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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sex is taboo...no one told me.

Okay, so let me know if I’m boring you with the subject, because I could seriously discuss this topic for a while. It’s a fun, and squirm-worthy topic for many reader/writers and one people often avoid. I like to make people uncomfortable, it helps us get to know who they are for real. So get ready to be uncomfortable...well not really, I'm just warning you--we're talking about SEX.
The subject causes me no discomfort, so on we go…
So we’ve all been introduced to sex via books: Health education, people!!! Tab A goes into slot B and the instructor hums and haws, and that’s how babies are produced. Okay, thanks for that helpful insight, man, but what about slots C and D? No, I didn’t ask, but someone should have.
As readers/writers, we’ve all (if we’ve chosen to read/write about sex) have experienced that poor teachers discomfort. As writers, we aren’t trying to explain sex to 30 teens with hormones fluxing all over the place, but we are explaining it to people we don’t know who will inevitably judge us as writers.
The first sex scene I read, had me thinking that Kelley Armstrong had a damn good sex life. By the third sexed up scene in the book I was thinking: nobody’s sex life is that good. So yes, I judged the author and not the characters.
Her novel, Bitten, was the first adult fantasy novel I had ever read, and I really wasn’t expecting to see sex in it. So when I stumbled upon it on like, um…page 60 or so I was shocked.
It was like reaching into a picnic basket for an apple and pulling out a snake. My jaw hit the floor, I closed the book (leaving my finger in it cuz I certainly wasn’t going to let a little sex scare me away from it), I blushed and took a few deep breathes and went back to looking at the snake.
I went and read the scene twice. Once to get over what it was and a second time to analyze it. I need to know why I had to mentally prepare myself to look at the scene. Why I was so shocked to come upon it in a book. It was after all an adult book and I am no nun, I have to children as proof. And still I had to  mentally prepare myself to read about it.
But Why? Sex is the most basic urge humans and animals have. The need to procreate is primal, genetic and the only way any species (aside from a-sexually reproducing protozoa) has to survive. And still we shy away from it.  
Why do we shy away from this subject, in literature and discussion?
Because we are afraid people will judge us, the way I judged Kelley Armstrong. We are afraid people will think that we have done, or wish we could do the things we write about. These fears are legitimate.
Authors  breathe life into our novels by infusing our life into the characters and/or situations? Is this a bad thing?
No. Not even when it comes to Sex. At some point in time our parents had sex and at some point we are all going to venture into those waters. But we don’t discuss it publically and that’s what writing about it is, a public discussion of a taboo subject.
And to that I ask Why? Why is it viewed so differently in Europe than in America?
Even way back when, in Charles Dickens’ day (British author) sex wasn’t so taboo that it didn’t slip into his novels in one form or another.
In Oliver Twist, one of the characters, Charles Bates, often referred to, by one of the many villains in the book—the Jew-yes this was what he was called—as Master Bates. Say it as one word. For those of you who have read the novel, did the name slip past you?  If it did then the connotation of The Jew did as well. He was an older man who preyed on young boys and went so far as to call one Master-Bates. Charles Dickens was a sneaky author. I wonder how many of his readers back when the book was published caught the insinuation that the villain was a homosexual pedophile.
Oh, good question???? An even better one: How many of the people who have read it today or in the past century have missed the name and the connotation? I did upon reading it. My professor pointed it out. He was like that, always pointing out the scandal hidden very well in old literature.
Jane Austen is another example, but for the lack of sex in literature.
You will never find a scene with just one man and one woman together in her novels. There are always three (two women/ one man) or just one, never two of the opposite sex. She didn’t know how to write intimate scenes, or even just one man/one woman conversations because of the society she was raised in.  Her life influenced her writing. Point for me, as I am a believer that an authors life influences their writing whether we admit it or not.
They are both British authors, but had very different upbringing. They lived in different realms and times yet in the same country.
So what does our fears of writing about sex say about us as authors?
That we let Puritanical views that governed the writing of Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens still governs us? That we don’t know how to write intimate scenes because we haven’t experienced them ourselves? That we are afraid our parents will read them and find faults in how they raised us? That we fear our children will read them when they are old enough and judge us, or be totally grossed out by what their parents thought up?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. I just know that sex happens in my books and so what if someone judges me based on it. Hopefully, they read before they judge me or at least take the time to analyze why the sex scene makes them judge me.
My NaNo novel is written in first person from a man’s pov and yes he will be getting it on. Let’s see if sex ed taught me anything.
Happy Reading. Happier Writing. . . sex.
J

20 comments:

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

I used to struggle with curse words, intimate scenes, or anything verging on adult themed, even though those things are very much a part of an adult life. This happened to me because I kept asking myself...

What will my mother think when she reads this?

Because I know she will. Finally, I decided that I had to write the novel I wanted to write, and Mom will love me and be proud of my accomplishment no matter what. :)

Silly, huh?

DominicSFF said...

Hi Jodi. A very thoughtful (and thought provoking) piece. I agree that it is strange to write about a person's emotions, experiences and journey without including this most basic of human activities, although it should be acknowledged that not everyone does experience sex on a regular basis. As to our reaction to a sex scene - why does it require us to gather ourselves, to mentally prepare ourselves? Is it because we are taking a guilty pleasure in it? (Although, are we not, as writers, intending that the reader should take pleasure in our writing?) Where then is the line between honest sex that is necessary to the character and/or plot, and pornography? 'Whoa, hold up there!' you may say 'that's a bit melodramatic!' Well yes, of course it is! But my point is that, if you write well, your reader will be identifying so closely with the MC that they will be drawn into the experience, probably involving a sharply realised secondary character. It is this illicit union that creates the guilty tension, I believe, in those that would not otherwise be involved with another person.
(Doesn't it make me sound dull and boring!)
:D om

Melissa said...

This is thought provoking. I have a lot I need to think about now.

You're right about the judging thing.

Francine said...

Hi,

Great and thought provoking post.

But we know why Dickens was less inhibited than Austen, he lived in a scandalous era of history (Victorian period) when child pornography and child prostitution existed, mens' clubs a place of exchanging information on the latest underage damsel or faggot available wherever, and he was a keen observer of peoples and a man not unfamiliar with aspects of social grace and disgrace!

Austen, on the other hand, was a the daughter of rector (parson/preacher)and she remained a spinster: her romantic experiences vague at best, and I dare say she never experienced a climax! Hence lack of sexual content in her novels.

Sex in a novel doesn't bother me one iota, so long as it's great sex, sensual, and worthwhile: not just slotted in to spice up the story.

I cut my writing teeth on writing erotic romance, and made it to publication despite breaking the rules of no humour, overt romantic element, and even in the BDSM novels I had a mistress and client/lover falling in love: sexual tease the key as opposed to cruel BDSM.

No shame about what I penned! :)

best
F

Jodi Henry said...

Thanks guys for stoping by and commenting.

Steph--not silly at all. There are a lot of people out there that have that same exact thought. Glad you chose to write for you and not someone else. A lot of people chose the opposite and sell themselves short.

Dominic--it doesn't make you sound boring. Some YA I read is all about the tension and not the actual act. Tension is a great thing to have in a novel.


Melissa--glad I got you thinking. Thanks for stoping by.

Francie--I am so glad you commented, as I knew you wrote romance. Thanks for pointing out the huge differences between Austen and Dickens as my post had already gotten so looong, I chose to leave the detailed comparison out. Austen climaxing--too funny.

Re: not slotted to spice up the novel up. I so agree with you on this. I've since read plenty of adult fantasy and some contain sex scenes that are just filler. Totally worthless to the plot.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Yes, Rev. Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, used to take nude pictures of young girls and called it art.

The mind of man is certainly interesting. Thanks for the great comment on my blog today. Didn't mean to mislead you on the subject. I'll make up for it tomorrow,. Roland

Misty Waters said...

I LOVED this post. And when I read your stuff the other day with the sex, I was fanning myself and saying, you GO girl. Get. It. On. My thoughts? You're very brave and it was written SO well. It suited the scene and the character.
I write sex scenes. Is it comfortable? It is NOW, but I also decided that my sex scenes don't need to be as graphic as Kelley Armstrong or Karen Marie Moning (who's just fab). I wrote them seriously graphic to begin with, but it didn't work for me. I guess it's just my preference. If an agent tells me later to sex it up, I'll sex it up. No prob. Anything I can do to get it on the shelves. :)

Elliot Grace said...

...penning intimate moments can be difficult for a reason you touched upon...readers tend to view the writer differently following a sexual encounter. I've found myself doing it, finishing up a nostalgic scene full of heavy breathing and skin, and thinking, "Wow, this writer needs some lovin." As writers we fear being labeled, and graphic sex scenes carry with them the ingredients for culture shock if perceived incorrectly.

This was a great topic. I enjoyed the read:)

Jodi Henry said...

Roland- you didn't mislead, you just drew me in, and accomplished what you were attempting to do. But as I said, even without the grabbing title I would have read your post. Yours are posts I always get to- no matter the chaos that is my life. They are so worth the break.

Misty- already left a comment on your blog. Your awesome. In more ways than I can say. Two kids, a husband and 24K in a weekend. Really, how do you do it? Blog about that, people will read. You inspire all of use multi-taskers.

Elliot- thanks for stoping by. O read your commebnt on Misty's blog. It's nice to know people are reading the side bar. I wasn't sure anyone really would. And you're so right. Perseption is really half the battle as writers. It's hard to find that line between acceptable and the OMG factor.

Thanks again for stoping by again every one.

J

Jodi Henry said...

Oh- bad typing sorry guys. A little too much wine this evening. Forgive me.

gideon 86 said...

Really good post, Jodi.

It really makes you think. The last short story I wrote had suggestive sexual scenes. When I first started to send it out to friends I too, thought, what are they going to think of me? Will they judge me? So, I got over it and sent it for them to read.

Needless to say, they like what I wrote and told me it was some of my best writing... go figure.

Michael

Jodi Henry said...

Michael-- it's true that some of the toughest thing to write are often the most honest pieces we produce and the most well recieved. Thanks for stoping by again.

J

Jennifer Hillier said...

It's funny, I don't feel embarrassment writing my own sex scenes, but I'll giggle through somebody else's! So I suppose on some level I must be assuming that the writer has experienced the act she's writing about, though as fiction writers we know that's not always the case.

Man, I would hate for people to think I went through what my character went through in bed... that would be awkward! :)

Rachael Harrie said...

Tee hee Jodi, you had me at "sex"!!! LOL

Great post, I really enjoyed reading this. I can't help but see parallels to my own writing, though in my case it's not sex scenes so much as violence (YA Horror writer speaking) ;) I'll admit to feeling a touch of nervousness when I gave my first draft to my parents to read, with so many graphic descriptions of people dying in the MS!

Rach

Terry Stonecrop said...

Sex is easy to do, not so easy to write.

It runs the danger of, she did this to him and he did that to her, and before you know it, it sounds like a tennis match.

I'm not embarrassed to write sex. I even posted a sex scene on my blog, which I keep meaning to edit, but I do tend to cut it off just before the real action begins. I think the build up to sex is more important than the sex itself.

I love your blog and great post! Thanks for stopping by and for the follow. I'll be following you, too.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Personally, I went on a romance novel binge a couple years back and LOVED the feelings of passion and romance some of the authors were able to evoke through their sex scenes. They were totally necessary. I agree we don't talk about it that much. Its strange that way- sex isn't something I like to discuss with other people one on one. But I have no problem sitting through a sex scene in a movie or reading one in a book. hmn...

Quinn said...

Loved your post. I read it this morning and was actually going to do a sex post myself. I may still do one, I just have to decide what I want to say ... you've covered so much.

It's funny how we equate the sex characters have in books with their author. I've done it too.

I often wonder why sex is view so differently throughout the world. America really is kinda prudish when it comes to sex.

I've written sex scenes and plan to write more. My mom has read both of the books I've written, but I was never really worried about her reading those scenes. I don't thrown in sex just for the sack of it. It's in there because it's important to the story and the character. It has to be. My mom didn't have any probelms with those scenes. In fact, she made a comment about one of the scenes and I stole it to put in another character's dialogue for the next chapter.

Great post!

Donna Hole said...

I know what you mean. I write sex in my trilogy, and when people read it the first thing they say to me is Wow, you must have an exciting sex life.

Truth is I'm a bit of a prude.

I'm always worried that the sex scenes is the only thing people will remember about the story.

A touchy subject, but you wrote on this topic well.

I loved how you wove the sexual tension into your sidebar excerpt. Poor dude has a lot going on emotionally, and physically. Very intriguing.

......dhole

DL Hammons said...

Of course I had to run right over here when you metioned your post discussing SEX. :) This was very open, honest, and interesting reading! SEX is THE most intimate connection between two people, but that doesn't fully explain our reluctance to talk about it frankly, or why we look around the room to see if anybody is watching us when we read juicy passages.

Thanks for stirring up those brainwaves for me this morning! :)

Jodi Henry said...

Jennifer-already comment back on your blog. thanks for stoping by again.

Rachael-I agree with the pralells in writing as I am now writing a novel with a lot of drug use in it I find myself wondering if people will think: OMG how does she think of this.

Terry-I agree writing sex can become too mechanical at times. It's hard to stay away from that.

Creepy-It feels weird replying to creepy, but i don't know your name lol. Those type of scenes when used in the right places really do evoke things in the readers.

Quinn-already replied to you, but thanks again from commenting.

Donna-the sidebar was so intentionally put up to go with this post. Tehehe. Glad you noticed and thanks for stoping by again. And I am one of those people that do remember sex scenes, like to the page number, lol. but they aren't all I remember of the stories.

DL- Thanks for stoping by. And you are so right about looking around to see if people are watching. I've done it Starbucks before when i've come upon an unxpected sex scene and had to look at the cover. Then it all made sense. LOL I forgot to follow you after commenting, so I went and did it well, a day or so ago.