Let's talk about sex! (in books)

Let's talk about sex! (in books)

I have recently noticed a trend floating around avid readers and book critics, usually female ones. They start listing things they hate about romance novels and one of the points that I constantly encounter with every one of these people is that they hate unrealistic sex scenes.

Now I totally understand where they're coming from. To a certain extent, that is. Real life sex is not always absolutely fabulous and glorious and making you hear a choir of cherubs vocalizing angelically in the background. Sometimes it can be awkward, sometimes it can be quick, sometimes it can be uncomfortable, sometimes one or both members of the couple might not even reach a world-shattering, mind-blowing climax. Sometimes you might not really enjoy any other position than the boring missionary and other times you might be dealing with embarrassing or otherwise unattractive noises and/or facial expressions, but let's keep in mind, we're talking about human bodies, going through a plethora of bodily functions and weird movements.

On the other hand, even in real life, amazing sex does happen. Quite often actually. Sure, even then, it can't possibly be like a perfectly scripted erotic moment in a novel, but it can still be so good that in our minds it feels like the best thing in the entire universe at that moment. These moments usually involve a huge amount of raw passion going on between the two involved, otherwise known as being way too horny for words, regardless of whether they are madly in love or they just happened to find each other very attractive and just decided to hook up. Mind blowing sex does happen in real life too, contrary to popular belief.

Going back to the topic of book vs. real life sex, I can't possibly agree with these people criticising sex scenes in books for being too unrealistic because of more than one reason.
First of all, there are plenty of books that describe 100% realistic and believable  sex scenes. Whether they are Young Adult novels describing the awkward beginnings of a person's sex life, or simply a novel that's heavily anchored in reality, there are plenty of novels, even romance novels, that contain real life sex. If you want to read  a certain kind of love story, look for it in the right type of novel.

Secondly, you can't possibly take a novel that talks about this absolutely extraordinary love story and then throw in a very ordinary sex scene. Especially if we're talking about a romance between creatures beyond the human realm, say, elves or vampires or whatever they may be. It would be so lacklustre. I mean, picture this for a moment. You spend half of that book reading about this wonderful, amazing, passionate romance, that maybe even takes place in a different realm and/or time than our current real world, and when they finally get down to the sex part it's a totally awkward, ordinary thing:
My love, did you remember to provide us with protection, as I am a strong believer in the practice of safe love-making?
No, my beloved, I have completely forgotten, between that natural disaster that almost killed us both and army of trolls that's hunting us down, it completely skipped my mind.

Then, we shall not partake in the pleasures of the body just yet.

Or something equally ridiculous in this context of surreal love.

As a reader, if I'm reading about a meant-to-be couple, who get put through almost unbearable trials just so that they can be together, I am expected to read an equally captivating sex scene, that shows not only the passion that they bear for each other, but the utter desire of the characters to be together. In these cases I don't care about safe sex, or possible pregnancies or political correctness or anything like that, unless the story wants me to. If these things aren't brought up as issues in any way, shape or form and the story only focuses on the couple's passion and whatever extraordinary circumstances they might go through, then it's totally okay to have an over the top sex scene.

Thirdly, I believe it's ridiculous to criticise fiction or fantasy for lack of realism. It's like complaining that a lemon is sour or that it's cold outside during winter. Fiction and fantasy very clearly mean NOT REAL. When I pick up a volume that goes into the category of fiction or fantasy, I'm expecting to read just that: thoughts and fantasies and feelings and expressions of the author himself. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of fiction novels heavily based on reality, but that is not what we're talking about here. We're talking about things that are meant to be unrealistic. These things are meant to make us dream, make us fantasize, tickle us the right way. If suddenly all books started being just as realistic as real life, it would be so depressing.
Also, let's be honest, who doesn't fantasize during real life sex? Our brains and bodies are already working hard to bring us to that perfect happy ending and we love our significant other more than words and we feel amazing, but just let your mind add that bit of imagination, that may as well be based on something you read in a romance novel. It's like adding the right spices to food to make already good ingredients taste amazing together.

As an aspiring fantasy writer myself, I like using my emotions as my main guides when writing and I therefore completely understand how these over the top love making scenes come to exist. When I write, I try to figure out the main feeling, the general atmosphere of a certain scene and intensify it, play around with it. I channel that particular emotion within myself and try to make it as clear and relatable as possible. Same goes for sex scenes. None of the sex scenes I've ever written are directly inspired from my own physical experiences, but they are based on my own personal feelings that I've experienced during similar moments. If I want to make an other-worldly romance climax with an earth-shattering sex scene, I will simply think of the most amazing real-life sex I have experienced and focus on whatever went through my mind and how I felt during those moments. Then you take that and exaggerate it as much as you can without making it sound ridiculous and there you have it, the world's best sex ever. Of course it's not real, but the feelings that the scene is meant to express are usually very real. That's how authors function. Hell, if I had in real life the sex and romance that I write about in my stories, I'd be the world's happiest woman and I would most likely not leave my bedroom very often, but you have to be able to make the damn difference between reality and fiction.

Another argument that critics of unrealistic sex bring to the table is that it creates unrealistic expectations. No, it doesn't. I believe that if you base your sexual and romantic expectations on a novel with vampires and elves and werewolves and magic or on a story that is obviously over the top from beginning to the end, then, my friend, the lack of realism is the least of your problems. It's the same argument people    use when talking about porn, but with porn they at least use real people, most of the time, so the argument has a more plausible standing. It is however, just as ridiculous. If you are a person smart enough to want to read books to begin with, as a writer I'm expecting you to also possess a healthy dose of common sense that would enable you to tell apart obvious fiction from reality.

In short, darlings, if you want to read real-life stories, based on reality, with average characters like you and me, go read the right types of novels. You will most likely be very disappointed if you will go looking for those things in the section of books whose sole purpose is to help the reader escape in a prettier and more fascinating world than the one we already live in. I, myself, will take a healthy dose of fantasy over five minutes of reality any day.

Tell me, though, what do you think? Where do you stand on this issue? Should fantasy romance books try to make sex more realistic or is it good just the way it is, singing cherubs and all? Let's talk about it!

Blog author: Anna Rose

Cover photo by Anndr

Anna Rose Journal author