What’s the purpose of sex?

In fiction, I mean.  In real life I think I’ve figured out most of the basics.

However, I have been thinking about sex scenes in books and movies and TV shows, and I have been wondering what purpose, in a narrative sense, sex scenes have.

Granted, part of this is my own personal tastes–as I have stated elsewhere, I really don’t care for such scenes.  I can understand when a work is largely intended to arouse the reader, and I think that’s a perfectly valid use of media.  There are some very fine writers who create Erotic Romance novels and a strong market for them.

However, when I am reading a thriller or a science fiction novel and the characters start ditching their clothes, my first reaction is that of the kid in The Princess Bride–“Wait!  Is this a kissing book?”

It seems to me that sometimes the author is using sex as a shorthand for an emotional connection between characters–since the renegade spy and the laser scientist had sex in chapter two, that explains why they risk their lives for each other in chapter eight.  I don’t know, maybe I just don’t have enough experience having sex with virtual strangers in cheap hotel rooms while government agents are  trying to kill me to relate.

It just seems to me that there are better and less cliched ways to involve the reader in the emotional connection between characters than by describing them rubbing naughty bits.  I can honestly say that I haven’t watched any of the couples I know doing the nasty, but I still know that they care for each other.

In Catskinner’s Book, I do include what one of my reviewers called “strange sex-like moments” (one of my favorite phrases from a review, actually).  There’s the scene where James and Godiva are alone in a motel room and she comes to him, and then the scene the next day where he sees her naked in the shower and first learns that she’s not an ordinary girl.  No actual sex takes place in either scene, and my intent was not to arouse the reader, but to show different facets of just how different James and Godiva are from other people.

For me, the scene that builds an emotional connection between James and Godiva is when the two of them meet Alice in the coffee shop and she accepts them as a couple, and it’s far more important to James psychologically than what happens behind closed doors.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense–maybe I’m just a prude.  I honestly believe, though, that even in a sexual relationship what is vital is not the (relatively) short periods of time when the characters are putting this into that and moving it about, but the way the characters see each other and react to each other when that isn’t happening.

True, that’s a lot harder to write, which is part of my objection to sex scenes–they strike me as lazy.  As I said above, it’s a shorthand, and I think it’s become the 21st Century equivalent of “meet cute”. It doesn’t really tell me anything about why the people, as people, care about each other beyond a passing interest in a taut torso and big blue eyes.

My thoughts on the matter.

In other news, this weekend I intend to write up my guest posts for Dave Higgins, Robin Tidwell, and Michelle Proulx and have them sent out.  I’ve also been working on ideas for my signed book giveaway–I think I’m going to print out the names of everyone who enters and give the paper to my cats–the last five names to remain legible will receive the copies.   Stay tuned for more information.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to What’s the purpose of sex?

  1. In some of my writings, when with co writers, there are sex scenes at times, but when I write on my own, for side stories, I tend to make a parody about sexual relationships. I have one character, who is a Swedish porn starlet, and she gets less sex than some of my other characters.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I think there are definitely times when sex is an important part of a story, I just think too often it’s thrown in for no good reason.

      • I have to agree with you there, and I have seen it all too often myself. Sex for the sake of it. I totally get where your blog is coming from. Sex is just a part of my stories, but if I can get a laugh from it…all the more fun for me. ❤

  2. Dave Higgins says:

    Using your cats to whittle down the list is an excellent idea (and a good way to entertain them).

    Being picky, my surname has an “i” not an “e”.

  3. lly1205 says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, and I think that so far I have managed not to trangress!


  4. J.A. Romano says:

    Definitely agree. It strikes me as lazy, as well. Good post.

  5. I don’t think sex scenes are inherently lazy writing in non-romance type situations, but I do think they’re often used in the same way that said scenes (and gore/violence too!) are used in movies and TV shows: shorthand, filler, titillation in lieu of actually engaging plot movement or character development. I firmly believe that you can make any type of scene (sexy or otherwise) into something that truly moves the story forward, but that’s challenging. I love it when authors rise to the challenge! (Even if there are many who struggle to do so.)

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  6. fortyoneteen says:

    This one book I read seemed to me to be simply based on a family, and the life that happens in and around said family. When I got to the back cover I saw it had been slid into the romance genre. Huh? Was my reaction. There is a huge difference between erotic and intimate. Intimate moments can and do happen at any time, and not always in the bedroom. I really enjoyed this post Misha, especially your choice of language… putting this into that… my favourite!

  7. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way…

    well said. :0)

  8. Pingback: What’s the purpose of sex? | mishaburnett | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  9. I agree with what you say about sex in books. Much of my stuff has a fair bit of sex in it, I think because it reflects what I focus on in life (not that I think about sex all the time, but I am a pretty sexual person). However, I think it’s terribly boring when one perfect body meets another perfect body and they have cardboard cutout sex. Something I’ve been noticing in my current night-time relaxation hobby, True Blood (I’m watching this but assume the book must be similar) is that people go straight from ‘I fancy you, you’re cute’ to full on bonking, in a way that I can’t believe people do in real life (do they?). Anyway.

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