I was glancing through What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex, curious about topics I could toss into to my next novel, and apparently, there aren’t any. This 200-page tome is blank. After I stopped laughing, I spent a good five minutes kicking myself for not thinking of it first. I haven’t checked the book’s Amazon stats, but I’m willing to bet a lacy black camisole that it’s selling well. So much for sex in fiction.
Which brings me to sex in fiction (the kind you have to write, not just spoof.)
Nathan Bransford has a poll called “Sex in Fiction,” and someone suggested that women love sex in fiction; it’s the men who are prudes. After I stopped laughing (it’s been a very humorous morning), I tried to come up with some scenario where men would be prudish (and women wouldn’t): The Vatican? Perhaps in isolated compounds in Utah or Idaho? I’m skeptical. Spend 24 hours in Las Vegas and then tell me it’s the men who are puritanical.
A little bit closer to home: I had reviewers of an early version of my last novel fill out an anonymous survey giving me feedback on humor, vocabulary, plot pacing, character appeal, and sex. (There are a number of somewhat explicit sex scenes woven into the plot.) The readers who identified themselves as male overwhelming liked the sex (and commented that I might consider adding more.) The majority of the women said exactly the opposite (too much sex), and there was a correlation between age and level of discomfort with the sexual vocabulary (the older, the more they disliked it.) My survey size was pretty small, and the poll was certainly not scientific, but I think the results are interesting, nonetheless.
Granted, I do not write romance novels: the sex in my books tends to be “honest” not “idealized” (which is not to say it’s raw, but it’s not particularly sanitized either, and I’m sure you could disagree about how well written it is, too.) Despite the fact that my Ideal Reader likes the sex (and that’s who I listen to the most), I ended up changing some of the intimate scenes in the book because of the feedback. I tried to keep the sharp edge of the writing (and the plot), but make it a bit softer in the delivery. I’m hoping more readers will like it (without losing the ones who already do), but I’m sure some still won’t. (If you’re curious, check out this short story and please let me know what you think in the comments below.)
In the end, I try to stay true to myself while still producing a manuscript that people will enjoy reading, but I write for myself first and foremost, and I like sex in fiction. I hope you will, too.