Discussion: ‘The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.’ Guest Eden Baylee.

I’m delighted to welcome Author Eden Baylee to the discussion. This is the final post in the month long series, thanks to all of you for participating.

   The discussion from the original post in 2011.

As sex exists today as it has since the beginning of time, I’d say it’s absolutely relevant in literature. If I didn’t think it was, I wouldn’t be writing contemporary erotica.

We all know that sex sells, but even in the genre I write, more sex does not necessarily make the story better. Given this, I’d like to approach the question a bit differently and ask “To what extent should sexual content be included in literature?”

What guides me in answering this question is simple. Does sex contribute to the story? If it’s included to develop the characters, then it’s relevant. If it’s a gratuitous scene that adds nothing to advance the plot, then it should be edited out. Sex without context is meaningless. Not only does it detract from the story, but it could also turn the reader off. Why? Readers are not fools, and they don’t like to be treated as such.

I’ll illustrate this point by using the medium of film.

Let’s start with car chases as representative of sex in literature.

Everyone loves a good car chase scene. It’s exciting, gets your heart racing, and should move the plot forward (even if only metaphorically). Some of the best car chases I’ve seen are from movies such as: Ronin; The Bourne Identity; The French Connection; and the classic—Bullitt.

Why did I like these films? Because they had a plot and characters I cared about. There was an intricate storyline that involved more than just a speeding car, but when the car chase did happen, it was integral to the plot. I didn’t feel as if the director added it as an afterthought or filler to make the movie more “saleable.”

That’s exactly how I view sex in literature. Page after page of sex is like watching a two-hour car chase on the big screen. Though it may be exciting for a little while, it quickly becomes tedious if you can’t answer some basic questions: Who are these people? What have they done? Why are they being chased?

In a well-made film, the requirement for car chases is balanced with the need to advance the story. This is the same balance needed for sex within literature. If you can’t answer the questions: Who are these people? Why are they having sex? Why are they having this type of sex? Then my prediction is you really won’t give a damn why they’re having sex at all.

The second point is realism. Any work of fiction is only successful to the extent that the audience can willfully suspend their disbelief. When the filmmaker pushes too far, the work fails—the same goes for authors, especially when it comes to writing sex. Most adults have experienced sex. For this reason alone, it’s essential to keep it real. The challenge is to write it in a way that is creative and yet sensual. Maintaining believability means characters are not engaging in acrobatic moves that even a contortionist could not muster. It’s sex, not gymnastics! Unless your writing involves the paranormal or shape-shifters, characters should not possess superhuman powers when having sex. That includes the frequency, type, and amount of sex they have.

The third comparison to film is genre. If you watch a comedy, you expect to laugh. If you watch a horror movie, you expect to be scared. The same expectations are inherent in literature. No matter what genre you write in, there is opportunity to include sex in your story—if it’s appropriate. Expanding on the car chase analogy, inclusion of one in a “heist” film would be expected, but not so for a mystery or science fiction film unless it makes sense to the story.

Erotica is a genre that obviously contains sexual content. Often misunderstood, some equate it to pornography, thereby discrediting it as nothing more than “just” sex. Because of this negative association, some writers of erotica have taken to calling themselves romance or erotica/romance authors—myself included. It’s not that I think romance is more credible or respected as a genre, but it does give me a wider audience. Some readers want more sex than is provided in the “happily ever after” romance novels. Good erotica delivers more sex—along with a strong storyline, riveting plot, and interesting characters.

It’s important to know what you’re getting when you buy something, and perhaps that’s the main reason to define the genres. At the heart of it though, does it matter if you call yourself a romance author, erotica author, or author of fiction who writes with strong erotic elements? I think not. Call yourself what you like, but if you are writing sex in literature today—do it for the right reasons: To draw your readers into the plot of the story; to arouse them to connect to your characters; and finally, to have them fully commit to your book, awaiting the next one with bated breath.

Eden’s update. 2016.

 

When the lovely Suzanna Burke, asked me to pen an update to an article I wrote for her series, “The Relevance of Sex In Literature in 2011,” I was shocked to realize how much time had passed.

I don’t usually re-read my old blogs because they tend to sound dated. Either my writing style has changed, or new information has come to light since its writing. In this case, I re-read the article only to provide myself with context. In the process, I made an interesting discovery. It was as if I were reading my words for the very first time. The post still resonated with me—five years later!

Of course, much has changed since I wrote that piece, both in the world of literature and in my own writing. What did not surprise me though, is that “sex is still relevant in literature,” and I’d wager that if Suzanna asked me to update my thoughts again in five years, I would give the same answer.

As long as we live, serious literature must at least acknowledge that sex exists. How this acknowledgment insinuates itself into the pages of a book is up to the author. Not all writing about sex will be good. For example, when I wrote my first article, Fifty Shades of Gray had not yet been released. Since then, opinions on the book have run the gamut. It’s been called:

The best thing for the erotica industry

A book that will get women in touch with their sexuality

A misogynist tale that has turned back the women’s movement

A dangerous and inaccurate representation of the BDSM lifestyle

The worst thing for the erotica industry

 

Confession time.

I never read past page 98 of the first book, so I won’t speak to the merits of the story. What I can say is the book came along at a time when people were open to a dialogue about sexuality. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook made it possible for everyone to voice their opinions. Good or bad, the book allowed for conversation about sexuality, and denial that it existed was futile. Everyone was talking about it. It may have taken a popular (if not a great) book to kick-start the conversation, but it was a conversation, nonetheless.

I’m a firm believer that myths can only be debunked when we talk about them. This is especially true on the topic of sexuality, which is still a taboo subject for many. An open dialogue goes a long way to creating understanding and stamping out ignorance. Even if we agree to disagree, we can no longer remain in the dark.

My hope is the conversation continues.

 

+++

Eden’s updated bio:

Since penning several books of erotica, Eden Baylee has expanded her writing to the mystery and suspense genres.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her trilogy with Dr. Kate Hampton—a psychological mystery/suspense called STRANGER AT SUNSET. She is now working on the next two books in the series.

Eden still writes erotica when given the opportunity, and many of her stories, regardless of genre, will continue to explore the basic human characteristics of love, hate, and sexuality.

Connect to her via her: Website | Twitter @edenbaylee | Facebook

 

edeneden 3

Discussion: “The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016”

Please join in the discussion with today’s guest, Maxwell Cynn.

Discussion sex

It is hard to believe it’s been five years, Soooz. Thanks for asking me back. Most of what I wrote in the post below still holds true today, though in the wake of fifty shades of everything the lines between “mainstream fiction” and hard core adult erotica have been smashed. The books and stories my wife once called porn are tame in comparison to YA romance today, and some of the current erotic literature is so graphic even an old smut writer like myself is appalled.

But I still believe it is the place of writers and publishers, not would be censors, to categorize and market their work. In todays market self-publishing is more and more common, which gives artists more creative freedom than ever—but also more responsibility. As content producer and publisher we choose how we market our work and to whom. It is our call if we promote a Triple-X narrative as YA romance or mark it as 18+.

Today there are no taboo subjects or editorial censors applied to literature. Anything goes and sex sells. It has been a long time since I’ve heard anyone even suggest parental labels or censorship. Sellers, like Amazon or B&N, have placed some restrictions on marketing by removing clearly adult content that is not marked as such. But slap on an 18+ tag and you can write anything. To me that is reasonable.

Some may say that the 18+ label is in itself a form of Parental Warning Label which I wrote against. To me, it is more akin to the old brick and mortar sellers who had a section in the back for adult lit. I think most writers of adult lit and erotica will agree the 18+ tag is often more of a marketing tool than censorship. If I’m looking for erotica I’m not searching YA on Amazon, I’m going straight to the adult section and searching 18+.

I do, however, continue to believe we have saturated mainstream literature with adult themes to the point nothing shocks anymore. The sweet little erotic romances I once wrote are tame even in the teen market these days, and I considered them to be purely Adult Only when I published them. By the same token I could not compete in today’s adult market trying to sell my works as erotica, they are too prudish, but I refuse to market erotica to teens. In a way I have censored myself by removing all my adult titles from the market.

As I warned in my earlier post, we have pushed the limits to the point that our words become impotent. The teen sex scene in a YA novel is just another scene the reader has read time and again, and watched more vividly in movies or on cable, and perhaps even experienced first hand. There is no power in our words to draw emotions from our reader or provoke thought. I mourn the lost days of innocence when a heroine’s sideline fantasy of her hero’s kiss could make a reader blush with anticipation.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but when we live in a world where anything goes, and often does, there is little left in the writer’s arsenal to shock and awe the reader. Today sex in literature is as mundane as characters sitting at the table talking. Eros has lost his magic and we have lost the power and beauty of erotic prose.

The original post in 2011.

Maxwell Cynn

Should Books Have Parental Warning Labels?

Thank you, Soooz for letting me come on your blog and rant a bit.

Censorship is ever a contentious issue in art. We bring it on ourselves: pushing the limits, trying to be hip, begging attention by being controversial. “It’s art!” is the general cry–when someone pisses in a glass or takes a picture of something in their arse. When Hemingway, and those of his generation, fought with publishers it was about the odd curse word. Hemingway wanted his dialog and prose to be real–the way people actually speak. When romance writers battled against the censors they wanted to show the sensual side of romance. But those battles were over long ago.

Today I can drop the f-bomb in a book or on my blog without anyone batting an eye. I can describe scenes that would make a nun wet or a hooker blush without fear of being arrested. But still some people push the limits. When I first started writing romance my wife accused me of writing porn. But current YA romance makes what I write seem quaint and almost prudish, and teenagers are reading it without blushing. So writers and artists go to unbelievable extremes to be controversial, and then people scream for censorship.

There will always be those who wish to draw a line and keep everyone behind it. The line itself is arbitrary and changes with generations. And there will always be those who seem compelled to step over that line if only because it is there. But there is a difference between being true to our art and being controversial simply for the sake of controversy. Hemingway wanted characters to speak as men speak (he actually had a battle over the word “swell” because it was slang–not proper English) and romantics wanted to portray love as couples truly loved, without resorting to euphemism and purple prose.

The only good censorship is that which we impose on ourselves, for the truth of our art, not that which we impose on others. I often write fairly provocative erotic romance. In the context of those stories I feel it is beautiful and expressive. I enjoy fine erotic art for the same reasons. But I also write hard science fiction, fantasy, and romance, among other things. There is a different standard, a different feel in mainstream fiction.

In a recent manuscript set in the 1920s the dialog I wrote contained virtually no cursing. That fit the sensibilities of the period, the characters, and the setting. I threw the f-bomb into a scene that was very intense and violent. It fit, and added powerful emotion to the scene. The hero and heroine never kiss, until the scene where he proposes to her, and not even the professional girls venture beyond a ‘PG’ rating in their flirtatious behavior. Yet the story is at times highly romantic, the heroine is extremely sensual, and the villains are harsh and violent. It is an adult novel.

When we use sex, language, or violence simply to shock and stir controversy it lessens our art. It also lessens the impact of our words. When a villain in the above novel says, “I’m gonna stomp your ass and fuck your girlfriend,” it’s a shock to the reader. When the hero drops the f-bomb in the midst of an intense and violent scene the reader feels that intensity along with the hero’s fear and frustration. The words have power because they are rare and unexpected.

In the same way, less is more when it comes to sex in literature. If the romantic lead goes down on the heroine in the first few pages what is left for the remainder? Sexual tension is best achieved by no sex at all–the desire, the need, the longing, restricted and contained at every turn. Anticipation builds to a long awaited and often denied climax, yet if that climax becomes common place, mundane, there is no anticipation, but only rote predictable outcomes. His tongue slips over her clit yet again, yada, yada, yawn–let’s move on with the story.

And so we are left with only the most graphic, deviant, kinky scenes with which to titillate our readers, and the would-be censors scream foul. Sex has lost its power and our words are left limp and impotent. Sex in literature is like anything else we write–too much lessens the value of all. The same happens with violence, blood, and gore. Readers become desensitized, writers ramp it up to new levels, and censors try to establish new lines of defense.

I never want to see Parental Advisory labels slapped on the cover of books, nor publishers attempt to censor Free Speech, but writers do bear responsibility for their words whether they wish to admit it or not. With YA, and even Middle Grade fiction taking on ever more mature tone, Adult and Erotic fiction push the extremes to compensate. Writers are why the sensibilities of censors are inflamed. When teen heroes are slinging f-bombs and teen heroines are playing the slut it’s hard to blame parents for being upset with contemporary fiction.

Writers need to understand that by flooding literature with more sex, more graphic language, more violence, and more controversy we dilute the power of our own words. We must censor ourselves or be censored by others. Throwing our characters in bed is cheap and easy, while not letting them quite get that far may be more difficult it is far more powerful and often more erotic. Mama used to say that people curse because they have a weak vocabulary. I implore my fellow writers to use your words. Set limits on your characters and make them strain against the bonds.

Disclaimer: Of course none of this has anything to do with Literary Erotica, which is all about the sex. The above diatribe concerns mainstream fiction. Erotica is by definition pure eroticism–the triple X of the literary world. I write that too, and enjoy reading it as well. But as purely adult entertainment, different standards apply. Erotica is already branded as Adult Only and often resigned to a child proof section in book stores. Should all books with sexual content be likewise branded?

Please join in the discussion. Comment below.

 

Discussion! “The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.”

Discussion sex

Relevance is simply the noun form of the adjective “relevant,” which means “important to the matter at hand.”

You are invited to join in this July long discussion of “The Relevance of Sex in Literature … 2016.”

Five years ago I created this particular discussion on my other blog. It proved to be a very lively, and quite fascinating discussion.

Five years in the publishing business is a long time. I’m curious to see if the advent of books such as “50 Shades of…you know what’ has altered perceptions of the ‘relevance of sex in literature’ The following is a brief quote from the original discussion by author Dan Holloway.

Remember that next time you see the tabloids calling for censorship. What do they really object to? Some words on a page? Or having something there, in their line of sight, making them think things they would rather not. What’s really worse? The things we write about? Or it being OK for a whole society to hold moral opinions they’ve never questioned?

Several of the Authors who participated will join us again…I asked them this question..”Would you alter any part of your response from five years earlier?”

The remainder of the discussion is wide open to all who wish to join in. … No word count, and I do NOT censor either the posts or comments. This is a ‘real’ discussion.

I will be scheduling the posts, so please, send me your content via email at

 

suzieb4burke@hotmail.com

 

Please note in the subject line…Discussion …’The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.”

C’mon…join in.

Submissions needed by June 30th at Midnight.