To Sex or Not to Sex

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day.  I thought I might take this opportunity to relate one of my biggest challenges when it comes to writing:  love and sex in fiction.  In my first book, “Chemical Burn,” the main character (Justin Case) is an alien ex-government assassin who essentially fell to earth and then set up as a private detective in L.A..  It’s pretty much super-hero fiction, and one of his primary drives is achieving a sense of redemption.  As part of that, I layered in a burgeoning relationship between him and his long-time assistant Rachel.

Let me tell you, it’s easy to write about gunfights and martial arts and villains and gangsters.  I pretty much grew up on those archetypes, and they’re second nature to me.  A burgeoning relationship and the requisite copulation that goes along with it, however, is another matter altogether.

A master of relationships, I’m not.  Hell, I’m a writer, which means I’m most comfortable alone and at the computer.  That doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of being in a relationship, and truth be told, I’m enjoying a wonderful one right now.  But having a relationship and writing about someone else’s?  Those are two entirely different things.

The problem with writing—essentially being a god in your own mind—is that reality frequently doesn’t apply and fantasy rules.  Subsequently, I ended up putting two sections in the original version of “Chemical Burn” that are fairly explicit sex scenes.  Having written them the first time, I had a friend (with benefits at the time) read them.  She gave me a fairly positive response to both scenes, but she did add that they were pretty “male fantasy” centric.  She also added that the second scene, a three-way initiated by the women, while not over the top, was pretty close to that mark.

As a writer, one has to (or at least should) try and consider who the target audience is.  Frankly, I didn’t envision a lot of women reading “Chemical Burn” when I wrote it.  In fact, I’m still surprised when a female reader lets me know that she really enjoyed it.  Like I said, it’s mostly guns, martial arts and mobsters.  However, when “Chemical Burn” got picked up by a small press out of Idaho, it finally ended up in front of an actual editor, Julia Stidolph, who as you can tell, also happened to be a woman.

I was delighted when she didn’t rip the text to pieces, and even more delighted when she said she also enjoyed the book.  There were two big changes she recommended, however.  The first was to shuffle one of the chapters from where it was to later on in the book.  Doing so added a little pep to one of the slower sections.  The other suggestion she made was to eliminate the three-way, but probably not for the reasons you might assume.

Her comment was simple and had everything to do with the characters and the nature of burgeoning relationships.  In the novel, Justin and Rachel have only just decided to get together as a couple.  It’s an intense relationship, but there’s hesitation on Justin’s part because of who he is and what he’s done.  It’s all very new to him.  Rachel is in charge of the emotional evolution of that relationship in many respects.

Julia pointed this out and was smart enough to recommend that it was too early for Rachel to initiate a three-way with Justin.  Julia’s suggestion was not simply to remove the scene, but move it to book two.  Her suggestion wasn’t as a result of applying or catering to “morality” or a lack thereof.  It had everything to do with effectively and accurately depicting the behaviors of the characters in question.

It didn’t take much thinking on my part to agree with her.  So, out it went, with the text getting saved for use later.  The point here is that when you’re writing, you actually are god.  You get to dictate, literally, what other people are going to do and think.  It’s a tremendous responsibility, and you have an obligation to get it right so that it rings true with your readers.

I’m still not comfortable with writing sex scenes, but I’m sure I’ll get better over time… particularly in book two.  All I can say to people who are just starting to write or who, like me, don’t write sex with the ease of the romance pros, is to get second and third opinions.  Clarify beforehand that you want people’s input to be about whether or not the character would do it, not that they do or don’t agree with the morality of a scene.

Don’t hold back or curtail sex in your writing simply as a result of some notion of morality or what you think readers might want to see or not see.  Write what your characters will do; write what comes to them naturally.  The odds are that there will be a market for it one way or another.

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