Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is it a Crime to Skip the Sex?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I did it again.

That second-guessing thing I do. The one where, as my novel nears the release date I begin wondering if I’ve inadvertently missed some vitally important element in the story, if maybe I should go back and rethink things. In this case it was sex, the fact that I don’t have any.

In my book, that is.

Actually, to be more exact, my two main protagonists don’t have any, and they didn’t in my first novel, either. This got me wondering: is it a crime in crime fiction to deprive characters the pleasures of the flesh? Is it even necessary? I gave it some serious thought.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude, and I’m pretty sure I have no deep-seated Freudian Oedipus tugging at my psyche (at least, that’s what my therapist tells me), but in the
final analysis what it boils down to is a case of simple mechanics. With danger lurking behind every corner, having my protagonists stop to do the Wild Thing just doesn’t make much sense. Sure, a romp in the hay would be good fun and all, but there’s a time and place for everything, and if some killer’s got a bullet with their name on it, they’re not going to be thinking about getting it on; they’re going to be thinking about getting the hell out. Period.

Besides that, in suspense pacing is everything, and it seems to me this would only slow things down, and if it doesn’t serve a purpose, isn’t it just gratuitous?

And then there’s the predictability factor. It’s just too easy. How many times have we seen this in books and movies? Guy meets girl. Guy and girl get thrown into some ridiculously dangerous situation, and then somewhere amidst all the chaos, guy and girl fall in love. It doesn’t work that way in real life, so why should it work that way in fiction? We’re not sexually attracted to everyone who crosses our path.

Of course, this isn’t an across-the-board condemnation of sex in crime novels. I’m all about the theory that if it works, use it. And I’m sure that under the right circumstances it could actually work. But so far for me, not so much. In the end I decided I was okay with not having any sex.

In my book, that is.

But what about you? Readers: how do you feel about it? Sex or no sex with your novels? And authors: Do you use it, and if so, how? I'm interested in hearing both sides.


  1. I like fast-paced, intense stories. It's what I read and what I write. So generally, my characters don't stop and have sex either. In my standalone thrillers, The Arranger and The Baby Thief, there is a sexual element, but it's character-based, and I don't provide graphic details. I've heard too many crime fiction readers say they skip over sex scenes anyway. But not everyone!


  2. I love your posts Andrew! As you know I am getting ready to release my first novel and this was a huge issue for me. At first, I wrote a sex scene between my heroine and another character. Then I got squemish when I passed the chapter off to my 78 year old step mother for review (how I didn't see that coming when I asked her to read my chapters escapes me). Then during my review process it just didn't seem right. The more I learned about Sarah and Daniel the more I realized it just wouldn't "fit" given the surroundings. Now I'm faced with a new challenge. This is the first in a trilogy and the next book will be about 18 months into the future. So now the question is this. Do I rob my readers of "being there" when the two take their relationship to that level by just skipping it or do I stretch the bounds of nature and science and have them abstain until my readers can catch up? Haven't decided yet and probably won't until I've written and re-written it several times. In any event, as a reader I don't expect it and sometimes it seems too forced. Like you say, most people don't run for the bedroom after being chased by a killer.

  3. While I'm a big fan of sex in general, it's difficult for me to read about in novels. Writers either tend toward the romantic flowery cliches or the graphic technicalities. It takes someone who can truly write erotica to do a good sex scene. That being said, my protagonist has a boyfriend and they have sex in my books. I just don't do a lot of description. You know what they're doing. I'm not going to give you a play-by-play.

    When I'm reading, I don't need the two main characters to end up in bed - not even if their sexual tension has been unbearable. And if they haven't shown any signs of mutual attraction, please don't throw them at each other.

  4. Oh the big sex question. I love the approach the author Lindsey Davis uses in her Falco series. I can't remember the exact phrase but in the book where Falco and Helena finally manage it in a stable, Falco says "And what we did next is between me, Helena and the horse." In another book, a whole chapter is devoted to one word, "Wow". Lindsey Davis is an accomplished writer with twenty Falco best sellers and countless other books in print. I think this is because she has achieved the perfect balance between crime, humour and the sex content. In my novel "Who Else is There?" I have included a one line sex scene between a prostitute and a soldier, but all I have said is "She taught the soldier adventurous new ways to deploy his weapon." I also like to listen to unabridged Audio Books, and you can't skim over these chapters, so I would say, not how does it read, but consider how it sounds.

  5. Story rules. And usually, for the sake of the pace, that doesn't include sex.

    I read a book once, no that's not quite right, I started to read a book once where the two main characters clearly had a history and some sexual tension remained. But the author drug this on for scene after scene and I wondered where the story disappeared to.

    Phil, I like your examples!

  6. I got a criticism on Where's Billie? complaining that the protagonist and her husband did not have sex. I replied that the book is set over just one week and there was plenty else going on.

    My point, I guess, is it depends on what else is in the book and whether it fits with the plot line. I agree with Philip that perhaps it's best off page, because no matter how you write a sex scene it's going to sound cliche'd at worst, boring at best. I say leave it to the reader's imagination.

    Great post, Drew. You write well. Have you considered writing books?

  7. There is little I can add to this discussion. Sex in the context of the story is ok, but I tend to leave the details to the imagination of the reader. Sex is part of life, but it has to fit into the story naturally, and in crime and fast paced action stories it gets in the way. That's one reason why there is a genre called erotica. If a reader wants to read about sex... but if they want crime... the two don't have to cross over.

  8. Stopping by from Author Central - I'm so glad you talked about this! I actually have a completed manuscript that has been hiding in my drawer for quite some time because an editor told me it wouldn't sell without a "consummation" scene. I just haven't felt the desire to add one so I gave up and left the story in the dark. I think it's time to bring it out and try again. THANK YOU!


  9. Great article and a very provocative subject. I lust linked your article in a post on my own blog.

  10. I've read tons of romance novels, so I have a lot of sex. In my books, that is. But it's so nice to read a book without sex. Sometimes it just doesn't fit in with all that's going on. I agree with Drew. If someone is trying to kill me, the Wild Thing is the Last Thing on my mind. And sometimes,he just doesn't want her or vice versa. And honestly, I've read so many unrealistic, earth shattering-stars falling from the sky-so beautiful the angels wept, sex scenes all wrapped up in a fairy tale happy ever after, that the thought of it makes me want to throw up. So thanks, Drew and the others for not filling your books full of it.

  11. I'm really glad so many people found this post helpful and interesting. I'm even more happy most agree with my point of view and feel I made the correct choice for my novel. I think the key here is, if you can pull it off well (in a book, that is) then it's perfectly okay. But if you can't--leave it out. I can't. I know I can't.

    If fiction is to imitate life, then it needs to do it well-- and in the real world, people don't fall in love or feel a sexual attraction just because they're thrown together. I think when the issue is forced in a novel, it really comes across that way.

  12. It really depends on the story, the situations, and pacing, for sex to have a place. And even if it happens to occur between the covers, (or under the covers), it definitely does not need details, in my opinion. Many crime and thriller novels are staged in a very short time period, sometimes 24 or 72 hours, and under the stress of the story line, it would hardly seem there’s time to turn off the danger and turn on.

    Nice post, Drew. :-)

  13. It's no secret between us, Drew, that I REALLY wanted Kyle and Cameron from your first novel to get together. I didn't really need details but I honestly thought they could (even a kiss!) and it would have worked because they definitely had chemistry. That said, I think it depends on the story and the characters. If it's forced, it's just not going to be good. No gratuitous sex -- even in romance novels (hence the word "romance"). But if it works, let it happen and feel free to leave the lights off. Readers don't really need to see it all to know what's going on if the book is well written.


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