Parental Advisory: This subject is unavoidably adult, but I have included nothing gratuitous or obscene. I aim to be frank but discreet. Those old enough to benefit from the rest of this blog are old enough to read this post.
Without it, none of us would be here. It causes people to do crazy things, like throw away huge amounts of money, make idiots of themselves, occasionally kill other people, and of course, get married and have children. So can writers completely ignore sex? Obviously, no. The subject is going to come up. Not always, but sometimes. And anyway, we’re writers! We’re daring! We’re edgy! We push the limits of polite society!
But you wouldn’t show up to a book signing in a bikini.
In fact, you would consider it beneath you to do so. Why? Because although sex sells, there are a variety of words for people who sell it, and none of them are complimentary. Think about that. At what point does it become nothing but literary pornography? It doesn’t take writing talent to “turn on” readers. The crudest sentence (both technically and socially crude) can arouse anyone.
But sex isn’t just physical; it’s emotional, psychological, spiritual even.
And therein lies the key. The emotional side—that sacred bond shared between two people—that’s what you want to capture. But despite the great power of fiction, it has its limitations: while it is extremely easy to arouse your readers, it is extremely difficult to forge an emotional connection with them. One is a mechanical, hormonal reaction. The other is spiritual. You can try to use the mechanical to access the spiritual, but in this case, (be honest) it will only serve as a distraction. The physical side takes off—and blinds all other feeling. The moment you arouse your reader is the moment you cease to be relevant to their soul.
So what are we supposed to do?
Focus on the emotion. If you have to mention something physical, start with a kiss, a caress here or there, but focus on what that kiss means to your characters. What are they saying to each other in that kiss? Is the kiss a lie, or the truest thing they have ever expressed? What does it mean? Why is it important?
There is no need to go into great detail about where hands and legs and whatever else is; you will only undercut your attempts to connect, just as a guy would undercut his attempts to get a girl’s phone number if he kept making lewd suggestions to her, no matter how poetic his conversation was in between. It’s the difference between lust and love; both are powerful, but only one means anything. So write about it, if you insist (assuming, of course, you are not writing a children’s book). But treat it as the sacred, private thing it is.
After all, you want your readers to respect you in the morning.
You may have noticed I didn’t even mention erotica; this is chiefly because I deny its legitimacy as literature. I doubt any erotica writers would be hanging around this blog, but in case one happens to come across this post, well, I’m not going to apologize. And if I did, the word would be dripping with sarcasm.
I welcome discussion in the comments – but please be sure it conforms to the parental advisory above.