Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Topic: "The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2011" join my guest Hannah Warren.

Please welcome my Guest ...Hannah Warren: Topic:

"The Relevance of Sex In Literature in 2011."

The tricky word in this title is ‘relevance’. It is a word with a subjective quality although it bears the semblance of being measurable, weighty, scientific. I don’t think it is! Everyone may colour it to his own liking. Relevance is what actresses bombard us with when they’ve shown us their naked butt. “I undress/do sex scenes when it is relevant to the film. “ When it is relevant? In other words: if I judge it as such, or: on my conditions. A rather vague statement. The dictionary isn’t very helpful either when we look up the definition of relevance. Pertinence to the matter at hand. Right. The word ‘pertinence’ seems to point to an even bigger urgency to the matter at hand. But what was the matter? Oh yes, the matter was sex, sex in today’s literature! Is that relevant, is it pertinent?

As I seem unable to pin down ‘relevance’, I will at least try to answer the question ‘relevance for whom’? In the scope of this article we’re no doubt thinking about ‘the reader’. However, I’m afraid that that’s going to complicate things even further as there is no such thing as ‘the reader’. Readers represent the entire human race from those explicitly looking for explicit sex in literature to those that shun every word beyond the description of a chaste kiss. Zooming in on the topic, I assume we’re talking about the question of relevance from the point of view of us writers. We’re our own actress here deciding whether or not we’re going to show our written butt to the world. Do we do sex in our books, and if so, how much sex, what type of sex, etc.? But most importantly why do we add sex? Two reasons , I think: because it sells (needs no explanation) or as a ‘political’ conviction, i.e. we believe we have to write sex because writers are supposed to give a truthful representation of the human condition. Sex is a crucial aspect of life and thus of literature. Evading the topic is castrating our own potency and/or censoring ourselves is putting up an artificial barrier between life and writing. Few writers I know love writing sex scenes but that could be a third reason to do the spicy stuff.

Reaching my own opinion now, I’ve asked myself the question: do I put up a barrier when it comes to sex on paper? I do. I censor the sex in my work for two reasons. The first is a very mundane one: my children.

Children never want to know about their parents’ sex life and they don’t want to read passages in which their mother describes people having sex, even if these are acts by fictional characters that have no reference to real life and even though they may read a zillion books by other authors with explicit sex scenes. And even taking into account that my children will possibly never read my books. The reason for this inhibition is based on my own life.

I had a homosexual father who was a well-known writer in Holland and who was mostly famous for his explicit homoerotic scenes in both his books and his poetry. I’ve never read any of his sex stuff but the fact it exists and people talk about it (also to me, and also when I was a teenager) has always made me very uncomfortable and self-conscious about this topic. So sex in books written by a family member is a sensitive issue to me. It goes without saying, that I would never suggest that other writers should take their siblings into account when doing the sex bit - in life or in books. It’s just my inheritance.

Before I explain my second reason, I want to throw in some catchwords what sex is to me. Sex is holy, the ultimate intimacy, a big happening. Sex takes you out of the realm of space and time, it lets you transcend daily life. Sex is about union, the creative force of the universe, it sustains all and everything, it is from God and by God. It cannot be put into words, it has no equal, is always unique, it has both substance and no substance. It is about body and spirit, it frees you from the chains of the material world, it is sublimated lust, Yin-Yang, Kundalini, Enlightment. Sex is the irrevocable meeting of two energies, their fusion, and after the fusion, the energies cannot be separated anymore although the individuals in question may never see each in this life again. Sex is about giving and taking, and almost always it takes you to the point of no return. But for other folks sex may also be forgetfulness, a sleeping pill, gratification of the ego, lust for the sake of lust, dominion, strife, even hate. Sex is different for everyone every time.

The second reason why I don’t do much sex in my books is enclosed in these catchwords: I can’t do it. Sex is so much to me that it escapes my words. When I try to do it, my writing becomes all clumsy and juvenile, and then I hate doing it (writing about sex, I mean). I can’t see the point of forcing myself to catch something that is too volatile for my words. My novel Casablanca, My Heart! contains some sex scenes but I merely describe the emotional state of the characters and not how they move their bodily parts.

Arousal … now that is an entirely different topic! There is nothing like firing the reader’s imagination with what might happen ...

Hannah Warren

Please join in the discussion in the comments section below, what is your take on the relevance of sex in literature in 2011?






Twitter: @hannah_war


  1. Very interesting. Your seond reason is where I am at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. For me sex is absolutely not transcendent and absolutely is part of normal human experience.

    Very interesting discussion of relevance, and very true. I don't ever really think about whether or not to include sex in a piece I'm writing (that would be according it a special status again) any more than I think about whether to include eating or croquet. Sometimes it's there and sometimes it isn't - I guess that's as exact as I could get on relevance

  2. I hate writing sex scenes. I either get too nasty with it and cross a few lines that I would never cross in real life, or it comes out sounding corny and/or trashy.

    I'm more comfortable writing horror and gory fantasy battle scenes than I am writing sex scenes. I suspect it's because of what happened to me as a child.

    I might intimate that the characters have had sex, are about to have sex or will be having sex later, but I don't actually describe the act itself. As I said above, I can't write it because it just comes out completely wrong.

    You are correct in saying that it's part of the human condition and that it should be included. In fact, all human bodily functions should be included - it make it easier for the reader to connect with the character... but that's a discussion for another time!

    Grat Post Hannah!

  3. Dan, when you're my age and you have a lot less sex, it automatically becomes more heavenly. That's the way quality and quantity are entwined in a human life.

    Thanks, Tiger Princess, I'm glad you also admit finding sex writing not the easiest of our tasks.

  4. I avoid sex scenes. I completely disagree that because something happens in real life we have to write about it. If we are writing a scientific report then yes we have to include everything. But writing a book or poetry - that is an art form and it depends on the writer, the subject matter and whether or not it adds to the plot arc or the character development. If it doesn't move the story on or tell us something new about the characters then I don't want to spend time reading or writing it. That goes for any chunk of writing actually, sex scene or not.

    I don't think sex does sell as much as people think it will and a sex scene in a book that would otherwise be a universal read may well do the book harm. There aren't any sex scenes in Terry Pratchett books for example - I don't think they would sell better if there were.

    If bodily functions make us connect with others then there should be no divides between humanity or the animal kingdom as we all share basic functions. But there are deep chasms and deep bonds between people - because of what goes on in their heads not what goes on in their bedroom or bathroom.

    I don't connect with someone because they poo. I connect with someone because they are sympathetic, interesting and their motivations and struggles engage me.

    I'm no prude. Far from it, but I find reading about the mechanics of other people having sex mind numbingly tedious. I want to know the why and what will result from this, much more than the how.

    I know this is coming across as very grumpy and there are a lot of people who read sex for the sake of it. But I would bet that most people who sell well would sell just as well if not better if they left the graphic sex scenes out. They might also find they are read by a wider audience and would maybe get their messages across (if they have them) to people who might otherwise not hear those points of view.


  5. 'Sex is about union, the creative force of the universe, it sustains all and everything, it is from God and by God. It cannot be put into words, it has no equal, is always unique, it has both substance and no substance.'
    Hannah, I couldn't agree with you more. Sex is important - we need to treat it as such.
    Michelle, you are so right - just because something happens, we don't need to include it. This can be simply boring.
    Unfortunately, sex scenes probably do sell a book. Take Jilly Cooper, for instance. Her early books (Emily, etc.) were funny, romantic and very readable. Then her publishers (or someone?) suggested she should write in the Jacky Collins style, much longer, and with some explicit sex. Her sales went through the roof. I love Jilly Cooper, but could actually enjoy her much more if the sex scenes were left out. But clearly I'm in a minority here. Her later books are much better than the earlier ones, but this is because she has developed as a writer, not because of the sex. But without it, I don't think she'd have sold so well - alas.

  6. Michele and Gerry, thank you so much for your comments and for your wise womens' words. I think we need to seduce our readers but there is no reason to drown them in body juices. IMHO. xxxx

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  8. I think, as you said Hannah, it depends on who these mythical readers are. I love writing sex scenes and enjoy reading a good steamy scene. I prefer them to be romantic, the more emotion the better, but that emotion is driven by the physical act. But some readers want down and dirty sex and could care less about romance. Some want what many in the population consider "deviant" acts. As writers we write what we love and our readers, hopefully love what we write.

    Your sex catch-words... Beautiful. That whole paragraph rocks. You express the inexpressible.

  9. Hannah, enjoyed the read and great discussion by everyone.

    I’m not going to discuss my definition of “relevance,” as I touch on it in my post later this month, but I’ll talk to your second point.

    I write erotica, so writing sex scenes is part of what I do. Whether it’s done well is best left to my readers to decide, but even though it’s my genre – I can’t tell you that it’s easy to write.

    For me, the element of sex does not fall into the catch phrases you’ve included. Though I see it as the ultimate intimacy, I would never use words like holy, transcendent, creative force, and certainly “God” never enters the picture.

    Sex for me is raw passion. It’s a physical act that satisfies physical desires and psychological lust. These are the catch phrases that help me write the sex scenes.

    Sex for me is ALSO the embodiment of a deep need to receive love and give love, to share an intimacy that cannot be expressed in any other way. These are the phrases that help me write the stories and the characters. Without this, the sex would be meaningless and hollow.

    Because I separate the two in my mind for the purpose of writing, I can write the sex parts almost mechanically, in a somewhat dissociative way. I’d even go so far as to say that certain sex scenes are interchangeable from one story to another.

    Let’s face it, there are only so many orificies in the human body and only so many ways to have sex. What makes for an arousing read is everything that leads up to it. There are an infinite number of ways to “get there,” and the hook should occur long before you ever read the actual act of sex. Once you’re drawn in, then reading the sex becomes a pleasure. You, as the reader WANT to feel it, to be a part of it. You’re not just a voyeur, but a participant.


  10. Blaze, we continously leave things out in our writing as we can't and don't want to write everything but that doesn't mean we're lying. I don't like that sentence! You write in a genre (horror) that doesn't appeal to me so it's just as I stated in my introduction: there are readers for every genre. OK by me. And just for record: I don't cheat on my readers, I'm a truthful and sincere writer.

    Maxwell, lovely to come across a writer who likes writing 'warm' sex scenes. You make me curious to read your work. I might enjoy it! Let me know where I can find it.

    Eden, human sex can have an extra dimension. It doesn't need to be just carnal. We humans have been endowed with consciousness, whether of the religious kind or not. I think your desciption of wanting to give and receive love comes close to that. We need a definition of Love here.

  11. Hannah. I loved this post. It's something I agonize over as well. But I'm with you on reason two. The only time I've ever written it, and it wasn't really written, more alluded to, was because it was the ultimate symbol of healing. Sex is, in my opinion, the ultimate creative act, and yes, I believe it is from God. So I'm very careful with how I address it.

    Of course the 'what do I write' and 'why do I write it' must be considered for each author, and the comments reflect that. But, writing HF, and trying to make it relevant to today, it's not something I can avoid in the same way the Victorians did. It is a theme, of sorts, throughout two of my novels, but I tend to address the way that power is misused. And how the power of attraction, and even arousal, can be used to its best, and most honorable affect.

    We are not, after all, merely animals. We are meant to be better than that. I agree very much with the last bit of your last comment. It's about love, and the emotional journey. But it isn't just about serving ourselves. It takes two (preferably) and when misused has the power to destroy lives. We're no longer a society who cares very much for those who come after us. But then I have a purpose very different from those who write erotica or straight romance, and the purposes should not be compared or confused. One isn't better than the other, just...different.

  12. Thank you Val-Rae, very much for your comment!

  13. Hannah, in my book CybrGrrl (sorry for the appearance of promotion - not intended) I explore intimacy and what it is to feel and be alive. The MC is a self aware program developed as a cybersex toy, but given free reign by her user to develop as she will. Through her learning what intimacy is and can be (she is programed for the sex after all) she ventures beyond the mere physical.

    I'm sure many read for the scorching and sometimes mildly kinky sex scenes, but I tried to use sex to tell a deeper story. Dr Ruth once said "sex happens between the ears," in other words the mind. As Eden said above, the reader should already be fully invested before anything gets put anywhere.

    For me, the emotions behind the sex are what drives the story. In horror it is the fear, in erotica it is arousal. We all play on the readers emotions in different ways. If a story arouses me, it is erotic, even if body parts are never mentioned. But sex scenes, like gruesome murder scenes in other genres, put the reader in the scene, in the emotion, quickly and efficiently.

    Sex in literature, as in life, can be a transcendent experience. I wanted to capture that through allowing sex to be the catalyst for transcending the barrier between smart AI and true self aware artificial life.

    Again, forgive me for talking about my book, but it was relevant, in my mind.

  14. Sorry you did not care for my statements. Have a good day.


  15. Max, I've read your book–more than once, as you know, and I agree that without the sex scenes, CybrGrrl would not be the same story.

    Though a book can arouse readers' emotions, the commitment is deepened by drawing them into the characters' lives with the intimacy of a sex scene.

    It's like watching a film where the MCs go from foreplay to lying in bed smoking a cigarette having a chat. There is a disconnect even though you know what has happened. It's not as intimate as watching foreplay followed by a sex scene. The sex does not have to be explicit, or lengthy, but it pulls the viewer in that much closer.


  16. Blaze, no offense. I DO care for your comment, very much, just don't AGREE with some of your statements. It is difficult to have a virutal discussion like this. Sorry if I was blunt.

    Eden, yes I will read Max's book though with mixed feelings. lol

  17. Hannah, mixed feelings are okay ;)

    Your post generated some great conversation around sex and its place in literature. I loved learning all the different viewpoints.


  18. Indeed, Eden, I greatly enjoy all the guest blogs and comments. Thanks to Sooooz! Blaze and I are FB buddies now, thick as thieves. LOL


Please leave a comment/review on any of the stories/poems contributed.