Does sex in writing sell?

Okay, I know this is a stupid question. Anyone who is going through or has gone through puberty knows that sex, in any form, sells. Always has and always will. What I really want to know is, does it have to be in a story to have it sell? I don’t think so, and it bugs the hell out of me when I see it in stories because the author (or perhaps it’s the editor or publisher who’s doing this) thinks it needs to be there.

I’m currently reading a Ken Follett novel titled Fall of Giants . Now you Follett fans might already know where I’m going with this because, apparently, this is not uncommon with his novels. This is my first Follett novel, so I checked with my husband, who, seeing me reading Follett and having read him before, got the idea to read him again because he has enjoyed his books in the past (my husband has a few of his novel on our bookshelves). So I posed the question to him, since I am a novice Follett reader: Does he always stick in sex scenes here and there, seemingly just for the sake of putting sex into his stories? It took him a day or so to answer me because it never occurred to him, but he came back with an answer in the affirmative. He is reading A Place Called Freedom, and after I pointed this fact out, he said that same thing was happening in his story: sex put in the story where it didn’t seem to fit.

In Fall of Giants, the first sex scene is expected; the typical sex between the lord of the household and one of his servants, but then he puts it in (twice!) with a lady in high society and a man of similar class, once in an opera box and once in a library. Now, obviously, things like that could and probably did happen. Class does not change the need or desire for sex. It was that in this story, it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit with the characters or their situations. It just seemed like it was put there for the sake of having a sex scene, with, I assume, the premise to keep the reader interested. And this is just a shame, at least in Mr. Folletts case, since his story telling is good enough that he had me interested in the characters and what happens to them easily in the first chapter. To me, these stray sex scenes just distract for his good story. Though I am starting to think Mr. Follett could take a little lesson from the novels that are obviously sold for their sex. You know the ones I mean. The paperbacks on the drugstore shelves that have a headless (instructions: put your own head here), voluptuous woman, holding onto the bare chest of a headless (instructions: put your husband’s or boyfriends head here) man who was born with a chest of steel. (No working out for these guys, they were just born this way!) When Follett gets to an actually scene that could and should be a wonderful sex scene he ends with “… and, at last, they made love.”  What a disappointment.

Now, not all writers of sex scenes have this problem. Example – Diane Gabaldon’s book Outlander. Her sex scenes are quite rich and intoxicating if you like the type of sex she is selling. I, unfortunately, do not. Again, I thought her story was good, very good, but I haven’t picked up another book in that series because I was so turned off by the over use of sex in the story (and in this case, very raw and combative sex). No matter what your taste is in that department, I think she over did it, and it distracted from the story, a very good story.

I have been working on a screenplay for my second novel, A Burnished Rose, and hopefully without giving away too much, I do have a sex scene in the book. Even though it really had to be there for the character and the story, I still debated putting it in, in part because of the debate I am discussing now: I didn’t want to put it in just because sex sells. Well, the person that is helping me take my novel and convert it into a screenplay suggested that maybe, in a scene quite a bit before the sex scene that takes place in the story, some sex should take place. (“Sex sells,” she reminded me!) It is a place in the story where this could very easily happen: the girl (Rose) is going off to war, and her long time boyfriend has taken her away for one last evening together. Perfect place for a sex scene, right? But I just can’t do it. It just isn’t in Rose’s or her boyfriend’s character to have sex at this moment, (and in the story, it is 1943. Some people did wait until they were married to sleep together, though not usually in novels or movies, so I might be making a mistake. But my gut tells me no. I tell myself: it adds to the tension. Right? Only time and a movie producer will answer that question).

This may be a one-sided debate. You can most assuredly give me many examples of wonderful, even great stories where sex scenes are not included (I just reviewed one lately – David Copperfield, and a little more on the subject – Pride and Prejudice). But I really wish authors (or publishers, or editors) would not put sex into a perfectly good story just because they think it sells. It demeans the people reading it, and for sure their fellow writers. I rest my case.

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