Let’s Talk About Sex…

Well ok, let’s talk about sex in books – as I bet the title of this post raised a few eyebrows which sex seems want to do including sex in books. Last Sunday I posted a review of Mateship With Birds, Carrie Tiffany’s second novel, which I thought was a rather amazing and brilliant book. I also mentioned that it had rather a lot of sex in it, which I had taken as a kind of metaphor for the characters inner frustrations. After I write and post a review I allow myself to go and read other reviews of the book by other bloggers or broadsheet critics and see if my thoughts matched up with theirs, what surprised me was how many of them had judged the book for the amount of sex that was in the book (apparently too much) and how this took away from the books other qualities, some people even saying it would have been a better book without the sex.

Initially this made me think ‘oh what a bunch of prudes’ as I had thought the sex was very powerful, not arousing but very powerful in terms of the insight it gave to the characters, the way it matched the charge of the atmosphere and everything else. I then thought ‘oh goodness, does this make me a bit of a pervert’ as I seemed to be one of very few people who hadn’t minded it that much. Yes it was graphic, but it wasn’t gratuitous or just done for the sake of it. It gave me a lot to ponder, and indeed I talked about it with Thomas on the latest episode of The Readers. Would I have felt differently if the book simply had been gratuitous?

Well, if it had been the case I probably would have thought ‘is there any need’ but I wouldn’t have called it ‘a dirty, filthy book’. Sex is after all a part of our lives, we are all the products of it in general and we have all done it, so why is it still such a tricky (I nearly said sticky but that would have been wrong) subject for some people to read about? Especially in an era where one of the biggest selling books of all time is now Fifty Shades of Grey which from what I read (when I skimmed through a copy I bought The Beard’s mother as she didn’t want to) I thought was really just graphic and gratuitous sex for the sake of getting tongues wagging (no pun or euphemism intended) and sales – which worked.

But who am I to judge. Look at Lady Chatterleys Lover or Lolita both of those were released to horrors and have become classics. Then there is of course Marquis de Sade or Anais Nin, one who has become seen as a saucy romping classic writer the other a feminist. I also noted that here in the UK we have an award for the worst sex in a book and yet not one for the best, is that because really sex in books makes us cringe and feel awkward and so it is best to laugh at the awful sex scenes? Yet surely the good sex in books should be celebrated as books embrace all that we as people do, or should it be like the Mills and Boons of old and simply leave the bedroom door firmly closed?

It is interesting isn’t it? What your thoughts about sex in books? Or will you all be too shy to comment?


Filed under Book Thoughts

13 responses to “Let’s Talk About Sex…

  1. I only mind sex in books when there’s more sex than plot or there’s something really weird going on. Like you said, it’s part of our lives, why shouldn’t it be covered by fiction? I never read 50 Shades, not because it was dirty but because I’d heard it was a pretty bad book from people I trust. I did quite enjoy reading Jilly Cooper in my teens though 🙂

  2. This is something that I think about, both as a writer and a reader. As a reader I see sex in books the same way as sex on film- if it serves a plot or character purpose then I don’t have a problem with it. As a writer I wonder if I will have to take those chapters out of my last NaNoWriMo novel in case readers won’t respond well- even finding a beta reader at this stage is tricky!

  3. Kateg

    I love when my life intersects with your blog. Earlier this week, I discussed with one of my book groups a book of short stories by Alice Munro. There was sex in it, but it was integral to the stories and the times and I thought nothing of it. The rest of the group ( we are all in our 40s and 50s) were quite put off. In the same way I loved The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood, but have wondered who I could recommend it to. I guess I am less prudish than most of my friends.

  4. Like anything in a book, if there seems to be a point to it, then fine, but if sex is in there for the sake of it then it can jar.

  5. jenn aka the picky girl

    The only time I have ever been bothered by sex in a book was The Story of O, which I listened to (!) for a contest I was judging. It was so outside the realm of my experience and made me incredibly uncomfortable first because of the very (I felt) degrading manner of the sex and the way the main character is treated but also because it was an audiobook. Having that read to me felt somewhat invasive, and at times I felt like covering my eyes as though that might help.

    But honestly, that’s the only time it’s bothered me. In fact, a lot of “lit fic” books seem to have the whole “camera cuts away from the bed” treatment in them, and that just feels unrealistic. Why shy away from it?

  6. I don’t mind a book with a couple sex scenes. But whenever an author tries to bring meaning to sex, I just can’t help but laugh. Crocodiles have sex, monkeys have sex. There is no deep meaning to the sexual act itself. I recently reviewed a creative fiction work that contained a lot of sex scenes. I didn’t like it. To me, the scenes eclipsed the social and political criticism found in the book. If sex is a major theme in the book, you can count me out. Being called a prude has never bothered me. It’s just a label.

  7. It’s hardly William Burrough’s is it?! 😉

  8. gaskella

    I can cope with sex scenes in books, but do tend to skim over the *squishy* bits, but it’s a mainly a matter of gratuitousness. In Jilly Cooper it’s often saucy but usually fun; some extended scenes like in Hawthorn & Child got a bit much for me, the S&M in Hotel Iris was quite distressing although arguably part of the plot. Although I don’t think I’m too much of a prude, and sex in a book wouldn’t stop me reading it, I do think it isn’t always necessary to the plot to include full graphic detail.

  9. I love sex in books…provided it’s well-written. The 50 Shades fuss cracked me up…and all the talk about it being mommy-porn. Geesh – it’s badly written fanfiction, people. Even gratuitious sex can be compelling if it’s done well. I’ve read loads of erotica – some of it works, some of it doesn’t. I’ve read lots of regular fiction with sex scenes and the same hold true. It’s a matter of taste really…which is why some people think 50 Shades is titillating and others (like me) think it’s crap. 🙂

  10. I don’t mind as long as it is relevant to the plot. I have recently read ‘A Small Death In Lisbon’ by Robert Wilson and I felt it had too much sex in and it was not needed in the amount of detail that it was. I am not a prude and don’t mind if done right and in the right context and not just to make the book more exciting.

  11. The only time sex in books bothers me is when it is to the detriment of the plot or good characters. It’s part of life, I am happy to see it depicted.

  12. It is interesting and probably quite sad that sex is so rare in literary novels, even romantic ones. I remember there being bags of it in the historical romances I used to read as a teenager! Authors like Philippa Gregory, Philippa Carr/Victoria Holt and Colleen McCullough included lots of sex in their books. I read those books too long ago to be able to say for sure if it was mostly gratuitous, and no doubt some of it was, but as you say: sex is part of life.

    I think our culture (by which I mean both US and UK and probably a lot of other western countries too) is generally too prudish about sex. It’s actually quite detrimental to young people to not be honest and open about such a central part of life. But if we can’t bring ourselves to talk about it in everyday life, at least we should be able to read about it in books, right?!

  13. Yes sex is important in life and literature and rarely done as well as it might be in books in my view (probably like life too ??). It is hard for me to think of any book where it really works well and where it is in some sense omnipresent, but perhaps (and I’m sure I have mentioned this one before) I might nominate Bataille and “Story of the Eye”. It isn’t an easy read however …

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