Reader Responses to Sex Scenes

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

Susan left a comment on the so-called wall in the sidebar. I really like that wall, because people who otherwise don’t comment seem comfortable leaving notes there. Susan is one such person. She left a comment this evening that I feel I have to respond to, at least briefly, so I’m pulling it up here:

I just finished reading “Into the Wilderness” and was spellbound. Very adventurous as well as historically interesting. I have one comment, however, that I must pass along. Is it necessary to have such graphic sex scenes dotted throughout the book? I found them very distasteful and unnecessary. I found myself skipping pages to get past those parts and disappointed that such a great work must lower itself to vulgarity. Having said that, I did order the next four books from Barnes and Noble and looking forward to continuing the saga.

So, first things first: it is always a wonderful thing to hear that a new reader has found enough to like about one book to read the rest. To Susan and all of you who don’t leave notes, my sincere thanks. Publishing is getting tougher all the time, but the readers make it worth the uphill climb.

Susan raised some concerns on the topic of sex scenes. This is one of those issues that seem to come around in a cyclical fashion. The question gets raised, discussed, and fades away for six months or a year.

To be clear: I am not offended by Susan’s take on this question. That she liked the story enough to continue despite her discomfort with sex scenes is a compliment. But she does ask a question: are sex scenes really necessary? I can only answer that from my own perspective as a reader and writer, so here goes:

When I started out telling Elizabeth’s story, I had an idea of what I wanted to explore. What it was like for her to move from such an ordered and restrictive society as Oakmere to the upper New York state wilderness; how her understanding of herself and human nature would evolve. She thought of herself as a finished piece of work, settled into a very specific identity: a woman whose whole world revolved around philosophical issues having to do with education, specifically the education of young women.

Elizabeth’s story opens up soon after she arrives in Paradise, and it was important to me to consider all aspects of it. That included her discovery of herself as a sexual being.

So I wrote those scenes in the certainty that — if I did my work well — they would contribute to the readers’ understanding of the characters, and move the plot forward at the same time. I personally believe that it’s possible to write sex scenes are not vulgar — at least, as I define that term. Whether or not I achieve that goal — that’s something every reader will decide for him or herself.

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10 Replies to “Reader Responses to Sex Scenes”

  1. This reminds me of the headhopping question from the other day because they both boil down to things that distract readers and take them out of the story. I find it jarring if a sex scene is written differently than the surrounding book. Don’t change the writing style and suddenly go into exacting detail because the action described is sex.

    (It also reminds me of my old Typing teacher who gave the class a stack of lurid romance novels to practice with. Her theory was that we’d pick up speed because we were motivated to get to the sex scenes quicker.)

    At any rate congratulations on gaining another reader, especially one willing to overlook something she morally disagrees with in order to finish the story.

  2. We are all sexual beings, it is in our nature, so for me the sex scenes are just a natural part of the story. Even if you didn’t put them in there you would know that it is happening, just not the details. As far as I’m concerned your sex scenes are not vulgar and have achieved what you wanted by giving us a better understanding of the characters.

  3. I wouldn’t have the book any other way, sex scenes and all. The books are wonderful to read over and over again.

  4. At the risk of sounding inappropriate (hm, how can I put this delicately) – I love the sex scenes! They say so much about the characters and their relationships with each other.

  5. I agree with Tiffany – the sex scenes show us much about the characters and their relationships with each other, and I don’t find them vulgar at all. I love these books and have read them over and over again, and I cannot wait for the next one.

  6. Writing sex scenes is like everything in life: a bit tough in the beginning, and then you get used to it, and it gets easier. By the way, Rosina, I am flattered to find myself in the “possibly related links.” Wow!

  7. I agree with Kenzie — if a book has a sex scene, it should fit the flow of the rest of the novel. Rosina, I think your sex scenes have always fit very well — whether it was one of the Wilderness novels or one of the contemporariess — and I’ve never thought, “well, now, that didn’t belong there!”. I also wouldn’t tag any of them as vulgar — I’ve read a couple of “erotica” novels and, well, there’s vulgar for you (but, again, each to her own). I’ve read wonderful books which had no sex — and equally great books which had plenty. To be honest, I’m usually pretty pleased when I come upon a well-written sex scene!

  8. Vulgar…no way!  I agree with Lynn.  While not required of a good book, I too am “pretty pleased” when I come across a good sex scene.  Oops!  I just realized what I just said…maybe we are being vulgar:)

  9. I think the books are amazing, sex scenes included. At first I thought they were a bit “racey”! (not to say that I didn’t enjoy that…) but after reading some other novels recently they seem tame! I think that they fit with the characters of the story and I don’t actually think they overwhelm or take up too much of the plot at all. Keep writing the way you do Sara, I’m so pleased that I discovered your books and I read them over and over again.

  10. I think that you have done a very good job of including that part of the lives of the characters that may be described as intimate (pardon the pun). I have read other books in which I found the sex scenes unsettling and vulgar – and I would not consider the Wildnerness series remotely related. I did not find any of the scenes distasteful in any way – in fact I thouroughly agree with your reasoning that in order to truly become emeshed in a story and more particularly a characters life – to share the full journey of self discovery makes for a much richer story. Well done.

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