Booty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


There’s nothing better than good sex. But bad sex? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bad sex. – Billy Joel

I don’t talk about sex a lot, not unless it’s the entire point of a book. To me, the sexual content of a book is tertiary to the plot and the development of the characters—if it’s there, fine, if it’s not, I couldn’t care less. I will say, however, that when a sex scene is well written and organic to the building and growing of the relationship, especially in BDSM, it adds dimension to the story and to the physio-emotional bond between the two people involved, which, in turn, can do a lot for my emotional connection to the couple I’m learning about. But, and this is the BIG BUT in the room, the opposite of that is also true: if a sex scene is written like a technical schematics manual rather than a passionate and/or primal interlude between the two main characters (or whomever the protagonist happens to be with at the moment), it can really diminish the strength of that scene for me. I’ve never in my life lowballed a book because it didn’t contain enough sex; though I do admit that I’ve deducted points because a book contained a lot of gratuitous and meaningless sex. No, not even gratuitous and meaningless…more along the lines of elaborately and clumsily manipulated, overdone to the point of skimming; it’s ::yawn:: more sex, sex, and that’s bad sex, people. That’s peanut butter and jelly sammich time sex, and that’s not good.

There used to be a day when I would turn to Young Adult fiction when the sex started to get ho-hum-not-again, in the grownup stuff, but I’ve noticed a growing trend lately, even in the YA genre, toward a more intimate exploration of the sexual relationship between characters, albeit a far less graphic one, but still something I’m not altogether certain of my feelings on yet, knowing that sex is a part of growth and self-discovery but not really wanting to read about two teenagers doing the humpty-hump. That tows a fine line of Eek-Squick! for me, but so far, I’m remaining Switzerland on the subject. I think in that matter, tasteful should always be the primary rule of thumb—the less explicit imagery, the better, as far as I’m concerned. Really. My imagination can go places all on its onesies, with no help from the words on the page. But, as usual, I digress.

I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention lately, or if you’ve participated in the conversation, but there’s been a fair amount of honest, not to mention articulate, debate (very recently over at The Armchair Reader) on ways to try and delineate romance and erotica in an effort to come up with a way to distinguish between these two elements so readers for whom sexual content is important, either a lot of it or none at all, can find books they can potentially enjoy, provided that all the other plot elements come together in the perfect storm for them.

Is giving “Heat Ratings” in reviews becoming a necessity, even though some publishers already provide that information? Is it helpful to note the frequency of sex in a book? I’m extremely neutral on the subject, so I honestly don’t know. I can say, with a 100% degree of accuracy, that I have no interest at all in keeping track of how often characters have sex while I’m reading about them having sex. There’s nothing that’ll ruin a scene or the flow of a story for me more than going, “Oh, wait! Sex. Put it on the board.” But I don’t mind doing “Heat Ratings”, though I still find that to be so very subjective. Someone could read a book I’ve rated low on the Heat scale and think, “Dear God, she’s a perv.” Could happen. I’ve recently become a little bit fascinated by the Marquis de Sade, so take that for what it’s worth. :)

So you tell me, how important is it for you to be fully informed of the amount of sexual content in a book before you dig into it, and whose responsibility do you believe it is to provide that information? Is there such a thing as too much sex in a book for you, and if there is, what’s the saturation point, the point where you’ve become so desensitized to the boinking that you want to send that booty call straight to voice mail?


9 thoughts on “Booty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

  1. Well um… I can’t chime in because you know… writing a sex scene right now.

    Ah, YA. Wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole. Anything under 18… Nope. Nada for me. But that’s because I don’t feel right writing sexual exploration for someone under 18. Young adult over 18? Maybe. Dunno. :D


    • YA… that’s a touchy thing for me, bunny. College, fine. High school… ::grimaces:: That’s not a place I really want to get turn-by-turn directions to. :-P


  2. I love sex inclusion in novels. But it a requirement for me? Hell, no. I could care less if it’s there or not. So heat ratings to me are redundant. That being said I’ve had discussions with people who are adamant they belong there because they either (a) despise novels with erotica, or (b) won’t read GLBT novels without it.


    • See, AF, I’m with you. I’m fine either way, as long as the sex is well written and flows naturally into the plot of the book. I know I’ve read some pretty mediocre sex that did absolutely nothing for the storyline, but then again, I’ve read some fantastically well written erotica that’s almost better than the real thing. Okay, not really, but you catch my drift. :-D

      I think so much of the onus for vetting reading materials falls directly upon the shoulders of the reader him/herself. I know what I like and what I want to read, and I know what to avoid because I’ve been reading a long time and know myself and my tastes better than anyone else. I also know that what I find tame, someone else might think is porn, and vice versa.

      It’s a sticky wicket and I’m not sure if there’s an easy answer to labeling Romance and Erotica and then dividing it into separate sub-genres.


  3. For YA, sexual exploration among minors is normal, but it shouldn’t be on-screen. YA publishers tend to be very conscious about sex scenes in their books for legal reasons, and it’s understandable. I’ve been erring on the side of conservatism when it comes to any of my characters experimenting, and I hope that lines aren’t getting blurred when it comes to sex scenes between minors and between adults at other publishers.

    I read a gay YA book that was published a year or so ago, and jeez louise, there were ON SCREEN SEX SCENES BETWEEN TWO TEENAGE CHARACTERS. Suffice it to say, I quickly emailed the publisher, who, for some reason, wasn’t aware of the scenes being added (they weren’t there in the file that was submitted to them, I was told, but I’d think that they’d at least catch the problems in the proof stage). The editor who worked with the writer was new, according to them, and it bugged the hell out of me that the publisher didn’t take the trouble of educating their editors about the distinctions between adult and YA fiction.

    I’ve seen at least one writer somewhere advocate increasing sensuality in gay YA fiction, and I don’t understand why it has to be that way. Gay YA fiction isn’t M/M fiction with underage characters. Defining the market along those lines is dangerously simplistic.


    • You know, Hayden, I’ve seen some discussion about sex in YA books on social media, and the rationalization for it seems to be that kids are having sex anyway, so it’s not as if they don’t know what it is or how to do it. No big deal, right? Well… I don’t know about that. Having three kids myself, I understand the validity of that argument to a certain point, but I also understand that it’s not up to an author or a publisher to make the decision for me as to whether I allow my kids to read any, or some, sexual content in a book.

      I’ve read a few YA books (high school age) that didn’t include penetrative sex, but they did include oral and frottage, which, to me, is still sex, but I know there are others out there who’d think that’s tame stuff.


      • The sex scene I read was, literally, blow-by-blow penetrative sex, and it didn’t happen once, but twice in the book. I’m all for stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality, but I think there should be limits placed; otherwise, it’s bordering on sexualizing minors for a reader’s titillation, and I’m not cool with that.

        There are books out there that’ve been published by mainstream presses exploring the sexual coming-of-age of a gay minor, but they’re never marketed as YA. They’re always published as adult gay fiction from what I’ve seen. And as long as that’s clearly defined, I’m fine.

        I’ll have to say that I don’t know if that’s the case anymore. I haven’t picked up a mainstream gay YA novel in an eternity, but I’ve read dozens when I was starting out in the market, and none had on-screen, blow-by-blow sex scenes. Even frottage or oral. None.

        The most “sensual” on-screen sex scene (in a mainstream published book) I’ve read between minors is Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Road, and even then, the description of penetrative sex went something like “A was inside B. Then B was inside A.” Full stop. And, to be honest, I can’t remember how old the characters were. I know that they’ve graduated high school, so they’re probably around eighteen at that point.


      • Forgot to address the whole censorship issue you raised. From what I’ve been told by my publishers, it’s got everything to do with legal matters, not censorship, where sexual content is concerned. I certainly don’t want to jeopardize any of them with what I write, and I don’t want to jeopardize my career, either.


      • Wow. Yes, that level of detailed sex, especially at the high school level, and even more so if it’s written solely for the sake of titillation, would definitely push my comfort limits, and I can see where both an author and a publisher would want to be very careful about the ramifications of putting something like that out there.

        Then again, I also know I’m not the intended audience of YA fiction, so maybe I’m just out of touch? I don’t know…


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