Warning: This post talks about more mature subject matter (if that wasn’t immediately obvious from the title). So if you’re uncomfortable with this subject, please vacate. Thank you.
So recently I was talking with a friend of mine about this topic and as we were talking it got me to thinking about this in a more in depth perspective. It’s not something people like to talk about a lot because most people act like immature twelve year olds when the subject is brought up. That subject being sexuality, and in this case, sexuality and how it can be used as a tool for character development in a story.
I come from a background where, generally speaking, people are going to frown upon the fact that there might be a sex scene in a book, because there’s no reason for it other than to have sex. Often times that does seem to be the case and there really isn’t a reason for it, but there are times I’ve found where it can actually be good for either plot or character development (though that doesn’t mean it needs to be super detailed, but I’m not going to get into that here).
How a character reacts to sexual tension or situations can actually tell you a lot about them as a person. Whether it’s orientation or just how they’ll react to someone asking them out on a date, it’s an intrinsic part of development. Sometimes putting them into situations like this will show you deeper parts of them that you wouldn’t normally think about.
Now this isn’t to say you should just go out and write about all your characters having sex with anyone and everyone. I’m saying to think about it in a logical way, and if they do end up with someone, it should happen naturally, not just making them out to be people who sleep around and there are no consequences whatsoever (I mean you can have them sleep around if that’s the sort of character they are, but there should always be consequences to that sort of thing, because that’s how it happens in reality).
The strangest thing to me is that I mostly find sexual relationships in stories between people who are neither married nor engaged or with the expectation of ever marrying. It always seems to be just a sort of one night stand sort of deal, or lovers who have to keep their passions secret or something like that. Yet when it comes to characters who are actual husband and wife, you don’t see a sexual side to that quite as often. This is interesting to me because I’ve found that dynamic to be far more compelling than those who are doing it in a more “forbidden” aspect like I mentioned before. To me, I feel like it shows a deeper aspect of emotions and even, to some extent, a spiritual aspect.
All this to say that, while it is definitely overused, abused, and used poorly a good deal of the time, I think sexuality can be used well in stories and actually have a point and purpose. Sexuality is a human trait, but everyone is simultaneously obsessed with and terrified of it to the point that it becomes twisted into something it shouldn’t be. People get confused and have very unhealthy ideas about it, and I think that’s where a lot of the poor use of sexuality in stories come from, is that unhealthy mindset of it.
Though, there are other ways to explore the ideas of sexuality in storytelling with other genres, the main one I’m thinking of being horror. It’s especially prominent in psychological horror, with psycho-sexual imagery and people delving into their minds trying to understand their sexuality, or control their sexual drives. While it is horrifying, there’s a strange fascination about it as well.
I’ll stop rambling now and wrap this up by saying: sex in stories isn’t intrinsically bad. It all depends on the context and how you do it. In a lot of cases it’s beneficial, even if some people claim you could cut it out of the story and it would be fine. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Just put thought into your story before you write such things into it. Of course if you’re writing a romance and the point is that it has lots of sex, that’s a different story entirely.