The Lithium Writer

The Role of Sex in Non-Romance Novels

Sex. There, I said it. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about or to shame someone for discussing the topic. It’s expected in almost all sub-genres of romance books, especially from authors who title themselves “steamy romance authors.” (Let’s call it what it really is: smut. Glorious smut. There are times when some of us just want to indulge in something really smutty.) And there are levels of spice and steam, too!

  • There’s mild, such as those categorized as sweet romance, which can include handholding, kissing, snuggling, cuddling, but zero sex.
  • Warm stories include “mild” interactions, and if there are any sex scenes, it will “fade to black” so no explicit scenes are depicted, but explicit dsicussions of sex. “Warm” novels are considered the PG-13 rating.
  • Steamy romances get a little hotter and include at least one on-page sex scene. The language typically used for these scenes is less explicit for more intimacy, rather than blatant depictions of intercourse or sexual acts.
  • Scorching stories are just that: scorching. The heat is intense with more explicit language. (You’ll probably stumble across words like “fuck,” “dick,” “cock,” and others of that nature.)

Some like spice, some like steam, some like no sex at all. Whatever your preferences are regarding sex (or even cussing/foul language, for that matter), all the more power to you. I truly believe people should enjoy whatever books they want. (Also, minor side note for the United States of America: Can we stop fucking banning books? Books are how we learn and grow. Ban bigots, not books.)

But, what about depictions of sex in other genres? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Mystery? Of the authors I’ve interacted with, opinions on sex in books outside of the romance genre are split right down the middle. I had posted a Tweet (back when I was on Twitter) that my mystery manuscript included a sex scene, and I was a little nervous about my family reading it. The scene wasn’t even explicit; it focused more on the intimacy between the characters and lasted barely a page. Yet, I had another writer blatantly laugh at me (well, used crying/laughing emoji), and proclaimed, “There shouldn’t be sex scenes in mysteries!” She then proceeded to try and shove misguided advice down my throat about a genre she didn’t even write. I’m all for writers helping writers, but please don’t shove your unsolicited advice down the throats of other writers when you don’t even know them or haven’t read their work.

Long story short, I ignored her advice, because I will write the books I want to write. Should you follow unpsoken guidelines and expectations for your chosen genre? Sure, to an extent. There can be great opportunities for plot development, characterization, and even empowerment when sex scenes are included. This is not to say that every novel should have explicit content. But, if that’s where your creative inspiration takes you, I say let the creativity flow.

It’s your book, not anyone else’s.

There are potential benefits to including a sex scene, but you should bear in mind that this isn’t true in every instance. Some benefits include:

  1. Sex scenes can help to develop characters.
    One of the most important aspects of any novel is the development of its characters. Readers want to feel invested in the lives and struggles of the characters they’re reading about, and sex scenes can be an effective way to build empathy and understanding between characters. By exploring the intimate relationships between characters, authors can give readers a deeper understanding of their motivations, desires, and fears.

  2. Sex scenes can add depth.
    Many novels (especially mysteries or thrillers) are all about the unexpected twists and turns, and sex scenes can be an effective way to add even more depth and intrigue to the story. By introducing sexual tension between characters, authors can create a sense of anticipation and uncertainty that keeps readers engaged and invested in the outcome of the story.

  3. Sex scenes can be empowering.
    In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards empowering women in literature and media. If you know me, you know I am all about the empowerment of women. (But, that’s a topic for another day.) Including sex scenes in novels can be a way to break down traditional gender roles and explore themes of sexuality and power. When done in a way that is respectful and consensual, sex scenes can be a powerful tool for promoting healthy sexual relationships and challenging societal norms.

Again, it’s important to note that not every novel needs to have a sex scene. Use your best judgment when deciding whether to inlude one. Ask yourself if it really advances the plot, drives characterization, or moves your story in any way. Most of all, if you are including anything that is non-consensual (intoxication, r*pe, etc.), be extremely mindful of your audience, as scenes such as these can be triggering for some.

What are your thoughts on sex scenes in novels outside of the Romance genre?

Allison Williford

Allison Williford

Professionally, Allison works as a copywriter specializing in SEO. She has worked in the marketing industry since 2018 after graduating summa cum laude with her B.A. in English and Creative Writing.

In her spare time, she writes mysteries and romantic suspense. While no books are currently available, she offers editing, critique, and content creation services.

Allison is also an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. She has participated in several Out of the Darkness walks to fundraise for AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) and has given local interviews about her experience with treatment for mental illness.

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