The Real Purpose of Sex in
Copyright Evelyn Cole - All Rights
there's a difference between pornography and erotica,
don't you? Think about it. We'll get to it later.
Before I get to the purpose of sex scenes in fiction I
will start with the purpose of fiction. You read
fiction because you enjoy it. When you read a really
good book, you are off into another world. An intimate
Fiction provides a degree of intimacy rarely found in
real life. Where else can you read another person's
mind, discover his conscious and subconscious
Humans are story-tellers. Everyone has a story to tell
because everyone uses language to share visual,
auditory, olfactory, tactile, and kinesthetic
Everyone listens to, or reads, a well told story.
Tension makes a good story.
Now, here's the kicker: believable tension among
identifiable characters in authentic situations, no
matter how imaginary, creates unforgettable
Think back to a favorite novel you read as a child-one
that transported you and showed you new information
about human nature. Mine was "A Tree Grows in
Brooklyn". I was ten or eleven. My mother saw me
reading it and said, "Oh, you don't want to read that!"
I had nearly finished reading it so continued behind
her back. That book taught me about sex. No one else
did. It was a gentle teaching.
Perhaps that's why I approve of sex scenes in fiction
and why I write them.
Everyone has sexual feelings. How each person lives
with his sexual feelings is idiosyncratic. No two
people have identical attitudes toward sex, male myths
to the contrary.
A sexual scene in a novel can be highly effective for
characterization and theme. Memorable characters in
literature, and life, for that matter, often confuse
love and lust. He or she believes he is in love with
someone who is ultimately all wrong for him--or
This confusion provides underlying tensions that
enhance the plot.
Identifiable characters are created with just enough
specific information such as speech inflection, body
language and dialogue to make you say as you read, "I
knew a guy just like that. His father was a bear."
Or, "She shouldn't be so uptight around men. But I
would be, too, if I grew up with that grandmother."
Put these identifiable characters in an authentic,
albeit imaginary, situation and you have an
As readers glimpsing the thoughts and feelings of a
well-rounded character, we learn about ourselves in the
privacy of our own living room. We identify with the
lead characters and say, "Oh yeah."
Shakespeare's characters are enduring because he gave
them contradictions. To this day we can watch Mercutio
explode and think, I've felt like that. Or Hamlet
struggling with his conscience because he didn't know
what to believe. Shakespeare gave his characters sexual
drive as well as confusion. His sexual scenes produced
on stage naturally were not as explicit as those can be
in novels read in privacy.
Characters make a story for me. I have fun and take
great care creating my characters.
And, the difference between pornography and erotica in
fiction? For pornography, I quote Lee Siegel's
fascinating essay about Norman Mailer in the New York
Times Book Review January 21, 2007: "In his book about
Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer wrote, 'Since sex is,
after all, the most special form of human
communication, and the technological society is built
on expanding communication in much the way capitalism
was built on the expansive properties of capital and
money, the perspective is toward greater promiscuity.'
If you are seeking an explanation for why pornography
takes up most of the Internet, there it is."
Pornography, like lots of money every Friday, has a
happy ending even if it's always the same, but erotica
ends unhappily with longing. In both, the characters
Which remind me of a friend who wrote and published
several historical romance novels. She didn't like to
write erotic scenes but the genre required one per
novel. Therefore, she cut and pasted the one scene she
had written and simply changed the names for all
subsequent novels. It didn't matter in that genre if
the characters were indistinguishable as long as the
longing came through.
© Evelyn Cole, MA, MFA,
The Whole-mind Writer
Cole’s chief aim in life is to convince everyone to understand
the power of the subconscious mind and synchronize it with
goals of the conscious mind. Along with "Mind Nudges",
"Brainsweep" and "Your Right to Happpiness", she has published
three novels and several poems that dramatize subconscious
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