Sex And Sensitivity

I have decided to take a few days to clear my head, and maybe also to try to write that promised short story. I will return to the new planned novel’s manuscript – which is coming along I think okay – shortly. In the meantime, also, how about this, umm, diversion…

[From Twitter.]

It is always a question that, uh, arouses controversy: Are “sex scenes” really necessary? Some variation of that question appears regularly on Twitter. I am always amused by it.

Usually the issue re-appearing has to do with romance in novels – particularly in what are called “romance” novels. Some writers of romance REALLY do not like the word “romance,” though:

[From Twitter.]

Gee, and one wonders, uh, why they might not like that word?

[Screen capture of Google search: “Historical romance novels covers.” November 20, 2019.]

It should be little surprise then that many recoil from the word “romance” if they do NOT write books like those. I don’t. But I just prefer the word if applied to me to be applied contextually correctly.

For example, the 1942 film Casablanca, as I have said before, is a romance. That is possibly my favorite film. I have no problem with my writing ever being deemed in the same category as Casablanca.

Another “romance” is this 1971 novel which was in early 1983 adapted into what became the highest-rated U.S. miniseries up to that time on U.S. television:

[The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk, 1971. Photo by me, 2021.]
[The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk, 1971. Photo by me, 2021.]

“Romance” is mentioned right there on the back cover? That it is should be no shock. In fact, author (the now late) Herman Wouk himself IN THE PREFACE called it a “romance”:

[The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk, 1971. Photo by me, 2021.]

However, sex? Casablanca has none; indeed, the scene near the end, where “Rick” and (married to someone else) “Ilsa” are in his apartment talking and she is sitting on the end of the sofa is meant to have implied to the audience that moments before they had sex on that sofa – but portraying that in any way was outside of the understood Hollywood film “decency code” in 1942. And the Winds novel and its 1978 follow up have some sex; but it is “tame” and “under-described” stuff by current day standards.

For some reason violence portrayals in literature and on film does not seem to bother us nearly as much as does the topic, and description of, intercourse. Often sex finds itself treated as a subject that can somehow be seen in isolation. It is as if sex is somehow something that happens in a separate sphere and is unnecessary to a story despite the act itself being possibly life-altering. (Some might argue it is not; that you can “go back;” yet it is difficult to believe that once a couple engages in it that they can ever be exactly as they were before doing so. It changes them. No doubt you too have your own opinion on that, too.)

The Bridgerton series attracted lots of viewers largely because of, well, sex. (Full disclosure: I watched only one episode purely because I thought the program was actually not very good and feel there are far better “similar” programs to watch, and I listed several.) So how many of us want to have it both ways? We declare we should not be reading or be watching such… but yet we love to read and watch such.

From a writer’s perspective I think some writers claiming sex leads “nowhere” in a story state that out of fear of having actually to try to describe it themselves and they would rather not. (I will stick my neck out here and also offer that it is perhaps easier to describe it if you have actually engaged in it.) Indeed I saw one (evidently youngish) tweeter note that when she gets to “that part” when writing, she wants just to write… “Made love”… and move on.

To say we should not attempt to describe sex because “everyone knows what is happening” – which I have seen argued too – certainly has some validity as well. Yet that to me has a whiff of fearful avoidance, too. After all, what point is there in describing driving a car? Or eating dinner? Or walking in the woods? Everyone knows what is happening there(s) also.

I suppose as writers we all in the end have to decide how we write and what we write about. I conclude here by saying that I hope I have not disappointed you in not sharing any excerpt of my writing of that sensitive act. Sorry, those stay inside of my books. LOL!

Have a good Thursday, wherever you are. 🙂


UPDATE, January 22: This popped up in my Instagram this morning:

Seeing that, I could only think: We are also told people watched Bridgerton in droves at least in part because actual Jane Austen tales had no sex.

3 thoughts on “Sex And Sensitivity

  1. What a provocative post, dear Robert! Leo Tolstoi was famous for his numerous love affairs…nevertheless he kept the poetic side of this topic for his magnificent romances. It seems to me that at our visual time we have too much of that everywhere & some decency in writing would make readers DREAM the rest…at least little.

    Have a nice coffee, tea time & good luck with your new stories! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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