Titillation (or Lack Thereof)

I was reading Drew Nellins Smith’s “Let’s Not Get It On: The Indefensible Sex Scene” and found myself making faces at the article. It’s unimaginative, to say the least.

The first problem the author has is that they haven’t read. There is plenty of (gasp!) fanfiction which has provocative and wonderful sex scenes. The same is true with the Romance genre of fiction. Both provide sex scenes that are crucial to character development.

(If you feel the need to mock Romance, bite me. It was one of my staples growing up, right next to James Joyce.)

And that’s the second problem the author seems to have: the inability to recognize that character development and sex go hand in hand. They focus so wholly on the matter of sex in literature they never mention the characters. How are they feeling about this?

The author says of their own book:

Though my own sex scenes weren’t written with titillation in mind, if I had to choose a point of inspiration for them, a certain kind of amateur pornography comes closest, the kind where you actually believe they’ve forgotten the camera is there, and the effect is that of a documentary.

Scenes weren’t written with titillation in mind, and amateur pornography. Objectifying the characters, then, and taking an external viewpoint. But, I would say in nine out of ten sex scenes there ought to be titillation, and there ought to be subjectification. Because if you look at it from the characters’ point view, no matter what consenting adults were involved, of course it is titillating. Of course it is hot. They’re having sex, duh.  They’re feeling the good juju.

Subjectification, the opposite of objectification, is rooting sex in the personal. How are the characters feeling? What is turning them on? Why? What smells and tastes and touches arouse them, what acts make them flush and tremble and sweat?

It is through the characters we discover what is “hot” (or not) and it is through them we find guidance in writing our sex scenes.

Lastly, the author also states:

In writing my own book full of sex, there was almost no one I could turn to for inspiration. There wasn’t a single book I looked to and thought, “What I’m trying to do is write sex like she did or like he did.”

Aside from the obvious lack of reading Romance and erotic fiction, I would say this approach is also flawed. You should not be asking if there is a book out there which writes sex like you do. You should be asking yourself what book is out there writes like you want to for this project.

When I began my novella Bloom I knew it would be a project packed with sex and there would be nothing quite like it to compare to. Instead of dwelling on that, I looked to similar tomes with quite, understated narratives, such as Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. Kitchen remains an inspiration for the project. There is not a sex scene in Kitchen, but it guides me, nonetheless, and I am able to understand what choices I should make based on that slender little tome.

No, there is a place for sex in fiction, and it can be done well (you don’t even have to use the word loins!). I hope the author can learn more about genre fiction and erotic writing and expand their writerly palette, as it were.

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