Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sex in Literature: A Man's View

When I was asked to provide a male perspective on sex in literature, I had to pause and think.  I’ve never written a sex or love scene. It’s not because I don’t want to or because I don’t write about sex, it’s just that the opportunity has never come up. In my mind, men and women think of sex in different ways. From real world dating, lingerie, and pornography, sex is different between the sexes. I have always thought that from a woman’s view, sex is romance and feeling, while sex for men is almost purely visual. When we describe it, it is always about what the woman looked like, what she had on, how big/small her features are, what she did… it is almost exclusively physical, with no emotions, and that’s what I have found when reading men’s points of view of sex.

As a writer, I think sex should be used intelligently. What I mean by that is this: when there is a sex scene, there should be a purpose for it, as if it is the logical next step in the story. For example, if there is a romantic relationship, is it going to go to the next level? Or is there is a tense sexual moment? That I can understand. But if it is gratuitous and doesn't fit, then it throws the story off. I find that when some authors write about sex, they will put it in a scene or interject it into a story for shock value or to mask their writing deficiencies. When I read the scene for the first time, I am completely shocked like, “Wow, did I just read that?” But the thing about going that route is that once you play the tactic, it loses its value and runs the risk of becoming predictable.

Another point to make when writing about sex is you have to cater to what audience you are writing for. If the book or project is erotica, then you can slather all the sex scenes you want, be as graphic as you can, because that is what your audience expects. But even so, your literary skills have to come into play. When I've read erotica or different sex scenes, I can tell when they have been written by a woman. Everything is so detailed and there is so much leading up to the love making. The writer will describe the sheets, the scent in the air, the lighting, the passion between the two.  But when a man writes the scene, he is most of the time just dominating the woman and it is all about the act. If you think about it, that comparison closely parallels how men and women view sex in real life.

In closing, no matter what audience or type of story you write, if it has sex in it, make it tasteful. Make it well-written. Make it matter to the story. Just don’t throw it in. In the right context, the sex scene can be powerful and add another element to the story.

LeRon L. Barton is a writer from Kansas City, MO, who currently resides in San Francisco, CA. He has been writing poetry, screenplays, and short stories since he was way young. LeRon’s first book, Straight Dope: A 360 degree lookinto American drug culture, was released in February of 2013. His new book, All You Need Is Love, will be released in summer of 2014. Please visit him at MainlinePub.com and on Twitter and Facebook.

19 comments :

  1. Interesting view, LeRon. But not always the case regarding male portrayal of sex. In my romantic thriller, Breaking Faith, I wrote from the POVs of both the male and female protagonists and described sex as experienced by each.
    I do agree with you that sex in stories should be an essential element of the story, however. In my case, the story concerned the potential corruption of innocence and the sex scenes were indispensable.
    But we are writers and employ our imagination: we should be able to get under the skin of all our characters, don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stuart, have I invited you to visit us here? You've commented often, and I've been intrigued with your words. I'll inbox you at FB.

      Delete
  2. I do agree that men and women, on the whole, undoubtedly experience sex and portrayals of sex quite differently, but I do not think it is quite as simple as you spell out.

    Perhaps because I was still in that flush of adventure that goes with a first novel, Bashert did include a couple of rather direct sex scenes. Both were pivotal to the story, marking crises and turning points in relationships. My wife, an author in her own right, thought one of them worked and the other didn't. I toned the latter down a bit but kept it in. After that first foray, I pretty much stayed away from sex for the next several novels.

    As a writer, I think there are two basic ways for sex to be part of the story: on-stage and off-stage. A novel can include sex but discretely turn away at the appropriate moment, or a sexual encounter can be incorporated with a backwards look.

    In writing The Four-Color Puzzle, doubtless my most daring work to date, sex is central to the story but it does not happen on-stage. I felt that the controversial nature of the central relationship dictated that the single encounter be seen only from a certain distance, in retrospect. In fact, an important part of the storytelling is how the protagonist's experience and interpretation of what happen evolve over time with greater maturity and distance. I wanted to explore in a deep way what most readers would consider an unconventional connection, even a serious transgression, a violation of the norms of trust. An explicit sex scene would have sensationalized one element that would have distracted from the larger issues I wanted the reader to explore with me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Okay, another guy's POV on sex in books: When does the car chase scene start?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've nailed it, Chris. Since I write both male and female POV, I have to deal with sex from both sides, so I've asked him what he's thinking, and all I get in response is a grunt. He's the same way with movies.

      Delete
  4. I do agree men and women are hard wired differently. I recall a discussion with Barry Eisler and another writer, female, and he asked if we were given an out of context sex scene, if we could tell whether it was written by a man or woman. We both said "yes" immediately. I won't say we'd be right all the time, but if anyone's read a Stuart Woods sex scene ... there's absolutely no emotion. On the other side, Harlan Coben writes women well. Again, it depends on the audience. Readers of romance want to believe the men in the books really ARE thinking what they're thinking in the sex scenes, but I agree with LeRon that they're probably not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Readers of romance want to believe the men in the books really ARE thinking what they're thinking in the sex scenes, but I agree with LeRon that they're probably not."

      Exactly, Terry. Books that are written for women, Romance in particular, might not work so well if the male protagonist's POV is totally realistic rather than the fantasy of what many women hope men think and feel.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for the male perspective on this, Leron. You are right that most, or many, men are not all that connected to emotions about sex and how we writers portray them has to fit the probability of how they see it.

    And I agree with you and others who have commented that the decision whether to include a graphic sex scene has to be based on whether it fits the story and the genre. I do like scenes that take place off stage - or off page - and then the central character reflects on what that means for her life.

    ReplyDelete
  6. We were just discussing a Cinemax series Strike Force with our grown daughter and she asked if it was like Burn Notice. The difference is in Burn Notice, if there is a romantic scene between the two main characters, you are rooting for them to stay together and the camera cuts away before the explicit stuff happens. In Strike Force, one character is what I call a man-whore. He has explicit sex with a stranger about every fourth scene for no apparent reason other than to show that this character is shallow and because their script called for it. I have to assume that Strike Force is supposed to target a young male audience. I think gratuitous sex (or violence or anything) is weak writing, male or female. But there is a reason why Sports Illustrated has a swim-suit edition. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have to correct the title of the series, it is Strike Back. My memory can't be trusted right now.

      Delete
  7. I am definitely more comfortable with off-page sex scenes and have actually refused to buy books from authors who writer otherwise. However, I do like to get inside the male participant's head both before and after the act to see what "makes him tick," so to speak. The few intimate scenes I pen are usually "under duress," so the emotions may be a bit different from the typical romance bedroom encounter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LInda, what do you mean by "Offpage" sex scenes?

      Delete
    2. Implied rather than described.

      Delete
  8. I'm not sure a man's brain has anything to do with sex immediately before and after the act, Linda. Ask any man. Just don't ask afterwards, because they'll likely be asleep. Agreed, guys?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow Dani, that is a low blow... LOL

      www.mainlinepub.com

      Delete
    2. While I agree with you, Dani, under normal conditions, my limited experience in writing bedroom scenes has typically been during times of extreme stress for my characters. Therefore, the man does have other things on his mind...which I do believe, at least for some, is possible. :-)

      Delete
    3. Hey, LeRon - I'm talking about 3-5 minutes here. It's okay. LOL. And if you've ever thought about it in the context of real love, lovemaking happens round the clock, and has little to do with actual sex. Right? Think about interactions with you and your beloved throughout the day.

      Delete
  9. Dani,

    Thank you for allowing me to write this piece for your blog. When I think about sex or write about sex (which I have not yet, but you never know), I have to write from a males perspective because you know, I am a male. What is funny is that I have written women characters before, but I don't think that I can effectively write about something so intimate from a woman's perspective. Diana, I definitely agree with your comment that gratuitous sex scenes are a sign of weak writing. It's like, "Okay, thats all you got?" It reminds me of when I was in highschool, alot of my poetry had profanity in it. My professor said, "It's okay that you use profane language, but once you start using it, the words lose their meaning and power." I thought about that and stopped using them and that is how I feel about violence and sex.

    www.mainlinepub.com

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...