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