Love Without Sex?

Today Ionia Martin of Readful Things asked the question in her blog, “Is sex always about love?”

It’s a good question and has generated a lot of good discussion, however, I’d like talk about writing characters who love each other in non-sexual relationships.

There are several such relationships that are very important to Cannibal Hearts. In fact, different types of physicality in emotional relationships is one of the main themes.

It seems to me that writers often use sex as a shorthand way to get around the very difficult task of showing love.  I’ve written about this before, I know.  Maybe it’s because I don’t care for sex scenes in books and movies, and I tend to skip over them.

It may also be that most of the really important relationships in my own life have been non-sexual ones.  I have had absurdly few lifetime sexual contacts for a 21st Century American, but that hasn’t kept me from loving a lot of people very deeply.

I’d like to pose some questions about love and sex in fiction for discussion.

  1. When you read a novel that contains a strong male and a strong female lead, do you expect them to have sex at some point?  Do you feel cheated if they don’t?
  2. Do you view relationships that do not have a sexual component as being less important to the characters as relationships which do include sex?
  3. Does a relationship with an unrequited sexual attraction–one character wants the other sexually, and the other doesn’t feel the same about the first–strike you as touching, or creepy?
  4. Are there non-sexual behaviors that imply to you that characters are having sex “off-screen”?  If one character opens a door or holds a chair for another, do you assume that they are lovers?
  5. Do you expect homosexual characters to be more promiscuous than heterosexual ones?
  6. If a male heterosexual character has a male homosexual friend, does that set up an expectation in your mind that the two will have sex at some point? What about a female  heterosexual character with a female homosexual friend?
  7. Does the genre of the work in question change your expectations?
  8. A massive erection!

    A massive erection!

Is this a huge catsup bottle or what?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would be very interested in discussion on any or all of these points.

 

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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 Cannibal Hearts, On Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Love Without Sex?

  1. Great post.

    1. I don’t always expect strong characters of opposing genders to hook up. Maybe this is because it didn’t happen in my own book, but I think that type of story is weakened if done every single time.
    2. I think non-sex relationships in stories are more important. These are the relations that will carry a character through major obstacles that are both physical and emotional. The sex relationships tend to be used more as weaknesses.
    3. Depends on how it’s done. If it goes into stalker levels then it’s creepy. If it doesn’t get that far then it’s usually rather sad and, at times, heartbreaking.
    4. I only assume if there’s thick innuendo between the characters. Even then, I never pretend to know what the author has planned.
    5. No, but I do see authors making homosexual characters more promiscuous. It’s almost like these authors have to use sex to drive home the fact that a character is gay. They aren’t happy with simply stating it and having the character flirt. Almost like a homosexual character has no self-control.
    6. No. They can just be friends.
    7. Genre does change things. I would think differently about a character relationship in a romance than I would in a fantasy. Romance is more likely to have sex than fantasy.
    8. It certainly is.

  2. Green Embers says:

    I feel like you do for the most part. I tend to skip the sex scenes in books and movies. I don’t feel they really add anything. There is one exception where I think it really worked though, is in Pillars of the Earth. It is one of the few sex scenes that I felt was necessary to show how one particular character was evolving. I don’t think it could work any other way. Most of the time though I feel they are unnecessary.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I do have one sex scene in Cannibal Hearts, and I struggled long and hard with writing it. I do believe that it is necessary to show the relationship between the characters in order to set up what follows.

      I have not read The Pillars Of The Earth, but I have heard good things about it. (Mostly from my mother, actually, so I assume the sex scene isn’t too raunchy.)

  3. ioniamartin says:

    Reblogged this on readful things blog and commented:
    This was better than my post. I don’t say that very often.

  4. ioniamartin says:

    I must answer them all. Excellent questions. You should make each of these a series of blog posts, truly they are worthy.

    1.I do actually expect them to, but this is not from my own desire to see it happen. I think it is more because the authors tend to bugger off in this direction in most books and so I have a preconceived notion it will happen. I am usually happy when it doesn’t.

    2. Absolutely not. If I feel that the characters have a much deeper understanding of one another rather than simple, carnal passions I am more likely to respect them.

    3. I think it depends on the situation. If they are stalker creepy and can’t take no for an answer then I suppose it would bother me. If they are just in love with someone and the feelings are not returned, then i think that is just an adequate display of a realistic situation.

    4. I have never taken the time to think about this, so i am very happy that you asked. I think yes, i should think that if i see a lot of touching going on or a lot of romantic gestures I might get the opinion that there is something going on. My culture is slightly different though. British people do tend to be a bit more reserved about public affection and so my viewpoint may be skewed.

    5. I do not have a notion one way or the other. Love is love in my opinion and always will be. So I would feel the same about it regardless of gender.

    6. Absolutely not. If I see a young woman talking to an old man does that mean she is shagging him? It is not so different really. Bloody hell you are making me think, Misha.

    7. Conclusively. If I am reading an erotic romance (which I rarely do but still) the I would say I expect there had better be some sex. it surprises me though in YA books and some of the thrillers.
    8. I believe that is a catsup rocket. I want to see the chip that goes with that.

    Goofball.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I had not even considered differences in cultural background, but that is important. I have a male friend from the Florida panhandle who frequently calls other men “honey” or “baby”, and I thought for a long time that he was flirting with me, until I realized that those terms are just part of his cultural vocabulary and don’t necessarily mean anything.

      • ioniamartin says:

        Exactly. I have honestly gotten myself into a lot of trouble since the great move to America. One of the stock phrases I use all the time, for both men and women is “I adore you.” I also end sentences with “Love” as in, Good job, love. This has been misconstrued a million times, but it is so ingrained into me I just can’t stop doing it.

        I think for the more affectionate cultures, a simple pat on the back or arm around a shoulder would be no big deal, but for others, it could easily allow them to read something more into it.

        Also, so happy we have begun talking, you make me think about things in ways that I have not before, so thank you.

  5. lala1966 says:

    I think that a non-sexual relationship can make a story more interesting. Much can be accomplished with having a hint of friction in that relationship that is never resolved. Sometimes expecting a certain outcome and getting it takes away from the story.

  6. l0rdraven says:

    When you read a novel that contains a strong male and a strong female lead, do you expect them to have sex at some point? Do you feel cheated if they don’t? I would say that depends on what kind of book it really is. If its a romantic or sexual based book I would say yes but there are several great works that show a deep love with no sex at all. As for do I feel cheated, no. If the story is good sex is not really important, if the book is bad I probably wont even make it to the first scene.

    Do you view relationships that do not have a sexual component as being less important to the characters as relationships which do include sex? The sexual component is a sugar to entice the sexual charged society to keep reading, I feel a relationship that is based on the deeper aspects of life and relationship makes for a much better read.

    Does a relationship with an unrequited sexual attraction–one character wants the other sexually, and the other doesn’t feel the same about the first–strike you as touching, or creepy? It would depend on how it is portrayed. if he is a stalker type then yes it is creepy but if it is presents or action that go reciprocated then it is touching.

    Are there non-sexual behaviors that imply to you that characters are having sex “off-screen”? If one character opens a door or holds a chair for another, do you assume that they are lovers? The cardinal rule in my life is never assume anything. Even if I am reading I don’t assume they had sex unless it is brought up in the pages somewhere. Holding doors and things like that is just a way of being polite or showing affection.

    Do you expect homosexual characters to be more promiscuous than heterosexual ones? Not at all. I have a homosexual couple that are dear friends and have been monogamous for 16 years. People are monogamous or not themselves, orientation has nothing to do with it.

    If a male heterosexual character has a male homosexual friend, does that set up an expectation in your mind that the two will have sex at some point? What about a female heterosexual character with a female homosexual friend? No, again it is personality not orientation.

    Does the genre of the work in question change your expectations? Yes my expectation changes by the genre, I wouldn’t expect a romance novel to be nonsexual.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. Now I think I’m going to write a non-sexual romance. Or, maybe an erotic romance in which the characters never actually have sex with each other, they just keep ratcheting up the sexual tension and then the book ends just before they go to bed together for the first time.

      I am a bad man.

  7. #4 makes me wonder since I hold the door open for everyone I can- from little old ladies to men with seeing-eye dogs. maybe that means I want to have sex with seeing eye dogs? Come on, that is utterly ridiculous.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Yeah, that’s probably not the best example I could have chosen. I suppose what I am asking is are there things that you, as a reader, would assume that someone would do only for a lover?

      • Unfortunately, figuring out people is like closing your eyes and digging a hand into a can of mixed nuts- in every handful you don’t know what to expect. anymore.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        And that’s another issue–what one person sees as basic politeness another will view as a romantic advance. I’ve had that problem myself, like you I am in the habit of holding doors and such, and I don’t mean anything by it, but I have been accused of making a pass when I thought I was just being polite.

  8. kingmidget says:

    I’m not going to try to answer each of your questions, but relate a real life concept. When the issue of whether or not to have sex with a new boyfriend/girlfriend, my advice is always this: don’t forget, as soon as you do, everything … everything … will change. That should go with fiction as well. And the reality is that sex, while it should be a much deeper and real thing, actually ends up keeping readers and real people in the shallow end. Like you said — the non-sexual relationships are much deeper and as a writer you actually have to come up with a real reason for those two characters to love each other. Much more difficult to do if you can’t just describe the sex.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      You bring up a good point, writers seldom seem to be able to capture how a sexual encounter will change a relationship. I think that may be part of what makes sex scenes in novels fail to hold my interest–it doesn’t seem to mean anything to the characters. But it does mean something to real people, and what’s more, it doesn’t always mean the same thing to all the people involved.

  9. sknicholls says:

    1. No, not at all.
    2. No I don’t.
    3. Neither, it makes me kind of sad for both of them. Unless one is really persistent and the other is being harassed…then it’s creepy.
    4.Sometimes in the right context.
    5. Never, none of my gay friends are promiscuous.
    6. No and no.
    7. Definitely!
    8. That is an extremely phallic catsup bottle.
    I would elaborate on my responses but it is very late (or very early), and I really only wanted to comment on the catsup bottle.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It would have been okay to just comment on the catsup bottle, actually. It is quite phallic, which is why I thought it fitting for this post. Plus I had just been there yesterday.

  10. I enjoyed your observations and they have answered a nagging issue I’ve been having regarding the characters in a novella I’m working on. I think I may have cemented my decisions based on this post and your observations so I thank you 😉

    And I would much prefer an equally large mayo jar with my fries :p

  11. mrsgillies says:

    I like this post! Why do characters have to have sex? I never feel cheated if they don’t.

  12. Pingback: My Top 13 Posts Of 2013 | mishaburnett

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