SEX SELLS – So Do Books….

No, I’m not going to tell you how to write a good sex scene.

But I have been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and as it is a rather controverisal subject I kept my twitching typing fingers at bay. Now however, I feel ready to talk about it….Sex that is…..Well, Sex in writing that is….

At the beginning of this post (or rather in the second paragraph) I just want to make sure it’s understood that these are my views and they are not an attack on anyone else or their writing – so don’t get the hump….get over it…..

Also, it’s important you know where I’m coming from on this one. I’m a Christian and I believe sex is made for marriage. That does NOT mean I’m disconnected from the culture however, I am only twenty-one and fully aware of how ridiculous these values will seem to others.

Sex Sells - Writing - Philippa Jane Norman - Author
Adverts with sexual over-tones started a long time ago…

The plain fact is, that sex does sell doesn’t it? And it sells in books just as much as it sells elsewhere. Why I hear you say? I reckon because:

1. It’s enjoyable and exciting

2. Most humans end up with experience of it

3. It is the most intimate act between a man and a woman

Having said the reasons why sex sells in literature, I find that having the values I do does affect my approach to the subject. That does NOT mean I’m averse to the subject, in fact, I don’t actually mind reading a love scene. I think with some books those loves scenes are quite beautiful (if written well) but note I say ‘some’ not all.

Take Jane Eyre for instance – Is there any sex in it? No.

Is it one of the best English romances written? Yes.

Charlotte Bronte manages to create an incredible love relationship between a man and a women (who are both ugly – don’t get much of that nowadays do you?). The relationship may portray sexual tension but never is sex explicitly written in a scene or even alluded to. It didn’t need to be. Bronte has managed to write so beautifully, so brilliantly and so intensely that it just doesn’t matter. Who do you hear saying, ‘Oh, where’s the good rough and tumble in Jane Eyre?’ – No one.

Sex Sells - Writing - Philippa Jane Norman - Author
Jane Eyre is one of the best love stories

The fact is, in our culture sex is synonymous with love and yes, I won’t deny that when you get married you plan to have sex obviously, it is the physical expression of your love for your spouse. However, that is not the sole expression or definition of love and yet that is what our muddled culture tells us.

It’s all sex, sex, sex and to be quite frank I’ve had enough of hearing it. Sex is something which was create for the enjoyment of men and women in marriage and is so intimate, so special; but when it is plastered across the media, including literature, that sacredness is significantly lessened.

Just look at romance novels: What are the majority of romances focusing on these days? Are you finding yourself reading what is supposed to be a love story but instead of the crescendo being the hero and heroine declaring their love for each other or being honorable, it’s sex? Some books I’ve read, and yes they were absolute trash, have literally been a trail of mediocre writing interspersed with raucous and badly written love scenes.

Thanks to all this great mess of sex and writing I decided to ask my friend, who shall remain nameless, about writing sex scenes in novels. I was sort of wondering whether I should venture there, knowing my views on sex in real-life, and she gave me one of the best answers I have had and one which I constantly use as a guideline in my work:

You should only ever write a sex scene between your characters if you have to show a side to your hero or heroine that can only be shown during a sex scene. If you can show that characteristic in any other scene then you don’t need the sex!

Now, I haven’t asked her whether I can put that in, so she may well renounce all recollection of telling me, if she even realises it was her in the first place 😉 (I will give full attribution if she wishes it).

However, even if she does renounce it, that will not stop me from using that piece of advice in my writing. One of the few books which I think the sex scenes were vital to was ‘Redeeming Love’ by Francine Rivers. This book tells the story of a prostitute in the American West, who becomes the wife of an honourable man, and her story of redemption.

Sex Sells - Writing - Philippa Jane Norman - Author
Redeeming Love is a brilliant book which every woman should read 😉

I have written love scenes, so don’t get me wrong, but I just cannot believe that it is essential to a romantic novel to have a sex scene. The worst occasion where this happens is in historical fiction where I am reading a book thinking, ‘Well that would never happen because of ettiquette, practicalities and a mountain of other historical issues which would just bar those two from having sex.’ 

So, to sum it all up:

1. Sex is a good and special thing

2. Sex in writing can work but only if it has purpose

3. Writing without sex can be equally exciting, full of tension and great

So come on then….those are some bold statements……who has been stewing the entire time whilst reading this? Who categorically disagrees? Who wants to give me a piece of their mind? Give me your best shot —

Philippa Jane Keyworth – Author

Published by Philippa Jane Keyworth

Philippa Jane Keyworth, known to her friends as Pip, has been writing since she was twelve in every notebook she could find. Originally trained as a horse-riding instructor, Philippa went on to become a copywriter before beginning a degree in History. A born again Christian, Philippa lives in the south of England with her handsome husband. Philippa has always written stories and believes that, since it is one of her loves and passions, she always will. In her early writing career, she dabbled in a variety of genres, but it was the encouragement of a friend to watch a film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that began her love affair with the British Regency. Since then, she has watched every Regency film and TV series she could get her hands on and become well acquainted with Georgette Heyer's novels which gave her the inspiration to write her own. Both as a reader and a writer, Philippa believes it is important to escape into a world you yourself would want to live in. This is why she writes stories that will draw you into the characters' joys and heartaches in a world apart from our own. Her debut novel, The Widow's Redeemer (Madison Street Publishing, 2012), is a traditional Regency romance bringing to life the romance between a young widow with an indomitable spirit and a wealthy viscount with an unsavory reputation. The novel has been received well by readers and reviewers who have praised the heartfelt story and admirable characters. Her second novel, The Unexpected Earl (Madison Street Publishing, 2014), explores another romance in the Regency era when an impetuous young woman has her life turned upside down by the reappearance of the earl who jilted her six years ago. So, what are you waiting for? Get swept away into another time with characters you will learn to love, and experience the British Regency like never before.

11 thoughts on “SEX SELLS – So Do Books….

  1. There is definitely a place for sex without purpose in a book, but that is quite a different kind of book than I think you would want to write.
    I’ve written books both with sex and without. And I’m veering now to keeping sex scenes in the books mainly because even in a historical novel readers are looking for a modern relationship, and for most people that includes sex before marriage. But if you aren’t writing erotica, then the sex should serve a purpose and move the story on. And I also prefer to get all the sex out of the way before the end of the book, so the ending is more about declaring their love etc in other ways rather than the obvious physical way of doing it.
    You need to write how you feel comfortable. While sex definitely does sell, there are plenty of books along the ‘love inspires’ lines where the sexual tension is there but either the doors are completely closed on the reader, or the sex isn’t part of the story line. I wouldn’t sweat it, just write what you want to.

    1. Hi Jess,

      That was a great comment! Definitely true about the reader wanting a more modern relationship – I hadn’t thought of it like that. Also true about the genres and yes, I think I feel more comfortable in the ‘inspirational romances’ line of writing for now. I just wanted to write a post giving my views but with the hopes of discussing it with others because obviously everyone works on different lines and I’m not saying don’t write sex full-stop! So thanks for the good comment!

      P x

  2. So interesting and a really perfect comment from your friend.
    I like the idea that it should be used to move the plot forward and not be a gratuitous page filler. Am linking to my own blog.

    1. Yes, I thought Jessica’s comment was a really great one and challenging to myself as well. Thanks for linking and I enjoyed reading your blog immensely! Px

  3. I so love this post! I have been struggling with this issue myself. Like you, I have written sex scenes, but have also read so many that end up sounding like an anatomical instruction manual, that it becomes rather distracting. Sometimes, even when the writing was good, I ended up feeling like I lost time following the story and that the author really could have spent that time getting more into the surroundings and characterizations. When there is so much else to be going on, why must we stop to get a blow-by-blow descriptions of something so intimate and indefinable?

    Anyway, I wanted to tell you I have a blog myself and I posted about this post today. I am also adding you to my blog roll…

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for posting about my blog. I have popped over to yours and left you a comment on it 😉

      I’m glad that this post was helpful in some way to you. I think sex in writing is a controversial subject and in the end it’s a decision for the writer made by aligning it with their values, responsibilities to others and their plot but of course there will always be disagreements.

      I hope you manage to make a decision on whether to have this in your story and that you’ll be happy with it!


  4. I must say that much Modern Medieval and Tudor period fiction disappoints me and I steer clear of it- because with so many such novels nowdays, the ‘Medieval’ seting is just an excuse for excessive raping and romping- and lurid desriptions thereof…..
    As a Medievalist, I had wondered dissapointedly why adaptations of the classics like Dickens and Austen were free of sex-scenes, but dramas set in the Medieval or Early Modern period like ‘Pillars of the Earth’ (which I saw about 10 minutes of then totally lost interest…..), ‘The Tudors’ or ‘Camelot’ were chock-full of sex.

    I worked out quickly its probably because out that the latter are based on modern novels, or what screenwriters see as the expectations of a modern audience, and the fomer written at a time when writing about that sort of thing just wasn’t done. What gets on my nerves is that people justify gratuitious sexual content by calling it ‘realism’ or ‘realistic’.
    As if our Medieval forbears spent the best part of 1000 years doing little except grab the nearest glamour model and cleave each other in two with broadswords in between trysts.

    The simple fact is that realism does not require sex- one of the most realistic and accurate Medieval series I know is Cadfael- which contains precisely two brief love scenes in thirteen episodes. Those of the other kind are sometimes criticized as little more than Medieval ‘soap operas’, and are in fact, rather unrealistic in thier representation of the wider Medieval world and society, and riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies.
    Sometimes, it would appear, sex sells at the expense of good storytelling or characterization, a tight plot or historical authenticity.

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