Sex in Fiction

Out From Between The Sheets. Art by Victor Olson, Beacon Signal Books, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Out From Between The Sheets. Art by Victor Olson, Beacon Signal Books, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I am not a writer of porno…but elements of my latest novel, Voice, might well seem that way to some. Or is it “erotica”? And what’s the difference?

There are sex scenes…and there is little left to the imagination in most of them—but in the same breath the sex scenes (I am betting) are not exactly what I’m thinking you’re expecting.

What is it about sex that embarrasses us?

Sex.

Can you even look at the word without flinching?

We don’t feel the same way about violence. Sure, we give lip service to how terrible and abhorrent violence is…but our actions speak otherwise. Violence doesn’t embarrass us—it should, but it doesn’t. Look at all the TV shows and movies…the gaming…that is so accepted that even kids are allowed to watch and/or play. You don’t see the same level of acceptance with things-sexual.

And I’m betting many of you are nodding your heads now, thinking, of course not!

Why is that?

So sex is worse than violence?

We can watch graphic prime-time shows with animals-in-the-wild “mating,” but Heaven forbid there’s a prime-time show with humans graphically “mating” (though arguments can be made this already quickly changing…).

And there’s the embarrassment factor.

People all the time talk about violence, lip service or not…but, again, Heaven forbid anyone bring up the topic of sex. This, on a philosophical and metaphysical level intrigues me. Sex is a natural function of the Human race. Arguably, violence is not. Violence is brought on by other factors that I’m not going to even try to get into in a short blog posting—but, to me—it is not a “natural function” of being a human.

I am not writing more apologist posts about my work, but I’d read this article by Noy Holland that discussed sex in writing, and it got me to (again) thinking. We really are far more accepting of violence than we are of sex. This is a flat-out, disturbing truth.

There is nothing redemptive about violence. There is about sex. Sure, one could say that violence can redeem itself by taking out evil, by “righting a wrong,” but there really is nothing good about inflicting pain or death in and of itself (and the old “two wrongs don’t make a right” come to mind). Doesn’t matter if the end result “corrects” a problem or not, one is still employing violence in said scenario. One is still performing heinous activity upon another. And I’ve heard more than once about how those who inflict actual violence on others do not feel good about it. Even in times of war. But so often it is framed within the guise of “a necessary evil.”

Sex, on the other hand, is not about inflicting pain or death…it’s about “inflicting” (if the word be used) pleasure and closeness. Connectivity. About bringing people together. Enjoying each other. Love can even be involved!

Yet talking about it, writing about it, filming it in movies has always been to certain extents taboo.

This is quite “telling” about the Human Race.

And what is “pornography”? Is it “erotica”?

“I can’t define pornography,” one judge once famously said, “but I know it when I see it.” (Justice Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 US 184 (1964).)

Pornography is defined as anything that is in words or pictures sexually explicit. Another definition is something that is primarily designed to produce sexual arousal in viewers. But there are further refinements of the definition that describe how erotica has the “saving grace” of “intellectual bookending” (I’ll call it)…an actual story surrounding the sex scenes…the employment of skill in storytelling. Erotica is also intellectually stimulating, while pornography is usually just about “getting one’s rocks off”—and usually for a predominantly male audience at the expense of women.

But what I find curious as I look into this whole debate (subtle unintended pun in there…) is that modifiers are applied to the act of sex…modifiers like “violent and degrading” are the usual suspects.

But these are modifiers to the inherent term, not part of the inherent term.

Sex.

The act of sex is not about degradation and violence…it is about the act of people coming together and experiencing each other on an intimate, physical and emotional level. What we do with that, how we interpret that or “damage” that does not change the inherent neutral and beautiful act that sex is.

Just like farting or breathing or picking one’s nose, there is nothing wrong with sex in and of itself.

Go ahead and debate all the interpretational aspects of society and religions and decorum-what-have-you, but there is nothing wrong with the act of sex.

Yet we continually find fault with it.

In Voice, I depict sexual situations that I feel are important to the story, to the characters. In doing so that makes people feel ill at ease. Uncomfortable. Even I felt more than a little uncomfortable as I wrote and rewrote those scenes (truth be told, I was also uncomfortable writing the violence that unfolded in The Uninvited), and I was embarrassed at myself for having felt that way. No fricking way should I have felt that way! No fricking way should any of us feel that way!

The actions in my novel are between two people. In private. I’m not saying what they did was right…but it was what they did and is critical to the story and the characters’ growth. Without those scenes, there is no story. No impact.

It was just sex.

But it was the story, the emotional impact that bookends “that” activity that elevates the novel beyond the realms of “pornography.”

“Erotica” even?

No. As Noy points out, “All good fiction has an erotic charge.”

I try to write as “real” as possible in all of my work. It doesn’t matter what it is, I give it my all. When I put something out there, I very much intend people to walk away from my work saying something like, “Gee, that really could happen….” I did that for my metaphysical stories, my supernatural stories, my conspiracy theory stories. Of my fifth novel, it happens to have some pretty intense sex scenes in it like The Uninvited had some pretty intense violence in it. Both of these stories were at times difficult to write. And writing—good writing—is supposed to be “difficult” on a metaphysical/philosophical level and to get one to think. Reconsider one’s station, one’s place in life. One’s world. Voice is no different…whether it’s really good writing or dreck…my aim was to get one to reconsider certain aspects of love and life and relationships. Given the subject matter, if there weren’t moments of being uncomfortable then I hadn’t done my job.

Sex in fiction?

It shouldn’t even be an issue.

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About fpdorchak

Paranormal fiction author.
This entry was posted in Books, Nature, To Be Human, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sex in Fiction

  1. Karen Lin says:

    Sex and violence controversy is at least as old as TV. We’ve been a rather Puritanical society compared to most of Europe. I remember living there in 1983 (Paris for a year for school) and being surprised when a nude woman came on the TV showering with Nivea. Here we’ve gone from men’s and women’s nipples being out of bounds to Boulder’s new law allowing women to go topless. I have mixed emotions about that. On the one hand, why should a woman’s breasts (source of food) be hidden? On the other hand, what is hidden is titillating, so do we want to slowly whittle away at what is a turn on? It’s like a scene in your book.. look but don’t….. Don’t want to give it away.

    I disagree with you, Frank, about violence and humanity. I believe that just as Elks butt heads over females, there will always be some level of violence in part because of scarcity of resources in different parts of the world and because of mating and the importance of carrying down the genes. It would be an interesting study to see if violence goes up or down with the numbers of abortions. Not to bring up a contentious topic… just curious how that effects the entire dynamic.

    • fpdorchak says:

      It does bring up interesting “quandaries”…and I’m not saying I have all the answers…but I find it immensely curious….

      Elks aren’t human. :-]

      And in your example of violence it is brought on by exterior circumstances that cause the human to *perceive* the need for it. I still politely maintain that violence does not manifest in and of itself as a part of a “status quo” human, who, left to their own devices would just manifest violence just because they could (mental issues notwithstanding). It manifests because of a *perception*. I’m not one a them fancy types with white coats, so I don’t know quite how to express what I’m getting at, but there it is. :-]

      • Karen Lin says:

        Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. There will never be a Garden of Eden. Unless we do, we are flawed, our environment isn’t always ideal and we must eat and stay safe and that creates what I think is a natural need to fight as needed to get what we need to survive and get past that stage to taking care of our neighbors. And perception is reality. We happen to be spoiled here, meaning it is typically mental illness that leads to violence, but elsewhere they fight just to eat. That is what they need and until the entire world eats well and has shelter and we eradicate mental illness, there can be no such thing as a natural state of nonviolence.

  2. Violence is a choice? Sex is in our DNA? Funny thing is, I’ve been around really poor people and no one has tried to cut my throat for the rupees in my wallet. I would think it would happen more. But then, I watch movies, and in movies, that would happen. Hmmm. Is violence a part of being human?

    • fpdorchak says:

      Yes, I believe violence is not an inherent “human feature”…but that there are conditions in the Human Condition that obviously bring on violence in some. Too long to get into here. But that is my belief.

      Getting close…the need to touch another…those are “burned” into the Human Condition. We cannot live *well* without touching another…but we can easily live well without violence. Obviously movies need conflict, and violence is “easy” conflict.

      I read about a War veteran who research violence and he said that it is actually instinctive in humans to RUNAWAY from violence and when being attacked. But people fight wars because they are made to believe that doing so benefits them to some degree…e.g., saving your loved ones lives from aggressors.

      Things are NOT always as they seem, Aaron…even in the world of love and sex….

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