“Sex sells” is an annoying phrase, to me. For a few reasons. First, it implies (when used regarding romance or erotica) that people (like me) are writing sex because it sells. I can only speak for myself, but for me, that is simply not true. Second, it allots some kind of trade or monetary value to sex, which is… not ideal. Sex is beautiful and natural and not something to be used as currency, at least not in the dream world I like to live in. (Where do prostitution and porn fit into this dream world? I don’t know. I do like porn. And though I’ve never considered hiring any kind of prostitute, I don’t begrudge those who have.) The third reason I hate the phrase “sex sells” is it is tossed about in a dismissive and derisive way, to belittle any success an erotic-romance author might achieve. As in: “Hey, so-and-so’s book made the top 100!” and the response: “Pfft. Well, ‘sex sells’ I guess.” (eye-roll and lip sneer optional).
I have found myself fighting for my right to write sex, and it’s already grown tiresome. Comment threads, blog posts, and even casual discussions have all become potential battlegrounds, areas where I might be forced to defend my sex-scenes. Sometimes I fight, and sometimes I walk away. Other times I just lurk and read, and get a little depressed.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve read/heard lately about erotic-romance that have made me sad/angry:
- “Sex scenes are filler, and are used as an easy way to distract readers from weak plot.”
- “People who write a lot of sex have unsatisfactory sex lives, and write to fulfill their own needs and fantasies.”
- “I skim over sex scenes because they are boring and I don’t need to know what happens between two characters in bed.”
- And sadly, people are still using the term “mommy porn”. (I know, right?)
Why is the inclusion of sex something that “cheapens” a work? Why are sex scenes in literary fiction totally okay, but in romance they are regarded as “fluff” or “filler”? Is it just sex, or is it romance in general that people have a problem with?
Perhaps it is my failing, that I want to associate with writers of other genres, that I think I should be taken seriously as a romance writer. Maybe that is too much to ask? Should I just not care what people think? Just keep writing what I want the way I want to and trust that my readers will support me, and forget everyone else? I guess that would be the best course of action. But it is hurtful when I hear/read other writers belittling romance. Or making assumptions about me personally or other romance writers based on the inclusion of sex in our stories.
I think the big problem I have is this whole thing about sex being somehow dirty or trashy or “unworthy”. As if including graphic sex in your story makes your work of a lesser quality, makes your writing weaker, or makes your book “porn”. And of course, the other side of that coin is the crazy idea that books with little or no sex, or “fade to black” type scenes, are somehow classier or better-written. (Which you know is bullshit if you’ve ever read more than a few books like that. The inclusion of explicit sex has no bearing on writing quality.)
Maybe another issue is I tend to read a lot in genres where sex is common. Paranormal romance, romance (either m/m or m/f), fantasy, urban fantasy… all have (often) pretty graphic sex. And while I have sometimes found plots weak or characters shallow, it had nothing to do with the sex scenes.
Someone on facebook linked to this article the other day, and it was at once very sad and very uplifting. The article is horrible. The comments, by readers of romance, are freaking awesome.
So as usual, I have lots of questions and few answers. I can’t stop writing what I write, I’ve tried but I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. I am a romance writer, and that’s just it. I guess the challenge then is to stop letting the opinions of others dictate my happiness, or my feelings of self-worth. And if I ever figure out how to do that, I will let you know.