The Real Purpose of Sex in Literature

You know there’s a difference between pornography and erotica, don’t you? Think about it. We’ll get to it later.

Before I get to the purpose of sex scenes in fiction I will start with the purpose of fiction. You read fiction because you enjoy it. When you read a really good book, you are off into another world. An intimate world.

Fiction provides a degree of intimacy rarely found in real life. Where else can you read another person’s mind, discover his conscious and subconscious motives?

Humans are story-tellers. Everyone has a story to tell because everyone uses language to share visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and kinesthetic memories.

Everyone listens to, or reads, a well told story.

Tension makes a good story.

Now, here’s the kicker: believable tension among identifiable characters in authentic situations, no matter how imaginary, creates unforgettable stories.

Think back to a favorite novel you read as a child-one that transported you and showed you new information about human nature. Mine was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. I was ten or eleven. My mother saw me reading it and said, “Oh, you don’t want to read that!” I had nearly finished reading it so continued behind her back. That book taught me about sex. No one else did. It was a gentle teaching.

Perhaps that’s why I approve of sex scenes in fiction and why I write them.

Everyone has sexual feelings. How each person lives with his sexual feelings is idiosyncratic. No two people have identical attitudes toward sex, male myths to the contrary.

A sexual scene in a novel can be highly effective for characterization and theme. Memorable characters in literature, and life, for that matter, often confuse love and lust. He or she believes he is in love with someone who is ultimately all wrong for him–or her.

This confusion provides underlying tensions that enhance the plot.

Identifiable characters are created with just enough specific information such as speech inflection, body language and dialogue to make you say as you read, “I knew a guy just like that. His father was a bear.”

Or, “She shouldn’t be so uptight around men. But I would be, too, if I grew up with that grandmother.”

Put these identifiable characters in an authentic, albeit imaginary, situation and you have an unforgettable story.

As readers glimpsing the thoughts and feelings of a well-rounded character, we learn about ourselves in the privacy of our own living room. We identify with the lead characters and say, “Oh yeah.”

Shakespeare’s characters are enduring because he gave them contradictions. To this day we can watch Mercutio explode and think, I’ve felt like that. Or Hamlet struggling with his conscience because he didn’t know what to believe. Shakespeare gave his characters sexual drive as well as confusion. His sexual scenes produced on stage naturally were not as explicit as those can be in novels read in privacy

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