Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

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Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Margo » 07 Mar 2011, 15:09

I'm putting this in Books rather than Writing topics (although it could get moved by TPB, which is fine) because I want to ask about our reading preferences rather than our writing habits or preferences. Here's my question:

What is your preference regarding sex in fiction (erotica as a genre excepted)? None, no way, in any form ever? Do you prefer fade-to-black scenes? Moderate detail with no hardcore language? Erotic-level sex but with the focus elsewhere (for instance a paranormal with erotic context rather than erotica with paranormal context)? Does it differ depending on what genre you are reading? For instance, do you prefer limited sexual contact (vaguely mentioned makeout sessions) in YA but moderate sensuality with soft language for historial romance? No sex in thrillers but harder erotic content in bodice rippers? Whatever your preference, please note the genres you read most often.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby abc » 07 Mar 2011, 16:45

Interesting question. I haven't given this a lot of thought. My initial feeling is that it has to feel right within the context of the story. If I'm needing to be sucked into the romance--than it ought to feel more romantic. YA: perhaps more of the lusty feelings of adolescence and yearning. I don't read erotica or romance, so I can't really speak to that, but if there is a sex scene in a book I'm not looking to get turned on but further drawn into whatever the character's experience is.

Last sex scenes I can remember reading are the ones in Franzen's Freedom. Those were pretty descriptive without being exactly hardcore. They were all kinds of funny and sad and wild--expressing perfectly how the character experienced it as well as developing the story.

I can't imagine being put off or disturbed unless I should be because the author has that intention. But that's ok, too, I'm expecting to be moved somehow. I feel like I'm a grown-up; I can handle most things. Unless it is misogynistic for the point of being misogynistic. Then I get pissed.

Sorry if I didn't really answer the question.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Margo » 07 Mar 2011, 17:01

abc wrote:Sorry if I didn't really answer the question.


I'd say it did. So basically, you're open to varying levels of sensuality, provided it's not just about the sex but about developing the characters and/or story and about drawing you further into the story rather than just trying to titillate. And provided it's not an expression of deep misogyny. Am I right in that interpretation?
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Sommer Leigh » 07 Mar 2011, 17:54

Steamy question for a Monday, Margo!

Well, most of my reading falls into two categories:

1: classics which contain very little on-screen sex scenes except for the British gothics and even then the sensuality and sexuality is almost entirely in the heroine's mind
2: YA which is hit or miss. Most YA have sensuality but not sex. Heavy petting and super make-outs but nothing dirty and definitely nothing graphic. A few books whose premise have sexuality at the core of the story, like Kody Keplinger's The DUFF (which I loved, for the record) tread in such a way that there is sex and there's some details but done in such a way that it doesn't so much fade to black as it lets the reader fill in the gaps. I don't mind sex in YA but I find it to be eye-rolling if it is gratuitous and out of character. I've never read a YA that I thought went over the line. Holly Black's book Ironside is the only book that comes to mind where I felt uncomfortable reading the sex scene, but not because I was uncomfortable with the way it was written but because it was written specifically to make the reader uncomfortable. It was not supposed to be sensual. It worked.


Honestly, when it fits the story, the characters, and the natural progression, I kind of don't even notice it.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby abc » 07 Mar 2011, 18:17

Margo--right on!
And I like what Sommer says, too. I should read more sexy stuff, I think. Why don't I?
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Collectonian » 07 Mar 2011, 18:38

I primarily read manga, romance, romantic suspense, and a random mix of young adult and other stuff. For me, I'm fine with sex in fiction, at pretty much any level. For the romance and romantic suspense stuff I read, I've seen fade to black, which I really only like if done well or it is clearly a sweet romance. Its also fine if the couple has already had their "first" round, which is often important for character/story progress, but subsequent ones just keep it in mind that they are having a healthy relationship. Most of what I read has explicit scenes, but do not use particularly graphic language (and rarely even use technical terms except, oddly enough, when referring to some bad guy). I've also read stuff that borders on erotica with much harder language. In most cases, I thought were fine so long as the language choice and detail was in keeping with the story. For non-romance, same thing. If I'm reading a thriller or horror, I generally don't expect a fru-fru sweet sex scene to pop up. I'd expect any sex scenes to use a harsher language, snappier sentences.

I think the main thing for me is that it should fit with the story, and not be gratuitous, which goes along with violence and almost anything else. The same would apply to young adult, though I don't think I've read any that didn't do the fade to black except the one I'm writing :-P

My only real pet peeve with sex in fiction is the infamous purple/flowery prose (sex scenes should not make me laugh from wording choice!). I also get annoyed blatant BS. I know its fantasy and all, but seriously most women do not reach happyland with just a heated look and a quick touch, and most guys 35+ cannot physically go 3 rounds in one night! If I want completely unrealistic, I'll read erotica or watch porn. :-P Alas, this one is so common, I just live with it and usually start skimming the scenes if the author pulls it as it is boring when your brain goes "yeah right" every other sentence :-P
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby abc » 07 Mar 2011, 20:14

My only real pet peeve with sex in fiction is the infamous purple/flowery prose (sex scenes should not make me laugh from wording choice!). I also get annoyed blatant BS. I know its fantasy and all, but seriously most women do not reach happyland with just a heated look and a quick touch


Totally agree with this! I get frustrated with movies (and TV) a lot for this reason. Writers and directors (mostly men, I presume) must be having a lot of sex where women are faking.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby polymath » 07 Mar 2011, 21:16

If including or excluding graphic violence or sex negatively or positively impacts the participation mystique are my criteria for whether they're artfully contributory. I read all the genres.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby CharleeVale » 08 Mar 2011, 11:50

I prefer not truly graphic, but even that didn't bother me in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books. It really depends on the book for me, and whether it fits the characters. If it's in there for shock value, I'm pretty much not interested.

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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Claudie » 08 Mar 2011, 12:36

I'm rather open about sex scenes in novel, but I do believe that if you're to be graphic, there should be a point. This is true for everything in the book. If you go into details, make sure you know what your purpose is. Readers will pick on pointless graphic sex and violence even more quickly than on other needless detailings, however.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Margo » 08 Mar 2011, 14:40

I'm seeing a theme in response, and I'm very surprised. Pleasantly surprised.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Beethovenfan » 10 Mar 2011, 19:49

I read historical fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi the most. Some YA. When it comes to sex in a story, like others have already said, it has to be purposful, not gratuitous. But (and call me old fashioned) I get more out of it when the actual sex is down-played and the build up to the sex is expounded. For me, if there is going to be any sex, there had better be some romance first, otherwise it feels like the author just threw it in there because they needed an exciting scene. I hate that. If they need an exciting scene, then they should go back and do some rewriting until the story can stand on its own.

I'm seeing a theme in response, and I'm very surprised. Pleasantly surprised.


So Margo, I find myself wondering why you asked the question if the answers have left you "pleasantly surprised." I'd like to know why you asked. Why are you pleasantly surprised?
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Margo » 11 Mar 2011, 20:47

Beethovenfan wrote:So Margo, I find myself wondering why you asked the question if the answers have left you "pleasantly surprised." I'd like to know why you asked. Why are you pleasantly surprised?


I began to wonder about this when I noticed a blog discussion about how 'people' prefer fade to black sex scenes. That isn't my experience so I thought I'd ask here. I'm pleasantly surprised because I expected a range of absolutes similar to the range of genre bias. 'I would never read a romance/fantasy/thriller/YA/western/whatever.' 'I would never read a book with sex in it.' 'I won't read a sweet romance with no sex.' 'I only read sci-fi/literary/mystery/etc.' I found it refreshing that the preference was about execution and context rather than a blanket absolute of never or always or only this degree or that degree.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby Beethovenfan » 12 Mar 2011, 10:26

I began to wonder about this when I noticed a blog discussion about how 'people' prefer fade to black sex scenes. That isn't my experience so I thought I'd ask here. I'm pleasantly surprised because I expected a range of absolutes similar to the range of genre bias. 'I would never read a romance/fantasy/thriller/YA/western/whatever.' 'I would never read a book with sex in it.' 'I won't read a sweet romance with no sex.' 'I only read sci-fi/literary/mystery/etc.' I found it refreshing that the preference was about execution and context rather than a blanket absolute of never or always or only this degree or that degree.


I think that's one of the reasons I like Nathan's blog so much. It seems to have attracted a fairly open-minded following. Most of the people on here are not so black and white in their thinking, but can see various shade of gray in-between.
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Re: Reader Poll: Sex in Fiction

Postby cheekychook » 12 Mar 2011, 20:56

I can't believe there's been a thread about sex for almost a week and I didn't know. That shows me what a hectic week I've had. (And thanks, Nathan, for listing it in your This Week in Books Post so I didn't miss it entirely!)

So now, about the sex...

I'm going to agree with what seems to be the common opinion listed here so far---I'm okay with pretty much any heat level as long as the sex scene serves a purpose other than just being "the sex scene." Ideally a sex scene should add a level of intimacy not only between the characters, but between the reader and the characters. It should showcase personalities, emotions, relationship dynamics, etc. as much as (or more than) other scenes.

How graphic/explicit it gets is another matter. I've read and loved books that range from sweet to eye-popping---as long as it suits the rest of the story I'm usually fine with it. Usually. That said, one of my biggest pet peeves is books that go through mind-boggling detail bringing you through all the stages of courtship/yearning/lust, letting you feel every moment of sexual tension and build-up, draw you right to the moment when the characters finally.... And then suddenly it's the next morning and all you got was the insinuation. Or worse yet, an interjection of some lame comment like "people always try to describe how wonderful it is when it finally happens and all I can say is IT WAS."

Gahhhhhhhh!

I HATE THAT. Hate it. Despise it. Loathe it. Me no likey.

I understand that some authors are not comfortable writing sex scenes. I get that. (I'm not one of those authors, but I get it.) But I don't understand bringing people to the agonizing brink and then leaving them hanging. And, for those who will argue that that happens a lot in YA books, but it's "good" when it happens there, I'll even take issue with that. First of all, I grew up reading Judy Blume books. Hell, I learned about sex from them. And that was a long time ago. There's no way that today's kids are less ready for or less in need of frank, realistic mention of sex in their reading material.

The beauty of the Blume stuff was that sometimes I didn't understand what she was talking about the first time I read it, or I didn't notice it, but when it became more relevant (to me, or I was ready to "see" it) it suddenly made sense in retrospect. I don't think YA should serve as a how-to guide, but I think it can have a really negative impact on young readers to take them through an accurate, angsty, love story/courtship then have a fade to black right when they get to the important part.

The same way kids learn about dealing with divorce, or dealing with a friend's suicide, or handling any other YA issues from reading YA lit I think it's important that the entire sex experience be dealt with in their books. When real life kids are making out in the back of a car they don't just wake up the next morning with a fond or not so fond memory---the stuff between the OMG-this-is-gonna-happen moment and the next morning is important and relevant if it's a story that addresses sex and the lead up to sex. IMO.

I just need to add that it was a discussion about sex in fiction, in particular the topic of how to warn your betas that your WIP contains sex scenes, which was started on these very forum pages, that led me to my fantabulous critique partner a year ago. Although we write at slightly different heat levels, our views on sex in fiction are extremely compatible and that has worked out wonderfully in terms of our working together as writers. It's also good because we're never, ever offended by each other's pervy sense of humor, which is really just a perk. :)

So proud of myself for making it through this entire post with no intentional or noted double entendres and not a single "that's what she said." I think I deserve a cookie.
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