The Sex Scenes In My Novel
My novel The Ramblers has been out in the world for almost a month and I must say it's been a blurry and beautiful time. I've been hopscotching all over, talking about the book and my trio of characters, and answering questions about story and process. The questions, I've learned, have been one of my favorite parts of this whole promotional phase. Writing, as we all know, can be an immensely solitary endeavor (and an important part of me craves that essential solitude during this busy time), but the conversations that come once the book is alive in the world have served as a wonderful antidote to that initial, inescapable literary aloneness.
One of my favorite questions on the road was about the sex scenes in the book. The question was asked in Mill Valley, California where I did a wonderful Pop-Up Happier Hour at the home of fellow author Sukey Forbes. It was a friend who asked the question (you know who you are!) and rather than embarrassing me, I felt it was an opportunity. I am paraphrasing here, but my friend said something like:
There are several sex scenes in the book and they are quite steamy (and frankly I wish they were longer!), but can you talk about your decision to include these scenes in the novel?
I smiled and nodded and maybe turned a shade pink. But it was a topic I was happy to speak about, and I was pleased someone was asking about it. I said something like:
This book is about three people living real lives and I believe sex is part of real life. [At this point, I think someone called out Well, it should be! A chorus of chuckles.] I know that I want to read stories that ring true to me, that highlight all aspects of life for a given character, and sex (or I suppose dearth of sex) is an aspect, isn't it? I also tend to focus on the complexity of relationships in my writing, on the connections between seeking, struggling people, and sex (or the possibility of sex; sexual tension) often informs those connections in interesting, nuanced ways.
But this all begs another question, the question of should. Even though we all know that sex (and profanity - another interesting topic) are part and parcel of life, should we include it in our novels and if so, how much, how extensively, how graphically? Does too much sex in a book degrade the overall story somehow? Does not enough sex render the portrait too sanitized, less authentic? Are there hard and fast (oh, pun) rules for this stuff, or does it come down to instinct vis-a-vis a particular story we are trying to tell?
I don't know the answers to these questions and I'm not sure any of us does. What I do know is that the questions themselves matter tremendously to me and ring in my ear as I sit now to work on my third novel. What I also know is that I enjoy reading books that make me think and ask and feel and books that have some thoughtful spice are among my favorites. These are the books I believe I have written, and hope to keep writing.
I'm curious to know what you all feel about sex scenes in novels. What works and what doesn't for you? Are you drawn to books that are more or less explicit or does it really depend? Any favorite sex scenes in literature?