Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Will People Think?

Oddly enough, although I am blessed with a psyche that can feel guilty about something as harmless as taking a hot bath, I've got relatively few hang ups about sex. I enjoy the practice of it, the watching of it (yes, I've seen a porn flick or two), and certainly the reading of a good book with great sex scenes. I loved Jeffe's Petals and Thorns - I think this qualifies me to declare myself as Not a Prude.

I even like writing sex scenes, until somewhere in a passionate moment the thought comes to me: somebody is going to read this. Then Oh Dear God, the universe turns upside down.

What, oh what, will people say?


I see them all, huddled in a little clump, whispering and pointing at me. My elementary school teachers, every pastor of every church I've ever attended, my mother, my old friends, my co-workers, my children.

Some of them condemn me as a loose and evil woman - the whole Scarlet Letter scenario. How dare I write about sex at all, and if I am going to write about sex, how dare I write about sex between unmarried people and if I am going to write about sex even between married people it had better be 'normal', healthy sex, preferably in the missionary position and in the dark, without anybody getting overly excited.

There's another group with a different point of view entirely. These are the scoffers. They mock my characters' sexual prowess, their moves, their sexual creativity. "Really?" they say. "That's the best you can come up with?" They shake pitying heads and suggest that I've obviously missed out on everything worth experiencing and maybe I should take vows and become a nun or something.

And last but not least there are my children, with looks of appalled shock on their faces. These are the teenagers who are embarrassed if I dare to dance to music in the confines of my own home. The very idea that their mother even knows such things would be such a surprise (even though, logically, we all know that if I didn't know such things, said children would not exist) that perhaps they will be emotionally damaged for the rest of their lives.

This group of detractors complicates matters, about as much as they would if they were actually standing in the bedroom and commenting on my own technique during sex. So what I have to do is usher them out of the bedroom, or whatever room my characters are choosing in which to cavort, lock the door, and suggest that they do something else they would enjoy.

"These people need a little privacy," I tell them. "Why don't you all go out for pie? Or play a video game or something."

Usually they'll comply, long enough to get a scene written. And then all is well until I start thinking about those already written scenes being read. But that is a different problem all together, and one to which I still don't have an answer.


  1. "Why don't you go out for pie?"

    LOL! That HAS to go in a book. I hear it being said in the same tone as the Grey Poupon guy in the back of his Rolls.

    Seriously though? It's the scoffers that get me. I giggle with glee over shocking, but "under-performing"... gives me a wee bit of sympathy for men in real life.

  2. "preferably in the missionary position and in the dark, without anybody getting overly excited."

    Love that! That goes in the book with the pie directive. Really nice post and not just because you pimped my book. ;-) This is a lovely way to wrap up the week, with such a thoughtful exploration of the way people's expectations affect us.

  3. Love this post, Kerry! As a YA writer, I don't have to deal with this too much, but I totally hear you!! :o)

  4. KAK - I'm so glad my writing performance anxiety amuses you, lol.

    Jeffe - Sex and Pie. Sounds like a new novel to me.

  5. Janelle - I actually considered writing YA so I could chicken out of dealing with it. But that's not where my muse wanted to go.

  6. Tab A into Slot B! <3

    I also love how you've turned this in to a challenge for the writer, to do what makes them uncomfortable. Some of the best writing is about making READERS uncomfortable, making them question and overcome and soldier on. I dig it.

    Also, I am Such A Prude.

  7. *raises hand timidly*

    Hi. My name is Laura. I think I might be a prude.

    Just kidding. I totally empathize with what you wrote...I suspect that it's because sex is normally such a private act. And, well, when we're writing, it's for an audience. *Gulp.*

  8. J to the Ill - love your screen name. And I think you are right - the best writing happens when we dare to challenge both ourselves and our readers, at least a little bit.

    Laura - yes, I almost wrote the post on how I am essentially a private person, and this is why writing sex is difficult for me. Just as it is difficult for me to share my deepest emotions and most secret dreams and hopes. I suppose writing those sorts of scenes might be easier for those who get turned on by exhibitionism, lol. But then, I expect they'd want to write porn.

  9. This is a great post, Kerry! I'm dealing with exactly this right now. I told my father about the book I have coming out and the first thing he did was tell his dentist! I told him I was not taking any responsibility for the reaction of others if my parents are going to tell people they know. I'd much rather write intimate scenes for complete strangers than my father's dentist. But that's just me.

  10. Oh yeah, I know this feeling. I have to admit it's a tad odd to know my dad's reading my book now. It's also freaking me out that he bought ten copies to hand out at work. (Um, dad. You might want to read it *first*)

    Of course, my boss is reading it. His wife is reading it. My coworkers are reading it. My boss's boss is reading it. I imagine I'm in for all sorts of strange looks in the next few weeks.


  11. The pie comment made me laugh out loud.

    My mom seemed to love my first book. There was no smut in it. She's continued to read them since, and there's been smut since, but perhaps the novelty of her novel-writing daughter has worn off, or perhaps the smutty scenes have made her take that step back and ask herself, "Where did I go wrong?" hee hee.

    I've found that if I have the attitude of 'yup, that's what I wrote!' and follow it with an expectant smile, whatever embarrassed baggage they were trying to pass onto my shoulders stays planted right on theirs.

    I have offered to take the scissors and remove the smut from my mother's copies if she'd like...she hasn't taken me up on that yet. ;-D

  12. Kinley - oh yeah - writing for intimate strangers is infinitely better than writing for anybody you know, lol. I hope your father's dentist enjoys the read, though

    Allison - time to develop a haughty artist's mien, lol. You are above all of the strange looks and any judgment calls that go with them. (we wish, anyway)

  13. Linda - my mother basically doesn't read what I write. I'm not sure why - she is an avid reader and not above reading a book with smut in it. I think it's the fantasy elements that bother her. Maybe I should offer her a pair of scissors - that is a brilliant idea, lol.