Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pointless Sex

Now that I have your attention...

Laura had me watch "Water for Elephants" the other night.  It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't exactly one I'd rush out to buy, either.  It's about a guy who is set to graduate from school and get his license in veterinary medicine.  His parents die in a car accident, their assets are seized due to debts, and he suddenly finds himself homeless.  With nowhere to go, he winds up with a traveling circus taking care of the animals.

Three-quarters of the way through the story, there is a sex scene.  Nothing graphic or over-the-top, just your regular could-be-aired-on-TV sex scene.  While it was playing, I started thinking about sex scenes as a storytelling tool.  And I've come to a conclusion:  I don't understand them.

Whether in books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I just don't see the purpose.  From a storyline perspective, they don't accomplish anything.  It's not like sex means anything to the average person anymore.  What was once the most intimate expression of love between a husband and wife is now just as commonplace as shaking hands.  So I'm not sure what purpose these scenes serve.

Watching this one, I looked at Laura and asked, "Is this supposed to mean that they're passionately in love?  Because this is the same exact premise of '16 and Pregnant,' and we all know how those stories turn out."  A sex scene in a movie doesn't do anything to emphasize or define or characterize love between two people because - let's face it - the amount of people who have sex out of honest-to-God love is minimal these days.  Our entertainment, our media, and our society all glorify sex so much that it has lost any and all of the significance it once held.  It's an everyday thing now, an activity that takes place between two willing participants (That's really teh only requirement these days.  They don't need to be married or in love - they don't even need to like each other!).

So how is a sex scene supposed to have any impact on the story when it is something teenagers do simply to shed the dreaded "virgin" title?  When college students use it as a recreational activity?  When companies use it to sell products?  When girls have babies simply because they're lonely?  When men carry the number of women they've slept with as a badge of honor?

On the flip side, a story that emphasizes an actual emotional connection can accomplish wonders that sex scenes simply can't.  I become far more invested in characters who interact well, can play off one another's individual characteristics, and who always find their way to each other no matter what obstacles or circumstances stand between them.  At that point, there's no need for a sex scene because it would add nothing to the already established relationship.  Characters should be about character, not what goes on behind closed doors.

I realize that I don't speak for everyone.  But as someone who loves a good storyline, I can't think of a single instance where a sex scene has added anything to the depth or strength of a story that wasn't already there.  They feel like filler scenes to me - a chance to refill my soda, skip ahead a few pages, or change the channel.  You don't have to agree; I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who could do without a fantasy sword duel or sci-fi space battle.  Everyone's got their own thing.

The sex scene ain't mine.

God bless,


  1. Interesting point of view.

    I don't particularly like gratuitous sex whether in novels or on screen, but not all sex scenes are gratuitous. Without sex, powerful movies like, for example, Basic Instinct, would be just another run-down murder mystery.

    In the Swedish/Danish thriller, The Bridge (I don't know whether you have it in the USA yet) the sex scenes underscore Saga's Asperger's problem, and they do so in a way which no other scene could without spelling it out, and as we all know, drama should show not tell.

    As a novelist, I write both cosy crime and hard boiled. There is no sex in the cosies, but it's necessary in the hard boiled because it is a) central to some of the themes, and b) because I'm working to create realism and sex, no matter how much emotional baggage we attach or detach, is a fact of life.

  2. Wow. Well stated, my friend. There are a handful of books that I've read lately that were completely, absolutely amazing. Your trilogy being some of them. Out of about ten books that I've really enjoyed, do you know how many had any form of a sex scene? Zero.

    You can write really thrilling, engaging, heart-warming stories without the "intimacy" crutch. These days, a story isn't complete until someone sleeps with someone, but that's not how it should be.

  3. Nice post. Not sure I agree, necessarily, but you made me think about it and I appreciate that.

  4. Well, I go by what I read somewhere when I first started researching writing sex scenes. First, research sex scenes, and read the different kinds, from mild to wild. Then decide what you are comfortable with writing, and write that. And don't put in sex scenes just to put one in. Too many movies ruin a good story by putting in an unneeded sex scene. That's my 2 cents worth.