I recently found myself engaged in a discussion with a friend who was tired of picking up romance novels only to find that they were more about sex than romance. She didn’t want titillating, pornographic scenes to accompany her tales of love, loss, and triumph. Which is totally fair!
In fact, for most of my life, I agreed with her. Sex scenes rarely drive the plot forward, which led me to believe they were only in the book to indulge the author and their audience in a bit of, y’know. Masturbatory fluff.
But while my friend and I were talking, it occurred to me that I got most of my sex education from the books I read. It would be fair to say that most people get their sex education from the media they consume. Which is problematic at best. Movies and film are generally very bad at representing healthy sex lives and realistic women, and that’s before we dive into the cesspool of porn.
Representations only get worse for non-heterosexual people. For most of media history, lesbians only existed to please male viewers and/or be problematic for male characters. Gay men were always the butt of the joke. I didn’t know people could be asexual until that episode of House where he problematically proves one of his asexual patients merely had a hormonal disorder. I had no idea it was okay to be attracted to both sexes or to be attracted to someone regardless of their sex.
If I had known these things–if any one of the hundreds of books I’d read had tackled these issues–my formative years might have been a lot less angst-ridden. A lot of people who don’t see themselves represented and don’t get support at home don’t make it through those years at all.
Okay, good representation is important. It’s true you don’t need graphic sex scenes for that. Any work that features well-rounded female and LGBTQ characters is praise-worthy regardless of whether or not it provides a road map for navigating romantic or sexual situations as/with that person.
But at some point in our lives, we all find ourselves in a situation where we wish we had a at least some direction. And with so many very, very problematic representations out there, content creators are in a unique position to be able to provide healthy ones.
So by all means, authors, take a quick break from the plot to feature some satisfying foreplay, female orgasms, and safe practices. I’ll forgive you the detour.
(Now excuse my while I figure out how to do that in my own draft.)