Sex … In or Out?

You’ve written a great story. Do you need sex amidst the guns, fighting and mayhem, the psychological trauma and mystery, or the tenderness and promises?

When I say ‘do you need sex’ I’m obviously referring to the requirements of the story—not your personal urges. I digress … .

This blog post was born from the need to offer my opinion on a regular comment I see on social media, and if we’re all honest, it’s getting a bit tedious. The comment usually follows similar lines to: ‘… and when I reach a sex scene I move on …’

There is usually a bit more to it, but in essence, we have two main areas to address.

Question 1 – Is the reader a prude, or simply someone who knows when a sex scene could have been done more tastefully—if it were needed at all?

Question 2 – Did the author make a mistake by getting carried away, drifting from the primary genre, thus adversely affecting the plot of the story?

The answer to Question 1 is not as simple as it sounds. For some readers, if an author goes beyond: ‘… she stood with her back to the door and raised an eyebrow …’ it’s too much. For others, it’s frustratingly brief, and they want to at least know if one person is wearing matching underwear and if the other person is wearing underwear at all.

Now, Question 2 throws up a whole new dilemma. As authors, it is not simply a personal choice, but in my (humble) opinion, it is our duty to remain true to our craft. No, I’m not getting high and mighty because I’ve written more than two books—I’m simply telling it like it is. The reputation of indie authors is being destroyed from within by some people with low standards. Those of us who work long hard hours and go beyond the first draft must persevere to produce the best we can.

You cannot refer to yourself in your branding or promotional material (of whatever level) as a thriller writer if you have the main character kill someone and then for the rest of the book he/she beds every other person in the ‘adventure’. You can dress it up, or undress it if you wish, but one of the aims of any author should be to focus on the job—in this case, a good story based on the primary genre.

I write a wide variety of genre and among them is erotica. I may allow a kiss or a caress—even partial undressing in some stories but graphic, no-holds-barred sexual activity is kept for my erotica.

If an author writes thrillers, westerns, sci-fi or other genres there ought to be sufficient time invested in character development, dialogue, imagery, pace and the accurate choreography of action. Any mention of sex will usually be incidental, except, of course, for romance, some paranormal and fantasy where it may go further.

An author who writes erotica is not out to shock—they are aiming to indulge their readers in the type of material they sought. This is not to say that character development and those other ingredients I mentioned earlier are not required in erotica—they are just as important. The erotica author must avoid sex becoming the ‘story’; an opportunity to be self-indulgent with repetitive and meaningless scenes of gratuitous carnal jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery).

In my ‘mainstream’ genres, there may be terms of endearment, a kiss or an embrace but they are strategically placed. Occasionally, in my erotica, there is less need for such romantic overtures, activity or subtlety. The characters might be more interested in mutual physical gratification than an emotional rollercoaster ride but there will still be character development and the activities are created with a purpose. It depends on the story.

I believe the author should strive to be faithful to the principle genre and whatever extended subjects it entails whether it be an action-packed or psychological plot, and plot or character-driven.

If you’d like to see ‘erotica’ as it once was, read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Like most other genres, erotica has moved on and readers are no longer satisfied with what was once considered shocking—people want to envisage themselves in scenes which will (in most cases) forever be a fantasy. With the greatest respect D.H.Lawrence, move over my friend.

I’m a great believer in the use of metaphor if it spells something out clearly. I’ll summarise with two questions to authors who are trying to work out if sex ought to be highlighted in a story?

Would you wear flip-flops and boxing gloves to run a marathon, or perhaps mask, snorkel and flippers to ride a bicycle?

Let’s be honest—if it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t belong.

Thank you for reading, and any comments.

22 thoughts on “Sex … In or Out?

  1. Spot on Tom. Not sure if the ‘in or out’ in your question was tongue and cheek .. and there in no double entendre in my question 🤔 I do agree. There is a time and place for sex scenes in books or as I used to say when I was a young man, if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the place😂 Ok joking aside .. Sex scenes can ruin a good book if thrown without purpose. They rarely work unless as you say they are genre appropriate. Great piece as always.. but I’m self editing everything I type here for double meanings, so I’ll leave it at that ☘️🎈

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patrick, and I hear you. In my younger days, which I can almost remember, I used to say, ‘if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the place and the inclination.’
      For a while I did try, ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing in a cheap pickup joint like this?’ but that never really hit the mark. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patrick, did you self-edit enough?

    Seriously, as a romance writer, I can see the trap when it comes to a thriller, BUT if sex is the driving force behind the crimes, and with murder it’s usually sex, money, or both, then showing it, to a moderate degree, becomes necessary.

    I may be on my own with my next observation – Tom will doubtless use a red pen when he beta reads – but I think there’s a reason to “indulge” in short “normal” sex scenes. It shows as much about a character as the make and colour of his or her car.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, sex is a normal part of life, so I don’t understand the reticence. And how a couple deals with sex tells you a great deal about their relationship and can be an insight, especially in a psychological thriller or a romance.
      It needs to be well written, we’ve all read the bad ones – no one wants their badly written sex scene trending on twitter! Lol.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’d better make sure I don’t post any 2-star Readers’ Favorite reviews on twitter by accident!

        I’m not sure they’d “trend”, but they’d get me sued, or possibly murdered. Now there’s an idea for a thriller… though D Trump is still alive.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Again, Lisa, as I said to Sarah, if character development is affected, then the sex scenes need to be more than a nod and a wink. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Correct, Sarah. To allude to a sex scene in some cases isn’t enough. If the story requires that the character is developed in relation to such activities they should be expanded.
      For example, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say ‘he went for a run’, if what he was actually doing was taking part in his first marathon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my case, or rather DCI Persaud’s case, he has a wife he loves and children. It causes problems when a murder suspect is a family man too, and I need the reader to see both sides of the story.


  3. My characters and the plot dictate how much if any. I have some ‘clean’ reads out there and some that get into detail. I’ve caught a little flack from some readers. I try hard to stay true to the story and the characters in the story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Cherime. You’ve hit the nail on the head, twice actually. On occasion, as I think a few of us are agreed, the scenes that some authors might choose to leave out will help to produce a more rounded character. It might be a complex story or a relationship with mood swings and that means taking things beyond the goodnight kiss on the doorstep. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Melanie P Smith

    Great Post and, as usual, you had a little fun with a topic that can be touchy… 😉

    While I agree there are some prudes out there who consider any sex too much sex. That may be true in their day-to-day life as well as entertainment. But, I think the complaint is more about badly written sex scenes or throwing in sex just for the sake of writing sex. If the intimacy gets in the way of the storyline or interrupts when the pressure is building (no pun intended – ok, I Iied) – that’s a problem with the story, not the reader. As authors, we should do better.

    And on that note, here’s your mask, snorkel and flippers… be safe on that bike.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Melanie, and nice to see you having some fun with the topic. Yes, you’re another who has highlighted a valid point and one of my pet peeves. When I’m reading any genre (particularly erotica), where an activity takes place and it’s done badly I allow one more similar scene and then I cut and run.
      Your choreography of a shooting scene is great, but I’ve come across authors who wouldn’t know a rifle from a water pistol, and it shows. Sometimes imagination is just not enough, and that is where a writer can mess up. If there is no experience to feed on–research.
      I believe any ‘action’ scene, whether it be fighting, shooting or sex ought to be so much a part of the story that it just ‘feels’ right as you read. If an author does their job properly and leaves the work to ‘rest’ for a week or two they should see a badly-written scene or one which doesn’t belong. Authors must take responsibility for when they get it wrong as well as accepting the adulation when it’s right.
      Thanks for the mask, snorkel and flippers. At least now I won’t have to cycle while wearing that damn skydiving outfit again. 🙂


  5. I once read an author interview where he described his plotting technique. He had a large wallchart with boxes for scenes + spares for notes. When it was complete, he would go through it adding “sex scene here”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those planning boxes would be fine, Sarah, as long as he used a ? because ‘sex scene here?’ would be a reminder to think twice as to whether it was necessary to include the sex, and maybe how far to go with the scene.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed they would – I can see you drawing such a chart in your orderly manner. Unfortunately, from the tone of the interview, I doubt they would be used as you suggest. 🙂


  6. Honestly, Tom, ‘In and out’? 🙂 Or was that just a throwaway? This proves you noticed my post on FB!! Yeah does that make me famous? I think it’s quite fascinating that the human being has such a fascination with the act of reproduction. We all know that sex sells, and erotica is well up there in the rankings and no car show is complete without semi-naked models draping themselves over heaps of metal. Yet, in the cold light of day, it’s quite an animalistic act, (sex not equating with love) and when I try and write a sex scene I just end up giggling as I realise that my characters have lost most of their dignity.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. HI Lucinda. It was either going to be ‘Sex … In or Out?’ or else ‘Sex … Is it necessary? 🙂
    Like all the others who’ve commented, I’m delighted to see that you’ve highlighted yet another area of the topic … reproduction. Yes, you’ve cited that sex sells in its various formats but what we have to look at is the other side of the coin.
    If the sex in a story is related to a caring relationship then it is a sacred and private act between the participants, irrespective of gender. I agree with that aspect wholeheartedly, and that’s how it can be used within a story in several genres.
    Erotica is different. Why? To the best of my knowledge, we are the only species on the planet which copulates for pleasure. Every other creature interacts as a means to maintain their species, but we alone will go to extreme lengths (no pun intended) to engage in sex acts purely for the joy it brings us. In erotica stories, the ‘sex’ aspect is a key ingredient but whether the characters are indulging purely for physical pleasure or not, it ought to be written with as much care and attention as any other scene.
    In erotica, dignity is only portrayed in a character if psychological degradation (humiliation or similar) is to play a part in the story. It’s just as important for the author to get inside the heads of their characters as it is for any author. At least that’s the case if they want their work to be credible.
    Thank you for your input. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I hate writing sex scenes, and I’m not that keen on reading them either. However, I’ve found the best sex scenes are those where there is need attached. By this, I don’t just mean the physical sexual urge, but loneliness, the need for human contact, the desire to be loved, the fear of being rejected, or the joy of finding a like soul in life’s journey – in other words the complex emotional side of the story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Rebecca. ‘The Whole Package’ to slip in a double entendre. Yes, again, I’d agree that this works if done properly. Strangely, the two scenes in which you can use more psychology and less activity in the narrative and dialogue are poles apart; a violent sex scene or a romantic sex scene. In either case, it requires only a hint of the physical activity but concentration on the thought process of at least one of those involved. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If it’s done well – which is a nebulous concept, I know – I have no qualms with sex in really any story. But it has to fit with both the story and the style. Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs stories are my touchstone for when a sex scene might not need to be there and definitely didn’t need to last as long as it did. I get it, sex sells, but damn dude, those were some in-depth sex scenes that didn’t add anything. As long as the story flows through it, a sex scene can be a good thing. It’s when they pop up out of nowhere that they can be jarring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Eric. I think there’s a misconception where some authors are concerned that as long as they get a sex scene in there ‘somewhere’ then that makes it a more romantic, or more erotic story.
      You are right on–with some stories it makes the reader sit up and think ‘what the hell?’. Even in an erotic story, the sex scene has to be placed appropriately. Another point which is forgotten is that the author should up the ante as the story moves forward … not dive in on the second page with a full-on detailed scene,
      A sex scene can appear in any genre but it must be tempered, as you say to suit the story and the style. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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