If you were hoping for some intimate details of the sex-lives of various writers, prepare to be disappointed (or go to another website). I am looking at how we write about sex.
The one thing most of us do not do is avoid it. It is, after all, an important subject in real life. It is to be found in the Bible, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and almost every writer from then on up to the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries.
It is relevant in almost all genres.
- In historical fiction. (Unhand that wench you swine!)
- In spy thrillers. (How many Bond girls can you name?)
- In horror stories. (A fate worse than death awaits the heroine.)
- In comedy. (Ooh, fancy that!)
- In crime fiction. (Sex can be a motive for a murder or a red herring. It can be a distraction for the detective.)
There are various ways of treating it. Various types of language for describing it. No one is ideal. All have their pros and cons.
- Some writers are earthy, crude even, using four-letter words and other coarse terms to describe parts of the body and their functions. This works for some, but can make the whole thing seem dirty. It may seem to verge on pornography.
- Others use the correct scientific terms. This may confuse some readers. It also can make it feel like reading a gynaecological textbook.
- Metaphors can be helpful. They can be poetical, humorous or both. They can, however, make the author appear to be beating about the bush. Mixed metaphors and inappropriate ones are especially dangerous when writing about sex. Beware of unintended humour.
- Finally, there are writers who leave most of it up to the reader’s imagination. Describe the man. Describe the woman. Describe the bed. Let you guess what happened when the couple and the bed came together.
Me? I have so far used a mixture of the last two approaches. I do not promise to do the same every time. (I was talking about writing about it, but come to think of it…)