Well, not really. Not the real deal, obviously – not proper humpy-bumpy-pumpy stuff – just the fictional variety. And I’m not talking about pornography here, or erotica, depending on which side of the fence you stand on that thorny horny issue.
I’m not even talking about romantic fiction exactly, just about how writers in all genres can use matters of sex to good effect in their work, whether it’s the full-on, full-frontal, let’s-call-everything-by-its-real name attitude or the quivering-femininity-and-proud-manhood school of thought. Or even, for the more reserved among us, the better-left-unsaid-brigade, who are intimate with the strong, silent, and thoroughly enigmatic power of what I like to call the triple-stop-to-go: or, more correctly, the ellipsis:
“As her gaze chanced upon Percy’s proud manhood, Cynthia was left breathless by her quivering femininity. Shivering like a stallion, Percy stepped closer and reached for her, and Cynthia, butterflies fluttering in her stomach, responded in kind…”
Really, though, it’s whatever floats your boat. The only thing to remember is that fictional sex is pretty much like real sex, only much more hygienic and infinitely more convenient and decorous, and is probably just about as satisfying when you get it right.
But do we need sex in our fiction, I hear you ask. Isn’t it better to leave things to our reader’s imaginations? The simple answer to this question is no. For one thing, if we leave everything to our readers’ imaginations, why bother to write at all? Why not just Tweet one-line story ideas and let them work it out for themselves? For another, sex is very important to human relationships and the societies in which we live, and therefore important to our fiction, and we have to use it appropriately and well without being gratuitous.
First and foremost, sex is the motivating factor that brings most couples together – it’s basic genetic-programming, not a lifestyle choice – so when you use it to bring your characters together, readers will recognise some of themselves in your characters’ experiences and actions and begin to relate, drawing them further into your story. Sex also reinforces the bonds between characters, as of course it does in real life, so once again readers can see parallels and empathise. Sex can also drive a wedge between couples, for example when one partner has an affair, or when the other partner’s appetite or preferences change. Sex can alienate, intimidate, and terrorise, as well as tantalise, excite, and fulfil.
In fact, whichever way you look at it, sex is an all around dramatic boon to a writer, and used properly as a natural part of a story, just as it’s a natural part of adult life, it can add immense depth to your work.
There are a couple of problems with sex in fiction, though, one of which is that it is often used to pep up a lacklustre piece of work, papering over the cracks in the plot, and attempting to hide all the other problems the writer can’t (or can’t be bothered to) put right. The other main problem is that not all writers can write sex very well. In fact, practised and talented writers of erotica aside, an awful lot of authors just aren’t up for the challenge, so to speak.
To give you some idea of the scale of the problem, the British magazine Literary Review has presented an annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award since 1993, and it counts among its winners such distinguished luminaries as Philip Kerr, Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe, and Norman Mailer. And in 2008, John Updike was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in the same category.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
All that high-powered, critically acclaimed, best-selling mental masturbation going on, and nothing good to show for it at the end…