Sex in books: What do you prefer?

June 1, 2014 Randomz 24

lit lover logic

Today I was supposed to put together a Stay-in-Bed Sampler, but I slept in a bit too much. Mostly because I watched a four-hour Jane Eyre miniseries the night before, and had no ambition to get out of bed to scour the interwebs. Instead of calling the day a total wash, I’ve decided to muse on a topic I’ve been thinking about since reading Outlander a few weeks ago: sex in books.

If you haven’t read Outlander, it isn’t really essential to the discussion, but if you have, you might understand why I bring it up. Outlander was a really enjoyable book for me, but also frustrating at times. I read from cover-to-cover in less than 48 hours, and the thing clocks in at more than 700 pages. But in my unscientific estimation, I’d say that 70 percent of the book focuses on someone who has just had sex, is thinking about having sex, is musing about the sex they just had, or trying to get over some really bad sex.

Of course, there is so much more to the book than that. The writing is wonderful, the characters superb. What I got a little frustrated with was the countless, pointless sex scenes. POINTLESS, I tell you.

Skeptical Fry Gif

Not sure if lying or clearly missing the point

Okay, I admit, some of those scenes were good and done well. I’m not a prude whose against reading about intercourse between consenting adults. Quite the opposite. Sex is part of being human, and not showing that side of two characters that clearly are in a relationship (where it occurs) seems odd to me. It doesn’t need to be a focal point — you can fade to black if you want. But virtually no mention of it is like saying your character is a doctor and then not showing any scenes in the hospital or where your character uses his/her skills or knowledge.

PhD in library science

Robbie has a PhD… in library science

But on the other hand, I’m not a fan of erotica. Typically, I don’t care for books with plots that center solely around a relationship (why you won’t see me reading a lot of contemporary YA or romance). I like my plots to have external conflicts as well as some interpersonal or intrapersonal ones, and I tire of countless sex scenes. (How many ways can we describe getting it on? Infinitely in some books, apparently.)

If you follow the blog at all, or have seen our giveaway, you will have noticed that I really love the Kushiel’s Dart series. At this point you might call me out and say, Well, Anne — there are clearly numerous sex scenes in Kushiel’s Dart. Enough to make Christian Grey blush. But you seem to be fine with those.

Yes, dear astute reader, I am fine with those sex scenes. Our main character Phedre, in addition to being trained as a spy, is a courtesan in a society where sex isn’t considered shameful, but honors the gods. And what’s different about those scenes compared to some of the ones in Outlander (Jamie and Claire practically “stay in bed” for 48 hours straight), is that they drive plot and character development. Phedre is doing more than just getting her freak on. She’s usually uncovering something that moves the story along.

I really roll my eyes at scenes that are just thrown in books for purely voyeuristic reasons. It’s just not my thing. There are always exceptions to that rule, and sometimes I’m not so harsh on them, but really pointless loving can ruin a book for me. Just as much as over-avoidance of sex can throw me out of a story.

I know I am picky on this topic, but that’s my right as a reader. I know that some people will disagree with me wholeheartedly. And that’s cool. Different strokes for different folks. No pun intended, ;)

book reviews by anne engelhart

What’s your opinion on sex in books? Is there a thing as too much, or not enough? What are some books that portray sex well in your view?

I did mention this in our post — we are hosting a giveaway. Enter below and give Kushiel’s Dart a chance!

We are hosting our first (and international) giveaway for two of our favorite books in honor of our shared birthday.

Pick your favorite two out of our lists:



24 Responses to “Sex in books: What do you prefer?”

  1. Emily @ Oh Magic Hour

    I totally agree that I don’t want it to be gratuitous or just there for kind of no reason, but I also don’t really mind it. For me, it’s enough of a “reason” to strengthen the relationship between characters. I really love books with monogamous, lasting relationships and don’t mind them being sexual at all. One thing I don’t love is when they have sex in ridiculous situations. Like, literally in the middle of a battle, or when someone is chasing them or whatever. JUST WAIT PEOPLE!

    • Anne

      Haha, yes to the ridiculous situations. Same goes for kissing scenes in YA. MYGODSOMEONEISCHASINGUSWITHAKNIFE *kisses for 10 minutes* RUN!!

  2. Ashley

    LOVE your caption under the Atonement picture!

    As a reader, I appreciate a well written sex scene, and I do love me some sexual tension. However, you’re right. I hate when sexcapades start happening after two characters finally get together. IMO, it’s not realistic and quite frankly gets boring really quickly.

    • Anne

      The Atonement scene may be the best one I have read, thus far. And there is some stiff competition. Hehe.

  3. Reviews From A Bookworm

    I have to admit to tiring of countless sex scenes too and am not a fan of erotica. I think a few sex scenes are fine but when there’s one in each chapter it really starts to grate on me.

    • Anne

      It becomes a formula! I did read 50 Shades of Grey and by the third time (they have sex) I was just laughing at the predictability and utter ridiculousness of the scenarios. That happened to me with Outlander too. Just, geeze. Focus on the whole, someone-is-out-to-get-you thing.

  4. Cait

    I have to admit, I don’t really read books with sex in them. Just because I prefer YA, instead of adult books. If it adds to the story…go for it, though. ;) What I HATE though is when a book just says it’s just romance but it ends up being erotica. *buries self* Nope, I don’t like erotica at all. DNF here I come.

    • Anne

      Haha, I have read a few books that I didn’t suspect to have so much… intimacy. We’ve all been there. But, one YA that I love that had sex that pretty much faded to black but was really touching was Under the Never Sky. :)

    • Anne

      I think everyone has an accidental erotica story! I don’t know that I’ve really read any new adult, but I kind of thought that was part of the genre? Or is it rather just romance/contemporary of 20-something characters?

  5. Tabitha (Not Yet Read)

    I definitely have to be in the mood is what I say. When I’m in the mood for romance and sexy times then I’m totally fine with it – but if I start a book and I don’t expect that – and I get TOO much of it – yes it can annoy me a bunch.With this book I’ve heard it’s romance so I would expect a bit of sex scenes but hmm I don’t know if I would have anticipated as much as you describe being there. This is the book club read for my neighborhood group next month. I wonder if I’ll like it.

    • Anne

      I still really liked it, because the rest of the plot is interesting and the characters are fully developed. And maybe reading it so quickly meant I felt like there was a lot of sexy time. But there is definitely good substance besides the constant getting it on. I did roll my eyes though at times. :)

      • Tabitha (Not Yet Read)

        Oh sexy times here I come then. Honestly …sometimes I need those sexy times. Heck I’ll pick up a book just FOR the sexy times when I’m feeling like a hussy. shhhh don’t tell though.

  6. Angie @Angela's Anxious Life

    Personally I don’t care for a lot of sex in a book.. which is probably why I don’t read romance novels. I just find it unrealistic sometimes. Like Game of Thrones. I love the books and the show, but man there is a lot of sex!

    • Anne

      Unrealistic is so true. I feel a little pervy saying this in writing, but some books have the girl achieving nirvana at the drop of a belt, and multiple times to boot. NO. GOT’s gratuitous scenes are just so bad.

  7. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I have the same feeling! I really don’t mind having sex scenes in a book, because like you point out, it’s something normal that happens between two people who are attracted to each other. But I don’t like it when those scenes feel random and not important for the story line. If I want a lot of sex, I would read an erotica book.

  8. Alise (Readers in Wonderland)

    Yep, I’m with you. That’s why I’m so picky on all the New Adult books I read, they are almost always focused on sex that has no purpose. Like you mentioned, if it’s in there for a reason or helps the plot along, great. I have no problem with reading about the subject at all. It does get frustration when it’s just thrown in. Great post!

    • Anne

      Thanks! I haven’t read any new adult because I have this idea that it is just a bunch of sex fests. The cover art doesn’t typically dissuade me from that thinking either!

  9. Finley Jayne

    Sex in books doesn’t bother me, depending on what I’m reading. I haven’t read Outlander, but if sex is just thrown in to fill pages, then that would annoy me. I do read quite a bit of romance/erotica though, where sex scenes are a main part of the plot and that’s fine. But, the book revolves around these interactions, so it’s a bit different I think?

    Interesting topic :)

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