or that they had their own little sexual secrets. Wife swapping was common, as long as the wife of one man didn't get pregnant with another man's child, which was the ultimate no-no. So much for those Puritan roots. If only people would take the time to read Puritan diaries and journals, they would get a far different picture of our forebears and forbear to look shocked when, like old Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, they're doing the nasty all over the place and adding their own kinks.

Sex for characterization and plot points, but keep it buttoned up unless you intend to actually write porn, most of which has a lot more sex, a lot less plot, and a moderate amount of OMG!, how do they do it in that position?, kind of sex.

Lisa J Yarde said...

I have no problem with reading or writing sex scenes. Yet, I've been told that having sex in my historical fiction makes them romance novels. One reviewer was shocked by my first book's adulterous love scenes - guess the "forbidden love affair" and other statements in the blurb were too subtle. Apparently, it's fine if I have beheadings and other detailed levels of violence, but a loving couple in an intimate setting? That's just wrong.

I've seen some books written in a formulaic manner, like the author decided "the sex scene should go here." The best sex, in or out of a book, should be a natural outcome of the chemistry that's been budding between people. Sex in any book is rarely just about the act. It's either the physical manifestation of a healthy relationship, the dominance of one partner over another, etc. I don't get the attitude that sex doesn't belong in certain genres. Who writes these rules and how can we undo them?

Anonymous said...

I would echo what someone way up in the comment section said: what DO you want the reader to feel when reading your sex scenes?

If it's supposed to convey vulnerability, you would focus on emotions not physical details. If it's meant to arouse, you would focus on physical details, not emotions.

For the record, I'm not American, and I don't like reading or watching other people having sex. It bores me just like watching sports or other physical feats showcasing the participants physical prowess bores me.
Making love is a different thing altogether, but that's a highly emotional event and it can't be graphic by it's very nature.

I don't like gratuitous violence either.
If you want to show how cruel a character is, there are better ways than violence.
If you want to show how vulnerable a character is, there are better ways than sex.

I can tell when the writer is being gratuitous, with sex AND with violence, and it will make me close the book because I can't trust the authors story telling skills any longer. The mechanics underneath the story start to show and the magic is lost.

Call me a prude if it makes you feel better. I don't care what people think about me. But I do care about stories.

Unknown said...

Well DUH. Really, this surprises you? Really? Seriously? Because that makes you look a little foolish. No, a lot foolish.

I publish erotica romance under a psued, as do most of my colleagues, because of the denigration that genre receives. Het or gay, if it has a sex scene in it, then it's by definition a "trashy novel". It doesn't matter how good the actual story is (and yes, Virgina, there are some very talented writers writing erotica romance) if it's got a sex scene, then it is automatically hung on the lowest bar of the genre ladder.

So, the psueds. Just look at the fury unleashed when erotica author Judy Mays identity was revealed as a high school teacher. Some of us could literally lose our careers because of writing sex scenes.

So, my amazement at your post here. You seem very in touch with publishing as a whole, so I'm floored that you are so surprised at the reaction to when YOU write sex scenes. Did you think you were immune because of your genre? Your gender? Your popularity? Hell no. Get a grip, Konrath. Better yet, talk to the people who write sex scenes for a living before coming off like a total, well, cherry bomb. ;)

Tori Minard said...

On voyeurism - it isn't any more voyeuristic to read a sex scene than it is to "listen in" on a character's thoughts. People, this is fiction. It isn't real. The characters aren't real. You aren't a peeping Tom because you read a sex scene. Reading (or writing) a fictional sex scene is akin to fantasizing about a lover you made up for the purpose. You're not invading anyone's privacy, because fictional characters are not real people.

Dustin said...

Count me in as one reader who doesn't mind sex scenes. Actually I take that back, I don't mind ones that are integral to the character growth or plot development of the story.

Unfortunately these types of scenes aren't as common as I'd like to see in fiction, but if the author taps into their reader's emotions and not just their loins they've managed quite a feat.

Sex, be it intimate or violent, can bring a lot to the table. Take a violent rape. It may not be pretty, but if you get into the POV of the victim (or rapist) it has the potential to be a pivotal focus point of the story. Will it make people uncomfortable? Absolutely, as it should. If such a scene doesn't fill readers with revulsion, doesn't make themselves feel things they very likely would rather they not, it was poorly written.

I'm actually working on a book at the moment that has an entire subplot dealing sex between a married couple. Why would I do that? The answer is simple: they're both emotionally scarred from the three-months premature birth of their first child. The subplot deals with their fears, longings, and eventual reconnection. This isn't porn, though I've no doubt the climax scene (oy, talk about a bad choice in words) may seem so to a prudish reader.

So I say let the complainers complain and, as long as your sales stay strong, pay them no mind. My only advice, not that you need it, is to work some clues into the beginning of the story so that when such readers get far enough to read your sex scenes they've only themselves to blame and can't claim you blind-sided them with it.

Romana Grimm said...

That you even have to ask this question is strange. :-)

Personally, I like good erotica, and I like it when a book has sensible sex scenes. If it's a "fade-to-black" kind of book, fine, but if it is an intense book there's absolutely nothing wrong with good, steamy sex.

America really is a strange country, at least from the outside looking in. You have the largest porn industry in the world, and the beauty hype is legendary. On the other side, people can be incredibly prudish, which is kind of baffling.

Still, the bipolar attitude aside, you've got some pretty good authors here, and not a few really know how to write seriously steamy sex scenes. As long as these authors exist I'll come back and look for more stories :D

A.G. Claymore said...

That's what comes of having so many Puritans colonizing New England. The Europeans actually called them the seventeenth century equivalent of 'sticklers'.

Tell you what, we'll put Joe in water and, if he floats, he's made of wood which of course means he's a witch!

Seriously, I've read some Harry Turtledove and it sounds like the guy spends half his time thinking about oral sex. I cringe, not because it's a sex scene but because it feels like my grandfather talking about sex. I still read the story and enjoy it.

Sex is a part of life and it belongs in stories where it adds to the narrative. If a quickie in the broom closet is integral it needs to be there. If it isn't integral, it's no more important than deciding to buy a newspaper.

Too many people expect us to share their hang-ups - and their outrage.

Liz said...

LOL - funny post.

On the good side you can now tag the book as romantic suspense.

Depending on the genre the best sex scenes either reveal character or reveal of deepening of the relationship - even better if they do both.

Jude Hardin said...
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Jude Hardin said...
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Matching Socks said...

AKA LeNore in Ft Worth. It looked like you were asking for opinions. I say no on explicit sex. By explicit sex I mean penetration in print. I read reviews before buying and reading a book to see if it has this type of content, if it does I don't buy and I don't read (one exception comes to mind). I have never recommended such a book to another person, am not likely to ever do so as that reflects back on me. That is just my opinion.

M.E. Hydra said...

Writing erotica/porn is so much more fun when you know that sweet sex scene is going to dive off a cliff into pure horror and the reader doesn't :)

A sex scene is a tool for the writer, same as humour or violence. Sometimes it fits, sometimes it feels gratuitous and tacked on.

If they're complaining because it feels tacked on, they might have a point. If they're complaining because they think all fictional characters should have no messy dangly bits like Barbie and Ken dolls, then they should get out of the US for a while and broaden their mind.

Or the UK. My country is sadly just as fucked up about these things. :(

Harper Alibeck said...

My book, Legs, is clearly labeled "erotic romance" (in the subtitle, in nice, bold letters), and I've received negative reviews for having sex scenes a) too close to the beginning of the novel (which is a big, screaming part of the plot) and b) that are too steamy.

Can't please everyone!

Adam Pepper said...

I have noticed there are readers that dont even flinch when you brutally fillet scores of people...but put one sex scene in and they freak. I dont worry about them though. My books are for adults. Adults have sex. Sex is in my books. I'll just have to deal with the bad reviews from those who are sexually yet not vocally repressed. I actually think those negative reviews can titilate my target readers.

Stephen Knight said...

I don't have a problem with sex in books. Which probably explains why I put sex scenes in both City of the Damned and White Tiger.

The people who are complaining about the sex scenes in your work are probably frantically wanking off to 1980s porn. And probably arriving at decidedly cheerless orgasms at that.

It is amazing that we can write about people being blown up, shot at, stabbed, drawn and quartered, tortured, eaten alive by zombies, flayed open by manic serial killers...and no one bats an eye.

But popping out a turgid member on a page is just too much for some folks.

Go figure.

City of the Damned
The Gathering Dead
Hackett's War
White Tiger
Blog: Knight's Landing

Stephany Simmons said...

I was advised early on by a random editor that fans of Urban Fantasy don't want the whole enchilada when it comes to sex. So, like a good little writer, I took my sex scene out and instead of trashing it, I gave it away as a free extra to those who left a review and were interested.

Maybe it's the blurring of the lines between female written UF and Paranormal romance, but most of my readers have told me that I should keep the sex in the books.

I'll definitely be going with the tastes of my readers and not some random editor from now on.

Abbie said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It's comforting to know that bigger writers than me have this problem. I have a fantasy series with a small, but devoted following. The world is gritty and includes fairly graphic references to child prostitution, cannibalism, rape, flaying, and murder. It also includes sympathetic gay characters. For the podcast version, I warn people at the beginning of every episode that the books may offend the offend-able and are not for children.

I have never gotten a single email or review complaining about any of these elements. In fact, I get people complaining that my content warning is undeserved.

However, in the 3rd book, gay sex happens, which is brief, entirely oral, and only moderately explicit. The participants are consenting adults. The sum total of the on-screen sex would fill less than a single page of a standard print book. The sex and the level of detail I gave were integral to the plot and character development.

And I'm getting angry reviews and emails. The sex is "porn" or "fan fic" or causes the story to "have no plot."

A majority of readers seem to appreciate what the sex does in the story, but a vocal minority do not seem able to integrate sex with plot and character development if the sex has *any* level of detail. Sex with details is all porn to them.

I'm also finding that people's opinions on what constitutes "tasteful" sex vary so widely as to be usefulness. Unfortunately, everyone also thinks that the truth of their opinion is self-evident. This is laughably untrue.

Richard Brown said...

I don't have a problem with sex or violence, but what if you mix the two together? Stephen King did this in Bag of Bones and it was extremely graphic, depicting a young girl being raped by a bunch of guys. The whole scene went on for around five pages.

While I'm sure most people were disgusted by that scene (I was one of them), I hope I wasn't the only one that thought it was very important to the story. Had he just wrote....and then she was would not have had the same effect on the readers ability to understand and sympathize with the victim.

- RB -

Courtney Cantrell said...

I'm confused. There are sci-fi fans who don't expect to find sex in sci-fi books? Haven't they read Heinlein?

; )

I enjoy sex in fiction if it does what you, Joe, and some commenters have said: if it advanced the plot and the character development.

Sometimes, if plot & char dev have led characters to the bedroom, and the author does a fade-to-black, I get irritated. I guess that makes me a pervert -- or maybe it just makes me a reader/writer who hates to see other writers pull their punches.

Mary Stella said...

I write romance novels. Writing good, effective, sex scenes that bring a zing to the reader is hard. (No pun intended. Much.)

No matter what else is happening in my books, at the heart is the developing romance between the main characters. In the real world, most developing romantic relationships include sex at some point, it's natural for me to include these scenes in the books. That makes perfect sense to me. I never have, and never will, understand why these scenes lead so many people to call romance novels porn, trash, and various other unimaginative, derogatory terms.

That said, I'm not into sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes. They need to be part of the developing romance and relationship, they need to be written true to the characters and the story.

I don't read a lot of romantic erotica, but the ones I make a point to read have lots of story and character development along with lots of sex. (Anyone who wants to read some of the best, pick up a book by Lorelei James.)

I've seen a wide range of reactions from customers at signings in book stores. The romance fans know what they want and which writers deliver. If a romance reader doesn't want sex scenes, he/she can find romances that don't go beyond the closed door. Never once have I had a reader who prefers "sweet" books insult me at a signing.

Non-romance fans? A woman came up to me at a signing, picked up a book and asked me about it. When I told her it was a romance, her nostrils flared. "With sex?" she asked. When I said yes, she threw the book at me as if by touching it she risked leprosy. "I don't read trash!" she sneered.

I laughed at her, said, "And I don't write it", then turned and smiled at the customer behind her.

Some people.

P A Wilson said...

I'm with you. If it moves the story forward, sex is fine. If I don't like it in a book, I can skip over reading it.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when your post showed up in my mail this morning, as I was fine-tuning the (yes, 4-page) sex scene in my 400 page novel.

I like to find a spicy scene or two in a book of any genre. It's like enjoying a beautifully prepared meal, and then being served a delicious dessert. You can do without the dessert, but why would you want to?

I've found several discussions of this topic on the blogs in the last few months, and the group I find most interesting is the large "only-if-it-advances-the story" (OIIATS) group.

To me, that sounds like a cop-out. That sounds like, "I like sex scenes, but I don't want anybody to think I'm a pervert, so I'll say OIIATS."

Yes, I agree that everything I write needs to advance the story. But is it *necessary* for me to say that a character is wearing a blue shirt, or to give the reader a description of a setting? If it's irrelevant to the story whether the action takes place outdoors or indoors, should I skip that detail altogether and just let my characters float in an undefined void? If you adhere to a strict version of OIIATS, then most books could be shortened by a lot of words.

Details and descriptions enrich our writing. Humans are sexual beings. It's fine if writers want to leave out that component (just like the blue shirt), but it's ridiculous to condemn writing that includes sexual content.

All this has made me think, though. Maybe I'll make sure my description clearly states that my books contain a sex scene or two. That oughta boost the sales. Maybe even get me some hate mail. :-)

Sue Santore said...

I just wrote a blog about how I don't like sex scenes in a novel. I skip them to get back to the story. I don't watch other people have sex. Why would I want to read about it?

CC MacKenzie said...


You're wife is a killer, Joe.

& @ Ellen. I absolutely agree with you. I write romance too and believe me those readers want a 'good' sex scene or three. But, it has to be within the context of the emotional journey of the protagonists.

And strangely enough, those scenes are not always easy to write well in a way that captures the reader's imagination and emotions. Again, character development is the key.

Your readers want what you do best, Joe, a rollercoaster thrilling ride of adventure. But I say, if a sex scene adds another layer to your character, especially vulnerability, put it in.


kathleenshoop said...

"I understand this, and it's true, but I don't agree with it.

How many times have you watched a movie, then watched it again a few years later and felt the complete opposite about it?

The movie didn't change. You and your expectations changed.

We all have baggage, and that baggage influences our opinions. It's been scientifically proven that expectation taints reaction.

That only means we should try harder to judge things on their merits, rather than our own."

I agree with all that you said above. The point I made badly was what you said very well--that I'm surprised how much reader expectations cloud their experience. I am amazed at how many readers respond to a book with essentially, "That isn't how I would have written it..."

I don't mind if a book goes where I don't expect it to even if it pricks my worst emotions to life...

What I'm surprised at is how many others don't seem to like that at all, how many others don't like the ride. And no, I'm not talking about billing a book as a romance and giving them a thriller type of "dashing of expectations..."

Sex in your books seems appropriate to me. Sex in nearly any book could be appropriate, in my eyes.

Shawna said...

It sounds like you owe your wife four pages worth of actual sex.

Get hopping Konrath. ;)

SBJones said...

I remember my editors telling me to get rid of sexual tense, embarassing moment in my book. The hero got pined to the ground by a woman who was his sparing partner and all he could see was her crotch. I thought it was important because he had a crush on her but that bothered them, but they could have cared less about the death that occurs.

I though it was weird.

Sam said...

I've sometimes thought that any book, purporting to go into detail about a character's daily life, that doesn't include masturbation is unrealistic.

On the other hand (pun intended), I think that sex scenes (whether in movies/TV/books) are typically so exaggerated and unrealistic that I'd rather do without them.

PS-- check out Mark Twain's thoughts on masturbation. Absolutely hilarious.

Unknown said...

Being an author myself, I actually do LIKE sex in fiction. I'm a Yank but I have lived in Europe so perhaps that is why I'm not as repressed about the whole sex and fiction issue.

I've written sex scenes in my books but like you, I feel like it should add something. One of my novellas was labeled erotica (must have been the cover... my bad) but I think there are only a couple of sex scenes in the actual novella itself and they don't go on for pages. I wasn't upset because I respect erotica artists but I found it a bit off-putting my novella was labeled as such because it was misleading and all I need are pissed off readers leaving comments ("this was listed as erotica, where was the sex?") on Amazon.

I must admit I have to have a glass of wine (or two) to write a sex scene as it gets me into the zone (I re-read when I am sober though). ;-)

JA Konrath said...

Do you see how readers who were used to your earlier work, and thought they knew what to expect, might feel like those expectations were betrayed when suddenly you went from sex happening off the page to several explicit sex scenes?


My readers should feel betrayed if I write crap. Or if one of my characters did something out of character.

I can even understand readers getting made when I kill someone in a book.

But sex shouldn't be a problem. Nothing I write is gratuitous, including the sex scenes. They're part of the plot.

If people don't enjoy them, they can skip them. But getting angry with me is silly.

I genre-hop, mix horror and humor, and often have scenes that make people break out the hankies. My goal, as a writer, is to take people on an emotional roller coaster.

Sex can be part of the ride. Just because it wasn't there before doesn't mean I should be forced to write the same thing, over and over, without variation.

I want to exceed readers' expectations. I certainly don't want to disappoint them.

But when I start tip-toeing around things like sex, violence, and language, because I don't want to offend anyone, the story will undoubtedly get watered down.

I.J.parker said...

Not a burning issue. Sex is part of life. It's appropriate in fiction. I prefer my characters to be humans, not cold fish with an obsession to solve crimes.

Maybe it's the way sex is handled that people object to. I'm not fond of the sort that occurs in certain romance novels, for example. Neither do I appreciate detailed descriptions of sadistic performances.

Oh, and if you want a giggle, read the final paragraph of a Barbara Cartland novel.

Tracy Lynn said...

As a reader, I don't mind sex scenes in a story, unless, and this may be only me, they are super graphic for no other reason than to be super graphic.
I read a lot of urban fantasy and I find books that are actually fantasy with a couple sex scenes or they are romance novel with a fantasy setting. I prefer the former.
And I agree with the other commenters that when they are not done well, they are excruciating to read.
I feel the same way about violence, although there are fewer cases of it being gratuitous, there are often cases where it is not done well, and as is the case with some sex scenes, it jerks you out of the story. I hate that.

Mark Darley, Author said...

People have differing opinions. Shocking.

Melissa Schroeder said...

As an author, I write it if it fits the story. I write erotic romance, so it is always in my stories, but I never "throw in" a sex scene to make word count. There has to be a REASON for the sex, not just to arouse. It must move the story further along. And if you do the emotional side of the sex scene right, then it can really deepen the character development. As a reader, as long as it fits the story, I am okay with it. I hate reading sex scenes that feel thrown in, and believe me, there are a lot of them. It confuses me that people are more upset by sex scenes than brutal violence lol

Anonymous said...

Only series I ever gave up that had an abrupt change in the amount of sex was the Anita Blake series. Went from urban fantasy mystery to erotic in a blink and lost everything I liked about the series, e.g., the urban fantasy mystery.

Some sex scenes I have read have made me want to reach for the brain bleach, but it's mainly due to the writing not the acts-- except I let a review by Mrs. Giggles convince me to read a romance novel where the hero was a satyr with double the normal equipment. I wince every time I think about that scene. The book wasn't very good either.

Oh, and I don't mind the bed room door being closed either.

Abbie said...

Some of the comments on this thread make me despair of humanity.

I do not think it's possible to understanding some of these reactions outside the context of religion. I know that nobody wants to talk about that, but, as someone raised in a conservative Christian environment, I know that it directly influenced my early responses to sex in literature.

The response goes something like this: it's a sin to imagine having sex with someone you're not married to. Reading about a sympathetic character having sex is morally murky. People become uncomfortable because they're pretty sure they're sinning. You, sir, are making them sin!

This knee-jerk sin reaction overrides more sophisticated responses. Say what you like about violence, but the average reader (and even the average Christian) is pretty sophisticated about violence in fiction. They don't say, for instance, "I wouldn't want to watch my neighbors stabbing each other, so why would I want to read about it?" They understand the many rolls violence can play in a story and the complex reactions it's intended to evoke. But, when it comes to sex, some people lose that level of sophistication. I suspect that their gut-level suspicion that they're sinning plays a big roll.

Delphine Dryden said...

"They were fun, but they also allowed me to show a human, emotional, vulnerable side to my characters."

That right there is, to me, what erotic romance is all about; when done well, it's one long character study and the sex scenes are just a way to peel another few layers back. People who don't get the genre or assume it's porn just because it has sex in it are missing that element-and I suspect they're the same folks who write you hate mail when you include a sex scene in one of your books.

Sex is a very basic part of who most grownups are, though, and why fade to black on the moment your characters are at their most vulnerable? We don't fade to black on the sex in real life. Nor do we think in euphemisms, so to me what really breaks the flow of a novel isn't a sex scene but a sex scene that tries to sound pretty. It's intellectually and emotionally dishonest. And also not hot ;-)

Marcus Blakeston said...

Can't say as it bothers me much either way, but I'd probably be a bit annoyed if I bought a book expecting murder and mayhem on every page and it was full of soppy "girl" stuff. I'm sure porn readers get just as annoyed when people get stabbed during a sex scene.

I haven't read any of the books you mention, but I'm thinking the literary equivalent of a 1980s zombie film, where the entire thing grinds to a halt for a few minutes while some woman gets her tits out for the camera. You just sit there waiting for a zombie to come and bite them off, but it never happens.

The Forward Observer said...

My just-released on Amazon novel, Old Scores - A Jake Driver Adventure, has three sex scenes, two of which are at least "R" rated.
I am sensitive to the more conservative reader and warn them in my promotion that sex is an element in the book (the hero is an erotic fiction author - how could sex not play a role?). As J. A. Konrath says, sex in a novel can be fun, even titillating, but the scenes need to be integral to the story, revealing character traits or at least depth of relationships.
I understand, however, sex is just too private, too personal, for many people. They don't want to be participants in POV sex or voyeurism of any sort.
It's a tough call, fade to black, or not? As author's we know we will displease and lose a wide swath of readership by including graphic sex. You only have to look at the number of comments to this post to realize how controversial it remains.
Pete Grimm

David Gaughran said...

I'm Irish, so my DNA is interwoven with several strands of indestructible Catholic guilt. My biggest worry writing my first full-on sex scene was not "what will people think" or "is it good" it was "my mother's going to read this."

John Barlow said...

My uncle gave one of my books to someone in the family, and they have never talked to him (or me) since. It was just normal (victorian) sex, although there was a cat watching.

Phillip Thomas Duck said...

It's a slippery slope. My newest book, EXIT (Simon & Schuster/Strebor) is what I would bill an erotic thriller. The main character has a sex addiction that leads him down some dangerous paths that eventually imperil everything he holds dear and loves. One of the early reviewers, Charlotte, Charlotte's Web of Books , had this to say:

Exit was a wonderful, fast paced corporate thriller, but there is a LOT of dirty, raunchy, sex scenes, which could be considered erotica. But honestly, it really fit with the story. I enjoyed Exit, but I think it will appeal to a very select crowd.

See? Fast-paced, a wonderful thriller, and the sex scenes REALLY FIT with the story but still gave her pause. I did my best to emphasize the other parts of my protag's story, the things that weren't solely of a carnal nature, and I believe I handled this juggling act well. Are some readers turned off by sex, Joe? Absolutely. The reasons why I suspect are too complex to truly understand.


Rob said...

You know what it is? People are just too damn touchy. Kinda surprised by that. These are the same people that watch things like jersey shore or lady gaga videos but writing about the act is...going too far? Something's a miss here.

Em Kay said...

You should write your books in French.

Anonymous said...

This is something I'e wondered about and something I've looked at different reviewers on Goodreads to get a feel for. I have three reviewers that I follow because they can tell you what they like and why they like it (a very rare skillset).
The one who is probably the most like everyreader doesn't like a lot of the details of sex, however she isn't adverse to it either. She read and gave high marks to Karen Marie Moning's Fever series and if you know Moning, no one does sex scenes like her (although this had few compared to her other writing).
I think the ick factor for some readers comes down to intimacy. There can be sex, but it has to be earned, fought for and desired for awhile in the story. Also, I will say blow jobs cross the line for many readers. It lacks a person feel, just sex for sex's sake. Which if thay's your character that's fine, but less might be more there.
I read mainly YA and there is a wide variety of sex descriptions. Amanda Hocking in my opinion sets up YA sex well in her vampire series. As in they teased around for awhile and then did it. But that's YA. A lot of YA mentions shirts off, but fades to black or something interrupts at about that point.
I think is boils down to how emotionally invested readers are with both characters involved.

Courtney Milan said...

Hi Joe,

I write romance, and I never had people calling my books "porn" until I self-published my first novella and got a much wider audience than my traditional publisher got me.

I take that as a good sign: if people are calling my books porn (and my novella is the tamest thing I've written), it's a sign that my audience is expanding beyond what it was before, to some people who otherwise might not have read my work.

Some of those people won't be readers of mine. Others will say, "Damn straight, sign me up for more of this!" So every time I get a review--or an e-mail--that tells me I've written porn, I smile, because I know it means that people are reading me who don't normally read in the genre. And that is an awesome thing for growing my readership.

I'm really surprised by people who think that sex scenes by necessity interrupt the book and make it into erotica. Sex is about change, emotion, commitment, and vulnerability. It's one of the most intense acts that humans can engage in--and if it isn't intense, the reasons why the characters are doing it are often even more intense than the act. A good sex scene is never about tab a/slot b insertion. It's about tilting the underlying emotions and stakes of the story.

Speaking particularly as a romance author, leaving sex off the page would leave a vast blankness in the development of the relationship.

The point of the sex scenes I write is not to titillate. They aren't erotica. They're not porn. They're a necessary part of the story, and I can't do a good job of rendering the stories I write if I leave out the most intense portion.

It would be like fading to black on the sword duel and having them wake up the next morning thinking, "Yay, great, I won." said...

LOL!!!! That's wonderfully funny. I'm guessing that relative was expendable as you don't seem too broken up about the communication break.

Mary Ann said...

I like a well-written erotic scene. I do. I like writing them as well. When the scene advances the plot or, more likely, illuminates the characters and their relationship, I'm a happy reader.

When the book is nothing but one sexual escapade after another, I get bored. I'm not prudish and offended. I'm bored.

The same goes for violence. When it makes no sense or is badly written, I get bored.

Mari Stroud said...

I don't particularly understand the hate, either. Most people will have sex at some point in their lives. Most people won't, however, commit and kind of violent crime. And which of these is more damaging to normalize?

An acquaintance of mine recently asked for a copy of my book for her preteen son. I balked a bit, and told her that I would advance a copy for her to read first so that she could determine whether or not it was appropriate. There are several graphically violent scenes and multiple F-bombs that I thought might be a little too strong for a child that young. What made the coworker ultimately decide not to let her son read it, however, was one character copping a feel with another. (And that is literally as graphic as it got. I typed the words "idly copping a feel.") It's her kid and her prerogative, and she was nice about it, but still: whiskey tango foxtrot?

WayneThomasBatson said...

Joe, I can't thank you enough for all you've given to the writing community. I've personally benefitted from your hard-earned knowledge in everything from booksigning strategies to eBook promotion. I've even borrowed your book cover artist for my new thriller "Ghost." But the issue of sex in fiction is where we must agree to disagree. I'm not opposed to sex, mind you. My wife and I enjoy intimacy and have four kids to show for it. However, I don't like reading about it and certainly won't write about it in any of my books.

I much prefer the fade to black, bedroom door shuts, and we see our main characters the next morning approach. Those of us old enough to know, can easily infer what occurred without it interrupting a story. I defy anyone to find a reason why sex must be shown explicitly to develop some character trait, etc. A character is vulnerable? You could show that a hundred other ways. The character has been abused? Again, easy to show without the sex. Guy lacks confidence? You can do that without the bedroom. Impotent? Have the female protag find a doctor's note or a prescription. lol You don't really "need" sex to show anything about your characters--that you can't creatively show other ways.

So the question really is, why include explicit sex at all? Possible answers: to sell, to get an easy emotional response from readers, to satisfy some inner fantasies. Who knows? Honestly, I think it's really the sign of mediocrity. It's like splatter gore in movies. Writer/directors who don't have the skill to really scare you with mood and atmosphere, try to shock you with violence and gore. The most skillful writers have no need for gore or sex.

And as for porn, if you write an explicit sex scene, then, those scenes are porn. It doesn't mean your whole book is porn. Your book as a whole may be a thriller or a mystery, but the sex scenes are most definitely porn. That is if the word "porn" has any real meaning. Merriam-Webster defines pornography as 1)the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement OR 2) material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement. That's pretty much what any written explicit sex scene is. So, sorry Joe, but though I haven't read those scenes in your books, if they are what you say they are, then they ARE porn. The scenes. Not the entire works.

You also expressed that you think porn is a "good" thing, even going so far as to cite a statistic showing some benefit of porn. That's a crock, my friend. Porn is a freaking, hideous plague on this planet. For every porn benefit stat you can name, I can show you 50 that tell how harmful it is. Porn destroys marriage, betrays confidences, creates addiction, perverts minds, and scars young people by the thousands. It demeans women and objectifies them. It takes the fact that men are visually stimulated and uses it to snare men in hollow fantasies that almost always hurt someone.

Sex is a wonderful intimate thing shared between a married man and woman in privacy. Let's leave it there.

Dale T. Phillips said...

You never know who wants what-- for my new novel, A Memory of Grief, a friend's wife had just read it and said "she wanted more sex."
I turned to my friend and laughed. Told them I'd see what I could do for the sequel...

David Gaughran said...

@Courtney Milan

It would be like fading to black on the sword duel and having them wake up the next morning thinking, "Yay, great, I won."

Love it.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I like sex in novels when it is part of the plot. People who have problems with it... well, that's their problem.

Kannan said...

Joe, I don't mind a love scene as long as it does not get graphic. Sweet romance is fine as long as it blends in well with the story. However I don't read fiction books for reading about graphic sex, so would prefer not to see it in one (except maybe during teenage years when I would look for and read only the explicit material in novels...LOL). I personally have a bigger problem with violence, and cannot read anything with graphic violence. One of the reasons I haven't purchased any of your books in spite of being a big fan of your blog and your writing style and humor (in the blog) is because some reviews of your book suggested that it had too much violence. If you have a humorous book that has no graphic violence, I would certainly buy it to show my support. Any suggestions?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I always feel I can just skim through it if I don't want to read it. As long as the story is good and the sex scenes fit, I think it belongs there.

Selena Kitt said...

Take that for what it's worth, but I'm not going to stop talking about sex, or using the word "pussy."

Hell yes. I even use the "c" word in my fiction. But I push all sorts of sordid boundaries people don't like to talk about in polite company.

And I write porn. No bones about it. Most of my stuff is "erotica" in the truest sense - the whole thing would fall apart without the sex. It's absolutely integral to the plot because it IS the plot.

And even in those books, I have readers who say it was the characters and the relationships and the story that compelled them to keep reading.

People who want porn without a plot turn to visual media for the most part - be it videos or magazines or just pictures.

People who read erotica want a story. Oh they want to get turned on. Yes, that is actually the point. But they also want a story. As with any fiction, they want to be moved, they want to be taken out of their lives into another experience.

As for porn being "good" or "bad" - it's neither. Guns don't kill people, people kill people, right? Porn doesn't make you cheat, or make your relationships hollow, or change your expectations. Porn doesn't do anything. It just is. It's what YOU do with porn that counts.

I know lots of couples who have written to me and said they started having sex after several years of sexual drought after reading my books together. Women have written to say, "I thought I was crazy, having fantasies about XY and Z, but you've shown me it's okay to fantasize..." I've had men write to say they appreciate the open, frank nature of my work. Some introduce their wives to it. Some just let their wives reap the benefits of reading it :)

And I've also had lots of emails that border on obscene and offensive. (And considering what I write, that's saying something...)

Different people respond to the same stimuli differently. You can't shoot the messenger.

Well, you can. But then you've just created an even bigger mess. And who wants that?

Anyway, Joe, writing sex outside of erotica is very different from writing sex within the genre I think. Expectations are so different. And ours is a prurient culture in Puritan restraints, I'm afraid. Bondage, if you will. :)

But don't let that stop you from writing what the story dictates. The story is always paramount.

DanneGirl said...

Yup! I love sex scenes in the books I read along with all the other types of scenes. This is for the reason you stated. It moves the story and characters forward. Sex thrown in for no reason is an interruption to the flow of the book. But thats just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think it's all about your audience's expectations. If you haven't been including sex scenes in your writing, at least some of your readers will be unplesantly surprised by "suddenly" coming across sex in your stories. Who do you want to keep? What works for earnings? What works for you and your sense of story? Your choice. Your decision.

Mark Edward Hall said...

There's nothing wrong with sex even if it doesn't move the story forward. You guys are a bunch or repressed Puritans. Relax, write a sex scene. You'll be glad you did.

William J. Thomas said...

All I can say is...the sex scenes in Cherry Bomb, Timecaster, & Flee greatly improved those books. Don't shy away from them in the future Joe!

Marie Simas said...

"My DNA is interwoven with several strands of indestructible Catholic guilt."

I feel you, Catholic boy.

Some poor Catholic kid, somewhere, is getting the shit kicked out of him right now for masturbating. I know.

Sex is the awesome sauce of life. A nice sex scene is so much better than than violence (no offense Joe, you know you're my dawg, but your horror writing gives me the fucking creeps).

There's a tiny bit of sex in "Water for Elephants" (excellent, by the way) and it was great. Totally added to the story and made me glow a little when I read it.

wannabuy said...

@Christine: "I've written with sex in them. Some people like it, some don't. We just have to remember you can't please everyone."

I think you 'hit the nail on the head' right there. You cannot please everyone. This is where the old system breaks down; it cannot adapt to new sub-genre 'rules' or if you will markets.

If I'm reading military oriented scifi, I don't want a detailed sex scene slowing down the pace of the book; make it a quick reference and move on. However, in timecaster it was... story development. ;)

This is, long term, to the advantage of the indie-author. There really won't be rules... It will be what audience do you write to and how does that effect the story development?

@Selena: " Some just let their wives reap the benefits of reading it :)"
I'm sure the husbands benefited afterwards too. ;)


Anonymous said...

My guess is that people who condemn sex in a book or movie are mostly ugly people or old people (or both) who are jealous of others having fun.

Adam Pepper said...

Joe said "But when I start tip-toeing around things like sex, violence, and language, because I don't want to offend anyone, the story will undoubtedly get watered down."

This may be your best statement about craft in a long time. Writers should continue to strive to tell the best story they can, rather than just accept predictability, as if it's somehow noble to spoonfeed your audience exactly what they are expecting.

Unknown said...

If it fits the story, I say bring it on. And I'm willing to bet my ass that for every piece of hatemail you've received over those scenes, a dozen more people have secretly coveted the read and will never dare to admit doing so.

That's just how people are. Silly, I grant you. Ass-backwards, for sure.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have a friend that will only read books with sex in it! LOL But I'm a kidlit writer, so yeah. Not usually my thing. But I can't imagine giving bad reviews for a sex scene (unless it was horribly written or was inappropriately placed - like in kidlit).

You know what they say about people loving or hating you - it's all better than them not caring. :)

Lewinna said...

You betray a lot of ignorance about any relationship to sexuality outside of your own--as there are plenty of people (not a majority, obviously) who do not masturbate or think about sex all the time. Sex is necessary to conceive children, yes. That is not happening all the time or every day in everyone's lives. Why so hard to believe that people can live celibate lives? I know several that do (and yes, that means no masturbation), and are joyful and happy about it. I am celibate right now also and I really enjoy it. I also know some celibate people (younger ones) that struggle with smugness. But refined, I have seen that celibacy can be a powerful and very fulfilling state.

Beyond that, to assume that everyone likes what you like (or what the majority enjoys), is a little erroneous. Either way, I would never send hate mail to a book that had sex scenes. I would most likely just stop reading the book, if that particular spirit was emphasized, or if I otherwise liked the story, skip over the sex scene.

I know other people (who do masturbate) one of whom doesn't like sex scenes in novels because they feel that it takes away from the story. Not because it is not important to the story (which it very well may be in showing the characters), but because he feels like erotic material diverts his attention into a different frame of mind than he likes to enjoy a story in.

Same reason for me. There is a particular spirit and energetic quality that accompanies sexual material. It's all fine and good to show important character development, but there are many ways to show it without having to bring things into that frame of mind.

Also, I think that the reason why people send flames might be because they resent the assumption that they want to or should consider sex the way that you do.

So, recognize that you are writing to a particular niche of people who approach sex and think about it the way that you do, and make sure that your audience knows that.

Reena Jacobs said...

Folks are weird when it comes to sex. They'll download a piece labeled erotica, then give a 1 star review because the work includes graphic sex. Go figure.

Walter Golden said...

When I run across a sex scene in a novel it is a red flag that the author may be doing more marketing then writing. And it doesn’t always make the book more interesting. I don’t know if anyone remembers but at one time Playboy came out with some fantasy line of books. The plots were funny. Someone would drop from a tree onto a sentry and end up having sex with them. Sex was a substitute for a plot or a scene.
One best selling novelist wrote great books to start with, and slowly incorporated more and more sex scenes. Now her books consist of four hundred pages of sex and one hundred of story.
As to the idea that we should link the idea of hacking off a breast to sex--I don’t find the breast scene attractive. Sex attracts, and lets face it, it’s a cheap way to sell a book.

Donna said...

I don't mind sex in a book if it goes along with the story. I'll name the author that i THINK the first reviewer was talking about. LK Hamilton. Her firt books are great, and now there is no plot, just sex. At least tell a story! Anyway, I don't mind it, but if its not a romance type book don't let it overtake the story. imo

Anonymous said...

Not a damn thing. Sex is a part of our lives, and a part of my character's lives. How detailed I get depends on what my characters are doing. The scenes do move the narrative along and add to the depth of the story. Now for graphic sex, Alice XXX, is a lovely romp through Wonderland. And the XXX rating on the cover is most appropriate. The sex is not the point, but does move the plot toward its conclusion.

I write for adults. I make that clear. Adult content here, with me. If anyone thinks they would be offended by what sex I write, they shouldn't buy the fucking book.

Anonymous said...

Reading Hamilton now is like watching a bad episode of Jerry Springer. Can't do it.

Anonymous said...

Do you like sex in fiction? Why or why not?

This is a banal comment, but I like sex scenes when they work much better than when they don't. If they're integrated in the narrative, they're great, and you can have whole novels composed primarily of sex scenes; I'm thinking of something like Ariel Sands' Never the Face. When they don't, the book itself feels forgettable.

BTW, I read The Joy of Writing Sex a couple weeks ago and really loved it. If you're going to write a lot of sex scenes and haven't done so before, you might find it useful too.

Ellen O'Connell said...

One of the surprises for me in this indie venture is how many people expect the world to be run according to their own tastes. It isn't just that a reader calls a book bad because it's not his type of story, it's that readers think books they don't like shouldn't be written.

I don't know about anyone else, but if I start a book and it has a level of violence, sex, or for that matter treacle that I don't like, I stop reading and don't get that author again. I don't write 1-star reviews or email the author.

This urge to force the world to march to one's own orders shows in other ways, for instance, the desire to police other authors or to decide what should or shouldn't be discussed on some forum. Is it just a sign of how many of think the world revolves around us?

For the record, I write western historical romance and have far more complaints about violence than about sex (actually only 1 sex complaint and that person was upset there was any).

Ty said...

I don't go out of my way to read or write fiction that includes overtly sexual scenes or themes, but I'm not opposed to it. It's just not my thing. It's not part of why I read and/or write.

And Ellen, your comment about learning "how many people expect the world to be run according to their own tastes" is right on target. Try being a newspaper editor for a few years. I'm retired from the biz now, but day after day I got nasty, sometimes life-threatening phone calls and letters. Half would be screaming about how far on the left I was, the other half screaming about me being on the right.

An example: I once ran an article about gun control (don't remember the details, sorry). The next day swarms of calls and letters came my way informing me I was an anti-gun, commie, lefty, pinko. My response? "If I hadn't put the story in the paper, you wouldn't even know to be angry about it. I put it in there so people would KNOW, whatever their opinions. So why the hell are you made at me? And, by the way, yes, I own firearms. Seventeen of them."

I no longer own 17 guns, and it was mostly by accident that I had that many at the time (family heirlooms, etc.), but my point is swaths of people seem to expect every little detail of reality to fit their own perceived desires and beliefs. Hell, look at politics today, where the word "compromise" seems to be right up there with "Nazi."

Renee Porter said...

When I was writing my first novel,The 13th Victim, I questioned the increasing brutality and the sexual sadism of the serial killer (as well as whether I had lost my mind.)
But, that brutality was also balanced by a love story with sex scenes that followed along with it. So, I ended up with a book with a lot of sex scenes that were integral to the plot.

Since my books are published by a small indie press with not much distribution, I was surprised by how many copies sold in the first two months, although the majority of the books sold as ebooks. I had almost no marketing beyond some online stuff and word of mouth.

What surprised me the most was that I received a phone call from a stranger who had tracked me down and who wanted to know about the murder/sex scenes not in the book. Seriously. I changed my phone number after that.

Here I was, wondering whether there was too much sex, especially the sick stuff done by the killer and I find that it seems that more than a few people were wanting to read more scenes like that.

Of course, the sequel to that book (due out this fall) has just about the same, if not more sex, so I guess I should expect more comments about "how such a nice woman could write such horrible sex stuff."

Some people may think the sex is gratuitous, but some people also think that many serial killers are all like Dexter. Maybe I'm cynical, but I don't think the realism is wrong, including sex or violence. Of course, we all view life in different hues.

I suppose I just should be happy that people are buying the books and that I'm building an audience.

John Wiswell said...

You close with, "I thought people liked well-written sex. I thought erotica was a huge seller. I thought sex could make a story more interesting, more compelling, and more fun."

This is a surprisingly oversimplified close to an essay that asks rather broad questions about sexuality in literature.

To your first query: some people like well-written sex. You know better than to presume that every reader will.

To your second: there isn't any huge seller that isn't reviled outside its demographic, so why bother bringing that up?

To your third: the possibility that it "could" make a book better doesn't mean it reliably does. Where it succeeds and fails to add will vary wildly by the individual book.

For me sex must do more than merely fit with the book. It must compel, which usually means it must entertain or satisfy artistically. James Clavell's all-dialogue sex scenes are revealing, funny and even decades later, read as original. Stephen King's use of sex in "The Rage" as a venue for adolescents to question why it's nothing like popular media led them to believe is keenly insightful. Yet more than a decade later most media essentially serves as false advertising for how sex works. You may compare sex in fiction to violence again, but unrealistic depiction of violence turns off massive demographics too. You get the fans who like it your way, and lose the ones who don’t.

Few writers learned from “The Rage,” and fewer seem to have even heard of what Roth, Mailer, et al did in a very national venue. Thus contemporary smut is not only largely stale, but ignorant of English language prose history. It leaves smut largely dull if not simply obnoxious for me as a reader. No arrangement of the verbs "moan," "thrust" and so-on is going to do it for me. Overwrought metaphors about it are even less likely to pull a twinge. Make it unique: make it funny, make it profound, somehow manage to make it arousing in a new way, and you win. Until then, no comparison of the acceptability of violence (which often puts a character's life in jeopardy) to the acceptability of sex (which often puts a few of the character's fluids at jeopardy) will sway me in regards to a narrative medium.

Robin Sullivan said...

Science Fiction and Sex can mix. Nathan Lowell's Trader tales series has some sex scenes in it and I think they are done well.

Michael doesn't put sex in his books, not because he is opposed to such notions but he just doesn't think it would add to the story as a whole - so as far as I can see its really just an author's choice and either can work if done well.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Russell Brooks said...

Dear JA Konrath,

Although I'm not an attorney, you might want to be careful in your use of the M-word (masturbation), if Michelle Bachmann ever becomes POTUS, she'll want to ban your books and have you arrested. As for not going FOUR PAGES with your wife, if she was any angrier, this would be one of those rare occurrences that a spouse wouldn't need a lawyer in order to throw the book at you. LMBAO!!!

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

Anonymous said...

My new book, The Bound Soul (historical fantasy, steampunk, revenge), actually starts in the middle of a sex scene. Gasp!

We'll see if it has any impact on my sales or feedback...

Bob Collins said...

Bob Collins here.

It took me a little while to stick my two cents in to this box, but I gotta tell you sex is one of the things I like best in books. I like it even more in movies, if you know what I mean. And it's even better in person. Sometimes it's even better with a hooker because she treats you right and the only time you gotta call her is to set up your next appointment ;)

Always makes me frustrated when people act like sex ain't a part of life. It's always been a major part of my life, so why not stick it my stories in somewhere? If you look hard enough you can always find somewhere to put it...

Bob Collins

Jon Olson said...

If it's essential, OK. If it's just for titallation, leave it out. Better than describing sex is suggesting it with a light touch.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

LoveRundle said...

Sex scenes in books don't bother me. If I'm really into the characters and they have this private moment, I actually enjoy it, because like you said, they're vulnerable and I love "vulnerable" in characters.

Anonymous said...

I know you Americans think we Europeans are all so sexually liberated, but you need to remember from where those Puritans set sail!

There's a terribly prissy, politically correct puritanism in the UK regarding sex in books and film. I wrote about it a while ago in an article on 'Posh Porn
' (erotica by another name).

Two of my favourite novels, The White Hotel and The Fermata, are fuelled by graphic sex scenes, but I think sex has to be a genre fit.

I cut down on the graphic sex scenes in my novel, The Budapest Breakfast Club, because it was tilting a 'romcom' into the erotica market and it didn't feel right for the title. At the moment the couple of steamy sex scenes that survived are probably just about right for the genre.

I'm about to franchise one of the characters from one of my novels for a series of erotica short spin-offs. They'll be true to her character but the whole point of them is her sexual conquests, so it will be all systems go in those titles.

It's a delicate balancing act according to the genre (and hence the reader's expectations) for the most part, I think.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 6 down, 5 to go
Meet me in Montmartre, a blind date in Paris, out now...

Carradee said...

Actually, no, not everyone masterbates. Many, possibly even most do, but not everyone.

There are a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head for folks not liking sex scenes:

1. Some believe sex is sacrosanct and belongs within the confines of marriage.

2. Some believe sex is private (and sometimes people think it gross and nasty) and doesn't need to be out in the open.

3. Some aren't interested in sex whatsoever.

4. Some just don't care for reading about it.

I'm one or more of the above. That said, a sex scene won't necessarily make me toss a book across the room and accuse the author of being a pervert. Some of my favorite authors have (usually minimal) sex scenes, which I tend to skip. I read a lot, and it's only once in a blue moon that I miss something important by skipping the sex scene.

JA Konrath said...

I'm getting a lot of email about this topic, more so than usual.

I've allowed anonymous comments, folks. If you're too shy to post, post anonymously.

Unknown said...

As far as I can tell, most people enjoy sex, but there's a fairly large contingent of people who'd rather die than admit it. I write erotic romance, so clearly I'm not among that group. Some people have called my books porn too, although I dissagree.

Great post.

Joe Clifford Faust said...

Like you, I "pan the camera up into the trees" when two characters are about to have sex. For most purposes, it's enough to know that they had sex, not the mechanics of what happened, and the reader's imagination will fill in the details up to a point where they are not offended. I also agree that sometimes the mechanics are important, but that's rarer for me, in one book out of a dozen (unless you count an interruptus).

I think the roughing up you're getting from readers is because when people buy Erotiica they are expecting sex. But when they buy a violent thriller, they're not (perhaps naively so).

When my first novel came out, I got two surprisingly different reactions from it. A church lady who read it, and from whom I expected a bad reaction because of the implied sex, absolutely loved the book and had nothing bad to say about it. A not-quite-church-lady who read it couldn't finish it "because of all the spicy love scenes." There's absolutely no predicting audience reaction. But that's part of what has made this racket fun for me.

Anonymous said...

Joe - sex is a bestselling NICHE - it's the biggest niche, but still a niche - IMO.

[You being universal here and more for the relatively new...]

If you want the largest audience possible, I think you leave the sex behind closed doors for the most part (or like the Jack Reacher scenes - which to me should have been left out they were so very dull - no offense to Lee Child). If you want some guaranteed sales so you get at least minimum wage return on your writing efforts, sex sells.

David Gaughran said...

My next book has a reasonably graphic sex scene in it, although I prefer the term "realistic" over "graphic".

Aside from the Catholic guilt/mother issues I jokingly referred to above, I approached writing it with some trepidation, as it was the first time I had written a full-on sex scene (for public consumption).

My concerns weren't ethical, it truly was central to the plot. One of my characters is a prostitute, and an encounter between her and one of the other characters is both the trigger for his mental decline and the beginning of a rift between him and his brother (who is in love with the prositute in question).

So, in short, fading to black just wouldn't cut it.

I read lots of advice online. I read lots of good sex scenes. And more importantly, I read lots of BAD sex scenes. The annual "Bad Sex" Award was very useful here. It was surprising to see the amount of top writers who had been nominated over the years.

The biggest no-nos seemed to be using metaphors or similes for body parts, actions, or sensations, or using latin names or medical terms in their place. All of that stuff, to me, just comes across as either gross, cheesy, or cringeworthy.

After a couple of goes, it seemed it was best to write it "dirty" first, then pare back where necessary. Trying to do it the other way didn't work at all.

So I just wrote it naturally. Then toned down a couple of parts here and there (it's a historical novel, it's not exactly erotica).

I can't say that I was 100% comfortable writing it, but looking back, I think I (excuse the pun) nailed it.

Mark Terry said...

What is this sex thing you speak of?

Dustin Scott Wood said...

I always think back to what Alan Moore said about the difference in pornography and erotica - that the difference largely depends on the income bracket of the person consuming the material.

Lisa Regan said...

I am totally with you on this one! I think sex scenes are fine, as long as they are integral to the plot, like you said. I'd much rather read a sex scene than a scene filled with gratuitous violence. Yeah, people have their heads up their butts. Shows you where our society's priorities are: violence: OK! Sex: NO! That's messed up.

Ken said...

I think the biggest issue here is a violation of "contract" with your readers. When people read your work and get the "fade to black" approach, that is what they come to expect. This will attract some readers that don't mind violence but prefer no sex. Whether or not that viewpoint really makes sense, it is definitely out there. If you start adding sex to your books after that expectation has been set, there will be readers that don't agree with it, resulting in negative feedback.

The main thing I take away from this is any major changes like this should be greatly considered so as not to lose readers. If the change is made, a pseudonym should be used whenever possible to indicate that a new contract is in place.

W. Dean said...

I would have thought writers of all people would have slightly more nuanced views of sex and its place in society. But it turns out you either enjoy sex scenes or you’re a repressed, Puritan prude. (As an aside, the open-mindedness of the open-minded never ceases to amaze me.)

JK surprises me a little here, though he’s probably being partly tongue in cheek. A writer so savvy must know of the taboo regarding sex in sci-fi. Trekies may like Deep Space 9 and Deep Throat, but Deep Throat Space 69 is out of the question. If you want to be a trail-blazer, be ready for an uphill climb.

Selena surprises me even more:

“Porn doesn't make you cheat, or make your relationships hollow, or change your expectations. Porn doesn't do anything. It just is. It's what YOU do with porn that counts.”

Which is why you write under a pseudonym and (no doubt) keep your personal details as secret as the pass-code to Fort Knox—all because writing porn is like writing anything else.

Here’s an experiment for all of you who equate sex and violence and think that sex should be just like anything else. The next time you’re at a dinner party with your enlightened friends, tell a story about being attacked by a stray dog (violent death of the dog included). Notice the sympathetic reaction from most and the uncomfortable reaction of some. Next relate in physical detail yours and your spouse’s last sexual encounter (e.g., “She loves it when I stick my…” etc.). Notice how you’re asked to leave and not come back. Then reflect on the reasons.

Anonymous said...

When I was first writing sex scenes, I found them rather thrilling and scary. And fun. Now it's a bit harder (ahem) because I've done it so many times (well...).

As has been pointed out, there is a fine line between too clinical and Latinate, and too romancy ("his throbbing member," et cetera, et cetera).

It's an art.

Noel said...

More sex, less wars. If people are prudish let them stick to the classics.

Sharper13x said...

Sex scenes in non-erotic fiction do kind of stand out and stick with you. I'm thinking of two books I read years ago that each had a short, but surprisingly explicit sex-scene in the middle somewhere. I remember little else about those books at all. But I still remember those scenes. Not even saying they were particularly great, and they certainly weren't offensive. But unexpected sex in books is definitely a tool authors can use to leave an impression.

BTW -, Joe, you posted this after midnight and there are already 158 comments. You've been a away for like 2 weeks. Was everybody just sitting up at 12 AM, hitting "refresh" over and over waiting to see if you would finally post something?

Anna Murray said...

I laughed at your wife's reaction to the 4 page sex scene.

I asked my husband to read my first sex scene, and he had a different response.

He said I nailed it, and then hauled me upstairs for the real thing.

Readers can give back, in delightful ways ;-)

Margo Lerwill said...

When I'm reading, I hate fade-to-black in romances and generally dislike it in other genres. If a writer is going to bring the characters to that place, don't shut me down.

When I write novels (as opposed to short stories), I can't pass up the incredible opportunity offered by all the things we confuse with sex...power, self-worth, emotional connection, etc etc etc. When I write a sex scene, it's about a lot more than sex. And I've been told the sex is pretty hot, too. So bonus!

Now I'm off to horrify my English major friends by 'wasting my talent' writing erotic romance under a pseudonym.

Eliza Gayle said...

Wow. Nothing like a little sex to get everyone worked up.

Actually, when I was reading your post my first reaction was 'welcome to my world.' Although I write erotic romance so we're pretty much apples and oranges.

I guess you can call me the low brow reader of the bunch because I tend to roll my eyes every time someone says a sex scene has to be integral to the plot. Maybe, maybe not. Sex is about the characters, and it's the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into character development. You can skip it if you want but if the writer did their job well, you'll be missing out.

Obviously I don't object to finding a sex scene in a book whether I expected it or not. (surprise me, baby) But even when you write in a genre that tells the reader up front, there WILL be sex does not immunize the writer from readers who are shocked.

I get readers who are offended. My still favorite review is:

"I would not recommend this book if you are a christian."

I also get readers that complain the books aren't hot enough. You definitely can't please everyone.

Now if I could just get my father in law to quit asking me when I'm going to write a "real" book.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I leave it up to my characters as to whether there is a sex scene in the book---except in my cozy mysteries. Those characters don't have the option. There can be no sex scenes in a cozy. Period.

But some of my suspense novels get a bit steamy. Amazon classified one of them as a Romantic Suspense. (By the way, I believe Amazon ignores the categorization you give your book. They do their own analysis of the text and decide what kind of book it is.) However, I don't get too graphic with it. For me, less is more when it comes to writing a sex scene. The imagination of the reader is a powerful thing. ;)

Stanfield Major said...

What I'm seeing in these comments is that everyone is responding to the idea of sex in fiction from their own perspective. Some like it, some don't, some like it in certain circumstances.

A writer has to chart his or her own course. If he or she writes compelling material there will be an audience. And there will be those who hate every word. This is the fate of story tellers.

Pat Bowne said...

Haven't been able to read thge whole thread, but I agree with the first Anonymous - sex in fiction distracts me. It's as if one part of my brain (part A) reads fiction for story, plot, characters, etc., and a different part (part B) responds to sex. Once part B wakes up, as it does upon encountering a sex scene, all it is interested in is more sex; the rest of my reading experience is like driving somewhere with a whining toddler in the back seat. "Where's the se-e-e-ex? You said there'd be more se-e-e-ex! Are we EVER getting there?"

And the bit about not liking annoying story in one's porn - I couldn't agree more. I like both fiction and sex, but one at a time - so I can pay proper attention.

Anonymous said...

Over 40 years ago (I was 12, no kidding) I read a book by William Goldman-- Boys and Girls Together was the title. It was about the sexual relationship between the sexes in many permutations.

However, the thing that really has stuck with me for over 40 years was one of the characters who was a writer and trying to decided whether he should write a graphic sex scene of go for dot-dot-dot. That was the way a lot of books in the 60's signaled that something had happened and it might have been sex or it might not.

The author character decided to go for the gold. I wonder how he would have decided now.

Anonymous said...

I prefer no sex.Although I love it love it love it, but i tend to get turned off by a book that gets explicit with the scenes. Mostly all books don't need the sex, even though the author might say that its needed to make the story move along. Sex in a book takes away the theme of the story and that's all people remember.Sex is such a high and is this society used in the wrong way in the media, that no matter how it's used, it will always become more then the story. Whether it is 5 pages of a 300 page book. I'd rather use my imagination.

Stanfield Major said...

Have to say it's interesting to see how many variations there can be on one theme.

Stanfield Major said...

Reminds me of Bach.

Anonymous said...

For anyone saying sex & sf don't go together, they need to go back and read more Heinlein. Granted, explicit words weren't used for body parts or acts, but there was definitely a lot of sex in there. And Lifeforce - granted, that was a genre mix with space vampires. On to movies - anyone remember THX 1138?

Anonymous said...

@stanfield major

"A writer has to chart his or her own course. If he or she writes compelling material there will be an audience. And there will be those who hate every word. This is the fate of story tellers."

You are a wise man, sir :-)

WDGagliani said...

I've written about this very topic and will again when on my blog mini-tour in advance of my next book, Wolf's Edge.

I have lots of sex in my thrillers in the Wolf series (Wolf's Trap, Gambit, Bluff, and Edge). Lots of violence, too, as they involve, um, werewolves.

I have never had hate mail about the sex. In fact, I have had Thank You mail. Many more women readers than men have written how much they enjoy the books, and look forward to the next one. The reason, I think, is this: in my series, the hero and his partner have all the good sex. The bad guys... well, they have the more deviant sex (if you will -- I'm not judging it, but it would be considered more deviant clinically). I think somehow that pleases readers. I get pretty darn graphic, or realistic, with the sex. Not only did Leisure buy the series and do fairly well with it, but I am now with Samhain and they are reissuing the first book, Wolf's Trap, which had LOTS of sex in it.

Why do I do it? (That is, put sex in the books?)

I blame Harold Robbins.

And a youth misspent reading lots of sexy 70s books. The Man From O.R.G.Y. (a hilarious Bond spoof) and similar stuff. American Mischief, by Alan Lelchuk. And so on. But I read a LOT of Harold Robbins. He may have been a hack to many, but no one could deny that he knew how to tell a rip-roaring story. And what I learned from reading all his characters having sex was that it does work in a story because sex (besides all the natural aspects) also complicates people's lives. In that sense, it's great for storytelling. People always get hooked up with the worst possible partners, as well as the best. They fall in love/lust with the wrong people. They open themselves up to blackmail. The sleep with the enemy. And so on...

In my Wolf books, the hero has good sex with his girlfriend (they've saved each other several times, too). And he's also had sex with the "bad girl" ... and he's also unintentionally killed women he loved. So it's obvious that sex definitely complicates THEIR lives. Which leads to conflicts other than the violence also involved in the plots, which leads to more exciting, balanced novels in which choices must be made and lived with. Or disavowed.

Anyway, that's my excuse.

Oh, and sex sells.

I'm just willing to admit it.

Summer said...


I managed to do it the other way around - I wrote an "erotica" story without any sex!!

I'm getting great reviews overall, but I've gotten several negative comments about there being more story than sex.

Apparently erotica is not allowed to be literate.

Who knew?

L.A. Lopez said...

Yep, pretty much what he said on all of it..

Selena Kitt said...

Which is why you write under a pseudonym and (no doubt) keep your personal details as secret as the pass-code to Fort Knox—all because writing porn is like writing anything else.

I write under a pseudonym because, as I said, different people react to the same stimuli differently. I write under a pseudonym to protect myself from stalkers, frankly. And there are plenty out there.

But any fringe genre will have their stalkers. Someone posted about the "fan" who wanted to know about the serial killer scenes that weren't included in the book. There are lots of crazy people in the world. No sense walking down the middle of the street announcing yourself as a target.

As a woman writing in this particular genre, I'm even more vulnerable. I also have a family to protect. If the world was less crazy, then I'd have to be less diligent. But it's not.

There are still crazy people who do crazy things. I can't control that. But it isn't my writing or the genre in which I write which makes them crazy. I could be writing about serial killers and still have to worry.

So I choose to write under a pseudonym. But the reality is that there are many people in publishing who know my real name and who know, also, the other names under which I write mainstream fiction. So it isn't exactly under lock and key. :)

I don't know why it surprises you that erotica writers write under pseudonyms, given the nature of Joe's post. The reality is there are lots of people in the world who think sex and writing about it is bad, or sinful or evil. They think porn in all its forms is a scourge on the earth.

They're wrong. But they have a right to be wrong, as Joe likes to say.

Until the world figures that out, pseudonyms will continue to be used. That's just common sense.

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

I got negative reviews for my novel Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys because it had... "sexual innuendo." Hah!

Rob Browne said...

Sex scenes generally bore the hell out of me. So I tend to skim them and when I do write them, they're brief.

But I certainly don't write the authors and put up reviews accusing them of writing porn.

I have a feeling those who do are seriously repressed individuals. Most people aren't killers or even violent, so reading violence (except maybe from the victim's POV) doesn't hit as close to home.

But write a great sex scene and you're reminding some people how miserable their sex lives are.

Marie Simas said...

Until the world figures that out, pseudonyms will continue to be used. That's just common sense.

I also write under various pseudonyms. Different genres require it, especially if you are writing about explicit sex, non-fiction, and then YA. As Selena said, it's just common sense.

I've also been contacted by more than one crazy asshole, and I own firearms as a result.

Pen names are just a smart business decision, nothing more.

T. B. Back said...

I'm the devil and I'm going to publish two editions of every SF novel I write.

Edition 1 for adult perverts (A.P.)

Edition 2 for sensitive souls/smut sensors(S.S.)

It's a good thing! The S.S. edition will be like a PG-13 marker, luring the innocent young into my fold, with their parents blessing.

I won't accommodate my story. If logic goes out the window, or a vital clue is missed, then so be it. That is the S.S. reader's choice.

If they need those clues (believe me, they will...) they just have to buy the A.P version at half price.

I'll do my evil laugh all the way to the bank.

Mike Grant said...

I just finished Robert McCammon's newest novella "The Room at the Bottom of the Stairs" featuring his Wolf's Hour character Michael Gallatin. It's available for FREE from McCammon's web page or the Subterranean Press page.

Anyways, this is an excellent example of sex scenes (numerous) bringing a large amount of plot development to the story. Good descriptions of the numerous encounters and a great build up to some key character decisions later in the story. A terrific read.

Anonymous said...

@WD Gagliani
I've seen many people post here disguising self promotion with commenting, but very few of them did it as well as you did and held my interest. However, I went to your blog hoping to find where to get your books and was stonewalled. Make sure you don't make it so difficult to buy your books.

I'm your amen choir sister.

WDGagliani said...

Josephinewade, thanks for the kind words!

Yes, it's true, the blog is in transition, as am I due to the two-publisher messy situation. Sorry about that! Right now, a good place to look is my current main website, wdgagliani dot com... copies of my Leisure Wolf books are best available from me, directly (signed), until the first and fourth are available from Samhain. This is part of the situation of being in flux, I'm afraid. Write to me and I can make it easier!

Thanks again for your interest! This is a topic I am very interested in!


WDGagliani said...

I should add, that I do post comments here, only seldom because of scheduling and getting into topics late. Sure, I added some self-promo, but it was germane to the conversation, I believe. Joe's an old buddy, he can vouch for me. If anything, I don't promote my work enough! So I'm not just trying to hijack the thread... just in case it looked that way.


Selena Kitt said...

Well... John Locke just signed an interesting deal. Simon and Schuster. But retained his erights! And people said it couldn't be done...

Anonymous said...

You weren't hi-jacking -- my humor is an acquired taste : ).

That man is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I'm Catholic and I love having sex with my husband. And I'd never beat a child for masturbating or anything else. I'm so sorry if others have been hit for that! Most of the Catholics I know are very loving, funny people who'd never hurt their children for any reason.

Of course other Catholics may have had different experiences, and I'm not trying to invalidate them. I'm just sharing my personal perspective as a Catholic.

Regarding sex in books and movies...I won't throw something away if there's premarital or extramarital sex in it, but I usually think small glimpses, or a fadeout, say so much more than graphic details. That's just how I'm wired as a reader and viewer.

One thing that comes to mind is that scene in the movie version of The Age of Innocence, where Daniel Day Lewis unbuttons Michel Pfeiffer's glove and kisses the skin of her wrist. To me, something like that is sexier than an actual sex scene. But different people are wired differently.

I also wish books and movies showed more married people having a good sex life! We're not all sitting around watching TV and wishing we were with other people.

Jude Hardin said...

Well... John Locke just signed an interesting deal. Simon and Schuster. But retained his erights! And people said it couldn't be done...

Good for him! That's a game changer, big time.

And congrats to Dystel and Goderich Literary Management for making it happen!

WDGagliani said...

josephinewade, thanks. I was sure it was humor, but since I don't post often, I wanted to be clear. I do wish I could hang around here more! Discussions like this one really stimulate... er, excite... um, turn me o- Okay, I really like discussions like this one. If I'd had more time I would have gone into how sex and horror fit together so incredibly well, how naked people are really about the most helpless they can be, how eliciting a response (whatever it may be, even disgust) can be desirable, and so on. Perhaps having grown up in the 70s, when movies were more uncategorizable than they are now, I was exposed to work that included higher levels of sexuality because it really does complicate people's lives in so many ways. And it's easy to twist that fact into excruciating terror, as well as ecstasy. I like eliciting a response, so in my horror/thriller work there is plenty plenty of sex and not quite as much S&M as one would expect, although a heavy dash of the latter works wonders in raising the stakes. As it were. I'll be on the writing erotic fiction panel at Killercon 3 in Las Vegas in sept, if anyone here is going. Should be a FUN panel.

Rachel Bicknell said...

You should read some articles about/from Laurell K. Hamilton, who writes the Anita Blake urban fantasy series. In the US she gets hate mail for too much sex, and outside the US she gets hate mail for too much violence. Tells you something about the good old US of A, eh? :-)

Mark Asher said...

When I read erotica I want sex scenes. When I'm reading something else I don't really need them. They are the kind of thing I'd be likely to skim in a non-erotic work.

They wouldn't upset me though.

Jordan Marshall said...

I’ve wondered about this topic for a while. I actually had a reviewer complain about some mild profanity in one of my short stories. I guess she didn’t go on to read my conspiracy thriller Erased, in which the protagonist, a female FBI agent, has a sex scene with her husband. I’ve sold a decent number of copies but I haven’t had any feedback on the scene, either way. Maybe it’s not considered a sex scene if the characters are married?

Scath said...

I don't mind sex in any story, regardless of genre, as long as it doesn't just pop up out of the blue for no apparent reason.

As a reader, I've read plenty of sex scenes in books - scifi, fantasy, thrillers, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. and off the top of my head, can't recall any I'd consider entirely unnecessary - aside from the Anita Blake series, as others have mentioned.

I've read the fade to black, the mild, the 'oh my, gotta fan myself', and the 'holy cows on crack graphic'.

They don't bother me, and I'm American. A Texan, at that! =P

As a writer, people have sex, and since my stories have people in them, sex is at least mentioned in all of my currently available titles. Not all have sex scenes, mind you, but it's true that sex sells, because the one that only makes a brief mention and has a fade to black moment doesn't sell worth a crap.

It's a 'sweet paranormal romance', according to reviewers. Has gotten 4 good reviews. Apparently, 'sweet romances' aren't on many readers' menus.

The one that is what I'd call mild erotica sells regularly.

However, if there's sex, it's there for a reason. It may be a fucked up reason, but there's a reason. I don't just throw sex in to see if it'll fly or because I'm bored with the story.

It might be necessary to have six 'sex scenes' for a story...but not all six will necessarily be describe. Four might fade to black at a certain point. No sense being overly repetitive, right? =P

Basically, I write sex scenes if they fit in the story, and if that means some won't end up buying my books, oh well.

There's plenty of others who will. Plenty who do like sex in the stories they read, but maybe just don't want everyone to know they do. =)

Anonymous said...

Ha! I loved this post, and especially liked when you said your wife got angry and said you've never gone 4 pages w/her. I'm curious though, is most of the hate mail from men or women? I know this is a total stereotype, but I can't imagine a lot of the hate mail over sex being from men. I mean, everyone like ex,but men have especially strong libidos and I can't imagine the man that would not enjoy a good sex scene. I like sex in a book as long as it is appropriate to the novel and character development, as you said. I read Flee and, not only was the book awesome, but the sex scene was WOW. I am not a perve, far from it (at least I hope). Although I would never read straight erotica I can still appreciate good sex in a book. As you said, I'm surprised that people don't care about all of the violence, but they have a problem with sex...seems silly to me.

The Forward Observer said...

That's a very interesting marketing concept. Recently a friend asked about whether she should publish a book with two different covers to see which one pulled best. My book Old Scores is such a blend of thriller and romance, I was encouraged to re-write it as two separate books, one for each genre. Digital publishing makes these things possible. However, I think you will have to be careful to include disclaimers or you will anger customers who wind up purchasing the same (or relatively the same) book twice. Of course, legacy publishers already encourage this by publishing identical paperbacks in different countries with different covers. I've been disappointed a few times, when I grabbed a book by a favorite author off an airport rack, to later discover it was a book I had already read, but with a different cover. Cheers, Pete Grimm

Collin Kelley said...

I got finger-wagging from little old ladies about the one paragraph sex scene when my novel Conquering Venus came out in 2009. I'm expecting more criticism and "porn" comments when my next book comes out because the sex is more explicit. It's necessary to the story. Personally, I like a hot sex scene. If it's well written, why not?

Nikki Jefford said...

If it helps the overall story and character development…


We’re such puritans. It reminds me of homophobic senators going off against gays then getting caught with their pants down in public restrooms. The haters are probably the kinkiest ones of all.

Just be honest. Sex is entertainment. It’s a connection with another person even if fleeting and it changes the relationship with the other character.

Sometimes I think all the violence in entertainment and expressed towards others is because that’s the only way people know how to make physical contact with each other anymore.

Keep the sex scenes coming, Mr. Konrath.

W. Dean said...


No, it doesn’t surprise me that you write under a pseudonym for the reasons I implied and that you yourself declared:

“…to protect myself from stalkers…”

And because

“As a woman writing in this particular genre, I'm even more vulnerable.”

Exactly my point. Writing “in this particular genre” is not like writing in others, contrary to what you (and others) implied in the first comment. You wouldn’t need a pseudonym to write young adult, horror, fantasy, sci-fi or to write history or political science. But you do to write porn. That should tell you that porn isn’t just a genre that’s a little distasteful in the eyes of a few prudes. It’s provocative in a way that other genres are not.

I don’t want to get into the reasons and so on. But I think one of our modern, collective self-delusions to pretend that the only reason people had to restrict sexually explicit material in the past was because they suffered from “hang-ups.”

Marie Simas said:

“I've also been contacted by more than one crazy asshole…”

Let me guess: it was the YA or the non-fiction. I say that because unlike the porn you wrote, books about gardening and cooking and Sheera the Great tend to attract crazy assholes who fixate on the author. I can imagine what they shouted outside your house: “Tomatoes need shade! Shade! Not direct sunlight! Damn you!”

Melody said...

I don't like it in books. It may just be me, but it's never been entertaining, just very, very awkward. You just can't be on the subway reading a sex scene and not feel awkward. And I don't read books to feel awkward. I get that enough in real life. :)

Tuppshar Press said...

(Do you remember, you married guys, watching your wife-to-be walk down the aisle and thinking how nice it will be that you'll never have to jerk off again? How'd that work out for you?)

Bwah! This is the best thing I've read all week!

Selena Kitt said...

W. Dean said: Writing “in this particular genre” is not like writing in others, contrary to what you (and others) implied in the first comment.

I never said it was. I said:

Porn doesn't make you cheat, or make your relationships hollow, or change your expectations. Porn doesn't do anything. It just is. It's what YOU do with porn that counts.

Those are my even quoted them. Nowhere in there did I say that writing in the erotica genre is just like writing in any other genre. I said that porn is porn. Just as mystery is mystery and YA is YA and and nonfiction is nonfiction. They all have their own particularities.

But NONE of them, including porn, "make" people do anything. Murder mysteries don't force people to go out and commit murders and porn doesn't make people's relationships fail. If someone reads a book about serial killers and then goes out and becomes one, that says far more about the individual than it does about the author of the book. Same goes with porn.

No one here doubts that smut-writers aren't just the red-headed stepchild of the industry... they might as well be lepers, locked under the stairs and chained to the radiator, thankfully out of sight of the general public.

As for your comment:

But I think one of our modern, collective self-delusions to pretend that the only reason people had to restrict sexually explicit material in the past was because they suffered from “hang-ups.”

You're wrong. The only reason anyone restricts sexually explicit material is because, as a culture, we have hangups.

We consider ourselves "civilized"... so we wear clothes and have sex behind closed doors. Things could be very different.

Marie Simas said...

it was the YA or the non-fiction. I say that because unlike the porn you wrote

I don't write porn. I don't even write erotica. I write humor essays (among other things). Mostly events that have happened in my own life (like Sedaris-- not comparing myself to him, just using him as an example).

There's a lot of sexual content, foul language, and other things that are distasteful to some. Even though I have a warning in the description, people still download, because they're curious. Then they leave a bad review because of the language or sexual content.

Here's the deal-- I'm not going to stop. Not ever. I'm going to write what I want. People buy it, and I make great money. I'm hitting a nerve, and a lot of people e-mail me and tell me they've gone through the same shit.

Some people are going to hate it. But they can fuck themselves. I'm not doing this for them.

I'm doing it for me.

JA Konrath said...

But they can fuck themselves.

If they did, they probably wouldn't have the hang ups. :)

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