Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Let’s Talk About Sex

This is the last post of the year, so please allow me some bandwidth with regard to the contents of this blog. Each of my political novels include at least one, if not two, sexually explicit scenes. They are vivid and leave little to the imagination.

I have now heard from three people over the last eight months who do not approve of the inclusion of these sex scenes. They are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists (as far as I know) and, in fact, seem to fit into my target audience – politically aware, ideological, articulate, educated.

One man might not even have complained if it wasn’t for his 16 year-old daughter reading the novel and excitedly passing it around her friends. One of the friend’s mother was not impressed with his choice of literature! Another person, a book reviewer, gave The Accidental Activist a very nice review, but withdrew her offer of a free giveaway copy because she wasn’t sure if her audience was over 18. A third told me that it turned her off the book and she only continued because she knew me and felt committed to read it.

For the record, my mother also doesn’t approve, but I think I am more uncomfortable knowing that she is reading these scenes than she is.

And yet I feel compelled to include these scenes. Why?

Firstly, I enjoy writing them and, even more so, imagining them. I think I would be cheating you if I didn’t admit it.

But maybe more importantly, (otherwise I would just be writing erotic literature – which might be more profitable if less fulfilling) is the care and effort that I put into my characters. I love them, even the bad guys. And I want you to love them too. The only way I can achieve this is to expose all their characteristics there on the page.

Sex is a vital component in my own relationship experience. No one would question that you learn so much about your partner by the way they make love and interact intimately. Sex makes us open up to each other, share our fears and joys, and tells us so much about that person without having to explain it. Show Don’t Tell we are always told – well,  it doesn’t get any easier than this. Such revealing scenes allow us to move along in the developing relationship between characters that might take several chapters to captivate.

The way we relate to sex also reflects upon the kind of society, the mores and values of a religion, community, country, wherever the book takes place.

While it is important to me to reveal the deeper levels of my characters’ feelings and emotions, I do not want to turn people away because of the sex scenes. It is more important for me to inspire and empower people through the actions of my characters. I have written before about Transformational Fiction, if you haven’t read it, please click here to understand what common theme runs through my novels, this blog and my website.

I write from the heart and this is how I want my characters to be judged. I don’t think of myself as writing romance, but it is there because deep down I do not want people to live alone. Finding a soul mate can be the most affirming and empowering thing we ever do. Nurturing such a relationship requires far more than compatible sexual satisfaction. It involves communication, empathy, a desire to see your partner happy and fulfilled.

But the physical is a distinct piece in the puzzle and for this author, allows the characters to share themselves with the reader on a far deeper level. Perhaps I can afford to annoy or upset a few readers along the way in order to achieve the connection between reader and character. If you are one of those people who has difficulty with sex scenes, please feel free to skip those pages. No one will ever know and I prefer you do this and get to the end of the book.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. A good fiction author suffers from a special brand of schizophrenia. Inside his or her head, the characters of a novel are alive and, to a large degree, self-determining. This is a feature of the minds more creative than mine that I envy.

    If an author is to try to reign in a character, that character can become inauthentic and contrived. When I read “The Accidental Activist,” I was impressed with the sense I got that the characters were real – especially the main guy (forgive me, I never remember people’s names in books or movies or anything). Real people have sex, go to the bathroom (we were spared the details of this, thankfully), eat, and above all, they think.

    It’s not unusual to “hear” the thoughts of the main character in a book, but Alon’s character seemed real. His thoughts didn’t seem designed or controlled. He was attracted to the female lead, nervous, self-questioning, turned-on, etc. This character demanded that the important parts of his experience be told. Otherwise, we wouldn’t really know him.

    Bravo, Alon.

  2. Thank you, Tom. Much appreciated.

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