What is sex?

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.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to What is sex?

  1. Keri says:

    I agree that Twilight was not about sex. Yes, there was typical teenage lust, but if you’re reading a book about teenagers who AREN’T horny, then you’re reading unrealistic crap.

    Besides, Twilight has never held itself to be anything but a romantic fairy tale, and guess what? romance books come with a lot of lust. If you want a book about two people sitting around on the couch having deep conversations about… I don’t know… say Faulkner, then you don’t need to be reading a romance book. Read one of those books that announces that it’s “A Novel” on the cover (maybe because it’s so boring, it might be confused with an academic book otherwise?)

    And at what point did staying a virgin until marriage (which, for Bella, was at the venerable age of 18) become the prerogative of only the very religious, and when did that become something loathsome?

    I’m going to tell on myself: I was 23 before I lost my virginity, and I’ve had sex with exactly one man: my husband. Now, I will say that we were not yet married at the time, but I had every confidence that he was the man I wanted to marry.

    And here’s the kicker: I wasn’t particularly religious at the time. In fact, I really didn’t identify myself as Christian anymore.

    Gasp! You mean there are people out there who want sex to be meaningful and done only when they have an established relationship with someone first? Relationship first, sex second? How backwards!

    • mhleewriter says:

      So, true about Twilight and novels. You crack me up.

      I happen to know a number of people who waited until later in life or marriage to have sex. Some were religious, some were out of a belief that it should be something special, some were just because the right opportunity didn’t arise sooner. To each their own.

      I think once an author is successful then people start heaping their own skewed world views onto the person’s work that have nothing to do with the author and everything to do with the reader. I have to say, though, that the more time I spend on the Internet, the more that annoys me. They’re like the thought police. Ugh.

      • Keri Peardon says:

        Amen. Oh, wait, that’s probably too religious sounding. I agree in the affirmative with you and wholeheartedly endorse your opinion.

        The irony is I’ll probably get a backlash because my teenage protagonist DOES have pre-marital sex with her vampire boyfriend. Then I’ll be contributing to the delinquency of minors, encouraging them to have sex with older men, etc., etc. Sometimes people need to just pull themselves back to reality and say, “This is a book about vampires. It is fantasy (and a romance). The normal rules don’t apply here.”

        The other thing I find ironic is that, supposedly, in a book where Stephanie Meyer is getting all Mormon over everything by–gasp–thinking her vampire, raised in a different time and culture, might want to get married first (as was customary when he was growing up), Meyer actually has no real religion in her book. Carlisle talks about God a little bit, and Bella thinks about souls and God a tiny bit, but mostly they have the sort of almost-agnostic belief that a lot of Americans have: God is sort of there, in the background, but you really don’t think about Him–certainly not on a daily basis. And there’s definitely no worship, ritual, etc.

        If people think that’s shoving religion down their throats, wait until they read my series and see vampires praying and quoting from the Bible and visiting religious sites. Joshua even has a dream in which God speaks to him.

      • mhleewriter says:

        Good for you. If you try to write to please everyone you’ll find that you don’t please anyone. So better to stay true to your vision.

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