Yes, I’m a provocateur…
You would think this is a simple question to answer, right? I mean sex is…sex. A goes into B and voila you have sex. Well, except for when C is involved. Or D sometimes, when there is no B involved…I think. I’d have to confirm with a couple of friends, but pretty sure in their world that would qualify, too.
Hmm. So, maybe not as simple as it seems. Even in the real world, as at least one politician has so aptly demonstrated, sex has its gray areas.
But I’m actually bringing this up from a writing context. Because the other day on Absolute Write people were engaged in their usual “I don’t understand why people loved the Twilight books so much, it must be because teenage girls are stupid” rhetoric.
(Note: The two women I know who raved and raved about those books were both over 30 and not stupid. They were, however, married, and in relationships that probably had more stress and down time than fun time and probably not a lot of lead up or thought involved before any fun time. Not that I asked or want to know since one is my mother.)
On AW one of the people of that mindset said that they had only read the first book in the series and it was “ALL about sex.” And another basically said the appeal behind the books was because of the sex. (At least that person qualified that it was about the imagined sex that they weren’t having. A point I generally agree with.)
How can a book be all about sex when Edward and Bella don’t even kiss until page 282 of the first book? (According to my internet searches – Chapter 13, Confession. There are some serious fans out there.)
And when another criticism of those books was that Meyer was shoving her beliefs down people’s throats because there is no premarital sex in them? (Edward and Bella don’t actually sleep together until their honeymoon in Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the series according to my searches.)
So, here’s the deal. From my perspective. Others may disagree. More power to them.
Reading about two characters who desire one another is not the same as reading about two characters having sex. How many successful TV shows have had two characters with incredibly chemistry who you want to have get together but never do? And how many of those flop and fall apart when the characters do get together?
It’s the anticipation of sex that draws people in. It’s the wanting but not having.
Now, my sex life is not worth talking about, but it seems to me that when you’re first involved with someone and you haven’t slept with them yet that all those glances or comments or touches build upon one another and heighten the anticipation of what could be. But once you sleep with someone the tendency is to sleep with them again. There’s no build up anymore.
Instead of “I really want you. Ooh maybe we’d kiss passionately as we walk in the door or maybe you’d kiss my neck from behind as I’m sitting on the couch” it becomes “Yeah, yeah, I know, brush your teeth first–you hate morning breath” or “Right, no kissing in public.”
Once you sleep with someone the possibilities of what that could be narrow down to what it actually is. And there’s a tendency to skip ahead to the end game rather than spend time on the preliminaries.
(Now, I’m sure there are some people who are vehemently disagreeing with me out there. So be it. Bless you for having a better sex life than most.)
I would even argue that part of the appeal of 50 Shades of Grey was the anticipation of sex part. And there’s no arguing that that book has sex in it. But it’s the back and forth between the two characters as they lead up to having sex that drives the tension. Move that first sex scene too far up in the book and it loses part of its oomph.
So, getting back to the point. I think as writers it’s important to understand the difference between writing about actual sex (A into B) and writing about intimacy and attraction and desire and connection. Because I’m pretty sure the Twilight books would not be as successful as they are if it had been, “Edward spies Bella, he has to have her, she wants him too, he corners her in the parking lot in Chapter 2 and off they go.”
And it’s been a long time since I read those books, but one of the things I distinctly remember from them is noticing how many times Edward touches Bella. Stroking her face in particular. I’ve never gone back and counted it, but when I read it that’s what I thought appealed to the woman who recommended it to me. (And likely to my mother who I recommended it to.)
So there you have it. Lust is not sex. Attraction is not sex. Chemistry is not sex. Wanting is not sex. Sex is sex.
And if you want to be a successful writer – focus more on the lust, attraction, chemistry, and wanting and less on the actual act itself.
(Says the unpublished nobody.)