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Sex in Fantasy Novels


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Aug 5, 2009, 5:50pm Top

Having got off on this tangent because of a mention of Dracula this thread can give us the chance to explore whether sex has a place in fantasy, if it is more prevalent now then it was 25 years ago, if it is well written, or even needful to the plot of what is being written now.

I think that covers the points we have been talking about.

Aug 5, 2009, 7:47pm Top

Good topic. Just to be clear carrying over from the "what are you reading" thread, I mentioned that I tend to steer clear of books (fantasy and SF) that include sex as a major, or even minor, component. I made this point because Kushiel's Dart is my next read and I was wary of the series for a while because of the use of sex in the story. My reasoning is not moral at all. I simply feel that in many cases sex overwhelms the story or is used to spice up a book needlessly.

I actually like some vampire novels, although many of the new breed in the genre seem like carbon copies. My objection, again, is literary not prudish. Sex has a place, it seems to me, in any literature as long as it furthers the story, makes sense, and is consistent with the tone throughout.

On a side note, I have begun Kushiel's Dart and thus far I have no objection to the content, but I'm finding the writing awkward.

Aug 5, 2009, 9:26pm Top

I think that is the problem with the novels that are appealing to young women and selling well these days. They are gratuitous in there use of sex not for the story but to titillate their audience and use sex to sell, not to provide story. Do we have descriptive bathroom scenes, shower scenes. How about our eating a meal told with flowery language and poetical descriptions of the food? No. Just the sex.

Aug 5, 2009, 9:29pm Top

Awww... I'm young!

Aug 5, 2009, 9:48pm Top

Other than Carey's books, does anyone have suggestions of good fantasy that uses sex appropriately, er, that is, well?

Edited: Aug 5, 2009, 9:50pm Top

Sunshine (vampire book by Robin McKinley) has a couple of sex scenes but also...a good percentage of the book is, in fact, taken up with "...eating {meals} told with flowery language and poetical descriptions of the food" :D

Come to think of it, there are also shower, bath, and bathroom scenes, although with varying levels of detail ;)

Aug 5, 2009, 9:58pm Top

#2 BigJoel55

I found the writing in Kushiel's Dart to be awkward, too.

Aug 5, 2009, 10:10pm Top

Interesting thread. I must be reading the wrong books as I've really not noticed. Of course I've also not bought anything that "new" in a while either. That said, as long as it makes sense with the story, fits in with the characters/whats going on, then its ok. Otherwise, why not just go to the erotic section of the book store?

Now I'm curious about the Kushiel books.

Aug 5, 2009, 11:18pm Top

So BlueSalamaanders, is Sunshine indicative of sex that is integral to the story of gratuitous? One would think that a sex scene might be needed to have a baby show up later. To force the issue in a period piece of a marriage. (Or even in some of todays culture/societies.) I think there is the dilemma that the good writers of romance face, to show, or to use words to suggest and intensify the emotions.

I am a proponent of strong stories where the hero and heroine are like two magnets, attracted to each other but as the get closer together one side is flipped and there is that push away, until the very last page, and last paragraph and the kiss... (Well maybe somewhere in the last chapter, or perhaps just once earlier on, and oy what a mistake we hate each other and it will never happen again but wait, we really do care for each other...)

Sex, on screen, might make an occurence like that something that can not be recovered from. Ughh I had sex with the girl, and really I had to fake my orgasm, well it kind of shrunk after an hour of trying, no I really was trying, we are never going to get together...

Yeah we did it, and I described our doing in three wonderful pages of breasts and metaphors and heaving and struggling, and now what do I do for an encore, there are two hundred more pages. We aren't really emotionally connected yet, after we are just in high school, but I guess we can do it again for four or five pages friday after the big football game, right? We are teenagers, every knows we make out on friday nights after the football game.

Aug 6, 2009, 2:04am Top

This might be a bit of a digression or a long way round to get to the point:

I like Laurell K. Hamilton I have read somewhere over four books of hers from cover to cover. I particularly like the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books. Some of the later ones, like Micah or Incubus Dreams, seem to be more or less erotica/text-based porn with a few bits of murder mystery, supernatural thriller scattered around the edges. Others, like Circus of the Damned or Obsidian Butterfly seem to be pretty straightforward supernatural horror novels with some minor romance subplots.

I like both these approaches. Neither seems righter or wronger.

Then I read Twilight just to see what the phenomenon was about. I guess one of the problems is the heroine is a high school student, not a college graduate who is approaching thirty but doesn't expect to live that long. Therefore a sex scene in the first book seems to be out of the question. Yet, somehow it feels weird for Edward and Bella's relationship to be so intense, yet basically chaste.

Aug 6, 2009, 2:48am Top

I think like anything, sex, has its place. But, it has to make sense. I have to believe that that the characters would do this, as they would do anything. For more personal taste, the five page sex scene not really my thing. I like fantasy as a genre and it shouldn't take away from that. If sex is the major theme, however, perhaps the genre is more erotica than fantasy.

Aug 6, 2009, 5:19am Top

I don't avoid a book of any genre because there is sex in it - but i do loathe ones where the characters are at it like rabbits with a plot loosely connecting the sex scenes. I can't remember the author but there is a series were the main character has to get pregnant to take over fairyland - and I gave up after the second book of sex, sex and more sex. There have been more in the series but I have no interest in reading any more.

Having said that - an occasional sex scene is ok as long as it belongs - if that makes sense :)

Aug 6, 2009, 7:35am Top

9 DWWilkin

I don't think the sex in Sunshine is integral or gratuitous. The story could exist without it, but it makes sense in context. And the scenes are not so detailed or numerous that it's like reading a romance novel or erotica.

Aug 6, 2009, 7:57am Top

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Aug 6, 2009, 8:13am Top

#13 I found the sex scenes in Sunshine a bit out of place. It was a book I would have happily recommended to a teenage niece if not for those 2 scenes...

I do occasionally read chick-lit fantasy when I'm in the mood for a no-brainer, but I much prefer books where there is a subtle sexual tension to books with bonking.

Aug 6, 2009, 8:26am Top

15 puddleshark

She didn't intend it to be a YA book, she intended it to be Adult, so I don't have a problem with that :)

Aug 6, 2009, 8:40am Top

#12 - That also sounds like Laurell K Hamilton, with her second series about Merry Gentry, princess of the fae.

I've read a large number of books that include sex scenes.

I find that Laurell K Hamilton is one of the worst of the bunch for sticking sex scenes in when it really doesn't feel needed. What is worse is that she doesn't write particularly good erotica!

I will put up Jean M Auel for consideration as well - as soon as Ayla and Jondalar get together, there are endless and inappropriate sex scenes. See The Valley of Horses. Bleh.

So when I read Jacqueline Carey's sex scenes in the Kushiel books, I found them entirely appropriate given Phaedre unique position. Also, although not particularly titillating, they did not change the character of the heroine at all (which is a big fault of the Laurell K Hamilton sex scenes).

Aug 6, 2009, 8:44am Top

George RR Martins A Song of Fire and Ice series has plenty of sex. Not only sex, but "taboo sex", including under-age sex, incest and rape.

Not only are these used in the novels, many of the sexual situations in the novels are key plot themes.

Aug 6, 2009, 8:49am Top

18 omaca

I hate that series, and that is a significant part of why.

Aug 6, 2009, 9:19am Top

Fantasy + Erotica is one of my favorite genres. So I don't mind it at all. I love being titillated. I even love the word titillated. Love the Hamilton books but won't buy them anymore as she's a conceited git. Love Carey, Bishop, Harris, Harrison. Re-read them. Love me some urban fantasy smut.

But I certainly don't call it literary. It is what it is. Fantasy porn.

Aug 6, 2009, 9:32am Top

People have sex, and I judge sex scenes in books the same way I judge any other scenes. I don't hold them up to extra scrutiny -- any scene can be gratuitous on its own merits.

Aug 6, 2009, 11:35am Top

I do not disagree that some sex can be part of the story, I think the first instance of Sex in GRRM was when the Brother and sister were sleeping together. I don't remember if they were actually having sex so much as being caught nekkid together by the young boy so that boy could be injured by the clearly evil couple. (Making them even more evil.)

The suggestion of sex, 'they were sleeping together, they made love," very small simple ways of saying that intercourse had taken place or was taking place is different then an explicit scene of sex. That can be used to further the story along just as 'the next morning, after he had rested comfortably all night,' tells us that the hero got a good nights sleep, instead of describing how he prepared the a place to lie down, and made sure the camp fire was well protected by stone and cleared of twigs so it could go out unattended, and that maybe he tossed and turned three or four times, because the ground is the ground and not as nice as a feather bed... My point being that we hardly ever see a sequence like this dragged out, but when it comes to sex, a chance to add heat, why not? Except it my opinion it should only be done if it adds to the story. Otherwise, the two finally slept together and it was magical, as if all the worlds greatest lovers had been outclassed by simple peasant farm boy turned super warrior, and spoiled princess with heart of gold, just as it was always meant to be.

Aug 6, 2009, 12:30pm Top

I don't see anything wrong with describing sex. Sex scenes generally involve at least two people, so they have a much greater chance of adding to a story than someone sleeping alone by a fire. But like any other scene, sex scenes don't always add to a story -- there are many in Laurell Hamilton's work that don't.

Aug 6, 2009, 7:08pm Top

Now do we think that they are more prevalent now then 25 to 30 years ago. I would think that they are more prevalent.

Aug 6, 2009, 7:28pm Top

24: It may be more common than it was, but is it any more prevalent in fantasy than in any other genre when you apply that time frame?

Aug 6, 2009, 8:32pm Top

There's an (often-blurred?) distinction between romance novels and "regular" novels... There aren't any more sex scenes in fantasy romance novels than in historical romance novels. (I'm mostly thinking the mass-market paperback romances here. The ones that say they're romances on the cover.)

There are a LOT of romance novels published because people go through them so fast. I think looking at the fantasy genre as a whole, especially urban fantasy, you might be under the impression that huge numbers of sex scenes are common, when that's part of the weight of all those cheaply produced books.

YA novels in general (I'm a YA librarian so I read a lot of these) seem to have more titillation, but not as much actual sex. Of course, most of these are about high schoolers and their boyfriends and the whole point is titillation, and the fantasy authors feel like they have to include it to try to draw in the casual teen reader. So, that might contribute to a general feeling of more sex in the genre too.

Those two genres are pretty much about sex, so I'm not surprised that there's sex in them. The sex is contributing to the plot because it IS the plot. Whether you like it/approve of it or not is up to you.

Might authors of high/epic fantasy etc., genres that are more about plot, feel pressured to put it in even if it's not as significant? Trying to draw in readers from other genres?

Aug 7, 2009, 2:16am Top

I think the initial basis of the thread is whether sex has increased in percentage in regular fantasy, not fantasy romance, over the last two to three decades. Certainly it seems more prevalent because of a rise in vampire literature.

Edited: Aug 7, 2009, 7:30am Top

Due to this vampire fashion it may have increased in Urban Fantasy which, I think, was not a very common genre 20 or 30 years ago. The vampire myth is always surrounded by a sexual halo that other myths lack. In the earlier works on vampires there is always this seduction and subtle sex references, though it usually all ends in death and despair, not like this modern "vampires" in search of redemption and love.

Nowadays is not such a taboo writing about sex as it was in past decades, so it seems natural that there is more sex in books as there's more in movies. I find sex scenes OK as long as they fit in the story and don't turn it in a mere filler for the next sex scene. Sex is a very interesting part of being human and if well used it can give more background to a character.

Aug 7, 2009, 10:44am Top

> 19 bluesalamanders

How can you like sex scenes in one set of novels, and dislike them in another? Unless it has something to do with explicitness or perhaps the underlying subject matter?

GRR Martin is certainly not explicit. Perhaps it's the subject matter? "Underage sex" is a very modern concept and rape is certainly a common literary (and classical!) theme. You could even say as much for incest, and it certainly plays a pivotal part in much of the Western classical canon.

Edited: Aug 7, 2009, 11:46am Top

Very easily, omaca! I like sex scenes in my books, consenting adults enjoying themselves. I don't like rape, incest, etc. any more than I like gratuitous torture and gore. I don't care how explicit or thematic you may think it is, I think those books are wretched.

Edit: And even if that wasn't the reason, I could still like the sex scenes in one book and not in another. Not all books and authors are equal and some sex scenes are appropriate and well-written and fit with the book and some are inappropriate or badly written or don't fit the characters or story.

Edit 2: And for that matter, people have different ideas on what constitutes "explicit". What I remember from the GRRM books I read were at least bordering on explicit (in my opinion). On the other hand, I once saw a review that called the sex scenes in Tamora Pierce's Alanna explicit, which makes me laugh because they're practically as fade-to-black as you can get.

Aug 7, 2009, 11:43am Top

There are entire storylines where sex is important. But there are many storylines where romance, not sex is important and the writer throws sex in for their own edification. Wow, they have sex and I know I can write it and make people swoon over the power of my words so here, let me share... And an editor just doesn't have the balls to say wasn't needed, cut it. I recognize this more each year most likely because I add to my personal exposure to good and bad works each year by up to 100 books.

Aug 7, 2009, 12:20pm Top

It really depends on the book. Fantasy like Catherynne Valente's Palimpsest are based on it. Urban Fantasy? - almost mandatory (as long as they do not go as far as Hamilton went with the latest Anita Blake novels - she kinda left the genre altogether...).

But for the rest - why not? It's part of life and these days it's not a taboo. And a lot of the Fantasy books are no more just for teens. I am not a huge fan of explicit sex in most of my books but I won't stop reading a book because of it. And in most cases it is up to the author - the same scene can be a lot more explicit in one book but at the same time just to fit; while in some other book it can just be ruining an otherwise decent storyline.

Edited: Aug 7, 2009, 2:29pm Top

> bluesalamander

I see where you're coming from and my (rhetorical) question was poorly put.

I guess my point was that I didn't find GRR Martin explicit at all. The theme may have been uncomfortable (incest, rape etc), but there were no descriptive passages of "hot and sweaty" bodies or anatomically correct details of the actual act itself.

But as they say, different strokes for different folks. Like AnnieMod, I am no fan of sex in my novels as I find it tends to draw attention away from the underlying plot. However, I can live with it being an important plot element, as long as I don't have to read about body parts and "action", if you know what I mean. :)

Another example: as far as I know there a lot of "modern fantasy" novels (especially vampire based), that seem to be popular at present. Notwithstanding the Twilight series (which I understand is childishly chaste), I believe sex and eroticism play an important part in these books. Whilst I rather enjoy vampire stories (Salems Lot, I am Legend, The Historian etc), these books do not appeal to me in the least. And it's the sex that puts me off. It seems to me (and I may be wrong) that the sex is a core part of the book; almost an antidote to romantic fiction if you will.

Of course I could be wrong, but you get the idea. My point is that there are no hard and fast rules (if you'll pardon the expression... :-) ).

Aug 7, 2009, 2:36pm Top

Were not great vampire stories written with out sex. With sexual attraction, but no sex until the more resent years. To me this is the copout of poor writers.

Why does Dracula remain as a classic and still in print after more than 100 years? Does it have something to do with it not having sex in your face unlike todays work? Will todays work remain in print for a hundred years. Where is Lestat now? Has Anne Rice begun to fall out of print

Aug 7, 2009, 3:15pm Top

People still read the works of the Marquis de Sade, too. Writing about sex is not a modern invention.

Edited: Aug 7, 2009, 3:28pm Top

Just like sex is more prevalent in tv and movies now, than say 20 30 years ago. Literature has followed this trend. Not that sex wasn't written about, but now you find it in more places than you would have in the past. Especially in the YA genre.

Aug 7, 2009, 5:33pm Top

34, Anne Rice's vampire chronicles are certainly still in print (as of a quick check on Amazon), and they're brought up in practically every discussion of vampire books. As I recall there wasn't any more explicit sex in them than in Dracula, although I haven't read all of them.

Since sex isn't much of a taboo anymore, and it was more of one when older books were written, it might be an interesting exercise to look at older books and see if they were writing AROUND the sex, or if the plot really is perfect without it. There's only so much that can be done with an explicit sex scene--usually there's not much character exposition, etc.--so when IS it relevant to the plot? Only in romances where sex is a big character development/plot step, only when the magic functions by sex so it's always a plot point...?

Aug 7, 2009, 6:43pm Top

So when do people of generally start reading Fantasy? When they are able to handle and understand the writing of Sex in context? I started with Fantasy before a teenager and have been at for more than 30 years. It is possible that the their was the same percentage of sex in the genre (Fantasy, not every other genre, just Fantasy) then as now, but I think there is more now, and I think that much of what I see in print regarding sex in the genre is irrelevant to the telling of the story and has been solely put in gratuitously.

Sex explicitly in a story may not make the story worse for me, and certainly sometimes it is needful and does boost the story line, but when it is done gratuitously, it shows a trend with the writer and often that is the road to the book receiving a lower rank in my estimation. The writer is not as good as they could be.

On the Anne Rice, I had heard that some had gone out of print. My bad...

Aug 7, 2009, 9:57pm Top

I think people may be on to something here. Among the group of friends I started reading fantasy with, epic fantasy (i.e. Tolkien) was the starting point and really the focus. Our Dungeons and Dragons interest probably kept this going a while. But in other sub-genres and emerging genres like urban fantasy and the current interest in vampirism sex makes more sense to plot.

I will admit, however, that discovering the Gor novels as a teenager in the '80s was certainly titilating as well as enlightening. ha.

Aug 8, 2009, 3:24am Top

Some of the earliest fantasy I read was by Anne McCaffrey. Her books and short stories written in the late 60s and early 70s were full of sex.

Aug 8, 2009, 5:08am Top

McCaffrey? Not even remotely. Acknowledged that yes, people did do that, but not much past there, apart from one romance type story where she did deliberately go further and talks about that in a collection.

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 8:31am Top

Having been reading fantasy for 40 years now, I honestly think there is a lot more sexual detail in books these days compared to years ago - because it is allowed, and it must sell. Look at Lady Chatterley's Lover - it was banned in its time, but is tame compared to some today.

What I think has really changed is the greater use of what I call erotica. Now, I am no prude at all, but I just get bored with pages and pages of explicit details of the absolute minutia of the sex act - with nothing left to the imagination. That, to my mind, is erotica. Take Laurell K. Hamilton as example: in her first books the sex was a definite part of the plot and written well, and not overdone and worked well; but in later books there was more sex than plot!

Sex definitely has a part, and some of it is well-written - IMHO - but I have to say: I think there is a lot more in books now, with much greater explicitness than in former years - but that is not necessarily a bad thing either! It really just reflects our society. If it isn't popular, if it becomes distasteful or unpopular, it won't sell, it will self-censor and will not be published; without being too cynical, it is all about the money!!

Aug 8, 2009, 8:59am Top

>41 bluetyson: What? All of the early Dragonriders of Pern books revolve around sex, or "that", as you say. Dragons having it, humans having it. The White Dragon and Dragonquest even have scenes of what is arguably rape between the main character and an unwilling partner (who of course turns willing after repeatedly saying no). Not to mention the scenes in Crystal Singer, The Ship Who Sang, and the short stories in Get Off the Unicorn. McCaffrey's work was my first exposure to concepts of casual sex, homosexuality, dominance and submission, and multiple-partner relationships. Quite an education for a pre-teen. Anne Rice didn't even raise my eyebrows when I finally got to her.

Aug 8, 2009, 11:39am Top

There is a difference between a novel that says 'and she leapt into bed where they had a passionate night of love making...' and a novel that describes every detail of human organ fitting into body part, with other adjectives and nouns to making the verb flowery or descriptive. A couple sentences to let us know that two characters are now lovers is far different from pages of the act.

There is a limit to how much is needed though to propel a story. Since this is Fantasy, think of the balance to how much fighting of the monsters you can tolerate. If our hero takes out his sword and slashes off the head of the monster every chapter, you get bored rather quickly. If our Hero has sex how many times in the story before you sit and realize that the author is doing their best to get you hot, and that is where it is no longer a Fantasy novel. Perhaps it has become an erotica novel which there are several that are cast with Historical Novel mystique so why not also the novel being really erotica with a Fantasy milieu?

Perhaps that is what we have here. Many of the Vampire sub-genre are not really fantasy at all but erotica (which we might also call soft-porn to a certain extent) and only a few of the Vampire novels are still Fantasy. I never did consider Anne Rice Fantasy for instance, but that was me walking through the book stacks when they were being released. (Do people still walk through the book stacks? Has Amazon begun to kill that? I was in Borders last night for coffee and it was quiet, but not as quiet as it has been...)

Aug 8, 2009, 12:09pm Top

There is a difference between a novel that says 'and she leapt into bed where they had a passionate night of love making...' and a novel that describes every detail of human organ fitting into body part, with other adjectives and nouns to making the verb flowery or descriptive. A couple sentences to let us know that two characters are now lovers is far different from pages of the act.

Some people like detailed description. Some don't. There's plenty of books of both kinds being written.

Aug 8, 2009, 12:14pm Top

But the thought is that the one with detailed description, might no longer be Fantasy but Erotica or Porn... Has does that description move the story, or is it unnecessary to the story.

Aug 8, 2009, 12:25pm Top

^^ From reading over this thread, it's clear that YOU do not believe detailed descriptions of sex are important to the story. Other people may disagree. And just because there is sex in the story does not mean it is no longer fantasy fiction...it simply becomes fantasy fiction with erotic elements, perhaps. My recommendation is that if you don't like it, don't read it. Simple.

Aug 8, 2009, 12:37pm Top

I think the debate is less a moralistic one over detailed description and more concerning the purpose and utility of sex in modern fantasy.

The distinction over genre seems a difficult one, given the fact that genre distinctions are always a bit subjective anyway.

Aug 8, 2009, 12:42pm Top


If McCaffrey was eye-opening for you, a bit of a sheltered upbringing perhaps.

McCaffrey's dragon mating mentions are about as erotic as a farmer talking about roosters and chickens. Or stallions and mares. Guess its a combo. Beasts of burden that lay eggs. ;)

Whereas I found Rice when I was 8, but didn't come across McCaffrey until a bit later. The only surprising thing in the former being that some humans might want to desperately become other.

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 1:34pm Top

kmaziarz, do you have examples where detailed description propels the story forward? I do like detailed description. I have erotica in my collection. I have The Pearl. The thought was first that SEX was getting too much play these days an why was that, so we started talking it through.

I think that the Vampire Genre, which as we have talked I believe can be broken up two ways now, is at fault a great deal for this and that it is appealing to young women mostly. Through our discussion here I have been able to further think it through that the Vampire Genre has Fantasy Genre books, and Erotica Genre books, but where it is really Erotica is being thrown into Fantasy.

Romance figured things out a long time ago. The Sexually Explicit stuff seems to be a sub genre, not where the main action is, since romance relies on emotion, and we can show that very well with words.

The act of sex, writing it down and describing kills the imagination of the act.

And how one defines a genre is indeed a group gestalt. But you see the genre with your own interpretations. I clearly see Vampire as almost not Fantasy. I don't even regard Dracula as Fantasy since I see that as Gothic, Victorian, Classic.

But still, do you have access to books from 30 years ago that are Fantasy? Can you put in context whether the percentage of Sex has increased in this genre or now? Whether that writing moves the story forward or was there no reason other than just having SEX there.

Watch a good movie sometime. A Good one. See how all the elements work together to make the story go forward. Watch as the Protagonst takes a water bottle for the road and how having that will show bearing later on, or how the Father makes a call saying he went to the hospital for an attack of bad indigestion but then ends up dead and that changes everything.

Even Charles Dickens who would write tangents to the story for many pages then get back on track with our heroes, those tangents which would develope a secondary character, fully fleshing them out, would then have bearing by the end and that tangent would somehow be a part of the end of the story. If the story that we are reading, has too many things that really don't push the plot forward, is it not wasting space?

So for me, that SEX scene should make sense in the context of the story. Its that simple. Otherwise there is a hell of a lot of great Porn out there already.

Aug 8, 2009, 1:57pm Top

Yes, I do have access to older fantasy. I am a librarian and I have been reading fantasy of all stripes since I was a child.

Sure, of course explicit sex in fantasy has increased over the years! Because explicit sex has increased across the board in ALL forms of popular culture in our society. Different cultural norms, different tastes.

And why does the sex HAVE to have some great overarching meaning? I mean, I understand the whole, "don't put a gun on the mantel in the 1st act unless you fire it in the 3rd act" thing, sure. But can't the "point" of the sex just be that it's fun?? Fun for the characters, fun for the readers? You know...books can just be escapist, and there is nothing wrong with that. Not every book has to be Literature with a capital L. It's just a different way of approaching the genre...fantasy, but with some heavy spice thrown in. If you like that kind of spice, great! Enjoy! If you don't, there are other spices to enjoy!

And for the record, I don't consider vampire novels to be fantasy per se. I consider them to be an offshoot of horror. There may be elements of fantasy in individual vampire books, certainly. But they're not primarily fantasy as most people understand the genre.

Anyway. We have a saying in the librarian biz... "Every book its reader; every reader his/her book." In other words, there is something out there for everyone. You don't have to like everything...but just because you don't like it doesn't mean that other people can't or shouldn't!

Aug 8, 2009, 2:28pm Top

I think that the Vampire Genre, which as we have talked I believe can be broken up two ways now, is at fault a great deal for this and that it is appealing to young women mostly.

Oh no, we can't have Young Women reading about Sex! It might Corrupt their Delicate Sensibilities! And what if they Enjoy it?? The Horror! The Horror!

You're trying too hard to delineate strict borders between genres, borders that simply aren't there. You can't say "This is fantasy" and "This is romance" and "This is erotica" and be done with it. Genres things overlap. There are no firm boundaries.

Aug 8, 2009, 2:40pm Top

I can remember reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi with a fair amount of sex when I was in high school in the 70's, although i can't remember books or authors now. But from the 80's there was Maia and The Mists of Avalon that were pretty steamy.

Aug 8, 2009, 3:08pm Top

I supposse a lot of what I think of as fantasy is based on what was in the bookstore aisle in the 70's and Tolkienesque fiction.

Aug 8, 2009, 3:08pm Top

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Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 5:28pm Top

I don't have a problem with sex in a story but I completely skip it if it is poorly written and drags on for pages. As an element in a fantasy story I think it depends on the story and the author's vision. I don't know if Jacqueline Carey is considered pure fantasy, but she says of her Kushiel's Legacy series that she wanted to explore the "ramifications of love as a divine commandment." Of course, it's a bit more interesting as the main character is the chosen of a god of punishment as pleasure (Kushiel). I don't think many writers could take that premise and make an interesting story of it as Carey does. (Note: The first book is a bit of a slog as it is a lot of set up, but it gets very good thereafter.) As others have said, it boils down to what do you want to read.

I think the influx of new paranormal/dark/urban fantasy with lots of sex is due to the huge increase in women (young and old) readers in the sci fi/fantasy genre. Most women like romance in their stories and enjoy some titillation in the process. That said, for me it's just plain BORING as the only event. I want a great story with unique world building and interesting characters. Is sex necessary? Absolutely not. Do I like it in my fantasy reading? Sure. If it fits with the characters and their story why not, but it does get annoying if it goes on in detail for pages. Less is more there I think.

Aug 8, 2009, 6:07pm Top

I pretty much agree with Leahsimone

Aug 8, 2009, 9:20pm Top

I really enjoyed the first three Kushiel books and haven't read the later ones yet. I didn't find the sex gratuitous at all in this story; it really is integral to the plot. After all, Phedre was hardly ever "just" having sex; usually she had some ulterior motive. Or it was love . . .

What I object to are graphic descriptions of sex that end in mutual shuddering delight and then, twenty pages later, the author is left with the "what do I do for an encore?" problem. So it's even more ecstatic than before, and then even more, and then something kinky is added, because what else is left? Blech. It's not romantic, it's not erotic, it's not suspenseful, and it doesn't reveal anything about the characters or plot.

I'm a lot happier with either the "he touched her hand and she trembled" sort of buildup, or the humor that skips the details but makes it clear that the two lovers had a fine time together.

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 9:52pm Top

Back when I was too young to actually do anything sexually but think lustfully about and fantasize, reading the passages about sex was pretty great. (I was tempted to pun with exciting). Now in hindsight much ofcwhat I enjoyed before I became sexually active is exactly what I am suggesting is the writer coping out. And much of what I would go and reread the sex scenes is really terrible writing.

Aug 8, 2009, 9:55pm Top

Most women like romance in their stories and enjoy some titillation in the process

I'm sorry - as a woman I take umbrage to that; as a woman I don't! But you may be correct, and the main market for these books are mostly women. Maybe women like reading about it and men just like doing it?? It's a fact that men think about it more than women, ergo perhaps women prefer to concentrate about it at specific times - as in a book.

And before anyone gets too upset with my post, it is meant to be somewhat *tongue-in-cheek*

What I do know, from my experience, and as I said in my previous post, is that there is much more sexual explicitness published in books now - simply because of the change to censorship laws. As it is in the whole of our society.

Whether this is good or detrimental is an whole other issue!

Aug 8, 2009, 10:11pm Top

>49 bluetyson: I was eight when I read McCaffrey. I think it's hardly surprising for an eight-year-old to be "sheltered" about adult sexual matters. You don't know me, so I think your comment is a bit out of line.

Aug 8, 2009, 11:21pm Top

>60 Lman: Lman
Most women like romance in their stories and enjoy some titillation in the process

I almost didn't write that sentence because I knew it would rub someone the wrong way hence the "most" qualifier. I considered "some" but felt that was understating it. What with the something like 10 subgenres of romance (not to mention categories to denote "heat" level) I thought it pretty close to the mark. Maybe I should have just said "a lot." :)

I meant no offense of course. I don't read romances but I am a woman who enjoys romance and sex (I'm a bit picky about it though) as elements. It's a matter of degree, personal preference and - ultimately - quality storytelling/writing.

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 11:46pm Top

>59 DWWilkin: DWWilkin

Can you give an example of a recent read where you thought the writer coped out by putting in a sex scene? A writer whose story you would have otherwise thought was good? My experience with urban fantasy, for example, has been that writers who put a lot of sex in the story are either really bad or are just formulaic.

Most of the straight up fantasy I've read hasn't had any descriptive sex (with the exception of Jacqueline Carey of course).

Edit: To be fair, I've only been reading fantasy for the last 5 years.

Edited: Aug 9, 2009, 12:07am Top


LOL! None taken - just had to respond so then it became' umbrage - yes??? And I think you are (sadly) right. *sigh* And I think we are the same in our reading tastes too.

It is most likely more than "a lot"! But it is interesting just how ubiquitous it has become - don't you think?

Add: and I also concur with your last post, as I think the paranormal has become more 'paranormal romance' - and again, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, such categorising helps me know NOT to read that book, as I like paranormal more than romance. Whereas others want to read such...

Edited: Aug 9, 2009, 2:12am Top

It really isn't every six seconds for me, not even every six minutes, but perhaps if I was using the little blue pill it would be more often. Why does our sexual energy (men) peak like at High school and the older we get the less we care???

I go through my library tomorrow and find my examples...

Aug 18, 2009, 2:24pm Top

#5 BigJoel55

I've just finished Carol Berg's Lighthouse Duet (Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone) and was quite surprised how often the second book had the hero getting aroused and/or almost having sex. (And one rather unpleasant instance of actual sex). It's not quite the same thing as you get with Carey's books, but it came to mind when I saw your question. I'm still trying to decide if the sexual references stood out for me more because you don't often get this sort of thing from a male character's POV in a book by a female author, rather than because they were particularly significant to the book, though.

Aug 18, 2009, 4:30pm Top

I do think there's more explicit sex in fantasy novels recently.

I don't have a problem with it - it's kind of like fight scenes. If they're well-written, not too long, and fit the story they're great. If they're none of those things, I skip them. (I skip massive portions of David Weber's science fiction books, because the battle scenes are totally boring, and I care about the characters, not the wars).

I do get annoyed by recycled sex scenes in series books - Christine Feehan (who is, admittedly, only marginally fantasy) must cut and paste her sex scenes from one book to another.

On the other hand, some of Laurell K. Hamilton's stuff is great. Some of it sucks. You can probably find examples of both the best and the worst in her books.

It's become more acceptable for women to admit to enjoying reading about sex than it used to be. Certainly the romance genre has become much more explicit. I don't doubt that publishers have noticed that, and some of those badly written sex scenes may be afterthoughts added at the urging of the marketing department.

A written sex scene may be more attractive to some women than to some men because of the whole guys like pictures/girls like emotional connections thing. Personally I find porn films with no plot excrutiatingly boring but I know guys for whom those same films are absolute favorites. I'd like to see some fMRI studies of male vs. female reactions to written erotica vs. visual erotica - could be some interesting differences.

Overall, I find explicit sex in stories to be on the par with explicit anything else - fighting, eating, fashion, scenery. It's easy to go over the line from interesting to boring. I suppose the mark of a good writer is to be able to handle any sort of description with just enough detail, but not too much. (Of course, that will vary from reader to reader . . . )

Aug 18, 2009, 9:27pm Top

#66 Niko

I'm not familiar with Berg's books. I would find it interesting to see a male POV from a female author. Was it done well? It seems to me that men have checkered success with the reverse.

Aug 19, 2009, 3:47pm Top


I *think* it was done well, yeah, though like I said, I'm still sort of weighing it in my mind. The sexual elements definitely fit the nature of the character and the situation (a serious drug addiction has him constantly impacted by his more baser urges, so the sex starts as a bit of an offshoot of that, with additional plot-driven complications... ) It didn't feel gratuitous or present for "shock value" or anything. I'd definitely be curious how it comes across to a male reader, though.

(And I should say that it's not like she gets really graphic with it. The one actual sex scene is less explicit than the main sex scenes I remember in the first Carey book, anyway.)

(I highly recommend Berg overall, btw... especially the Lighthouse Duet and the Rai-Kirah books. She's one of my absolute favorites and I pimp her every chance I get. :) )

Aug 19, 2009, 5:07pm Top

Pimp, good pun for a fantasy sex thread...

Edited: Sep 2, 2009, 6:31pm Top

The Mercy Thompson Books by, Patricia Briggs have what I like to call an old style romance to them you get a nice romantic build up then they go in the bedroom and close the door and leave you to figure out the rest..I really liked these for that reason!(Although the third book does have a rape scene although I thought it was well written)
If you don't want lots of sex--Don't read Daughter of the Blood I didn't get very far into it before I'd had enough of the blatant sex!

Edited: Sep 23, 2009, 7:56am Top

Anne Bishop is one of my favourites, and I think the fantasy + sex is in good balance, her stories wouldn't be the same without the sex.
I do think the Tir Alainn Triology is more uncomfortable then the Black Jewels (Daughter of the Blood being Book One) and Landscapes of Ephemera Series' though.
I agree with the prior discussions, re. there being a lot of sub-genres within the fantasy genre, and sex + fantasy has its place-if you like that sort of thing.

Sep 8, 2009, 7:00am Top

I dislike books in which the male and female protagonists spend most of the book evaluating each others bodies and the rest of the time having sex, with a little bit of plot thrown in. Unfortunately almost all the paranormal romances I have read use this exact formula.
I agree with susiesharp about Patricia Briggs' books. She includes real romance and relationship building in her books and when there is sex (as in her newest book, Hunting Ground) it is as a natural progression of the relationship.

Sep 21, 2009, 8:52pm Top

71: susiesharp - I didn't think daughter of the blood had a lot of sex. there was some, yeah, but i don't think it was blatant. and if truth is to be told, the stories wouldn't be what they are without it. their sexual histories affected the main characters and what they did later.

67: Helcura - Feehan is paranormal romance. bad romance at that. although i have been told she has gotten better.

Edited: Sep 21, 2009, 11:30pm Top

In The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe there are two instances: in the first instance young Ables night with a faire queen is tastefully alluded to and left to the reader to fill in the rest, while in the latter there is a graphic description of what happens when a giant rapes a human woman - and the resulting pregnancy.

Nov 10, 2009, 10:59pm Top

I urge you to read Death's Master by Tanith Lee. A superbly crafted, traditional fantasy story, in the most classical sense, yet with a totally non-traditional, even post-modern, take on the relationship between the sexes.
A must read for fantasy fans!

Nov 17, 2009, 9:46am Top

I totally agree. Tanith Lee is a erotic writer in the true sense of the word! And it's not always pleasant. Black as a Rose from Night's Sorceries almost had me reaching for the razorblades!!!!

Nov 18, 2009, 11:29pm Top

Oooh! I was just thinking of Tanith Lee as I read down this thread. =)

When I was trying to think of fantasy novels that wouldn't be as good WITHOUT the seks in, I thought of Tanith Lee!

Specifically (since I think it was my most recent read) of her Faces Under Water. I think part of it is, (imo at least), Lee is able to infuse the scenes with *what they mean to the character whose POV the scene is told from*.

The sex scenes in Faces, while stylized, very clearly show how madly infatuated the protagonist is with his girly. >.> In fact, the stylization adds to the effect, rather than detracting from it.

Dec 24, 2011, 11:10pm Top

There is a little bit of curiosity when I think about this topic. I wonder what is it about? mostly rape, reluctance or under pressure....However, these stories are still good reads....

Dec 26, 2011, 6:43pm Top

74 > susie: I'm with you about Bishop. The Black Jewel Series would be entirely different if the sexual aspect hadn't been there. The entire society is supposed to be matriarchal so there ends up being a lot of sexual "power games," but I do understand why some people get upset with it. The violent nature of the sex is the most shocking. Bishop's series are my favorite, but not even for the sex! I can admit I enjoy it, but that isn't the reason I read it. The world and the characters do it for me.

I also think sex in fantasy is a big part of changing with the times. Sex is more common and more explicit in all areas of fiction, not just fantasy, because it's also more common and more explicit everywhere else. Every other commercial on TV has a naked girl/guy or someone talking about how "this product makes me sexier to the opposite sex, so you should buy it too."

Sex is not a prerequisite for my fantasy reading (really, it's only necessary when I want real erotica, but that's a different matter), but I definitely notice when I read something that appears to have no romantic or sexual subplot. It has really just become so integral in everything, that we don't notice until it's not there - and that's rare! It is definitely something that has to be done well, and I think many fantasy authors are able to do it well because it just becomes part of the lives we want to read about anyway. Why shouldn't two people who are attracted to each other have a physical relationship? Even when it comes to Martin, although the sex in his books is often violent and/or used as a tool, it usually done well. The brutality is a part of the world he's created, so it works. There are times when I have to step away from his books when something particularly brutal happens, but I've had to do the same thing with some of the sexual violence in other series (I might have even done it with Bishop or Carey the first time around). As long as it is done well and with a purpose, it can work.

Dec 28, 2011, 8:37am Top

I was going to make a fairly cut and dried statement along the lines of "if you remove the sex from the book, does the plot and story still hold together?" as a means of determining whether its appropriate. Then I realized there's good arguments either way as to what the result means, so never mind.

When I was a teenager I had a virtual index in my head of every novel I'd read with a sex scene: page number, details, etc. Now when I've finished a book, I can read someone else's review that says it had a sex scene they liked or didn' t like, and find myself unable to recall there being one at all. True story. Maybe I should talk to my doctor?

Carey's novels are an obvious exception. Afterwards you can't recall her fantasy world without remembering as well how central a role sex figures in how it operates. I appreciated that as something that made her series unique (I haven't tried Anne Bishop yet), so that's why it appealed to me and I held on for another five volumes.

I think I've reached the point in life where as many above have said, all that matters to me now is whether everything clearly contributes in some way to theme, plot or character development. Anything that just seems "thrown in," whether it's over-the-top violence or out-of-the-blue sex or some other needless digression, says amateur or lazy to me; or else (to give an author benefit of doubt) pressure from a shallow editor/publisher in hopes of bumping sales.

Dec 28, 2011, 10:05pm Top

I like an element of tenderness in descriptions of lovemaking -- an emotional as well as physical joining, which exalts both characters.

This kind of description must be difficult to write, because I see little of it; in most of the books in which the relationships have that element of tenderness, we get the "fade to black" before actual sex occurs. (What are some exceptions to this rule? I'd be interested to know.)

Too often, it seems to me, the sex that does get described in a little bit of detail is casual, and more about releasing tensions than about forming any emotional bond.

Dec 29, 2011, 10:31am Top

>82 kceccato:, it's a telling point about the lack of real emphasis on emotional bonding. And ironic, when this is precisely what the scene is most often intended to symbolize (when it's serving a purpose, anyway) - culmination of a romantic liasion that has gradually been developed.

Returning to the Carey example however, I think she does this well. There's a marked contrast in her portrayal of the many casual encounters with all their details, versus those between the romantic leads over which a veil is implicitly drawn and we never get a literal description of. Carey knows her position on what's appropriate to her story. When the emotional bonding that arises from the act is of greatest importance, the graphic details are omitted.

Dec 30, 2011, 9:47am Top

>83 Cecrow: I agree--and even when Carey is describing a sexual encounter, there's usually a lot more going on n terms of the plot development.

Edited: Jan 3, 2012, 7:46am Top

>76 danborden:,77,78 Seconded, Tanith Lee is usually how I enjoy having love, lust and sex at play in stories I read.

>83 Cecrow:,84 Heh, I found the plot in Kushiel's Dart had relatively little point beside walking the protagonist from one sex scene to the next, so for me it's firmly closer to erotica than fantasy. To each their own dividing lines I guess.

Jan 3, 2012, 2:22pm Top

I usually don't enjoy sex scenes in novels. So many authors make a hatchet job of it, dragging it on, using overdone flowery language that lasts 10 pages and by the time you're through it you want to gouge out your own eyeballs.

Having said that, there are a few writers who do a great job of it. They make it succinct, they make it accurately portray whatever they want to accomplish by this scene, and they usually make it kinda hot. The kind of paragraphs you might read over again a few dozen times.

The person who mentioned Jean Auel's love scenes. Dear God. Those are some of the worst I've ever read. Entirely gross. If those were my only knowledge of sex I'd shoot myself from sheer depression. And the Laurell K Hamilton books - I tried the Merry Gentry series and the reviewers do not lie. The only thing they do is screw and they don't even do it well. You'd think with all the practice they'd gain some skill. Geez Louise, Merry. Take up needlecraft. Something!

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