How much should I write about sex?
Okay, I admit it....this blog title was intended to catch your attention. But it was also a genuine question that I asked myself repeatedly while I was writing my novel ‘Different Genes’.
Although my book was unashamedly romantic, this was combined with more than a splash of contemporary realism, so I quickly decided that the subject of sex was one I not could avoid.
I began writing with considerable restraint. In my first draft of a physical encounter, I included no more than a hint of sex. ”He took her hand and led her towards greater intimacy. The door of the studio bedroom was closed behind them.”. And these words are still in the book, mainly because I rather like them. But I soon decided that bland phrases which simply circled around the subject, would not be enough. The central characters were a couple in their 60s, both married before. They were not inexperienced youngsters. They would know how to talk to each other about sex, so why shouldn’t I write about it? I also felt their age was significant. Younger readers would probably wonder about the physical capabilities of the over sixties. Could they still do it? How often? How easily? I didn’t want to avoid the subject, but neither did I want to be too explicit. Being of the same generation as my characters, I believed that some things were best left unsaid.
So how did I decide what to write, when it came to sex? In reality, the paragraphs evolved rather than being planned. It’s only now, looking back, that I begin to understand the rules which I set for myself.
Firstly, I had created two physically fit and healthy older people, who were very attracted to each other. It was inevitable that they would want physical contact, and likely that they would be capable of a fulfilled sexual relationship. However, they were also getting on a bit. This was not, thankfully, a tale which required lengthy descriptions of steamy nights of unbridled passion. They needed their rest. Physical contact would have to be balanced with bedtime cups of cocoa. I also drew red lines for myself. There were some actions and body parts which I did not wish to describe in detail. If I was not comfortable writing it, I wrote around it. No doubt individual readers will have differing opinions about the extent of my writing about sex, whether it was too little or too much. One kind friend of about my age said she thought I had got it about right. I hope that others agree.
Looking back on the completed novel, two things occur to me.
Firstly, I didn’t avoid the issues about sex and age, but I tended to put the difficult questions into the mouths of other characters. So it is Louise’s friend, Gillian, who suggests that Simon might be taking Viagra. This question, by the way, is never answered. I protect his dignity and leave the reader to wonder. But I do emphasise the need for the characters to pace themselves. Sex is actually quite a small part of the narrative.
Secondly, I tend to get more explicit as the novel progresses. It’s as if the more the characters get to know each other, the more comfortable I feel about describing their physical contact.
In summary, this is not a book about sex, it is intended to be romantic rather than erotic. It is largely aimed at a generation who were taught to keep sex behind closed doors. But I open the doors a little and give the reader a glimpse of something more.