Thoughtful Thursday: My brief beef

In the innocence of my youth (note: aka up until a couple of months ago), I naïvely thought that a fantasy in which a supernatural being fell in love was called a “paranormal romance.”  When I started blogging, I proudly proclaimed myself a fan of urban fantasy and paranormal romance and invited people to send me reading materials. Yeah.

I soon got wise to the difference between fantasy and romantic fantasy and things settled down. But then a few weeks ago I received in the mail a hot-off-the-press paperback with a naked man on the cover that I’m 99.8% sure I never asked for. The unsolicited sex object was turned demurely so that his washboard abs rippled but his private bits were unseen, but he was very clearly starkers. I instantly imagined the following conversations:

Pre-teen Pubescent Daughter: (in a tone of prurient curiosity) Daddy – why are you reading a book with a naked man on the cover?

Teenage Pubescent Son: (in a tone of abject mortification) Dad – why are you reading a book with a naked man on the cover?

Wife: (in a tone I refuse to even speculate upon) Hon, can I, um, borrow that book when you’re finished reading it? Or, you know, just the cover?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSo, blame my personal sexual insecurities, but the book hit the trash unopened. I consulted with literary beefcake expert Mandi of Smexybooks who had this to say of the incident: “You tossed it? Poor naked-man cover!”

Yeah. Anyway, it seems clear that we all draw lines in different places.  So for today’s discussion, I thought I’d solicit you all on the topic of fantastic sex and whether (um, in literature only please) you can ever get too much.  Where do you personally draw the line?

One commenter will win a copy of Nancy Holzner’s forthcoming Deadtown, which I have reviewed in advance and am happy to say is an excellent novel that I have no beef with.

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STEPHEN (S.B.) FRANK, one of our guest contributors, earned a Ph.D. at Duke University and works in the field of education reform. When he needs a break from real life, he likes to indulge in urban fantasy. He has a particular love for humor, so some of his favorite authors are Dakota Cassidy, Mary Janice Davidson, Mark Henry, Julie Kenner, Katie MacAlister, Richelle Mead and Christopher Moore.

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  1. I’m still mourning that book BTW – I would have given nekkid man a nice little home here..even if the actual book was all sex, I could have propped him up by my computer for some eye candy ;)

    For all the nekkid man and sex talk I do, I have come to this conclusion for my personal reading tastes – I need plot. I know, shocking. Let me expand, I need plot and at least some good sexual tension. Give me great characters, a well thought out world, a good story and then the steamiest smexiest sex scene you can think of. Or give me tons of angst and tease me with the tension and make a series out of it.

  2. ps – don’t enter me!

  3. Okay, this is my real comment…LOL…seriously I was just cackling as I read this post! My eyes are still tearing and I am trying to calm down! First I need tell you about a thing called “Romance Paperback Covers” they are little book covers made especially for closet romance readers. (So you haven’t read Skin Game by Ava Gray? It has naked ab’d cover.) I think I might pick up a few and send them to you, on some books with washboard abs feature prominently on the cover…then you won’t have to worry about those pesky comments from the family! Uh…Hellooo…you could have put it up for a giveaway! Many of the female fans who visit your blog would have been happy to take it off your hands (and stick it into on of those book covers). Honestly tho – sometimes I am a bit leery of books with half naked men or even women on the cover. In the back of my mind I hear “maybe they had to do a cover like this to make up for the weakness of the story…” So I depend on other book blogger’s reviews to help me decide on the which books with those covers are worth my time and or money – and I hide them from the kids! I have been burned by books in the past that had sexy covers – guess thats where the voice in my head came from. Too much sex in my fantasy…un…I dunno…the only time it really bothers me is when it takes away from the story instead of adding to it…other than that all’s fair in love, fantasy, saving the world and sex…in my books. (heck sometimes there isn’t enough when there should be in a story…I’m just sayin’)

  4. Oh yea….Don’t enter me…I already have a copy on the way. :o)

  5. Dude. You could’ve just sent nekkid-man-cover on over to my place… I might never have made it past the cover, but hey. Sometimes life’s too short to worry about the words, when there’s a picture. *grin*

    As to your question, I think that sex in books for the most part should stay in the “hotter” grouping of the romance genre. Or, if it really does enhance the story or plot, then fine, keep it between the pages. Otherwise (Ms. Hamilton, I’m talking to you here) leave it in your imagination. If I wanted nothing-but-sex, instead of an actual story and plot, there are lots of places on the internet I could hang out at.

  6. my take on sex in books is about the same as sex on tv…if there’s a scene that does not contribute to the story at all I would just skip it
    it does get frustrating if it takes up a lot of pages since I’ll feel cheated out of my money for those unread passages (I still wouldn’t go back and read them though)
    non-explicit is okay with me, if the dialogue is relevant I might even read it, and I understand an author can’t just say “sex scene here” or something and ruin the flow of their story…
    then again, I’m not a big fan of romance novels in general…I need some sort of mystery/fantasy element to keep me interested, and not very often do I get invested in pure romantic heroes/heroines

    as for covers…I actually prefer if there was less nekkid-ness in hopes that the character has a personality outside his abs (and I personally prefer less-beefy men) =T
    ( I would’ve recycled the book instead of trashing it though XD; )

  7. Hi Stephen :)
    I’ve read some good books with nekkid man/men on the cover (& women too)*.
    *=artfully/cleverly concealing the private bits.
    I draw the line at m/m. That’s the only story-type I have no interest in reading.
    All the best,

  8. Yeah – Hamillton annoys me, too, don’t stone me for saying it, Anita Blake lovers. I fell in love with Anita Blake the series and so have followed it. But some of the books I’m skipping through half of the novel it feels like. I prefer implied sex scenes or non-graphic sex scenes for the most part. Sexual tension is awesome and romance is great. But my favorite type of sex scenes are funny sex scenes which are, of course, non-titillating but sometimes incredibly life-like or realistic or revealing. Gratuitious sex is like gratuitious rudeness, violence, or even, gasp, humor. It should be eliminated. Sadly, this is why I recently cut the monkey with the STD scenes from my own mss.

  9. PS – don’t mind my misspellings in that last comment.

  10. Nudie man-covers arriving in my mailbox?….eesh. My wife makes fun of the covers I read now. If Abs of Steel manly cover arrived, it would be months of giggles and jeering. As for sex in my fantasy novels? I prefer little to none. If they absolutely have to have it in there…well then make it brief and boobcentric (term copyrighted by jblazier).

  11. I prefer a believable story line in my dark urban fantasy novels. That should involve some sort of physical/romantic relationship unless it is about a Nun, Monk or Eunuch (in general). There can be too much (I’ve grown to love Hamilton, but I have to be in the “mood” LOL)

  12. You tossed the half-nekkid man book?! OMG!

    I need plot and character-development. In fact, character development is a must. Too much sex can overshadow a story (coughLKHcough) and I won’t stand for that!

  13. I’m with you on this one – can’t stand any sex in books. It’s o ne thing to allude to it, but it’s quite another to have an intimate explicit scene that is frankly, none of anyone’s business, right? I’m not really a prude, I just think I’m pretty private about stuff like that. Or more just really don’t want to know abotu anyone else’s ‘experiences’. :)

  14. If the focus of the novel is an awesome fantasy plot with great characters, then sex scenes for realism are fine with me (e.g., GRRM, Guy Gavriel Kay). But if the purpose of the plot is just to be the glue that holds the sex scenes together (LKH’s first Meredith Gentry novel, the only LKH novel I’ve tried, is guilty of this), then it gets tossed. Yuck.

  15. I was in high school when I first picked up Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. The covers of this series tends to have naked women and the content, isn’t much better. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge LKH fan and love and own ALL of her books…I’m just saying that I understand where you’re coming from with this blog post. :)

  16. I like my fantasy to have a bit of romance and no sex. I don’t think that graphic sex scenes add anything positive to a story. I also prefer covers with no nudity so that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed reading the book in public.

  17. *gasp* you trashed it? is my reaction too! :) I too don’t usually go for the “mantitty” cover, but hey, there’s an audience, you could have given it away. Anyway, my preference is for slow building romances, less of the lustiness right away.. but I can read sexy books too every so often.

  18. I admit yours would have been my reaction too (especially if the book was unsolicited). I tend to have very little patience with overly sex saturated fantasy (especially urban fantasy). Some is fine, if it is in keeping with and contributes to the plot/character development in a story. One of my biggest pet peeves is when two characters are in a dire situation where time is of the essence and they stop to have frequent and lengthy sex breaks. Naked cover models are usually an indicator that I won’t enjoy what’s inside.

  19. As a straight guy..i find it difficult to buy a book with a “sexy guy” on the cover. It makes me feel as though i’m being looked at funny. If the book has a guy and a girl on the cover that, while sexy, isn’t quite so “naked” i feel more comfortable. As for the story itself…..if the sexual portions of it aren’t just sex for sex sake, it makes the story more enjoyable…that it is a natural progression in the characters’ lives. if i want just pure sex, i can watch an “adult movie”. When i read a book..i want a good story. they can pretty much do whatever they want in those scenes…so long as it fits in the context of the background.

  20. I have not purchased a book in print before because of the cover. I would be the target of non-stop teasing from my husband. Thank goodness for ebooks!

  21. Okaaaay after reading the above post multiple times to wrap my mind around a decent answer to whether or not could ever have “too much” sex in a book, yes if it is the only thing that makes up the plot line. I am a normal healthy female in a long term married relationship and have no hang ups or aversion to a “sensual” book cover, I have been a long time reader and fan of Laurell K. Hamilton and the Anita Blake series which thank the book gods has finally made a turnaround into more plot line less erotica (not much less btw) in the last book “Skin Trade”. I have a copy of “Skin Game” by Ava Gray and did not bat an eyelash and my Husband does not care as he is secure in the fact it is only a book cover and we have no one in the house to corrupt as no children….

    I would love love love to win a copy of “Deadtown” by Nancy Holzner, it is on my wish list for Christmas and you can play Santa early.
    Jackie B Central Texas

  22. Hey Stephen, I think I have to agree with you on that book. With having a younger child I try to not read books with such reveiling covers, whether male or female.

    I am a person that likes to read a story. I like the character growth with the plot and the world itself. I am not big on reading a lot of sex scenes. To me they are just page fillers. There can be one in the book but don’t give me the 1,2,3 of the whole scene. I want the characters to be happy yes, but you can do that and skim over the steamy sex things. I just like to read books with plots and the normal items to grow in it.

  23. In my humble opinion, if you have male and female characters going off on a quest, and nobody has any sex–in fact they don’t even think about sex–it’s a bald-faced lie. People think about it. They do it. Some more than others. Fact of life.

    I do understand that some people would rather have it behind closed doors. I’m ambivalent about that. Usually, if the love scene/sex scene doesn’t contribute to the story in some way–if it doesn’t advance the plot, then I would rather the door shut. There are authors whose love scenes I skim. LKHamilton isn’t one of them. Stuff happens in her sex scenes.

    I’ve written books with lots of love scenes. I’ve written books with almost none. I don’t think I’ve ever written a book with none at all. In my books, the love scenes are part of the plot and the “normal items.” So while I do think that there can be too much sex in a book, it all depends on the book, the characters in the book, and the story. And if the sex fits, I don’t have a problem with it.

    As far as covers… There’s nude, and there’s nekkid. Those coverups were made for the nekkid ones.

    And nobody teases me about my choice of reading material.

  24. @Kat and Gail: I agree. Sex is part of life, and most of us engage in it from time to time, and most of us think about it from time to time. A little bit of sex in a book can help develop the characters and/or their relationships, and/or advance the plot. It’s fine, to my mind, as long as the sex scenes exist to serve character or plot, rather than the characters or plot existing to serve the sex scenes.

    I also enjoy erotica sometimes, but I like knowing it’s erotica from the get-go! Sometimes it’s hard to tell from cover art, especially now that everything seems to be getting steamy cover art whether the contents are erotic or not.

  25. Let’s talk haunted houses and horror films. (I’ll get back to sex quickly, so hang in with me.) I discovered fairly early in my life that horror films could do one of two things: show me something gross (which wasn’t scary, just…gross); or imply that there was something scary there, something hidden just out of sight that was after me, that was coming closer, and that would appear at any moment, and I wouldn’t be ready. That was truly frightening. Showing less was more effective.

    I find the same is true with sex, a very powerful and private experience. Laying it out for everyone to see is about the least effective way to develop emotion or romance in a novel. One you get to sex, most of the heavy emotional lifting has already been done–the build up of romance, the tension of decision making, and the final connection between two people. It’s not just that I prefer sex to be private, but writing sex as a cheap substitute for real emotion in a story is weaker writing. (As a side note, am I the only one that finds it completely bizarre that characters will hardly blink at having sex, but saying ‘I love you’ is somehow a huge emotional commitment?)

    So yes, sex is real and wonderful, but far more interesting and important to storytelling are the emotions and decisions surrounding sex. If a storyteller wants to write a powerful story, he or she should–like with horror–let the power of anticipation capture me.

  26. I read a book about a vampire and his human lover. Every chapter had a sex scene! The story went nowhere. I was looking forward to this book because it was a sequel to another book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Oh, well…

    Tracey D

  27. I used to read a very popular author, but after about the ninth book, the books had no story and were basically just orgies. I like a little sex in a book, but I need a story. I don’t think there is any sex scene that is good enough to carry a book/story. There has to be a story and then the sex is just gravy.

  28. sex is one of those natural human things that is absolutely part of life and goes in the same literary category as eating, sleeping, urinating, etc. Mastication or masturbation: if what happens in the scene doesn’t advance plot or character, I don’t need to see it. If you wouldn’t spend two pages telling me how they’re dipping their rolls in sauce, then don’t spend two pages telling me how they’re dipping, well, you get the picture. It reminds me of old movies where they would have a character getting a call saying “meet me at X” then show the character actually driving all the way to “X”. Finally, someone said, hey, if I just show the phone call, and them getting out of the car, the audience will figure out what happened between. Same idea with sex. It’s nothing prurient; I just like efficient writing. Most of the fantasy I read doesn’t have sex and the few that have, it’s seldom been necessary or illustrative.

  29. Vampire books got really boring at one point cause they either have similar or same plots and I don’t like repeats.

    But this books sounds promising :)

    Please count me in

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

  30. I love hot book covers… but I really felt embarrassed reading them in public. People would look at me funny. Now that I have a Kindle I don’t have to worry about the scary looks anymore. lol :-))


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