Can we talk about sex, please? Well, not the act of it, per se, but attitudes toward it in the past versus the present. I think a lot of people are inclined to believe that in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and right up to the start of the sexual revolution in the 60s, premarital sex just didn’t happen. And if it did, there was an intense level of shame that rode piggy-back on the person who’d had the sex. For example, my dad was born in May of 1945, after his parents had been married only seven months. Later in life, when he questioned their wedding date as compared to his date of birth, he was told that he had been a premature baby. Pictures of my dad as an infant show a robust, downright roly-poly, healthy baby. Dad always joked that had he been carried to term, he would have been an 18 pound newborn. It’s obvious that my grandparents engaged in a little pre-wedding hanky-panky but even when my dad was 50 years old, they still couldn’t tell him the truth. So it seems that sex, while obviously a part of life, wasn’t an open part of life.
Fast forward to today, where attitudes toward sex are blase. Television, music, movies, books – everything is designed with sex in mind. As a result, kids are growing up way too fast and with more knowledge than they need at a young age. The reason I’m even talking about this is because the novel I’m working on takes place during the 40s, where sex, as a point of conversation, wasn’t treated the same way it is today. It’s a topic that also has to be addressed because the actual act of it is apparently becoming pivotal to my story. (The reason I say “apparently” is because the novel I had planned is not the story that’s coming to fruition. The characters have other ideas and they’re letting me know, one detail at a time.) The thing I have to remember when writing is that, while sex certainly happened – think of all the soldier boys leaving home for God only knows how long and that whole “last night on earth” mentality that must have been present – my characters wouldn’t have openly talked about it like characters would in a novel that takes place in modern day. The thing is that today, sex sells. Even badly-written, questionable sex sells. (I’m thinking of a certain terribly written fanfiction story-turned-novel that involves the “hero” (and I use that term under great duress) yanking a tampon from the body of his heroine so that he can bang her for the 14th time that day.) Since sexually charged stories are so popular, the more the better, right? I have think about those things when writing this novel. Sex is pivotal to the story line, yes. It’s a catalyst for so much of what comes later. And even though I know that graphic details and titillating descriptions are what attracts an audience, my biggest challenge is staying true to the era. A conversation that would easily happen between girlfriends today almost certainly wouldn’t have happened in 1941. There wouldn’t have been any “OMG we totally did it” moments to share between squealing girlfriends. Any conversation would have been had in hushed tones with one eye toward the door.
So I guess the question I’m posing to myself is how much sex is too much sex? Where do I draw the line between keeping a modern audience happy and telling an authentic story? I love writing sex just as much as the next gal, but I have to find my limits with these particular characters, because I don’t want to turn my readers off when attempting to turn them on.
5 thoughts on “A little s-e-x… or a lot?”
I believe sex has become so overdone in novels. I do not say that because I’m a prude. Sex in fiction is as delicate as cooking fish. In my opinion I believe sex is sexier in a story when much is left to the imagination. You include enough to catch someone’s attention such as two people waking up naked in bed or romance. There are so many ways in which sex or the lead up can be written in a non-corny way. Good luck!
Oh, I wholeheartedly agree. One of my favorite authors, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, has found the perfect balance. The sex she writes is hot, while not graphic. It’s just enough to please the reader but doesn’t fall into full-on erotica. Face it, if I wanted to read erotica (and sometimes I do) I seek it out. It is a very fine balance but I think I’m starting to figure it out with this particular story I’m trying to tell!
I remember reading an excerpt from a story in high school that was based around the same time frame of your book. There was no sex scene in it at all, but there was a moment when the man in the story thought about placing his hand on his date’s knee. For some reason, even though he never made a move, the way it was written made the act (or the thought of the act) so intimate. I think as long as the build-up is strong and the feelings are there, any scene could have that charge of intimacy in it. More than often, just having that intense feeling is more gratifying than the act itself. Sex or the subject of it doesn’t have to be shoved into every chapter of the book, a la 50 Shades of Stupid, for a book to work. If anything, I think a book suffers when they attempt to cram in all that sex, especially at the expense of good storytelling. I think you’ll be able to write your scene and stay true to the era. You’re always great at building a foundation for your characters and their relationships.
You’re right, Aims. And I think part of my problem is that I’m used to fanfiction mentality, which is “more smut more smut where’s the smut?!?!?!” Published mainstream fiction is able to find a nice balance. I think I’m just being a wimp about writing right now. I need to remember that I CAN DO THIS!!!!
Have you read outlander? Or Diana Gabaldon’s instructions on writing sex scenes? I think she gets it really REALLY right. When she describes sex she tells you in great detail how things feel, smell and what the emotions are… and I don’t mean how how sex smells but how the air smells or how he smells to her… not how sex feels but how the sheets feel and how the lights are… it is graphic in a lovely sensual way.. and girl it is HAWT.