Let’s talk about sex (in books)

sex artI’m reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and so far I’ve encountered two sex scenes: one I liked and one I absolutely hated.

I’ll be talking about them in my review, but I’m curious. What makes a written sex scene good, and what about them turns you off?

Let me go first: “Yes, yes, yes” is a big “no, no, no”!

This article on The Millions lists a few other don’ts, including “beware of sensory descriptions which include food analogies” and “avoid spiritual-religious metaphors – ‘salvation’ (Chuck Palahniuk), ‘rapture’ (Ayn Rand),” and so on.

As for the dos? Choose the right words: “All the same rules apply to sexually-charged words as apply to words about gardening or kite flying or race car driving. You can make a sentence about planting tomatoes better by making sure that it has good rhythm and pacing and correct grammar. The same is true for a sentence about kissing.”

Does sex even belong in novels? Author Philip Pullman suggested that “books were likely to deal with sex in a more sensitive way than the Internet,” according to The Telegraph. And Malorie Blackman, the newly appointed children’s laureate, said that reading about sex is safer than “innuendo and porn,” which can be damaging to how youths learn about the activity.

For the adult crowd, authors sound off on who does sex well and why in this article on the Guardian. Howard Jacobson argues that “the best sex is the most implicit” — like in Jane Austen’s Persuasion: “There is no overt sexuality, no titillatory play with power and dependence … Wentworth’s hands have been on [Anne’s] body, and we never doubt that it’s her body that receives the shock of the contact as much as her mind.”

Photo credit: Flickriver

2 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sex (in books)

  1. Interesting.

    Most of the time, i feel that sex in novels is kind of awkward.
    It’s probably a difficult art to bring to the reader to a state where he feel connected with the characters and where he does not feel like a voyeur.

    I’m not remembering all of the sex scenes of Hyperion and i don’t want to spoil you the novel. But well, there’s one that i remember being really well done. Maybe you can state which scene you’re refering to, with enormous spoil alert of course ;)

    In Hyperion, that was not the sex scenes that annoyed me, but the presence of the author on the universe he created. Unfortunately, no details to give or it’ll be a spoil party.

    1. Thanks for not spoiling it! :) I’m almost to the end of Hyperion now.

      I do want to reassess all the sex scenes as part of my review because I think there’s an interesting lesson there. I look forward to reading your thoughts about it if you check it out!

      You’re right, though: It is hard to write sex well for exactly that reason. It needs to be an intimate experience for the reader, not an explicitly arousing one — unless, of course, you’re going for that effect.

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