The One Thing

Let me start this by saying I approve of sex.  It’s a great concept by and large, and it forces even hermits like me who would otherwise live entirely in books into relationships, which in the end make us better persons.  Besides, it’s the most fun you can have with someone you’re not collaborating on a book with.  (Or vice versa.)

And when you’re in love with someone and particularly if you’re married, sex can make an otherwise oh hum day into a full holiday with fireworks and stuff.  I understand it also has health benefits.

I need this disclaimer up there, because I’m about to sound like Mrs. Grundy.

I’m not biblio-sexual.  Sex between the pages of a book – besides giving you paper cuts and who the heck has a book that big? – does nothing for me.

Note I didn’t say sexual tension does nothing for me.  I am human.  I’m also woman, which means a prurient interest in other people’s sex life comes baked in the cake and is frankly most salutarily exerted on fictional characters.

I’ve wanted characters to get together and do it already, and not only most of Heyer’s and a good number of Heinlein’s.  The main characters in The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie SIZZLE even if the girl is very much a geek chick.

No, the sex that does nothing for me between the pages of a book comes in two varieties.  First, the almost exhaustively clinical “And then he put it in five times, stimulating…”  Second, the highly improbable “His kiss made fireworks go on inside her head and a choir of angels sing Halleluiah”  (Both of these are exaggerated for comic effect, but not by much. All the women who know, just know, on the first kiss that they’ll bear any hardship to have HIS babies might exist, but they’re certainly not very plausible.  As for choirs of angels and fireworks, if you’re having a stroke while kissing, it might be a good idea to kiss a doctor.  Or something.)

When my husband stumbled onto romances – hey, they’re free on Amazon and I can’t always look over his shoulder and go “I don’t care if that says science fiction, that’s really a romance” – I spent more time telling him “no, that is physiologically impossible” than I spent laughing at the passages he read, and TRUST me that’s saying a lot.)

I realize I’m not “normal” in this – or at least I presume I’m not, though I’ll go into that in a moment – because I still remember, with a slight puzzled frown and the look of “wha?” that I also get while reading the news these days when a co-worker of mine (this was back when I had honest work as a multinlingual translator and the book will date how long ago that was) pressed Clan of the Cave Bear on me because “there’s this scene where he plays with her breasts and it’s just… oooooh.”

I read the book, made rude noises at the plot, and passed that scene (which was all of two paragraphs.  Oh, how we’ve come along.) with “okay, he touches her breasts.  Wheee.”

Now, the same scene might have got me interested (it was brief enough, mind you) if I’d been interested in the characters and rooting for them to get together, but THEN I wouldn’t pass it on with “he plays with her breasts” – I’d pass it on with “They have this great chemistry and you just want them to get together.”

For those of you who are in science fiction/fantasy and who think I’m being unusually prude – and you might if you are the sort of person who thinks Heinlein had too much sex in his books – let me point out that Heinlein has NO sex in his books.  He has allusions to sex, talk of sex, pillow talk after sex.

The modern iteration of books – and not just romance, urban fantasy is rife with this – has actual sex in books.  How it felt when it went in, what it did when it was in there, how many times it went in, and which orifices it disported in.

The sad thing, the truly sad thing is that it doesn’t even upset me – not really – it just makes me go “oh, yawn” and go past those pages.

But here’s the thing – the books often have nothing else to hold them together and THAT is what upsets me.

It seems the proportion at which sex is being put in books is the same proportion at which books are becoming politically correct pap and “emotions” signifying nothing. This includes Romance, where even the “bodice rippers” of the seventies and eighties had sex like Heinlein had sex, but they did have plots and were often interesting or experimental (no, I didn’t read romance then, but I’ve read old ones now.)

And I think there is a co-relation.  I think there is a very strong correlation.

Look, I first noticed this not with sex but with what I call “precious posturing.”

I confess to being guilty of that myself.

What do I mean by that?

Well, when I was under political cover, and therefore neither my novels, my plots nor my characters could be about stuff I cared PASSIONATELY about, I had to make the books interesting enough for me to write.  Hence, the Shakespeare trilogy, where I tried to combine high flung Shakespeare with “easy enough to read” and historical accuracy.  It was a stretch, and it kept me interested.  Then there was the Magical British Empire, where I had to figure out how things were in three continents at the close of the British Empire (without traveling there because us poor fiction writers don’t get that kind of advance.)

It was challenging.  I see a lot of this being done in science fiction and fantasy, not all by people who are under cover, but clearly by people smart enough to know that what they’re saying has been said a thousand times before and is – objectively – boring.  So, they put in all the historical details plus some, and try to marry reality and fantasy seamlessly.

These… exercises can be lots of fun but they have limited appeal.  For one, they require a public literate enough in history to know how much fun you’re having.

Other writers admire this greatly, but I suspect overall it doesn’t sell very well.  (My numbers on MBE aren’t exciting, though weirdly it’s still on shelves many places.  Go figure.  Of course, the relation of the numbers to the sales is mostly an imaginary one.)  At any rate, I don’t think the publishers see much point in it.

Which brings us to what the publishers see point in.  The one thing.  Somewhere in the lizard brain there is a cell that says “Sex cells.” And therefore the reptilian lords of NYC publishing say “More sex.”

I’ve actually had that imperative shouted at me.  (No, not by Baen, which is sane.) And to get push these days, you need to have sex in the book (again, not with Baen)

I’ve also had the length dictated “We need a page and a half of sex here.”  (This led to the famous “I’ve done two paragraphs.  You want more write it yourself.” Probably the reason I don’t work for that house anymore.  Well, that and there’s only so much I can take.)

I’m not saying, mind you, I totally object to writing sex, or that I wouldn’t totally put a scene in, if it flowed naturally out of what I was writing AND were necessary to advance the plot.  It probably wouldn’t be done to length.  As is, I’ve never had need to do it.  I can suggest a lot with a line about a touch or a look, and I think it’s more powerful if the reader imagines it.  BUT I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future.

What I’m saying is this: Sex shouldn’t be used to distract from the fact that there is no there there.

This is a mistake often committed by very new writers.  It often indulges the peculiar kink or fascination they have.  And because it interests and gives them a rush, it blinds them to the fact their characters are really only going shopping and talking a lot and nothing is happening.

I’ve redirected any number of young writers to “cut all the s &m” out or “cut all the fetish clothing out.”  Now, look at what you have and figure out how to make it interesting.  Then you can add that stuff back in, if you think it’s needed.

It almost never is, or only in small amounts.

Except most of what is on the shelves these days IS that stuff.  “No plot, no problem, have them screw NOW.”  “No tension?  Throw in an illicit love affair.”

It’s not the abundance of sex I’m objecting to (Though I do object to plumbing-level, uninteresting sex) but the fact that it’s there to cover the lack of anything else.

So, why do people still buy it?  I don’t know.  I think very young people buy it because they have this misguided frisson of the forbidden, and because it makes them feel grown up.  “Oh, look, ma, I’m reading dirty books, I really am.”

BUT overall, people aren’t buying.  As in, reading for pleasure falls ever lower.

Of course that is the fault of TV and video games and–  It’s like, in the hey day of cinema it totally killed reading for pleasure, which is why the pulps never happened, right?

Or perhaps we should give people books that mean something?  That pose interesting ideas? That challenge and interest and, yes, have plots?  Sex optional and well written sex that means something welcome?

It’s a crazy idea.  But it JUST might work.

256 thoughts on “The One Thing

  1. I have the same reaction to TV and movie sex.

    First, it’s improbable. What is the first piece of clothing that goes? And yet, on TV (maybe not on HBO, which goes far the other way), it doesn’t. Pretty silly. So, like the fake 555 phone numbers, the non-removal of the item of clothing immediately takes me out of the story and says ‘fraud.’

    Second, I KNOW these are actors. I often know who they’re married to – and it isn’t the person on screen with them. Innuendo would be lovely – after all, it would be reasonable to assume healthy people HAVE an interest in each other, even if they are married to someone else and don’t indulge that interest. That I can see. But the minute they get all clinical, knowing it’s fake ruins it – AND the story for me. It actually breaks the ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’

    And what’s it with the silly use of sheets?

        1. Yes, but it’s usually easier to take one’s shirt off first …

          Which also reminds me that it’s very rare for characters to ever be sexual (beyond kissing) without having full physical intercourse. 9 times out of 10, if this happens, it will be because the female character involved is teenaged and virginal. Adult and even slightly-nonvirginal women apparently either don’t want a guy, or they want him without any physical reservations. This does not correspond to my experience of human sexuality.

          I suspect this is a combination of the writer conserving narrative detail (though it could be conserved as well by hints at the appropriate times in the plot) and the desire to make the characters look “mature” (unless the characters are supposed to be extremely innocent).

          1. The blouse had been my first thought, yes.

            On the second point … as dearly as I enjoy Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone novels, I find the abundance of middle-aged women ready to use his … tool to scratch their itch a might implausible. Could be true, can’t say it ain’t, but it demands a suspension bridge of disbelief. Might just be those New England ladies. I allow that casting Tom Selleck in the TV movies helps sell it.

      1. Sheets. TV/Movie prop sheets are apparently slightly adhesive, as they will stick to women’s chests, but not the hairy chests of men.

        1. Sheets are not articles of clothing. Also given that ABE named them explicitly, they can not double as “the first piece of clothing.”

            1. And what about the Himation, eh?

              Though really, the way Classic Greek and Byzantine clothes were wrapped and pinned, the Sandals would have been the first thing off.

    1. What is the first piece of clothing that goes?

      I would guess either “shirts” or “shoes,” depending on the physical environment.

      And what’s it with the silly use of sheets?

      Ah, the Modesty Sheet!

  2. Sex has its place… pretty much everywhere and anywhere says the horse on the internet… ahm Put that voice back in my head. I think it needs to fit the context of the book. A sex scene for the sake of it.. meh but I know I have mentioned it before I think on a book you had me read when there is a lot of romantic tension… and a lot more… and more.. and almost.. I find myself getting frustrated screaming at the characters in the book JUST HUMP ALREADY AND GET IT OVER WITH!

  3. I’m ok with some descriptions, but when they get clinically graphical (as opposed to graphically clinical), then it’s like, “Bah. What am I reading, a textbook?”

    As far as sex in Heinlein books goes, I CAN think of one example. At one point, Lazarus and Maureen were talking about sex during sex, when he was visiting the family in the past.

  4. I think there’s another factor as well. Leftist writers, and leftists in general, like to view themselves as the ultimate sexual creatures. It becomes an obsession of theirs to throw sex at the rest of us, the subtext being, “Look at how much hotter we are than those wingnuts! Our lives are in Technicolor and theirs are in black and white! So it’s okay to trample all over their rights because (giggle) we are SO SEXY AND SUPERIOR!!” To a large degree, sex for them isn’t so much a substitute for a plot; it’s a substitute for life, period. That’s why they always push the “guns as substitute penises” meme; they know that women are attracted to men who have capabilities, and they feel the need to preemptively destroy those men. They, after all, have no capabilities other than sitting in air-conditioned rooms and yakking about that fabulous new play about menopause that simply everybody who’s anybody is seeing.

    1. The whole concept of pointing to anything that is extreme (gun, truck, etc) as “compensation” for a small penis is one that drives me (pardon the expression) nuts. Men like to control big, powerful things, no matter what kind of equipment they are given naturally.

      1. “No, she’s absolutely right,” said Zeb, patting the enormous pistol at his
        hip. “This _is_ a penis substitute. After all, if I could kill at a range
        of thirty meters with my penis, I wouldn’t need to carry this thing around,
        now would I?”
        — James Drew

        1. Someday I really want to show up at a range with a silenced .22. When somebody gives me crap about the caliber of my rounds, I’ll say, “I carry this to compensate for my enormous penis.”

      1. Interestingly:
        A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.
        — Sigmund Freud, “General Introduction to Psychoanlysis”, 1952

        Can’t vouch for the authenticity of that one. Nor this one:

        Sometimes a Sig-Sauer is just a Sig-Sauer.

    2. Michael Medved has argued persuasively that the Prog’s problems derives, in large part, from the fact that they are materialists. In this particular instance, that means they are interested in the physical congress rather than the emotional one.

      It also renders them incapable of distinguishing between the physical and emotional, so that they employ the former to represent the latter, as in “he fondled her boobs” — oooh, no man has ever been willing to do that with a woman!

      Coupled with their desire to seem BOLD!!! INNOVATIVE!!! and DARING!! by pushing boundaries, crossing borders and transgressing the irrelevant this focus on the physical leads to bad writing and awkward exposition.

      In long ago discussion with Daughtorial Unit, Beloved Spouse and I observed that if you don’t think there needs to be an emotional connection then it doesn’t matter who is fiddling with your bits; it only matters that your bits are fiddled with. So it is with writers incapable of finding a reason for characters to fiddle about beyond their ability to fiddle about. It is the aspartame of literature, substituting (badly) for the true source of sweetness and delight.

      1. One of the key signs of letting not grasping the supreme importance of emotional relationship to a romantic or even erotic descriptive scene is that the writer focuses on the wrong physical detail. Meaningful eye contact, affectionate caresses, and gentle kisses actually mean more emotionally both to characters and reader than do clinical descriptions of sex.

        To take an obvious example, if one states that a female character has a small vagina, one is saying very little about that character as a person. But if one states that she blushes and covers her face with her hair when someone she cares about says he loves her, then there are all sorts of implications regarding her personality. Likewise for male characters and their anatomies versus their emotional reactions to events. And when one extensively and clinically describes that two characters had sex by means of normal physical intercourse, one is basically saying very little about them or their relationship that one would not have said by merely mentioning or even strongly implying the sexual encounter.

    3. There is a mystery series I read once, set in the Deep South (with capitals because that’s how it felt.) In one of the later books, the protagonist thinks about this group of Republicans in a little town, and how foolish and deluded they are, how their beliefs are causing them misery… and all the time I’m thinking, You’re crippling your own argument, writer, because you’ve spent several books showing how incredibly awful your protagonists’ lives are, and I’m really supposed to believe that they’re happy in comparison to these peripheral characters?

      The thing was, you could tell it was a bit of the authorial voice coming through, that she really didn’t see the irony in what she was writing. Foot, meet bullet.

  5. In the 1960s there was a story by Robert F. Young(?) in Amazing/Fantastic(?) in which the protagonist concludes that a puritanical society is better for its citizens than a libertine one. He takes pains to say he does not know what the optimal society is, but is only making a choice between the two alternatives.

    1. Well, there’s puritanical – and then there’s prudish. Puritanical to me means they’re at least trying to be high-minded about it – even if they’re just using a fig leaf for respectability, while prudish makes me think of someone who just doesn’t want anyone doing what SHE can’t find someone to do it with…

      I could foresee a cyclic backlash from our current ‘excesses’ – especially if we get some sort of venereal disease that (oh, lord…) renders the afflicted prone to completely indiscriminate coupling with a corresponding lack of self-control. (Think cat in heat, cubed.) Where to show symptoms of such would be a severe social disgrace, so catching it would be worse than cooties as far as your social and professional life goes. That MIGHT trigger some interesting societal repercussions – though these days I’m not sure I’d care to bet on it.

      1. Prudish is the lady at a rural library who slapped a copy of a pot-boiler romance (Danielle Steele? I don’t recall) and a page and paragraph list of offending passages down on the counter and informed the head librarian that such smut must be removed from the hallowed halls lest it corrupt et cetera. The librarian read over the list, looked over her reading glasses and observed, “You certainly paid close attention to these scenes, didn’t you?” That was the end of Mrs. Prude’s censorship battle.

      2. Besides, “puritanical” in the sense of “anti-sex” is a complete misunderstanding of what the Puritans actually taught. They were entirely for sex between a husband and a wife. The best single link I’ve been able to find to demonstrate this is this blog post, which cites several sources including Leland Ryken’s book Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were. (Which I’m told is excellent, though I haven’t yet managed to get hold of a copy to read for myself.)

        The more I read about the actual beliefs of the Puritans, the more I like them.

        1. The more I read about the actual beliefs of the Puritans, the more I like them

          Um yeah but there were, as I understand it, about 5 zillion subtly different variants of Puritanism. The ones that acted in ways that resemble the Taliban in Afghanistan (destroying “idols”, banning dancing and numerous Christmas traditions…) are the ones we all remember because they were the ones who really pissed off their not quite so devout neighbors. There were of course others who did not insist on their neighbors conforming to their behavioral norms but those ones mostly went off to New England and didn’t bother anyone

          1. Given that my political beliefs are pretty firmly in the “live and let live” camp of libertarianism by now, I should clarify that I mean their religious beliefs. If half the stuff that’s said about Cromwell is true, I certainly wouldn’t want to claim any allegiance to his political beliefs. (Though a highly-controversial figure like Cromwell may not be a good example, because if the other half of what’s said about him is true, then I’d probably revise that statement considerably. I don’t know enough about him to form my own opinion at this point.)

            But the Puritans’ beliefs in hard work, finding joy in the love of one’s spouse (and not other people’s spouses), loving God, and all that? Yeah. Count me in.

            1. Oh yes I’m in favor of that bit. What impressed me rather less was their bansturbatory instincts…

              Having said that, I have a certain amount of sympathy of Oliver Cromwell. I don’t think he actually wanted to be a dictator, he just ended up there because there needed to be an executive and no one else even slightly competant was available. And then there’s the whole “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” thing, which I find to be most excellent

          2. The New England ones passed the death penalty for Quakers caught trying to propagate their faith. Controlling the immigrant flow meant they could control people’s lives much more thoroughly. (Also, they didn’t need allies in the civil war from the other groups, since they weren’t fighting it.)

            1. Control other people’s lives? That’s amusing. They were the overall majority in Massachusetts as in around 80% of the male population. While there was a period when you had to be a member of their churches to vote, that was still a percentage of voters greater than in England or Virginia. Sorry *they* decided how *they* wanted to live and saw no reason to change because a minority wanted *them* to change.

              Sorry the idea that Massachusetts was a theocracy (ruled by priests/clergy) is as strange as the idea that 1950’s US was a theocracy.

              Disliking some of their religious beliefs is one thing but ignoring the facts about their Massachusetts colony is another thing.

              1. Of course it was a theocracy. “Theo-” means “God” not “clergy.” That 80% of the male population approved of it only goes to show that a pure democracy, as Madison observed, is incompatible with the (later) American principles of republicanism.

                And it is bosh to describe it as “they saw no reason to change.” Ignoring the Quakers would have produced that effect if they really didn’t want to change.

                1. First, your definition of theocracy may be the “literal meaning” but in practice “theocracy” (prior to “modern” times) has always referred to “rule by clergy”. Too many people today talk as letting religious people have a say in Government is theocracy. Do you believe that 1950’s America was a theocracy? IMO some Liberals would say yes.

                  Second, would any society of that time frame look good by 20th century American Standards? I doubt that members of the Society of Friends would be welcome in Catholic countries of the time.

                  IMO Massachusetts was *not* a hell-hole even by standards of the day.

                  Much of the Puritan standards were “enforced” by social pressures by the residents of the towns not by the Massachusetts government.

                  Finally, too much of the modern criticism of the Puritans is from people who have little regard for American principles of republicanism as seen by people like Madison. They consider people to be “free” to only live as they want not how the other people want to live.

  6. My sex scenes are briefer and less common than my fight scenes. And I think I’ve written about four fight scenes, most lasting a paragraph or two. I don’t much like to write (or read) choreography.

    1. In sex scenes or fight scenes, what matters is how people feel about what is happening and how they react to those feelings. With sex the feelings spectrum is somewhat limited, in combat a bit less so. I have noticed a few Baen books (shan’t name names, YMMV*) that struck me as “Combat P_rn” due to the extended battle sequences that substitute for story advancement.

      *Obviously, some readers enjoy the descriptions more, some writers’ descriptions engage various readers to varying degrees. Larry Correia’s fight sequences do not feel excessive to me but may well seem so to others. If your book rises or falls on the graphicity of your sex and fight sequences there is probably something fundamentally lacking.

      1. Exactly. Some people do enjoy tactics and combat simulation for their own sake. For me, there has to be more story than that.

        The one extended fight scene I have written — almost two pages, which is extended for me — is about a crew fighting pirates. The point is not about the fight, it’s about how the stranger in their midst changes the crew and makes them ready for the fight. And about how her hatred for pirates affects her.

        Martin L. Shoemaker Author and Software Developer

        1. Yes, now I am one who likes extended graphically described fight scenes, but if the author doesn’t have the knowledge to write them realistically I far prefer them to settle for, “after ten minutes of swordplay he managed to slip past Frank’s guard and kill him.”

          1. Oh, and that was not an intentional jab at you, I didn’t even notice your name was Frank when I wrote that, I just picked a name at random.

      2. The problem is that, if you actually know something about martial arts, etc., there probably can be a fair amount of characterization in a fight scene. How you fight comes out of who you are, and not just your pure physical capabilities. But this would probably be hard to put across to people who aren’t big into fighting, and is certainly hard to pick up by those of us who aren’t into fighting.

        In a visual medium, of course the good actors/stuntmen and the good fight choreographers do put characterization into fight scenes.

        1. People who know things about martial arts (and I’m sure sword fighting) don’t write cinematic fight scenes, but they can still be effective. In my wife’s novel, the climax comes so fast it could hardly be characterized as a fight scene. It’s stunning nonetheless, because it reveals something huge about the characters.

          My wife and I went to the first International Association of Thriller Writers convention years ago, and it featured individual talks by a sniper, bodyguard, and knife fighter–each a professional in their field. The knife fighter demonstrated a set of quick movements and asked the audience how many cuts he had just made on his simulated opponent. Most of the audience said 2 or 3. My wife, who has a Karate background, quietly said 10 from the front row. The speaker, used to people not being able to grasp his movements, announced he had done 10 before realizing my wife had caught all his movements. He did a quick double-take, looking at the middle aged woman to size her up as a potential threat, and then moved on.

          1. The guy who co-founded the martial arts school I attended for a few years is a large, old, bearded, unassuming looking fellow. We were on a plane for Costa Rica for a tournament and happened to be on the same plane as a large number of contestants for a mixed martial arts TV show. (Unfortunately, no one tried to hijack the plane, more’s the pity.) Anyhow, I remember thinking that the TV competitors looked like you’d expect them to look while most of us looked like ordinary folks with kids along, and that not a one of the passengers would have expected that the unassuming old bear of a man with his big gray beard was in the Tae kwan do Hall of Fame and held a 10th dan (I swear I thought it only went up to 9) rank in karate and if he ever had call to use what he knew, you’d probably not even *notice*.

            1. Your teacher sounds like the retired professor I knew at Flat State U. Some idiot tried to mug him by grabbing him from behind. Mugger flew three or four feet before hitting the ground. The prof, before his knees and hips made taking falls problematic, had instructed the South Korean exchange students (among others) in martial arts. He also played a mean piano.

        2. In a visual medium, of course the good actors/stuntmen and the good fight choreographers do put characterization into fight scenes.

          Not to mention Bruce Lee’s wonderful sound effects. I could listen to those purrs and trills all day…

      3. Actually sexual emotions can be quite varied, and the sort of emotions highly indicative of the characters and their relationship. A woman who is described as being in a “warm happy glow” after having sex with her husband has a very different sort of marital relationship than one who “as usual, felt completely empty and even defiled.” But it’s the emotions that are relevant here, not so much the physical details of the consummation — unless these details are very strange indeed. Even then, a vague description might actually work better than a detailed one — “he joined with her lovingly” versus “they lay down and did their duty” having very different emotional impacts on both reader and characters.

        1. The Oyster Wife partakes in various types of clean romance novels (mostly Christian romances, but various other sub-genres as well), and once shared with me her favorite “draw the curtain” phrase at the romantic climax of a particular book: “And they were husband and wife”. As you say, it says a lot about the characters and what role intimacy played in their relationship.

          1. … of course this does imply that the reader has a reasonably-sane concept of “marriage.” Many of the women being turned out by modern Women’s Studies classes don’t: they see marriage as systematized rape, or at least emotional abuse.

            1. Some people just have to be excluded from your Target Audience.

              (I would think having fans churned out by Women’s Studies classes would be a fate well worth avoiding.)

              1. This does not apply only to writing. In my 25 year IT career, I’ve had to try several times to convince salesweasels there are customers/clients who are not worth the having.

    2. It occurred to me that in Sword And Blood I actually wrote sex — and rather perverse sex at that. BUT I wrote it Heinlein style MOSTLY and it WAS needed for the plot.

  7. This came up in the comments hereabouts somewhere, and while I absolutely agree with your notion of sex masking the absence of substance, the one that makes me crazy is sex defying everything else you’ve created in the book!

    The strong, independent woman who stands on her own but submits to (and enjoys!) the pseudo rape because he’s in the cat clan *gasp* and they’re just so forceful *titillated giggle*

    The military leader dedicated to his men who slips off to the stairwell for a quick poke…in the middle of a critical, dangerous operation while his men’s lives are on the line covering his (now naked) ass!

    The terrified MC who has just learned of the hidden underworld, sitting in a room with creatures that’d like to see her dead as a chess move, in the midst of negotiations to keep her outsides over her insides who loses track of the conversation to stare at the male interest’s BUM!

    These (and so many more improbable) are scenes I’ve actually read. I remember them because they’re the end of the book, for me.

    I’m bored by the pokey, throbbing, damp, manly, jiggly, blah-de-blah stuff, but if there’s a plot I can skip the scene and get back to the story. But when an author violates their characters, their world-building, their plot…everything but the 4th wall and that if they could get away with it… I can’t skip that.

    1. The recurring theme of your examples is that the characters are incapable of self-discipline. Geeze, what would a theme like that convey?

      I haven’t read Ian Fleming in ages, so perhaps my memories are unduly influenced by the cinematic treatment, but it sure seems Bond’s primary abilities as a spy consist of being able to seduce about any woman he meets: he boffs her, she switches sides, together they defeat Smurf’s villainous scheme.

      1. It would convey that there is nothing wrong with having no self-discipline and therefore the reader who has none does not have a problem.

      2. What RES said. Which explains why I’ve been having trouble with a character who absolutely cannot sneak away with her husband for nookie even though her messed up hormones are screaming “party! Party! Party!”

        Hindbrain: “Whee baby, get it on!”
        Forebrain: “It is dangerous, you have a battle to plan, there are too many witnesses, and you could cause an international incident.”
        Hindbrain: “Thpppppht!”
        Forebrain: “Stop that.”

      3. Ian Fleming usually represents sex as a sort of force of normality and health. The women usually have messed-up pasts and are being exploited, or just lack all love in their lives (which is why they hang out with supervillains). Bond convinces them that they are beautiful and lovable and deserve a life outside the Communist Party or supervillainy, mostly because Bond’s cold little heart really does have a Navy man’s enthusiasm about beautiful women. His novels go into great detail on this point (probably because Fleming also had enthusiasm about beautiful women).

        Bond is a cold person without much life of his own, whose business is assassination. But he kills in the defense of crown and country, and the free world; and he has the sense to appreciate good food, good drink, and good people when he comes across them. He’s an odd character when you think about it.

        1. I’ve only read the first book in the series. Interestingly enough, in that one, the girl seduced him, and in the process, fell for him, and he for her.

          For their troubles, she committed suicide in his flat before she was due to be murdered, and he spent several hours getting his specifics beat with a rug beater.

          Yes, he may have a Navy man’s enthusiasm for beautiful women, but he also has a complete and profound distrust of them, and lingering doubts about whether his plumbing is fully in order.

          This is a profoundly traumatized individual here, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t going into any of that in the movies.

        2. I’ve met a half-dozen real-life spies. They wouldn’t stick out in a one-horse town, much less anywhere else. That’s why they were successful. All the “super-spy” dramas leave me shaking my head. Life just doesn’t work like that.

          1. I remember a DS9 episode or two where Dr. Bashir managed to talk Garak into doing a Bond-type holodeck program with him, and Garak kept complaining about how unrealistic it was. I think Garak was eventually able to accept it as fantasy.

      4. I haven’t read Ian Fleming in ages but from what I remember there was very little sex and he tended to fall in love (which ended badly and made him more tragic). I think I read them before ever seeing a movie and I remember thinking about the movies that they had him jumping in bed with at least two (or more) women in each one and that this was *wrong*.

        OTOH, I was awful young when I read them so maybe (like with Anne McCaffrey) I just didn’t realize what was going on.

  8. For me, what it comes to is; are you are good at writing a particular kind of scene? If you are, then use that kind of scene to move the plot forward. Sex scene. Gunfight scene. Kung-Fu scene. Whatever.

    If you aren’t good at writing a kind of scene, leave it alone.

    How will you know? If you aren’t any damn good at a kind of scene, and you use it anyway, the public will stay away in droves. If you are absolutely diabolically horrible at it, the critics will write reviews that sound like they want to have your children.

  9. And great sex always makes things OK between the two of them. NOT!

    Ilona Andrews had one intense sex scene between Kate Daniels and Curran but afterwards Kate & Curran still had a fight over their relationship.

    Considering how strong willed both of them are, it wasn’t surprising to me that they still had problems concerning their relationship.

    Of course, it didn’t help that Kate’s “daddy dearest” is the Big Bad of the series and she *knew* that Curran would either drop her or get himself killed fighting “daddy dearest”.

  10. And here I’m trying to write something as a subplot that DOESN’T have sex in it, much. Set in the ’50s, a young man’s very interested in a young woman… but this is the ’50s, and I’m playing the mores and morals all the way. Which has led me to a conversation among her friends like this… Karl is taking Agnes to the airport, and passes a car full of her friends in the parking lot at work
    ….

    “Well – I wonder where they’re going?” Mary commented cattily.

    “She’s been saying Karl’s a gentleman – maybe she’s having some car trouble?”

    “She got here pretty early. Maybe she needed to go home?”

    “She could have driven herself.”

    “Not if she had car trouble.”

    “Maybe he’s going to take her out in the desert and… you know. And then kill her.”

    “Maybe SHE is going to take him out in the desert!” They all laughed.

    “Maybe… they’re eloping?” Kathy sighed wistfully.

    “Nah,” said the other Kathy. “She’d have told us…” She paused and thought. “Wouldn’t she?”

    “I think so. She always seemed like an old-fashioned girl.” Lisa A said. “I don’t think she’d elope, she’d want a full wedding.”

    “Oh, I’d love to be a bridesmaid!” Lisa B exclaimed. “That’s almost as good as being a bride!”

    “Maybe they’ll just skip the wedding!” Mary said, “And go straight to the honeymoon!”

    “Right,” said the other Kathy. “Not Agnes. I think she’d wait.” She sighed. “Figures she’d get one of the good ones…”

    The scene continues a bit longer… and when they find out that Agnes had to go back east, they start thinking about keeping Karl company… as a test to see if he’s good enough for Agnes, of course. Flirting and general silliness will ensue, hopefully.

    BTW, the Kathy and the Other Kathy, and Lisa’s A&B are what my wife’s friends call themselves… though who’s A and who’s B varies, lol.

  11. This kind of goes back to what I was saying a couple of days ago. Books can plant seeds, and if all the literature is talking about crazy sex w/o commitment, that has an effect on the reader, particularly when we’re talking about younger readers.
    My daughter has been (so far as I know) clear of most of it. But her friends – one has been reading a lot of Stephen King, and another is really into yaoi fan fiction.
    I’m not interested in censorship – no government intrusion, thank you very much. But I am very much interested in having… competitive alternatives.
    But it sounds like the gatekeepers aren’t that interested.
    Build under, right?

    1. It also strikes me that I can’t be the only person interested in reading something that I’m not going to have to skip big swaths of / have to go to confession for (for various values of confession). Which means there’s a market opportunity.

      Incidentally, anyone here read the Michael Vey books? The third one is apparently out today.

      1. My friend who works in a used bookstores says there are women who “reserve” any romance say pre-1970 that comes in, so there’s definitely a market. the problem is REACHING it, because a lot of them have been burned so often they won’t even TRY newly written stuff.

        1. Hmm, how *would* you reach such an audience? What Amazon tags would you give it? “Chaste” isn’t quite right and usually means there’s a woman with an Amish bonnet on the cover.

        2. Like me. I don’t read romance any more unless it’s Georgette Heyer or Dorothy Sayers. It’s gotten too stupid. Much of it is just porn. Won’t waste the money.

          On the other hand, romance has crept into other genres (not that it was ever completely absent). Sabrina’s “Firehearted” and “The Last Mage Guardian” not to mention “A Few Good Men” all have very satisfactory love stories.

          1. My pleasure and how odd. As a love story, AFGM is very chaste. I am not complaining. I think sex would have halted the story arc. Actually, one thing about all the books I mentioned is love blossoms naturally as part of the bigger story. Which is the way it should be IMHO.

    2. What I hate are the pop songs. Plenty of ones I like as long as I manage not to listen to the words, but unfortunately there seem to hell of a lot of them with lyrics like ‘my girlfriend is out of town and your boyfriend doesn’t need to know’. With the idea that surrendering to that ‘animal lust’ part is only cool, and the right thing to do, at least provided you don’t get caught in those cases where you might actually want to keep the ‘official’ relationship and just have some ‘fun’ on the side. Hated the idea when I was a teen, and still hate it, and not so much even for the implication that if it happened to me it might mean I’m not ‘enough’ for the guy, but for what it would say about his character (or vice versa, for that matter).

      I can accept the idea of open relationships, they may not work very often but occasionally do, and I can accept leaving a relationship if you genuinely do fall in love with somebody else, at least if it happens before it has become really established and there are no kids, and I can even accept the idea of him using the services of professional ladies if she really isn’t enough for some reason or another (with her knowledge, open or implied), but I can’t think of going behind each others back with some casually met stranger as anything but reprehensible (and even worse if it is somebody familiar). Especially if it’s nothing more than ‘having some fun’.

      So I guess I’m an old fashioned prude. Yep, I’m gonna need a lawn one of these days. And a porch, with a rocking chair on it.

      1. That ain’t “havin’ some fun” — that’s masturbating with somebody else’s body. Notice nobody sings about that awkward next time you run into each other, pretending you don’t know what t’other looks like nekkid and sweaty.

        One reason I took a liking to Country music. Rock and Roll is mostly about getting sweaty on Friday night; in Country you wake up hungover the next morning and realize your partner ain’t so hot in the light of day.

          1. Yep. I like the tune of that song – I used to love dancing when I was young, and while I don’t do that anymore I still have a fondness for that kind of light pop, with that easy to dance to repetitive rhythm, and I do still listen it, most often while driving – but half of them seem to have lyrics which make me mostly just angry if I make the mistake of starting to listen to them attentively enough to figure out what the story of the song is supposed to be.

            I even occasionally buy it on cds (the car I use at work does have a radio/cd player), but I do refuse to give money to the people who make them so I buy them only used.

            1. I acquired a fondness for songs in foreign languages solely because the lyrics don’t annoy. 99 Luftballoons is stupendously jejune if you sprechen sie Deutsch, pleasantly lyrical if you don’t.

              Je t’aime is a lovely amusement if you don’t speak French. Well, no, actually it is still rather stupid and repetitive.

              1. Hah. Have that on vinyl (bought used :)). The long version. It does get a touch… numbing, after a while.

                I need to buy a record player again one of these days. I have quite a few of those old vinyls stashed in a closet. Might be interesting to go through them again. Old disco… I do also have the soundtracks to the first three Star Wars movies. And early Iron Maiden. And classical music, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozard, Vivaldi. Always had a fairly eclectic taste.

                1. Classical music was my out for a while, then, apparently, not enough people were listening so that station got canceled.

                2. I bought a console Zenith, because every one needs a tube-driven AM/FM Radio with record player that occupies 2 cubic yards and looks like a side-board.
                  I have a lot of old records too.

              1. No, they are usually just fine (have to say usually since I haven’t heard every song by them :)). In some songs quite funny too. Dirty, sometimes, but in the way of old folk songs, not glorifying cheating on your boyfriend kind.

      2. I had the same problem and switched to listening to the Christian radio station (I realize this probably isn’t an interesting option for someone who isn’t a Christian.) Some of the songs still annoy me, but at least it’s over doctrinal differences or poor musical/lyric writing skills, not by making me feel like I’m listening to someone else’s private life that I really don’t want to know about.

        1. Doctrinal differences. Hooboy. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s a problem if you’re standing around in Kmart listening to the Christmas Musak, and trying to figure out exactly which Byzantine era heresy has just been reinvented. Kinda takes away the Christmas spirit.

          1. Er. The Christmas Muzak around here, it’s more like “Did they mean the same Christmas I know about? You know, the one where Jesus is born and there’s salvation and all of that good stuff? Because ‘fuck it, I’m going to blow the entire rainy day fund on a mega-gift for myself’ really doesn’t belong in that story.”

              1. The Husband and I need to be fitted with earplugs for the whole Christmas season. We both get homicidal being forced to listen to endless repetitions of really crappy Christmas music.

                I grew up on – and later sang in choirs performing – the classic carols. Four part harmony, full orchestra, the works. Listening to some pop tart butcher that or “sing” some modern excuse for a Christmas song *hurts*

                1. Oh yeah. If I’m ever allowed to run a Ministry of Culture, there will be a list of songs that cannot, I repeat cannot, be “sung” by or arranged for pop/Muzak/teeny-bop. Starting with “O Holy Night.” To paraphrase the movie “A Few Good Men:” The notes? You can’t handle the notes!

                  1. YES! I grew up on my father singing O Holy Night. It hurts to hear it butchered. Dad could do it right – it would give you goosebumps (the right kind) to listen to.

                    1. *chuckle* You’re not alone there. Vocally, I couldn’t carry a tune if it had a packstrap, but I used to be one of those “never, ever, put his face behind a microphone” musicians.

                      Played a *lot* of Christmas music. Taught same.

                      My stereo plays classical, techno, and blues during christmas. Mostly blues, because for some reason that’s what feels like Christmas to me.

                  1. Just about anything by Palestrina is good too. Sicut Cervus is a particular favorite of mine. Needs a bit more volume boost to drown out the pap, though, what with it being a capella.

                  2. For a little variety one year I played Chanukah songs in my tiny retail store. We were so small that we didn’t have Muzak, we had a boombox with tape or radio.

                    1. For me it just isn’t Christmas until I’ve played Brave Combo’s album It’s Christmas, Man!

                      For some peculiar reason the rest of the family refuses to ride in the car with me at that time of year.

                    2. Brave Combo is a Texas-based polka combo. Their Christmas album not only features a klezmer version of Jingle Bells, it offers unique interpretations of seasonal songs (such as “Oh Holy Night, cha cha cha) that have been beaten to death by banal presentations.

                      Amazon.com
                      “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” are not just empty sayings when Brave Combo are around. It’s Christmas, Man! is a merry romp through traditional and not-so-traditional holiday fare. “O Christmas Tree” is done as a drum heavy samba, “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting) skanks in as a ska tune, and “The Little Drummer Boy” has obviously been hanging out in Cuba. There are polka, waltz, and cumbia versions of classic carols, and a Hanukkah hora (circle dance) as well. Brave Combo have penned five new tunes for this release which are sure to become seasonal favorites. This is a fun recording, featuring accordion, sax, clarinet, guitars, bass, drums, and vocals in a mostly lighthearted set of inspired silliness. The occasional serious song like “Ave Maria” is treated with the respect it deserves, without being allowed to bog down in maudlin sappiness. The 15 songs on this CD make it a generous gift of spirited music. –Jeff Grubb

                2. Children’s Chorus just started up here. With the result that I already have “Carol of the Bells” on repeat in my brain. With two kids in the choir, I get sick of Christmas music, at least those pieces, before Hallowe’en. But at least it’s mostly good Christmas Music–last year they had one silly song, I’m not seeing one yet this year, but there are still months to go.

              2. Come the Christmas Jingle season (just around Thanksgiving), Jerry Pournelle usually links to some Lovecraftian parody jingle. Somehow it’s easier to keep sanity when the lyrics running through your head are, “It’s beginning a lot like fish-men”.

              3. It’s a heartrending story which at the same time warms the heart, but it should be administered in VERY small doses.

                I have a similar problem with the country song, “Don’t Take the Girl” (I hope I got the title right).

                  1. A young boy, likely a young country boy, who recognizes that his mother has gone without because they are poor, and wants to do something for her that she would never have done for herself. Knowing that one of the things she wishes she could have is a beautiful pair of shoes, he tries to buy some so that she can feel beautiful when the time comes. Yes, I’ve met children who might do this.

                    1. I despise Christmas Shoes and most other Christmas songs, I decided to make some Christmas CD’s one year and went through all the Christmas music I could find on the internet and could barely find enough songs I liked to fill one CD.

                      This however is a heartrending Christmas song, and my all time favorite Christmas song.

                1. Christmas Shoes irritated me so much I forgot to reply about “Don’t Take the Girl” that song starts out kind of cute with the little boy not wanting the girl to go fishing, but then we segue into him growing into a lily-livered wuss who wants to whine and cry instead of actually do something to protect his girl. At that point I lose all respect for the song.

                  Here is a country song that warms the heart.

                    1. I’m gonna have to go listen to the song again, but…I always took that section as perfectly in line with modern self-defense doctrine. Don’t fight for possessions, the secondary costs make it a fool’s errand, do what is necessary (whatever is necessary) to secure the lives of you and yours but let them take the car.

                      Now, while I have a visceral reluctance to give in to the actions of criminals and allow for chaos, it is the sensible and reasoned course to take for long term benefit. IF we’re talking about simple theft. If we’re talking about a threat to the larger community, or an ongoing threat to family, I have different thinking.

        2. The local choices during the time I’m working – between 2 and 6 in the morning – are stations with are mostly talk with occasional musical interludes, which I do not care to listen to while at work, and then several with just music. Several stations play pop, mostly more or less older international hits so mostly English language, we have one which plays just Finnish pop so even bigger chance for me getting irritated by the lyrics since it’s almost impossible for me to ignore them when it’s my mother language while I can sort of do that with English, and there is one which plays just rock. Plus one which plays classical music which I do not like to listen in a car, you lose all the quiet parts.

          So, I mostly listen to one or other of the pop stations, or the rock one, and sometimes play cds. For me, in a car, it’s preferably kind of easy listening stuff, nice but not something truly enjoyable because in a car you can’t hear everything unless it’s really loud. Which I don’t like either, I want to be able to hear any louder noises from the outside, and I’d prefer to be able to hear well still 20 years from now (plus I do drive close to people’s houses several times on my paper routes, not a good idea to annoy the customers by waking them up in the early hours with loud music :)).

  12. One annoying thing about sex in modern literature is the assumption that two people left alone will ALWAYS get it on. Real world sex is generally much harder to achieve, since women are generally hypergamous. Love isn’t like falling into a ring of fire, it’s like running a gauntlet. If you trap an obese janitor in an elevator with an attractive female CEO, the reality is less likely to be “they gave in to their animal lust” than it is to be “he tried to make polite conversation and she fired him for sexual harassment.”

    1. Attractive male CEO trapped in elevator with obese female janitor. She sues for sexual harassment or assault. He denies it, citing lack of evidence; on advice of his attorney, he dares not point out how unappealing she is. To show how enlightened they are, the board fires him anyway.

      The presence or absence of video/audio is immaterial. In the court of public opinion, in some campus tribunals, and in real courts if wymyn get their way, it’s about how she (claimed to have) felt.

      (Not to deny that men can be swine. Of course they can.)

      1. Both attractive, or both obese. At least in the first case everybody is going to assume they did it, or pretend to assume they did it, especially if both deny it. And yes, his fate will probably be in her hands, so if she, say, first implies they did it, even as a joke, and once the rumors start to fly then figures they might damage her in some way he is going to be neck deep in it (so if he has any sense he won’t even joke about the possibility – and it’s going to be very bad for him if she actually were to ask for it, whether he then does it or not he could get in very bad trouble – piss her off or leave forensic evidence?).

        If both are obese speculations are less likely, nobody really wants to know (possibly apart from their better halves, if there is any tendency towards jealousy). So then it’s up to her.

        1. Okay, she would probably have the advantage in every case except when he happens to be the genuine article bad boy and really does something he will deserve to be punished for. Which brings us back to Sarah’s last post. Real bad boys may have most fun now – even when they get punished at least they presumably got to enjoy first and it’s for a reason – making being one of the good ones less attractive to men since there is a high risk they will be treated the same as the bad guys anyway. Yep, does not seem like a good strategy for making the world more safe for women, not in the long run.

          1. Kind of like gun control benefitting criminals.

            I suspect there’s a general principle hidden in your remark. Something along the lines of Taken beyond a certain point, enforcement and regulation begin helping those they are intended to deter.

            1. I think “regulatory capture” is the phenomena. Do some digging, and you find many of the vocal gun-control folks have criminal backgrounds. Disarming the potential victims is to their advantage.

              1. The original American gun control applied first to black slaves in the Old South, and then to free blacks after Reconstruction. The purpose was to make sure that white abuse of blacks (which was deemed to be in the proper order of things) was not interrupted by unseemly acts of self-defense on the part of the blacks being abused).

                The next big wave of gun control began in the 1930’s, directly in response to the rise of organized crime in the 1920’s. It was pushed by corrupt city councilmen and state legislators, ostensibly to disarm the gangsters, actually to disarm their victims. This being America, too many of their intended victims were whipping out firearms and blowing away the mob enforcers or gang-related thieves.

              2. Your interpretation makes sense too, but this is what I had in mind: When law and regulation become so sweeping and onerous that everyone is a criminal, the “real” criminals become harder to identify. Identifying them becomes a judgment call for law enforcement. The law becomes a discretionary tool for law enforcement and its masters to use against entities they dislike. Equality under the law is reduced or eliminated.

      2. I have some experience in this area. A female on my ship accused me of sexual assault, mostly as a means of getting out of the Navy early. I was lucky that there was a third party there whose story matched mine and didn’t match hers, so my involvement was limited to writing a statement. But I did decise that if I went to Captain’s Mast and the CO was dumb enough to ask me if I had anything to say I would tell him I was more attracted to him than I was to her.

        For some reason I had a reputation as a smart-ass.

  13. Hear hear.

    I don’t think I have ever read a sex scene which did anything apart from boring me, at least when we are talking about pure sex scenes. Now, if the descriptions of the physical action are relatively short and something else happens too, pillow talk, maybe some internal dialogue of the main protagonist (if it’s something else than just ‘ooh, I liked that, ooh, what a big ***** he has, etc’), or it reveals something which matter to the plot (hm, interesting scar there…), yep, can work, in small doses. If I get to actually reading it. Most times I tend to start skipping now when I get to the beginning where the writer starts to go into details of the thing, due to expectations, which is that this is just a filler (boring), lets see where something starts happening with the actual story again (and if it turns out to be most of the story, with not much else there, I won’t finish it). 😀

    1. I just wrote one where the sex scene was the climax (sorry) of the story.

      Of course, the pillow talk was all about the alien trying to telepathically re-write the “hero’s” (Scare quotes are justified) mind to make him her slave.

      Damn, now I spoiled it.

        1. I guess I would read it if it was the climax. Otherwise the writer might want to telegraph a bit before that there is going to be some revelation important to plot or characterization during the following sex scene if he wants to make sure a reader like me will get that revelation, since just advertising for ‘sex! hot and sweaty! will curl your toes!’ is more likely to make us skip the scene rather than jump into it as we are quite convinced it will make us yawn, not curl our toes.

          I’m blind enough to written sex that I can’t even tell which scenes are well written for the purpose of exciting the reader and which are not since they just don’t work for me in that capacity no matter how they are written. It’s kind of weird, in its way, a well written scene of foreplay can titillate me, it just never carries to the actual sex scene if that will follow. Too much information, maybe, the best foreplay or teasing scenes for me are usually the ones which describe least action, just something like a few touches, looks and maybe sexual innuendos between the characters while they are in the middle of a discussing or doing something else, not completely focused on the sex yet.

  14. Obviously the “sex sells” thing in books isn’t targeting males. Just think, you’re riding home from work on the train, reading a book, get to a steamy part, and if that does anything for you, there’s a tent pole in your trousers. Who wants that?

      1. But that’s the entire point of those comics. If you pick one up, you know what you’re getting. If you’re reading a mystery or horror or sci-fi or historical fiction book, and suddenly it turns into erotica, that’s a bit different.

          1. I’ve heard it said that the guys who read the really explicit manga are the same guys who grope women on the trains. So probably they don’t mind people seeing their excessive interest in comics, either.

  15. I haven’t been reading a lot of comtemporay books but I remember back in the 80’s and 90’s reading several book where there was a single sex (or pillow talk) scene plopped down in the middle of the story. It interupted the flow and didn’t seem to advance anything relastionship wise. Heck I remember one where two character that didn’t particularly like each other had sex and didn’t hardly interact through the rest of the book. It was incongruous.

    After seeing a couple of books like that I figured some editor was saying, “It needs a sex scene.” to all their authors so the authors just shoved one in.
    (Does that count as a double entendre?)

    1. Yep and yep. I answered Charlie above, because I don’t have a problem with erotica or even porn — if that’s what I bought — I also don’t have problems with sex scenes that advance the plot. There a mystery series — I’m now trying to remember the name… gah… which had so much sex that it dwarfed romance and some porn, but the sex was character essential.

      1. J D Robb’s Eve Dallas/In Death series? The sex has been toned down now. Of course from book four on, Eve Dallas and Roarke were married. Even in the latest book, it’s the emotional element that is important for both of them.

        1. Yeah, I have just recently read a few of them. What they really reminded me of was another romance author that branched out into non-romance novels (can’t remember her name right now) like Nora Robert’s J D Robb books the series started out heavy on romance and sex, but gradually tapered off until there was just a minor mention of it here and there. I assumed this was partially because it was what the author was used to writing into their books and had to learn how to write seamless stories without the romance and sex tying together different scenes, and partially that the editors wanted romance and sex from the author because that was what they were used to seeing from them.

          Both authors were series where I picked up a book in the middle of them and then liked it enough I went back and read books earlier in the series.

  16. When Dean Esmay and I were writing our novel together he slipped in what I considered a completely gratuitous sex scene and when I was doing my review and literally ran into it unannounced I actually freaked out. I so did NOT want it there and we argued about it for a week or more before I finally relented and let it stay.

    I still regret that. It just seemed gratuitous- I would have been happier with a more Heinleinesque approach to that scene.

  17. Well, for a wonder I’m going to disagree on this. I like sex in books. I have written porn, I sometimes *like* porn, I intend to write more porn if I can just get caught up a bit. I know a number of women who really like porn in books, find it exciting; I have a dear friend who for some years has made her living as a phone-sex operator, which is after all basically improv porn, and insists that she gets off on it. Yes, _that_ way.

    (By the way, I would include as porn both Fifty Shades and a lot of the most bodice-rippery of the bodice-rippers.)

    I think there are two points here. The first one is that if you _don’t_ respond to porn that way, then you don’t. I’m good with that. Lots of books out there, buy the ones you like.

    The second one is, I think, that what you’re complaining about is *bad* porn. Fiction, all fiction, I think should be judged by the Jubal Harshaw Rule: if it doesn’t affect you emotionally, it’s bad fiction. Porn is a sort of limiting case on that: as my editor at Penthouse Variations (a woman, as a matter of fact) told me years ago, if it doesn’t make you hard it’s bad porn, and that *is* an emotional reaction.

    1. I don’t think anybody here is arguing against pornography, as such. The objection is buying what one expects to be a perfectly good novel in some other genre and finding it interrupted for porn. It is the interruption (as well as the bad porn) that folks are objecting to.

    2. So the main point would be to have alternatives and then to advertise what’s in clearly enough? I don’t get off on written porn (can occasionally happen with the filmed stuff though, I am kind of visually oriented, although then we are talking about that variety which usually goes under ‘erotica’, not the hard stuff) so I don’t like when I run into it, especially if there is lots of it when I assumed I was going to get a mystery, or action adventure, or maybe a more old fashioned romance (it often used to include more of the other plot, damsel in distress and getting rescued or whatever, than what seems to be sold under that label now when the focus seems to be a lot more on what the characters are feeling – whether it’s mentally or physically).

      So, just tell me clearly enough before I buy it and I’m happy enough.

      1. Maybe we need some kind of Federal Agency for Accuracy In Literature to enforce labeling standards. Maybe establish recommended daily allowances for things like sex, romance, religion, violence, etc.

            1. It’s a dangerous and multi-purposed thing, the tongue.

              For instance, it can fling disparaging epithets at your fleeing form…and immediately transition to the ‘neeners” as I run the other way. 😉

        1. I once had to become deeply knowledgeable about the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA), especially the areas covering agriculture and migrant workers, and studied the Code of Federal Regulations to do my job; the idea of yet another phonebook of self-important anal-retentive, and meaningless miniscule print is my nightmare.

          “Literature” includes storytelling in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and development of plot, character, and the production, cultivation, growing, and denoument of any literary or imaginative series (including literary properties defined as literary commodities in section 15(g) of the Literary Marketing Act, as amended), performed by a writer or on media as an incident to or in conjunction with such storytelling operations, including preparation for market, committing to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market.

        2. I have read an actual book where the book described such truth in advertising as censorship.

          To be sure, the book does define censorship so broadly that if you applied its own standards, it practices censorship by calling for the elimination of record warnings.

    3. No, actually, Charlie, I’m not talking about Porn at all. I have no problems with well written porn. In well written porn, there is motivation that makes sense, even if it’s just “they wanted to get it on” I HAVE issues with using badly written porn to paper over worse plotting, or non-existent plotting, and get very upset when instead of mystery, fantasy, whatever, they package BAD porn.
      And I’m sick and tired of NYC confusing “bad porn” with “good writing.”

      1. Well, and I didn’t think *you* were, particularly. But there seemed to me to be a lot of folks joining in as an Icky-Poo Chorus; I wanted to get a marker down for dirty books.

        1. I’ll second your marker for dirty books. Erotica and porn (well, the good stuff anyway) is a craft and the folks doing it well are those who have honed that craft. They can write something that pulls at the right levers with clarity and resourcefulness.

          So much of the drivel that’s wandering around out there in the wild not flying its porn flag is awkward and contrived.

          How many synonyms for tumescent can I cram into one paragraph?!? ONE MORE! Oh, I’m so excited! I used a dirty word for my pretty, secret place!!

          I can’t help it. I hear childish giggling when I read some of this stuff. Bleh.

          1. I’d rather write it than read it, because frankly, most erotica/porn is terrible (I would humbly suggest that mine isn’t).

            In a creative writing course taken in my yoof, the instructor gave us a classroom exercise: write a short, explicit sex scene involving just a man and a woman (or MM or WW, depending on preference), no kinky stuff allowed, just straight sex. Then write another one, same scenario, same characters, no repitition allowed. Then write a third one, same deal. The instructor then graded the assignments for each student, without knowing which generation was which. For almost everyone, their third-generation piece got the highest grade. If there’s a better argument for rewriting/severely editing your work, I can’t think of one.

            1. Oh, and on my word of honor: I have NEVER used the word “tumescent” (or derivation thereof) in any of my eroitica.

                1. The humorous use of the word could be played for excellent effect, I think.

                  Glancing at him with a sparkle in her eye, she leaned on the bar and turned her best approximation of a porn gaze his way, “I see your appreciation for the geometric arrangement of my primary and secondary sexual characteristics has elicited a magnificent tumescence.” Then she grabbed a glass of water because her porn voice felt like dry cotton in the throat. She was gaining a greater respect for those 1-900 operators…

    4. I occasionally end up with sex on the brain which starts to make its way into inappropriate places (no, brain, the robot is not having sex). This is why I also write erotica. Good sex with appropriate characters is awesome and I hope I do it well. Good sex that interrupts the story is annoying. Bad sex that interrupts needs to be killed with fire.

        1. It can, at that 🙂 The only complaint I have is that I can write it super fast, so I have twice as many erotica stories out as my other stories and it starts to intrude and take ideas.

          For example, with all the rain, I was thinking I should write a story about somebody being saved from a flood. Oh, hey, it should be a superhero it’s… oh dear, it’s porn, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is, with a recurring character, no less. *sigh* ok, I’ll write it, get it out and go back to the apparently epic story I’m writing about a robot.

          Though, reading through some of the comments here, I think I’ve figured out what was keeping me from finishing another story. I actually planned a gratuitous sex scene, knew it was gratuitous and I didn’t want to write it. Yay! More words done on that today after weeks of fighting it.

          1. I wish I could write romance… and I have no idea about erotica *sigh. Although recently some beta reader (guy) read one of my stories and said it had to much sex and romance in it. I was huh? There was some tension, and the particular story didn’t have sex in it… at least it wasn’t there when I wrote it. (I don’t know sometimes the characters have a hay day and when I reread I wonder how that scene got in there).

            I even took a workshop and realized that I just don’t have the talent to write romance. BTW when my hubby wanted to romance me he either bought me tools, computers, or food. Probably in that order too. 😉

            1. I’ve always written romance and it irritated the hell out of me when I was younger. I was a serious writer, dammit, and my characters should be miserable and alone… even when they were very naturally inclined to be happy and raise fat babies. Once I gave in and wrote what I actually wanted to, rather than what I thought I should, my sex scenes became real and occasionally comical.

              I’m allergic to flowers so I get either computer parts, sewing stuff or kitchen gadgets. I’ve currently got my eye on a cordless drill… There’s nothing wrong with being practical when it comes to romance 🙂

              1. My mind goes naturally to dark fantasy… the hubby gives me the comedic relief I need and sometimes gives me characters and situations that lighten my stories. I really really really didn’t want to write dark stuff… really.

            2. Cyn, watch the movie “The Tall Guy” (Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson) and wait for the sex scene betwen the two. It is, hands down, the funniest sex scene ever filmed. Ever since then, whenever I write a sex scene I try to imagine my sex scene as interpreted by that movie’s director–and it stops the sex scene from being unintentionally hilarious, every time.

              1. I have written a couple of love scenes (yea, I’ll have to watch that movie), but there is a focus to romance that I have (between the two people). I am better at a story with romantic elements. 😉 Oh yea, sex can be hilarious if you want to be the comedic relief…

    5. I have a friend who aside from his usual stuff, writes porn on the side, (Paranormal porn, often, and pretty good generally) and he’s a bit miffed because he ran across some really abysmal SF porn that’s selling about 100 times his rate at the moment.

  18. I’m not sure I should get involved with this conversation, although I agree with the “sex as substitution for plot weakness” meme. As is well known, I love writing sex scenes because it will work as as long as you make the scene integral to the characters’ development (not the plot’s, unless you’re writing about a whorehouse). A proud aloof woman gets inexplicably giggly at the sight of a strong man? Catnip to this writer, not for prurient reasons, but to see how her newfound vulnerability creates a problem for her later on in the story. A solitary, somewhat humorless man meets a woman who makes him really incomfortable because of her keeninsight into his character: what kind of sex are they going to have?

    And so on, and so on. I have to confess, of course, that I get as bored with sci-fi’s six pages of exposition of the colony on Beta Centaura as sci-fi readers get from three pages of “he inserted his Tab A into her Slot B” exposition, so it’s just a question of taste, of course.

    Also, if anyone wants an example of what I’m talking about, I’d be happy to send a (small) sample of what I’m talking about. Or you could just read the scene in Prime Suspect when Nick Walker and Cassie Papadakis make love for the first time. (Of course, in the latter case, it would help if you first read the earlier scene where they go ballroom dancing together, but then you might as well read the whole book. Neither, by the way, has anything to do with the overall plot of government spying on citizens, but it makes the denouement of the story a lot more convincing.)

    Of course, unlike most of you youngins (e.g. our hostess), I’m so old that I’m writing pretty much from memory about all this stuff.

    1. I thought that scene was pretty well handled, but I also don’t think it’s the kind of thing that Sarah or most of the others is referring to here.

      *Unrelated – I really thought you did a good job describing the data mining methodology in that book.

      1. Thankee, Wayne. Considering that I spent nearly ten years helping design predictive algorithms, my biggest problem was to make the process understandable but also credible. Seems like I succeede with one person, at least.

        1. You’re quite welcome. As a fellow data manipulator, I’m probably more likely to get what you’re saying there, but I felt it was probably an explanation that laymen could at least get a feeling for, even though there is no way you could deliver a full understanding in even a few chapters.

    2. As I said — as long as it advances the plot (Character development should feed the plot at some point) I’m cool with it. It’s the “violates character and not in a good way” or the “WHY are they having sex– there is NO chemistry.” That upset me.

  19. Bad writing is bad writing. Whether it’s gratuitous sex that seems inappropriate at that point in the book, runs contrary to the characterization, attempts to disguise the lack of plot or story, or whatever.

    I like some sex scenes, but there’s got to be whole lot of sexual tension in the run up, and it has to be good writing through out the scene.

  20. You know, it’s odd that the, umm, group I most associate with emotional rather than logical arguments in politics, seems to overlap the group that thinks more emotion-free sex is needed. Not my kind of odd.

  21. I’m going to say something that will blow a *lot* of minds. I occasionally like to read Harlequin Romance novels. . . . They can be a wonderful treatise on real relationships, and sex.
    RES, Okay, we get that you don’t like military fiction. But (DW, the autor you won’t name) uses a lot of “Combat” because it is most definitely part of the plot. IIRC, he’s BTDT, as has David Drake, and a few others. DD comes closest to it, but still stays in the following family. There is “Combat Porn, where the are ‘large number of spear carriers,’ dying all over the place.” Then, there is what a good Mil SF writer writes. Combat is not clean, polite, and bloodless. It is real people, dying, in nasty ways, and “making it clean” *is* porn. I’ve been there when people dies, and when it stops being painful to watch/write about, you’ve stopped being Human.
    Saying, “And then the ship blew up.” is just plain bad writing. You’ve dehumanized the “people” dying, and the whole point. They may be “imaginary,” but their death should still mean something. IMO, Honor Harrington is so successful as a series (and Character) because she *feels* the death of even her opponents. I realized the depth of one person’s lack of imagination, and “honor,” when he took offense to the following statement.
    “If a person on PCP attacks me, I don’t want to have to kill him, but I don’t have a choice.” He actually _believed_ that you could just “wound” the attacker, and that I was “horrible” because I would kill. He actually believed “that I must _like_ to kill.” =8-0 On the contrary, I fear if things fall apart, he will die quickly and messily. I’ve seen death, up close and personal, and I hope I never have to kill. If I do, I will grieve for having to take a Human Life. _But_, I will not hesitate, either. The attacker made the choice, not me. I’ve seen, and felt (as an empath) the cost of pretending that Movie/TV violence is “real.” Knowing death at first hand, and being willing to accept that it means people dying,” make me a better person.I’ve been threatened, not as in “I’m gonna kill you,” but as in *”I’m going to kill you!.”*
    My point to all this is, those are not “disposable spear carriers” (red shirts for ST fans), b ut people just like major characters. Treating them like disposable diapers, _is_ porn, just as loveless, emotionless sex is.
    I can kill, because the cost of NOT doing it, is much worse. I will “pay the price,” so that others don’t have to. When I read Mil SF, I don’t forget that the dead were “Major Characters” in their own stories. I won’t read authors that act as if they are cheap crackers, to be consumed. At least that’s how some published by those OTB (Other Than Baen). The company has stayed pretty true to his policies, which is why I buy more Baen Books than any other publisher.
    BTW, Sarah, you can’t have sex with Jim Baen, he’s been dead for a few years.:-P

    1. To be clear — I thoroughly enjoy mil-SF. But some of it is better done than others and, as noted, I don’t expect my taste to be reflected by everybody. I don’t want to taint anybody’s sales with the dreaded “Not To RES’s Taste” label.”

    2. While I agree with most of what you say, I do have to point out that Weber (who writes an excellent story, by the way) has NOT BTDT, he is not shy about admitting it either. He has stated many times that his military and combat writing is from research, not personal experience.

    3. “I’m going to say something that will blow a *lot* of minds. I occasionally like to read Harlequin Romance novels”

      I tried some, thinking I would learn something about writing romance into stories. What I found was that the straight up romance novels usually had characters so stupid their heads hurt. I HATE stupid main characters with a passion. Also many of the authors made mistakes or state flat out falsehoods on many things not directly related to the romance (guns, cars, laws, animals native to the region, etc.) that were both extremely obvious to me, and easily researchable.

      Some of those labeled Harlequin Intrigue on the other hand were quite good, basically either mystery or suspense (many times those categories are fairly interchangeable) with a healthy dose of romance.

  22. I am reminded of a movie where Sex is in fact a Plot Point: _The Crossing_. General Mercer informs General Washington that one of the British generals is shacking up regularly with a local widow — “fornicating like a 16-year-old”, as Mercer puts it; when asked how this is relevant by Washington, Mercer points out “if [the British General] wasn’t with her, he’d be across the river with his troops” and all over the Continental Army like stink on a corpse.

    I also recall making the mistake of taking a college Writers’ Workshop class (for “breadth requirements”), and getting into a 45-minute ripsnorter argument with one of the other students; he’d included a sexual scene, and then stated without categorization that “every story needs to have sex in it”.

    Besides, now we have The Internet, so we don’t really *need* Porn in books: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-TA57L0kuc …. >:)

    1. You gotta give that other student props — one of the big flaws in The Lord of the Rings” is we don’t get to see Frodo and Gollum getting nasty together. The Frodo/Samwise/Gollum triangle is a classic motivation of their character arcs.

    2. One of my favorite WTF comments someone made on a story I wrote for a Creative Writing class “I really like the father/son dynamic you have going on between the gay couple.” Um…the kid is 14, and the older dude is, in fact, his father, both things I state explicitly you sick freak… Ok, I didn’t actually say that but really?

        1. Are mermaids homosexual, or are they homophobes? Sorry I don’t have enough experience with mermaids (or mermen, for that matter) to understand the correlation.

                1. I was going to point out that the people making such arguments are generally longer than they are wide, but then I realized we’re talking about radical feminists. Spheroid is probably not as poor an approximation as it usually is.

                  “Assuming a spherical feminist uniformly distributed with stupid…”

                  1. If we spin them hard enough can we concentrate the stupid sufficiently to weaponize it?

                    1. You don’t need centrifuges to weaponize stupid. There are rich veins of weapons-grade stupid ready for mining. They’re mostly found in vile progressives. Caution, the environmentalist breed of vile prog holds a stupid that is far too volatile to be used safely.

            1. Ooookaaayyy . . . ::backs away slowly::

              On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 9:49 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

              > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “Apparently mermaids are a symbol for > penises. (!)” >

            2. Sometimes the cigar is just a cigar. Ockham’s Razor therefore insists that it is always just a cigar unless there is evidence to the contrary.

              1. Well, I was killing mermaids and there was a gay character in the story: Tada, homophobic. (This despite the fact that I’ve written stories that couldn’t even vaguely be considered that.)

            3. They’re a symbol for . . . ?!? *looks up at ceiling* Thanks for ruining several sea chanty’s for me, lit crit.

              1. I think that for sailors, the whole point of mermaids was that they were a symbol for the opposite sex’s complementary part.

                (Insert blah blah about water/sea female symbols.)

      1. Heh. I think I have seen something a bit like that, maybe third or fourth hand account, supposedly said as a defense for writing slash fanfic in a case where the characters are brothers (no, I don’t read slash, I very rarely read any fanfic, but I like to read about writing): they love each other so of course they will want to express that by having sex with each other.

        Would that mean that all friends always actually want to have sex, no matter what their sexes and sexual orientations? Parents with children? Grandma with grandson?

        In some way it’s actually a bit amusing, but… Yech.

        1. A lot of that comes from people with seeeerious boundary problems, or too much Freudian psychology mixed with too little sense. (Freud’s personal and professional life explains a lot about what’s wrong with Freud’s theories.)

  23. If you will pardon a gratuitous book pimp (I mean recommendation) try Moriah Jovan’s Dunham series. It starts with Proviso. There is sex, and it is hot sex, but it is not gratuitous. In fact, it’s practically a character in it’s own right. Hell of a good story and an interesting look at the Mormon community in the Kansas City area on top of that. I’ve been a fan of Moriah’s since forever and I think you would like her abilities at a writer and her politics.

  24. [Sex is] a great concept by and large, and it forces even hermits like me who would otherwise live entirely in books into relationships, which in the end make us better persons.

    Funny, it forces people like me to become hermits and live entirely in books. I guess it makes a difference if you’re not required to be ashamed of your sex, huh?

    1. Tom (and Sarah), sex is an excellent concept, period. It’s when we try and execute it that things start falling apart.

    2. This is why one of the hidden purposes of sf conventions is meeting, greeting, and matchmaking among fans. They’re kind of meat-markety right now, but there’s still a fair bit of serious matchmaking.

      Of course, if there’s no local gaming club, sf club, etc. near you, it might be worthwhile trying to start one (or convincing other people to do it), just for social purposes. And if something else comes of it, it’s good. Posting flyers at your local libraries is one traditional way to get things going — even a discussion group can turn into a club or a group of friends.

      1. And yes, I know you’ve got a lot going on and no energy, so you could even just mention it to the librarians over the phone. Librarians are always trying to think of events to hold in those little meeting rooms, at least in my neck of the woods.

      2. Doesn’t have to be local. I met my best beloved at the 2000 WorldCon in Chicago. He lived in AL and I lived in NY. Our mutual friend lived in Atlanta.

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