There’s no fear in writing about sex

There are several reasons why writers should tackle sex. Apart from the fact that without it we would not actually be here and there’d be no romantic relationships to consummate, it’s such a vital part of life and our characters do need to develop fully.
It’s also easy to see why the subject – and the action – is avoided. There is little more ridiculous than the physicality of sexual intercourse. It is definitely three dimensional, invariably hot and sweaty and usually has no set form or procedure. It is an intertwining, incoherent, protracted and formless act. Literature’s ‘bad sex award’ is valid if the sex is described badly, but not if it simply unsettles or disturbs – that may well be the writer’s intent, and add vital depth and credibility to the plot.
What I find most off-putting is excessive use of imagery, similes and off-the-point descriptions. Most of them are hackneyed and stereotyped, such as trains going into tunnels and waves breaking on beaches. Why confuse the reader when you can, with the words available in English as well as all other languages I know of, take them on the journey with you?
Fear of discomfort and embarrassment should not put a writer off portraying one of the most important, as well as basic, roles in life – we can decide on sex, we can’t decide on our own birth and, most of the time, our death. The writer’s task is to take a wonderful three-dimension and turn it into a gripping, enthralling and relevant two-dimension in print. We are lucky as, unless it’s pornography (and there’s a mental chasm between the two, in my opinion), we do not have the constraints of film producers and photographers.
The key word is ‘relevance’. It is a truism that sex is relevant if it plays an integral role in developing the characters: that’s obvious. What we need to examine is how this can be forensically drilled down so that the essence of the characters is explored, unearthed and laid bare. The best example of this is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, for those of my generation the most thumbed paperback of my teenage years. Re-reading the passage of the ‘Lady’s’ awakening at the hands of the gamekeeper, it is a brilliant piece of literature, penned by a recognised master. D. H. Lawrence, in a few well-chosen, graphic words describes the characters in a way that hits the reader and leaves an indelible impression and memory. I can imagine Lawrence, writing his draft and then sitting back with a smile and, in modern parlance, saying to himself: “Job done.”
Sex does not have to be between a consenting woman and a man, in fact for many scenarios that is not just simplistic, but also crosses the boundary into gratuitousness, where the sex is written to titillate and not move the plot and characters forward. There is non-consensual sex, lesbianism and male homosexuality; there are the more difficult areas of paedophilia, disabilities, violence, incest, and many more sub-categories. If they form part of the plot, or they help to establish a character’s identity, then they should be verbally explored.
In First Dead Body (my debut novel, still available on Amazon and direct from me) I have bitten the bullet. Early on there is a need to describe the relationship between one of my ‘heroes’ and a woman whose husband is in prison. She is, or would be, sexually active; he is free and single, but spends all his time working until his personal emotions, faced with acquiescence, proximity and opportunity, overflow in a passionate meeting that they both desperately want. Clearly the affair involves tension and angst, fear and moral dilemmas, and the understanding that, at that time and in those circumstances neither participant is able to stop, and neither wants to. In different times perhaps they’d have married and lived happily ever after, but that was simply not going to happen.
I took the step to introduce graphic, full-blooded, sex for a variety of reasons, with character development as the priority, but the act also allows the plot to move forward. These individuals will, separately, show phenomenal and unexpected strength, and yet I wanted their couplings and attraction to be a constant undercurrent, even when circumstances dramatically change.
Let’s agree that sex is natural; let’s also agree that when embarking on the authorship of crime, murder and thriller novels, killing, maiming, torturing, are not basically natural. In future books in the Simon Jardine series I plan to write about lesbianism, under-age sex, violent sex and other aspects that are a lot more commonplace than killing people. The question is whether graphic descriptions help the novel, leap the hurdles of respectability imposed by ‘polite society’, or simple degenerate into pornography.
My readers will judge, and I will be condemned as a pervert or praised as a storyteller. I’m a writer, I’m neither judge nor jury.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *