How Much Sex Is Too Much Sex In Your SFF?

Many of you read the Extras chapter for COLD FIRE, which was not in the book because it is not written from Cat’s first person point of view but rather Andevai’s third person point of view. Some wished the chapter had been included in the book; some were happy that it was available but not in the book; some did not read it at all because they do not like to read the explicit sexytimes.

I mention this because I’m about 83,000 words into a a new epic fantasy novel (projected to become another trilogy). I am writing this one in third person multiple points of view.

Writing in first person for me means I have to adhere to the sensibilities of my narrator. If s/he would talk explicitly about sex, then I can; if s/he would not, then I can’t even if it is germane to the plot.

Writing in multiple third allows more leeway along several axes.

Even if I’m writing in tight third (where the text only sees, mentions, and notices that which the pov sees, mentions, and notices), the narrative still sits one step outside the pov, and that space gives me room to make decisions about what to describe that I don’t have in first person where the narrator would either mention something or would not.

Furthermore, writing with multiple povs means different characters will necessarily be written with different sensibilities. In fact one of the great things about multiple third is its ability to supply diverse views of related events and characters.

In The Spiritwalker Trilogy I was constrained in writing about sex by what the narrator, Cat, would say. [By the way, there is a reason the Spiritwalker books are narrated in first person; it’s not an arbitrary choice or a “flavor”. But you have to read the whole thing to understand what I mean by saying that.]

In the new book I’m not limited (in that particular sense) by first person. I’m writing in several different points of view, and a number of the characters have sex, like people do sometimes (or even often). I have leeway. I can be vague and allusive, or I can be absolutely as explicit as I want to be.

Hence my question:

How much sex do you like in your sff?

I need to specify an important clarification: I am speaking of consensual sex. This question is not intended to devolve into a discussion of representations of rape in epic fantasy because I have previously talked about that here and here and because I’m more interested in how consensual sex is depicted.

And it is a curious thing, is it not, that many readers seem more comfortable reading about non consensual sex than consensual sex as if non consensual sex is properly dramatic and consensual sex is not?

But again there was a great discussion of that specific issue in this post earlier this year.

So, how much sex DO you like in your SFF?

Should epic fantasy should be pristinely free of sexual feelings or reference? Are vague foreplay and kissing all right as long as the curtain is drawn early and often? Is explicit sexual description acceptable as long as it is only described when it absolutely matters to the plot? Or are sexytimes always welcome, regardless? Or something else entirely which you will note in the comments?

Tell me what you think, people. After all, presumably you may end up reading these scenes and lamenting that they have too much or too little sex in them. Speak!

58 thoughts on “How Much Sex Is Too Much Sex In Your SFF?

  1. I say at the most two explicit full-on sex scenes. You can, however, have a good many implied sex scenes and as much smutty language as required.

  2. I don’t mind if there is lot of sex in a novel as long as it’s well written. There us nothing worse then a badly written sex scene

  3. I’m a romance reader as well as an f/sf reader, so I’m happy to read sex scenes as long as they move the plot and/or relationship forward (which good sex scenes usually do). So, no real quantitative limits as far as I’m concerned!

  4. Exactly this… If it is developing characters, relationships or plot then no limits. If it is “fluff” then there may be a point where it starts to be distracting.

  5. I don’t have a problem with consensual sex in epic fantasy, and would like to see more of it. Looking at some of the more popular recent fantasies, it seems many characters could do with a bit more relaxing, anyway. 🙂
    Seriously, though, sex is part of what people do. Leaving it out is just not very realistic unless the circumstances are such that it’s not feasible.

  6. If there are two characters who are developing a relationship, then how they behave toward each other – and emotional milestones they reach – during sex is important.

    I’m usually not interested in detailed descriptions of the mechanics unless there’s something unusual about that which moves the plot or characterisation forward.

  7. As said under the last post, I also have no problem with explicit scenes. For me, sex in fantasy is like hot spice: A little bit of it is nice, but too much ruins the food, as it does not allow you to experience its other flavors anymore.
    Its a part of life and much epic fantasy like to cross out some basic needs. If its written in a respectful an interesting way, it is nice to read.
    That goes of course only for consensual sex, but as you and most people here agree on the subject, I think I do not have to say much more about it.

    So, I’d like to read more of it in your next book, but its not what I mainly expect in your books. I’ll be looking forward for more little details in your world, that make it alive and real. (Reading Cold Magic and Cold Fire again as preparation for cold steel. I see so many exciting little things that I missed the first time when I just (positively) drowned in your way of painting with words. Such details make a book very special for me.)

  8. What she said. Like eating or going to the toilet or menstruating or any other normal human activity if it serves the story and/or character development then write it!

  9. My feeling is, has been said, that it should serve the plot or character development somehow. If the character is having a lot of meaningless but otherwise consensual encounters, that should not be gratuitously used. If the character is desperate or in some kind of downward spiral, or something else that is going on…

    That said, action should be varied and unless it’s really porn, I don’t think there’s good reason for it to be one sex scene after another… and I don’t think there should be any strict rules either.

    The initial Kushiel’s Dart books did well with this sort of thing, I thought. Haven’t found the later ones yet. No real explicit action, but teasing description of various acts were frequent. Then again, the main character was a courtesan.

    The Black Jewels books include a lot of sex, particularly the ones following the first trilogy. There is a lot of talk of nastier, nonconsensual stuff, rape used as a weapon is really just the start of it… but that gets less as the story goes on. It’s never described in much detail as far as I recall. The consensual scenes get some detail, but not every thrust and jerk. A bit of foreplay, perhaps, and some generalised description of the act itself.

    The other book that comes to mind is Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. Mostly it’s a bit chaste, but there are two somewhat sexual subplots. One, a princess in an arranged marriage has to navigate the bizarre rituals surrounding the attempts to conceive a heir for her godking husband… who turns out to be even more virginal than she is. There’s no sex, but there is some nudity and talk of sex. And then there’s her sister who winds up destitute and on the run from mercenaries. For a time she contemplates prostitution to survive… not in so many words, but the implications are clear.

    Probably not epic fantasy, any of them, but generally what was done or how it was described worked within the tone and type of story, what other action was happening, and who the characters are…

    Mostly, I think you just go with what feels right to you.

  10. I personally like quite a bit of explicit sexy times in my sff, but only if it’s well written. If it’s poorly written then quantity certainly doesn’t make up for quality. If it’s pertinent to a certain character (ie a whore) then once a chapter or more is fine. As well, I greatly dislike vague references to sex, just a bit of foreplay or whatever. If you’re going to include sex in your writing, then include it. If explicit sex bothers you to write about then don’t include it. I’ve read some really great sff without sex, I’ve read some with sex, and unfortunatly I’ve read some with sex done poorly. If you’re going to do it, go ALL the way, if not, leave it out and don’t distract the reader with the odd reference to it.

  11. My personal opinion — purely descriptive, not prescriptive — is that I am not opposed to explicit depictions of consensual sex, but that I enjoy them only if there’s emotional significance for the characters, for example as the beginning or climax (hah) of an emotional arc. And there’s a tipping point at which too much sex usually turns the book into a romance or erotica with some skiffy taped on and that’s frankly not my gig.

  12. I don’t mind explicit sex scenes, but I tend to get bored with them after a certain amount of wordcount unless, say, there’s interesting conversation going on at the same time. And I have been sadly trained by some books to skim the sex because it feels so much like “Pause the plot, get it on!” that I sometimes miss interesting things happening in better-handled sex scenes, since I just assume that if sex is going on for more than a few paragraphs it’s probably not relevant. Bad habit of mine, and I should get better about actually checking for plot/character/theme progression in those scenes before I skim.

    That said, I actually find I prefer sex scenes to long passages in which a character thinks of how sexy some other character is, because at least something is happening during the sex–ideally something where the protagonist is actively participating in the action–whereas I pretty much never feel that “Also, that person is attractive” needs to be contemplated extensively by a protagonist who has useful things to do.

  13. I don’t really have a preference one way or the other. You’re a good enough story-teller that if you write what arises organically from the story, I’m quite confident I’ll love it.

  14. I agree with Stephanie. Sex is fine as long as it moves the plot/relationship forward.

  15. Oh dear “Leaving it out is just not very realistic” made me think back to my childhood when I asked my mother why people on TV didn’t have bathrooms or use bathrooms. Our society leaves out depictions of so many things we do every day! So, yes, if it advances the plot/character/relationship then include the sex. If it is gratuitous or repetitive, leave it out.

  16. Whatever is appropriate to the story is generally okay with me. Some stories are meant to be chaste, some work best with sex handled vaguely and some need a lot of explicit scenes. Pretty much the only time the handling of sex bothers me is when, on the one hand, the story is bizarrely chaste (as in, characters supposedly falling in love but not seeming attracted to one another at all) or, on the other, when the sex scenes are totally gratuitous (in the historical fiction and fantasy that I read this comes up most often with male characters and prostitutes, like the author just wants to make sure we know he’s getting some even though it’s completely irrelevant to the story, and it says nothing about his character because he’s in a setting where visiting prostitutes is the norm for men).

    So I guess my biggest caveat is that I get frustrated when the sex doesn’t really seem important–either because one of the participants is a bit-part character or because we’ve seen these same two people have similar sex 5 times already–and is just there because it’s SEX. But overall I think epic fantasy could do with more consensual sex.

  17. A full-on scene would only be necessary in rare cases (for me as a writer), the main example my bonus chapter for Cold Fire which presupposes that readers are waiting for more explication for something they’ve been waiting on for a while.

    I myself am not that interested in multiple full on scenes if they are just for explicitness sakes.

  18. It is a puzzle to me why there seems like there is so little, and why it is deemed a bit skeezy (or girly) when it is left in. I haven’t read The Wheel of Time but is there any sex in it, I wonder.

  19. True about bathrooms, etc. But it’s interesting to me that sex is something that puritanical American culture equates in that way with something that ought to be concealed, almost as if it is slightly unseemly.

  20. I have a scene which is exactly that — how they behave tells us a lot about them and their developing relationship.

    I agree that a really great sex scene can have very little of the mechanics and a lot of the emotional and character development.

  21. Thank you!

    Writing in multiple third person point of view really does leave one quite a bit of leeway because as the writer you can make varying choices.

  22. I think tastes have changed, too. It would be interesting to compare how consensual sex is handled now compared to, say, 20 years ago in sff, and by whom.

  23. That’s an interesting perspective about foreplay and vagueness. I can see how sometimes “They hurried into the bedroom and shut the door” might be preferable to a few “passionate kisses” and other such uninspired description.

    Writing sex poorly is always a danger. As someone pointed out above, it is perhaps the easiest thing to write poorly in all of fiction because it is so intimate.

  24. Yes, I’m basically with you. I mean, I can imagine a scenario where the lack of emotional significant is the significance, but mostly I am interested in the connection.

  25. Then I have to keep that smutty scene in, I can see. Because it wanted to be written that way.

  26. I once stopped reading a novel on the first page because it opened with a woman walking in a door and then measuring, undressing, and lusting over a man she had never before met. Nope.

    My feeling is that the best way to make a sex scene work is the interplay, which should include conversation except perhaps at the most intense points. But then, I love good conversational interplay.

  27. What is that circus film with Charlton Heston? He and the woman who is his friend have sexual tension galore, but he and his love interest in the film are like two dead fish together. Funniest thing ever. That can definitely be true on the page as well.

    I find prostitute/sexworker/campfollower/whore scenes often to be gratuitous in much epic fantasy. Also, super lazy.

  28. Think about it like this. Instead of sex, it’s pie. How often do you want to see the characters eating pie in various settings and ways instead of having the story move foward? I’ve read a few series lately where the focus is half sex (either thinking about it, wanting it or having it) and half plot. Frankly it’s boring. I get to the point where I’m screaming “Just fuck already!” or “Now? Now you fuck?” at the characters in my head.

  29. Having just finished listening to Anne Bishop’s Dreams Made Flesh as an audiobook, she does consensual sex quite well and very explicitly, though not play by play. But again, it is used as character development/ plot point. And while I enjoy both reading and writing sex scenes, I found myself slightly uncomfortable listening to them. Mostly because I kept wondering how John Sharien managed to read them out loud.

  30. Only of the offscreen variety, and not much of that. One of the main characters who can enter the “world of dreams” (one of the neater ideas in the Wheel of Time), is mortified when she’s pulled into the erotic dream of her love interest; in her own dreams, he recites poetry, of course.

  31. Hi Kate.

    Maddeningly, I think, the answer is, it depends. Sex scenes should do more than just be the union of two (or more) bodies, of course, but it goes beyond that. Does this sex scene propel character, or the plot, or aid the reader? I came across a case today of a reader who is extremely prudish–how DOES an author deal with readers who don’t want any sexytimes, period? I don’t know.

    On the other hand, to put things another way–I expect far more sex scenes in a Jacqueline Carey novel than, say, Cherryh’s The Paladin.

    I was wondering when there would be a sex scene between Andevai and Cat at some point. But I am not expecting full on descriptions of every encounter, either.

  32. I just read the extra chapter from Cold Fire. I’m glad I did, because even what I think of as an explicit sex scene in SFF doesn’t tend to describe the physical action in detail, start to finish, without ending in a spacebreak, or at least partially retreating into euphemism, abstraction, or metaphor. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a sentence like “his penis pressed against the dark curls of her sex” before in a fantasy novel. (okay, technically “the dark curls of her sex” probably qualifies as a euphemism, but hopefully my point still, er, comes across. Ahem.)

    I don’t think of myself as a prude, but I admit I would probably find such a scene – one that doesn’t “draw the curtain early,” to borrow your phrase – a bit jarring in an SFF book.

    I don’t want to fall back on the word “gratuitous,” or insist that a sex scene should advance the plot or characterization, because I doubt an author includes any kind of scene, sex-related or not, that she doesn’t believe meets that standard. Clearly any sex scene I could do without exists because it serves a purpose for its writer. (Reminds me of that worthless Strunk and White chestnut, “omit needless words.”) And I can see how the one you’ve written for Cold Fire shows us a transformative (not a word, according to Firefox!) moment in Cat’s relationship with Andevai.

    So why doesn’t it work for me? It’s not that I didn’t find it appealing, and well-written, and even erotic, in a straight-people-having-sex sort of way. All that brushing of hips and the pressure of palms on bare torsos and … well, it’s not that the chemistry didn’t work! I think I just feel more comfortable when the narrator jumps away after a bit of (possibly explicit, hopefully sexy!) foreplay, or the action is relatively short and the description a bit suggestive.

    Maybe it is just a silly genre prejudice. Maybe too much sex just makes me think of a certain brand of fan fiction, and Anita Blake Vampire Bonker, and girl cooties. Or maybe a sex scene exceeds an arbitrary word count and some puritanical monkey sleeping in the back of my brain wakes up and starts jumping up and down. Probably I could get over either of these problems if more people wrote lengthy and explicit sex scenes in fantasy and I got used to them.

    By the way, Barbara Kingsolver has an extremely short essay entitled “Taming the Beast with Two Backs” with a funny bit in it about the difficulty of finding language to describe body parts in sex scenes that isn’t either too clinical, or laughably euphemistic, or else vulgar. I think fantasy writers get off a little bit light in this department – some language that would sound a bit stilted in a contemporary context reads better in a pre-modern setting – but I’ve also seen SFF writers succumb to Call a Rabbit a “Smeerp” syndrome with truly unfortunate results.

    By the way, I do want to mention – at the end of all this negative whinging about what didn’t work for me – that I absolutely love your books!

  33. The muse may inform the quill wrongly. I’ve written plenty of scenes, soem of sex but most not, that got outright cut because they did not as it turns out serve the story, and at least one *sex scene* that felt really cool and right at the moment I was penning it, and flowed like the muse was backing em all the way – and by the next day it proved entirely wrong for the character’s *personality*.

  34. Mmmm. Pie.

    I like the analogy although I’m not sure it is quite equivalent, if you see what I mean. But in terms of a corrective to thinking that just having a sex scene will be of interest as opposed to a scene that may include sex but also moves the plot or characterization forward as well is a useful way to consider each and every scene (and not just about sex and pie).

  35. As writers we can’t accommodate every reader’s particular tastes.

    I do think this is one reason that books that adhere to or draw from culturally accepted assumptions get the largest audiences, because there is less for readers to rub up against in the wrong way; less to puzzle them or get in their way as they read.

    But that’s the other thing, as you rightly point out: We come to different books with different expectations. If I read a Kushiel Universe book I do expect explicit sex and would be disappointed not to find it there. Cherryh’s The Paladin — quite the opposite!

    In the end I think the larger question is how to get readers who don’t care for a thing not to diss it by claiming it is by definition inferior because they don’t like it. (I’m speaking here not of, say, quality of prose but of genres, sub-genres, themes, tropes, types of plot lines, female characters, etc)

  36. If it progresses the story I have no problem with it…I think you did a great job in your last series with this and if you want to include more and it pertains to the story than I really have no problem with it…I think society in general has become more astute with this in the past decade as compared to twenty years ago…I mean if a show like Game of Thrones can make it to the airwaves being as explicit as it is in some aspects of its story and you have no problem with writing it, then just go with the flow/ebb of the story that you are writing and if that includes more sex than so be it. I think it is only too much when it really does not move the story forward in some way. Hope this helps.

  37. This is no doubt redundant, as we’ve had this conversation (more than once, ha), and I suspect you know my thoughts. But I enjoyed reading the thoughts of OTHER readers. So I’ll share mine.

    In general, I regard sex like violence … unless it forwards the plot/characters, it’s deadwood and doesn’t need to be there. Interesting parallel, I know, but intentional, as R ratings in film (if not fiction) often green-light hard violence I wouldn’t want a teen to see over healthy, consensual sex that’s pretty vanilla.

    Maybe I’m weird. As the mother of a teen, it’s something I do struggle with … what he should read/listen to/view versus what he shouldn’t. At 15, I think he’s ready to read healthy, consensual sex scenes that describe sex realistically, NOT overly romantically. I’m allergic to genre Romance (as you well know).

    Sex is a funny thing to do with select parts of one’s anatomy, but deeply personal and intimate. I think BOTH aspects must be kept in mind … the humor AND the vulnerability. The best sex scenes highlight both.

    In SF/F, like any genre, I want sex scenes that further either characterization or plot. And I preference characterization as (ime) that’s usually what a sex scene advances. But TONE matters, too. Sometimes a more poetic description is in order, sometimes something blunt and raw, sometimes something funny and raw. It may or may NOT be “hot.” Occasionally the point of the scene ISN’T that it’s hot … but the reverse. Also, I think sex scenes show “on the page” need to be SIGNIFICANT in some way … a “first,” either literally or symbolically.

    Basically the question must always be: “WHY is this being described? How does it forward plot/characters?” So in that, I view sex scenes no differently from any scene.

    Ergo, if the scene matches the plot/characterization needed, it’s FINE. I dislike when an author skims over a sex scene that, really, ought to be there. But by the same token, I also dislike (maybe even more) when an author inserts sex scenes into a novel for pure titillation. If I want titillation, I’ll buy erotica (which actually has a theme) or just pornography.

    Frankly, pornography bores me quickly.

    So in short, I’m not offended by sex scenes (even explicit) in SF/F, but like any spice, they need to be used in proper proportion and for appropriate flavor. 😀 I wouldn’t attempt to put a number on them, as *plot* can determine a lot, but if a book has more than 4-5 explicit scenes, one had better have a good reason WHY. And that’s 4-5 in a LOOOONG novel, not a short one. (Again, erotica is an exception as a genre, but this is SF/F, not erotica.)

  38. I think it depends, of course, on what the book needs. As said above, as long as the scene tells us something about character and/or moves the story forward, it’s necessary.

    I think sex can be a fascinating and revelatory tool for expressing character, and particularly if it is happening between two important characters for the first time, it feels odd when it is completely left out of the narrative.

    ‘Too much’ is the danger of repetition – if the same combination of characters are having sex multiple times in the story, there isn’t a need to be explicit in every scene unless something vital/different is happening. On the other hand, multiple sex scenes in a book work fine when they are different characters or combinations.

    And of course, books like Carey’s or Bishops (or I’ll admit, my last trilogy) where sex is either a key theme or subject of the story, really should be willing to describe it.

    I certainly don’t think that epic fantasy as a genre has ever been especially sexless, or that this is anywhere near the list of things that makes fantasy ‘epic’. Re-reading Mists of Avalon at the moment and there’s bags of sex it, but not a single scene is gratuitous – it usually has a political, character or plot reason for showing the interactions between characters at the time. Much of the actual sex is described emotionally rather than explicitly, even though the bedroom door (or, cave) is wide open. So it’s not like you have to choose between 100% coyness, and 100% erotica – there are many options in between!

    Personally I’m all for adding in as much sexytimes as you are comfortable with as an author – it’s generally more interesting than watching the characters share a cup of tea in between all the panic, running about and world-saving.

  39. Chris,

    What a thoughtful comment. Thank you.

    I think traditionally fantasy/epic fantasy has not depicted sex much beyond the “draw the curtain” kind of scene, even if that. Lord of the Rings certainly never explicitly mentions sex, and for example the Eowyn/Faramir story is quickly drawn in between the story getting back to the other stuff like saving the world.

    As genres start cross pollinating more things like sex scenes are showing up more frequently in places I suspect they were rarely seen before (sff, mysteries, ?). But we are also in a far more confessional period right now regardless, I think.

    I did not include the Bonus Chapter in Cold Fire because it isn’t in Cat’s pov but I knew after so much build up that there would be readers who would want the full story, as it were (and by making it a bonus chapter it means people who did not want to read it could easily skip it). Given that it is in Andevai’s pov I should note that it says something about HIM that he has no trouble thinking the word “penis” in reference to himself but uses a neutral and polite euphemism for her. I gave a lot of thought to what terms HE would use.

    Thanks for the Kingsolver reference. I will definitely have to check that out.

  40. Twenty years ago I would simply not have written something this explicit. So I agree that society in general has changed, and while some might decry it as a sign of some sort of cultural degradation I think it is a good thing in terms of celebrating positive sexuality.

    Although I strongly prefer equal opportunity nudity and do not care for shows in which women are unclothed while men are clothed.

  41. That’s a really good point about any given explicit sex scene being the “first” of its kind: the first time they got together, the first time they enjoyed it, the first time they did it while sheltering from danger . . . whatever.

    And yes — it never fails to boggle me how violence and yet more endless predictable violence is deemed acceptable when consensual sex is not.

  42. Or sharing tea can lead to sex!

    Do you think there is a difference in how women writing epic fantasy deploy sex and how men do so?

  43. Sometimes I just want to cry, thinking of the words I’ve had to cut.

    Then I think about it and I realize I’m glad they weren’t published.

  44. Just chiming in to agree with Stephanie word for word.I love it when sex in fiction tells us things about the people involved, changes them or if it doesn’t change them then shows us why they remain unmoved. It can be incredibly powerful.

  45. Without question my favorite reason to write a sex scene is for exactly that: It can tell us things we could not have as easily found out in other ways simply because it is so intimate and because people expose some of their vulnerabilities.

  46. Could not agree more with your last comment…this is certainly something that still needs to be equalized.

  47. I have no problem whatsoever with explicit sex in any kind of book, provided it’s well-written. My own books are a blend of romance and fantasy, so I feel I’d be doing my readers a disservice if it drew the curtains on the sexytime. On top of that, my characters do quite a lot of talking before, during and after, so there is plot advancement (or at least relationship advancement) going on in there.
    I actually did a post on this in my own blog recently, if you’re at all interested…

  48. Oh, I love conversational interplay! I’ll even take interior monologue, so long as there’s something explicitly going on in the sex other than the description of Body Parts Get Bumping. (While it is sort of dubious on the Consent side of things, the one sex scene in Bujold’s Komarr told me so very much about Ekaterin and her relationship with her husband, and that was done in a few paragraphs and almost entirely inside her head.)

  49. Two questions here– how many, and how much… IMO, how many sex scenes would depend on how important the relationship is to the plot and the characters. If how someone makes love, or experiences it, illuminates his/her character, then the scenes are important, especially if they reflect changes/evolution in the relationship. As to how /much/ to show, I like to show sex no more or less graphically than I do violence, but sometimes tone it down for fear of distracting the reader from the main focus.

  50. Thinking about this some more, I think there are two potential problems with the prostitute/mistress scenes. The one that pops up most in epic fantasy for me is that the scenes are written by guys, and so there’s often a wish-fulfillment element there that excludes me and therefore puts me off.

    But I’ve also been put off by similar scenes with female authors–the example that comes to mind is Sharon Kay Penman. She’s written some really brilliant historical fiction (The Sunne in Splendour is fantastic), but I think she falls prey to the desire you see sometimes in authors writing in very foreign settings to sprinkle in something “relatable” amongst the battles and politics and medieval customs, which means a bunch of flirtation and sex that isn’t crucial to the story. Of course adding relationships can work to bring a story more down to earth, but with Penman I eventually got sick of it because I didn’t need to know about everyone’s sex lives, and all the flirtation/sex soon ran together regardless of the participants. The prostitutes and mistresses just made it worse, because they increased the number of similarly-written sex scenes without adding any real value to the story, and so I got sick of Penman’s writing about sex and relationships that much more quickly.

    So the lesson I take from this is that it can be hard for an author to make each sexual encounter or combination of participants unique, and therefore it’s probably best not to include more than absolutely necessary because of the risk that they’ll run together and bore the reader. Even from an otherwise excellent author, lots of scenes from the same imagination involving the same basic acts can begin to feel cut-and-pasted. (But then, I am much more sensitive to repetition than the average reader, so take that for what it’s worth.)

  51. Wheel of Time is an odd case because it’s so very adolescent in its attitude toward actual sex (of which there’s very little, although he sure does point out women’s breasts a lot), but then people are getting naked and spanking each other all the time for totally-non-sexual-you-gotta-believe-me! reasons.

  52. I want to second this comment (as it expresses my own sensibilities closely) and thank Chris (name similarity aside) for expressing it. As I think about this, a guiding criterion (to reflect on Jeanne’s comment below) is whether I would mind if my 9-year-old daughter, a voracious reader since age 3, came across a book on my shelves and got halfway through before I noticed. I agree with the discussion about the relative insensitivity of today’s default norms to violence, and indeed a few of my all-time favorite films or TV series (like _Day Break_, for which I thank Kate) I have regretfully decided I can’t share with my children at this point precisely because of the violence. One thing I love about text as compared to visual media like film is text’s ability to narrow the focus of what the reader “sees”; I have read scenes involving sex which kept the focus tight enough on the characters (through dialogue) not to trip any of my ingrained sensibilities. How would we want the implicit/explicit balance to stand as regards depictions of violence in our sff?
    Interesting that outright omission of sexuality as a normal part of human relationships (of the sort in, to borrow Kate’s example, Tolkien) is more likely to get a pass (too busy saving the world?) than the other extreme.
    On what I hope is a less controversial note, though, I definitely would like to see more pie in my sff reading.

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