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Sex in novels

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I was reading the thread on Brass Balls, a rewrite by Chris James of an earlier work which is toned down, meaning - I presume, less graphic sex scenes. Cole Parker talks about an upcoming work moving in the opposite direction, which he is wondering about the reaction. That discussion got me thinking about sex in novels.

Alan Hollinghurst in his book The Swimming Pool Library has one notable graphic sex scene between the protaganist and a hunky cook over the kitchen table, but that is it, and it is only a paragraph or two. I mention this as an example because I am tending towards the - less is more - school of thought. However, as Cole points out there is a place for both kinds of novel, which is good, because I have a lot of sex scenes in what I have written myself. In fact I am rewriting Refugee, my recently published novel, with the help of an editor, and toning down the sex.

Perhaps somewhere there is a happy balance to be achieved. I do tend to think that unless the book is a sexual extravaganza á la William Burroughs, then the number of scenes should be limited, but there is no magic formula. I have enjoyed books like Rivers of the Dead, by Cynus (Samuel D Roe) which concentrate on gay relationships with no graphic sex. I have also, despite the immense popularity, been bored by Drummer Boy, by Arthur, which after thirteen chapters has no discernable gay relationships. I could compare that novel with those by Mary Renault, they are both historical fiction, both have zero sex, but the Mary Renault books are all around homosexual relationships. I recently finished reading Naked in Berlin, a first novel by Ba H Luong, it has graphic sex in every chapter, but it's appropriate, because the story is about the Berlin gay scene, bars, clubs, dark rooms, and drag queens.

When I first started writing gay themed stories, I thought it was de rigueur to have sex scenes -  nobody tells you otherwise, so I thought it was a readership prerequisite. I discovered much later that this was not the case and that historically the trend in online gay publishing has been a move towards what might be deemed more serious fiction with by consequence less or no graphic sex. In the absence of any reader feedback - which every writer craves, but which is as scarce as hen's teeth - we can only guess at whether or not we have got the balance right!


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Writing gay fiction aimed toward a receptive audience has very nearly become an apples and oranges undertaking, with some readers committed to seeking out stories stuffed with sex scenes while other readers are mostly interested in savoring the romantic interactions and aspirations of the main characters. 

Any extended perusal of Nifty soon reveals that writers long ago ran out of new and inventive ways of describing how one person’s Part A can fit into someone else’s Part B.  Even multiplying the number of people involved appears to have stretched the writing imagination as far as it can go, short of dismembering the participants.

Romance, however, seems to spring eternal, and the possibilities may be inexhaustible.  Writers interested in lengthy careers and building an expanding fan base might do well to consider the rewards of examining love over lust.   

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My opinion is that good writers can include sex by making it integral to the story rather that superfluous and there only to titillate.   A good example of this is Douglas at AD.  He includes lots of sex in some of his stories, graphic sex, yet I never found it excessive or indelicate.  He used it to define characters, to support the story, and it was an important element.

So many stories at Nifty have sex as the reason for the story's existence.  They are sexual romps with a little plot thrown in to support it.  That's where the sex becomes boring.

I, like William above, thought sex scenes obligatory when I began writing.  They grew fewer and less obtrusive as my writing progressed, and I realized it was character that was important to make a story, not sex.

My current story has sex in it, but I hope it's seen at character development, which was my intent.  It surprises me now many people who write me laud me for not depending on sex scenes to sell my stories.  I'm afraid I'll disappoint them with this one.  Unfortunately, I don't have Douglas's skill.  But then, few do.




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There is a place for sex in novels, there is even a place for nasty sex in novels, however, that place is limited. It must be contextual within the story, not pushed in for the gratification of the reader. It should also be reasonable in both the level of its description, remember the reader probably has a better imagination than you have descriptive powers, and in length. Unfortunately, too many gay-themed novels fail on both these counts, especially on Kindle. 

Well written sex can improve a novel, badly written sex can destroy it.

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I write primarily for Codey's World, and Codey's World is aimed more at the tween and teen gay audiences, and Codey's World has stories with sexual content but it's more often hinted at than actualized mise-en-scene, so it is not explicit or graphic. As a result, the object of my stories is definitely not the sex. It's more what leads to situations where there is, or will be, or might be sex going on, but it's left to the reader's imagination to supply those details.

I also write stories that have no sexual and/or no gay themes, and those are also on Codey's World.

Colin  :icon_geek:

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