Insert Tab A Into Slot B – When to Put the Sex In

When is it appropriate to put explicit sex into a story?

Nowadays it’s in so much–in romances in a really big way, but also in science fiction, fantasy and horror, and probably other genres that I’m not reading as much of. The quick answer, of course, is to read the submission guidelines, but I want to talk about it as a matter of craft, not as a matter of how appropriate it is or when the publisher wants it.

If you are writing erotica, it’s all about the sex. Your readers are looking specifically for explicit sex, and usually there will be a warning before they start reading as to what type it is: is this gay fiction, is there bondage, will anyone be raped? So they can decide whether to read it, according to their preferences.

There are also distinctions to the minds of many readers between porn and erotica. The definitions vary, but for many people, erotica is a story as well as a sex scene, with characters and a plot, and we care about that as much as the sex. Porn is just sex, with perhaps as much plot to hang it on as a porn movie. (“You’re naked in the laundromat because your clothes were all wet from the rain? Hey, me too!”) For myself, I can’t just write a sex scene. My erotica tends to have as much story, or more, as sex in it. So should I just leave it out and have the story without it?

I read somewhere on an erotica writer’s site the good advice that if sex is what drives the action, what makes the plot happen, it should be in there, it should be an erotica story. I thought that was an excellent point.

I think romances that are written with explicit sex in (which from a random sampling, seems to be most of them, but if I’m wrong, let me know–I’m not a big romance reader) are simply the longer form of this. They’re graded, with a separate line from the publishing house for not-so-sex-ful right up to serious sizzle, marked on the cover so you can tell before you buy. And many of them are beyond sizzle and right to the sausage, as it were. They are gratification for both the emotional and the sexual side of the reader, and since the reader is (according to the stereotype) usually female, emotional and sexual are very hard to separate.

I’m not sure explicit sex has a strong place in a regular genre novel. It has shown up over the years, and continues to, but usually there’s enough indication in the story that there is going to be sex, and then the camera moves away. What do you think… is there more explicit sex in genre novels (leaving out romance) than there used to be? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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