March 15, 2012

Is it really necessary?

Hersilia Press @ 3:06 pm

I know that I will make myself (more of) a reputation for a prude and grumpy old woman, but I was discussing this subject with a couple of people on Twitter recently and realised that maybe I am not alone in my opinion.

For obvious reasons I read countless Italian (crime) books, and more than once I have cringed when reading a sex scene. Now, I have tried to identify the reasons for my reaction and I believe it is mainly because: 1) the scene is is very badly written, and/or 2) it is not necessary.

It is a truism that it’s very difficult to write a good sex scene, and the Bad Sex Awards are testimony to it. Therefore, if you not only are reading a bad scene, but it also feels it’s been ‘shoved into’ the story and has no narrative sense, it makes the reading very clunky and a bit amateurish.

In some cases you might cynically think that these scenes have been added only because ‘sex sells’. In Italy in particular (and an endless number of essays could be written on this) sex is everywhere, so much so that it has been argued people have become desensitised to it. I am not going to analyse the why and when this has happened, I am only concerned with fiction and what I enjoy as a reader.

True, good fiction should reflect life, and sex is a natural and normal part of our lives: however, so are a lot of other activities, like brushing your teeth. I would be very bored if I read a detailed description of someone brushing their teeth, unless there were very specific reasons for it.

I feel about sex scenes in a similar way: if two characters have had sex, just let me know that it happens and move the story forward.

So, what do you think? How do you think an author should deal with the issue? Do you expect a sex scene in every book? Are you not bothered, either way?

Filed under: writing


  1. In my experience of Italian crime fiction, it is notoriously “sexist” as well. Women are often little more than objects in books by various male authors who otherwise write good books. Pity.
    I’m not too fond of sex scenes any more than I am of gory violent scenes, unless necessary for the plot (which they aren’t often, in either case!).

    However, I am certainly in the “grumpy old woman” camp so probably am in a minority on this point.

    Comment by Maxine — March 15, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  2. Agree with post and blogger that if a sex scene isn’t necessary to the story, why put it in? It doesn’t bug me as much as gratuitous violence, but often the sex scene is written in a sexist way, where the woman is objectified or is either a conquest or incidental to the story — i.e., not a fully developed character.
    I wonder why I have to read Donna Leon’s books, as she is both a woman and was born in and lived in countries outside of Italy — in order to read about fully developed women characters with their own opinions, personalities and quirks. Her books are popular and contain no sex scenes, but do contain developed relationships.
    Perhaps many male writers, including those in Italy, are writing to each other, not thinking that women read crime fiction, too.
    I often wonder if particular male writers consider their readership, that women read mysteries, too, and I believe are the top fiction purchasers.

    Comment by Kathy d. — March 16, 2012 @ 5:52 am

  3. Thanks both for your comments. I don’t like the gory scenes either but somehow I feel they are more justified in a crime books than erotic scenes. If I were reading erotica it would be the other way round of course!

    You are both right that too many novels are sexist and objectifying: sadly, I think it’s a reflection on Italian modern society (I feel women are are responsible as men for their own objectification) and there are only few writers who are interested in developing characters without adding a bit of titillation. That’s my tuppence…

    Comment by Hersilia Press — March 19, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

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