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River Acheron Question For Imagine Magazine August

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Sex In Stories

This is somewhat more of a broad topic, in that there are many questions that I ask myself. Even in stories about love and romance, are sex scenes needed to flesh out the characters and/or advance the plot? Does sex undermine the story? At which point does the sex scenes turn the story into eroticism/pornography? Do the ages of the characters matter? Should authors be offended if fans and readers skip the sex scenes?

Let me begin by saying I am far from a prude...I have a Pornhub account like many red-blooded Americans, and when I feel like being titillated, I check out "slash" fanfics on various story sites. However, (and this is just me personally), when I read a story for the plot, I usually skip through the sex scenes, or at the very least skim though them very fast. This is less of an issue with movies, because, despite what the MPAA would have you believe, there are actually very few non-"porn" movies with GRAPHIC ~real~ sex scenes in them (Caligula, Nymphomaniac, A Serbian Film, Short Bus, Salo, Crusing, Kids, are really the only ones that come to mind right now..I'm not talking about 3 second simulated fake sex scenes in say, the Friday the 13th movies). This may sound a bit weird, but the more I read a favorite story series, and the more I grow to really like and care about the characters, the less I want to read about them in graphic sex scenes. In the same way, I personally do not write sex within my stories. It's almost as if I do not want to see my characters in that way. It's not their age, because I tend to write a bit older, around 17 to 22-ish. It also has to do with the fact that I'd rather imply than show. (Kind of akin to horror in which what you don't see, is infinitely more scary than all the blood and gore that can be thrown at you.) In my HOMETOWN series, of course I know Donnie and Andrew had tons of kinky, fetish-filled sex in the brief 9 months that they were together. Donnie has a dominating alpha personality and Andrew was punk rock all the way. However, I do not want to write those scenes out. First, because I don't want to see my characters like that, and second I truly believe that the reader can imagine those scenes far better and steamier than I can write them. I guess I am wondering is, where is the line between art and pornography? I love both within their own realms, but I often wonder where one begins and the other ends. You can have a straight up hardcore porn scene with zero plot. You can have a plot/set-up for hardcore porn (The "cable guy" coming to the bored housewife's home), sometimes the plot goes a bit deeper (If any of you are familiar with Twinklight, a gay parody of the Twilight series, and further towards the art category, you have a movie like Caligula, with graphic real sex in it, yet it's a high budget "porn"/"real" movie staring Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole!

For my fellow writers out there: I am curious from both vantage points. Those of you who do not write erotic scenes within your stories, why not? For the same reasons I listed above, or do you have your own reasons for not including them? For those that do include sex peppered throughout your stories....again, why? Does it make your characters romantic interludes more realistic? Does it help advance your plot in some way? Are you trying to steam-up the story and titillate your readers? There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of this, by the way. We all have our writing styles and our reasons for including or omitting sex scenes within our tales. Every single reason is valid! Our stories are very personal to us.

For me, I just do not prefer my genres mixed, I suppose. Kind of like I don't much care for horror/comedy. Also, As stated, when reading or watching a romantic coming-of-age story, I like to leave it to my imagination. Just like I prefer an absence of gore in horror when I want to truly be frightened/horrified. The imagination can do so much more! Think of a movie like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (The original 1974 one.) To this DAY, fans swear it was the goriest movie they ever saw. The truth is though, there is hardly even any blood in it! Toby Hooper filmed it in such a way that the mind actually puts the graphic scenes in there. The atmosphere, the camera angels, the implication, the EXTREMELY disturbing set, the bat-shit insane characters, the way it's almost shot like a snuff-film documentary. So...when viewers think back to that movie, they thought it was a lot gorier than it really was! I feel the same way about sex in romance stories. That said, when I want to be turned on, I will watch or read porn of course. When I am in the mood for blood and gore, sure, I will turn on a movie like Susperia, Cannibal Holocaust, or Tokyo Gore Police. I love gore (in movies!), but it's not SCARY. I love graphic descriptive sex, but it's not ROMANTIC in and of itself.

To finalize, I guess what I am saying is...when it comes to graphic sex in what I watch or read, it depends on my mood. When I am caught up in a sci-fi plot in a story, I'm usually not in the mood to be turned-in. That's not to say that there have not been times where I read a sex scene or two that was absolutely vital to advance the story in some meaningful way. However, if a sex scene comes out of nowhere and goes on for multiple paragraphs, I do tend to skip those. (MOST of the time. I'm still human after all!)

I would love your thoughts on this 
 

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My Take...

When I first started writing stories...I put sex in every chapter. It wasn't always necessary, but I did it for...let's say...'entertainment value'. Hehehe! And while I wanted there to be a deeper relationship and a more story driven plot, it was always the icing on the cake for anybody who was reading.

Since those early days, I've grown and matured a bit more, and I choose my moments a bit more carefully. But, I most definitely do add sex scenes into my stories and describe them in detail. Not because I feel obigated to do so, but because it's a realistic depiction of what would happen in those situations. I would personally feel cheated if I was reading this huge build up to this intense romance between teenage boys and all I got was..."And then they had sex." I mean, sure, my imagination would fill in the gaps, and it would be a much more personal experience that would be super erotic and a fantasy that was tailored to my specific likes and ideas of what it would be like. But still...I think I would want a writer to give me a little payoff every now and then.

I don't think it's necessary to tell a good story, though. You can tell an amazing story without it. I've written a lot of Daydream Short stories with no sex at all. Some of them don't involve anything more than a single kiss, and some are just about a boy discovering porn on the internet for the first time, or having a crush on a friend posting pics of himself on Instagram. It can still be erotic without involving sex, and can even be better than the graphic details of a sexual interlude, in my opinion. But, I still like to inject a little adrenaline into my stories when I can. Hehehe! It's fun. And a lot of readers enjoy it. So why not have some fun when the situation calls for it?

Now...there is a 'big head/little head' ratio to think about when I'm writing. Basically (I know how it works for guys, but I assume it affects ladies too), there's a biological blood flow imbalance when it comes to writing erotic stories. Meaning...either you're focused on emotions and plot...or your blood is going down 'below the belt' and you're sexually focused instead. For me? I try to stay somewhere in between. So I describe the sex in my stories, but the whole time I'm also trying to stay in the mindset of the character. His feelings and emotions are still being woven into what's going on sexually. So, I don't mind if people skim through the sex scenes, or skip them entirely...but they might miss something that's crucial to the character's development.

For example, in "My Only Escape", the main character is bottoming for his love interest. And he's a victim of horrendous abuse from his father...but a part of that sex scene is all about how it 'sort of' hurts to be penetrated, but it's a 'good' hurt. It's a pain that he appreciates as opposed to the abuse he suffers from his dad. That's something that I would want readers to absorb and understand. Or in "Billy Chase", he has different kinds of sex. With boys that he just thinks are hot, and boys that he has feelings for, and boys that he just uses to feel good for a while. And then there are the boys that he really invests his heart and soul into. And I think that says a lot about his character, and adds to the story where his feelings and motivations become more clear. It can be done if you approach it with that purpose in mind, and not just adding sex for sex's sake. :P

Anyway, great question, River! Thanks!

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Well, this is an interesting, but also pretty wide topic.

As said, I think that it is a really genre-related issue. Or, because Genre can be a really vague word sometimes, what does the story want to tell us? What is the main thing, it is all about? Everything told in a story needs to somehow fit in naturally.

Sometimes (and I think this view is really helpful to express my feelings about the topic) I think about protagonists as a friend. Usually the protagonist is pretty much the person that tells the story.

You could just imagine, you are at the position of a really, really close and completely trusted imaginary friend (brotherlike, or maybe you are a brother xD) of the protagonist. What would he tell you?

That is pretty much, what I think should be in the story.

Since you are really close and trusted, he would talk about all the important feelings and issues he has. On the other hand, usually he can not tell you, what he does not know.

Well, and he definetely still would not tell you everything. I mean, I usually wouldn't tell in a story about my life, that I hurt my toe in the morning. This just could sometimes help emphasizing, that that day was just really crappy.

 

To get back to the sex topic now:

Usually the details of sex are not really that important. I mean, if I think about my best friends (that are brotherlike) I wouldn't want to hear any details of their sex life and I would probably stop them from telling and they know that, so they wouldn't tell me details.

But of course I would want to know the major informations and important things. I probably would want to know, if they did it and how he feels about it. And I think that's the status most stories are in for me - and that is from my experience more or less what you get.

 

But of course not for all. The most important is the protagonist. If the protagonist 40 years old, I doubt he would be the person that talks much about his sex life and his imaginary best friend would not want to know about it.

Of course it's completely different, if it's a 14yo boy, that just had his first time. That's major for him. He would want to talk about it and probably also to share some of the details. (Remember trusted friend in a safe zone that is closer than what most people have in their lifes.)

You can generalize few things there, it is all about how important it is to the protagonist and what he wants to tell.

 

If someone was raped, that, the first time you do it after that and how you deal with it, are always important points, that would be so relevant for the protagonist, that you could not leave them out of the story.

 

On the other hand we have a lot of examples of stories about love. And (at least for me) love is actually not about sex. Of course sex is usually part of it, but if I would want to tell a love story, it would be all about the feelings connected with it and while being together, that special feeling of happiness is important, not any details of the sex.

 

And then we have relationships, that change everything again. Because if you display a relationship of the protagonist for a long time, then sex is always an important thing in this relationship. Not the details in particular, but if they have sex at all and how often. Without the need of any specific mentioning or concrete numbers, but usually you would need to have an vague idea, if they do it regularly or not at all.

 

(I also recently read a autobiographical story on gayauthors. You could see really well there, which sex situations were important to the author and in which way, which scene was described in more detail and in which direction of detail.)

 

It's all about the relevance and importance of the facts to the protagonist and the story.

I mean, it would be really strange, if Superman suddenly would need to share details of his sex life with you. He is saving the world for god sake and that's what it is about. Who wants to hear about sex in that context?

(It actually could get important though, if the lack of sex because relationship troubles would impact him. But that would only get a mention, no details xD.)

 

And I feel that it is right, that many stories don't go in too deep into that, because it usually feels fitting and natural.

If you are on your quest (maybe in a fantasy land) or even more common: you have your war with somebody (nation or personal arch enemy). I honestly would not care that much about sex. Surviving or winning or ending the war is just more important then. And that's what the story is about. Of course it still needs to be mentioned, when it happens and is important, but there would be no need for detail – hello we are at war, why would you take much time to describe the flavour of your lover? (It's different, if you describe the feeling of love, because that would probably matter to you.)

 

And it's honestly quite the art to surprise your readers always with new ways of hinting and implying the sexual actions you need to know about without actually naming them. (Writing it directly of course has its own art, too.)

 

I feel like you need to listen to the personality of your protagonists and do what seems natural – in both directions. Usually that means for me no explicit sex scenes, but it's totally different if something plotrelevant happens there.

(I heard from a friend, that you couldn't understand the censored version of Game of Thrones that well, because many intrigues were made in the bedrooms ^^)

And there are also a few occasions, when I would think: „What? You behaved and seemed that horny (maybe for a specific person or just at all) for the whole time and now you did not even talk about the sex or the feelings connected with it???

 

But I also need to mention explicitly, that there are genres, where the sex really is important. And not only because the protagonists may be horny teenagers, but because of the relevance for both protagonist and topic.

 

If you read a story that is about dealing with your own gayness – maybe you are even especially interested in that, because you want to find out, how to deal with your own gayness, then I feel it is a part of it. Not for all stories, you can write books just about problems regarding family and if you should stay in the closet or come out, but (I would guess at least so, I always may be wrong) most people and therefore also most protagonists deal with issues or questions regarding sexual details at some point. I mean, before bottoming for the first time, there is not that rarely a bit of fear or at least insecurity involved, that is very relevant to the person.

(The first sexual encounters of a person in their life are usually pretty relevant in my opinion, though not necassarily the details.)

And it would just put a major hole in stories in that context if you try to eliminate all sexual descriptions.

(Same for some other stories that deal with topics more or less explicitly connected to the issue.

I could definetely name quite a few of stories by our beloved Comicality for example that would miss something without any sexual explicity – though he has also shown that some stories work great without it.)

 

Summary: For me it's mostly about the relation and relevance to the protagonist that determines, if sex should be in the story. For many stories and genres that means that sex should only be mentioned or hinted at, while there are stories and genres for which it is crucial to have some level of sexual explicity. It needs to fit into the naturalness of the story. (Doesn't mean you can't skip them if you want to, you may just miss something that is/ feels important to the protagonist.)

 

I think that covers most of all narrative strategies (even many omniscient narrators), but of course all may change if you use drastically different methods of telling your story than the use of the perspective of a protagonist.

 

I hope I didn't write too much. Hopefully nobody is bored or offended by reading this text.

Have a nice day.

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