Sex in Literature

Sarah Publishing
Over the last couple of weeks, I have heard and been a part of many conversations about sex in literature.  These conversations have taken place at conferences, in public, and within chats among friends.  I find it interesting to hear how others view this topic, what they find appropriate or inappropriate, or whether or not they enjoy reading this type of work or are simply made uncomfortable by it.  I still stick to the belief I have held for all of my adult life, and as this is my blog, I’m going to share that with you now.

While many would argue that sex has been a part of literature for as long as there has been the written word, I would disagree to an extent.  Has it been “present” in literature since the beginning? Sure it has.  But has it been the graphic and explicit portrayal we are seeing so often today?  I would argue it has not.  While The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss (1972) was the first work of fiction to portray physical intimacy, romance fiction has “flowered” quite a bit itself.  Ever since Woodiwiss introduced the world to the sexual exploits of Heather and Brandon, romances have tried to capture the fervor caused by this first of its kind publication.  It wasn’t until the recent release of Fifty Shades of Grey that such a book has so completely captivated readers (and now movie goers alike).

But I have to ask this question: outside of a class on Romance Genre Literature (yes, those classes do exist), where else is sexually explicit work considered literature?  Did Jane Eyre have wild, explicitly detailed sex with Mr. Rochester?  Elizabeth with Mr. Darcy?  Rebecca with Maxim?  Even Hermione with Ron, for Pete’s sake?  And how much more satisfied were you as a reader when you finished reading those works of literature?  I firmly believe that there is something to be said for the imagination!  I know, most children and young adults these days don’t even know what it is to “imagine” something.  The world is already painted for them, and most will never pick up the brush needed to add in their own details.  So what do writers do today?  They hold the readers’ hands.  They paint every facet of the picture with their own take on what the hero or heroine would do and how they would do it (every minuscule detail).  They lead the reader through the author’s own personal fantasy without allowing the reader to decide on her own what is happening.  The reader is no longer a reader, she is a voyeur, a virtual peeping Tom.

On the red carpet this past Sunday, Melanie Griffith said she never wants to see daughter, Dakota, as Anastasia, toy and later wife of Christian Grey (I will not call her his “love interest”).  I don’t blame her.  Would all of the women who read the book feel differently about it if they had to picture their own daughter being graphically defiled by Mr. Grey?  My bet is, they most certainly would. Do we really want to create a whole genre that we wouldn’t want our own daughters to read?  I can firmly say, I would not.

Is there romance in my books?  Yes, there is.  However, I will continue to rely more on my ability to tell a story than on the need to use sex as a plot device.  If I ever get to the point where my characters find time to have a wild and explicit romp in the hay while hiding from a mad man and trying to stop a killer from taking other innocent lives by running from one clue or murder scene to another without the chance to shower or even brush their teeth (I’m already gasping for breath), will someone please put me out of my misery?  I once had a publisher tell me that my writing and plot were wonderful, but they weren’t interested unless I added in some steamy sex.  No, thank you.  The storyline just doesn’t work that way, and neither do I.  Oh did I mention that I was later signed by a publisher and that the same book that was once turned down is now selling very well nationwide?  I guess some people are still okay with using their imaginations.

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and suspense novels.  Her first book, A Place to Call Home may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon. You may follow Amy at on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth and on her web site