Sunday, 26 October 2008

Men and women, sex and writing...

The other day I criticised a fellow unpublished writer for making his heroine think about her fiancé:

Sex with ***** was good - and it was frequent.

I told him women tend not to think about sex like this - it's a thought a man is much more likely to have. And it got me thinking about gender differences, and how they affect the way we write, particularly about sex.

Reading sex scenes written by the opposite sex is an education. As a crude generalization, men appear entranced by the mechanics (they'll tell you their hero is getting an erection) while women's interest is more romantic and diffuse. Women will go for quality rather than quantity, and hugs, hand holding, significant conversation and emotion are an important part of the picture.

In fact, considering the difference between an average seduction scene written by a man, and one written by a woman, it's a wonder the planet ever came to be so over-populated.


  1. If verbal communication were the only criteria, perhaps. Sex must have something going for it, otherwise there wouldn't be 6 1/2 billion of us hanging around.

  2. What??!!?? Women aren't supposed to think like that??? Whoops - that must have been where I've been going wrong all these years!! Nobody told me ...

    Seriously though, I have no idea what's wrong with a woman thinking sex is good and frequent. In my book (sorry!), that's just a reality check. I'm surprised at you, Lexi!!! You're not a generalisation kind of a gal!



  3. Yes, Anne, lots of exceptions no doubt, but in fiction they tend to be written by men, or ladettes out to be as raunchy as the guys.

    I'd maintain it's in the hard wiring, so to a large extent we're stuck with it - women are programmed to look for good father material, while men seek to spread their genes with quantities of fertile females.

    It's hard to buck one's programming.

  4. So it's that obvious that my Bethie/Quinny scenes were written by a man? I thought the conversation in them sparkles.

  5. Alan, I think it's usually quite easy to guess an author's gender, and not just where sex scenes are concerned.

    But come to think of it, if you were female, those scenes with Bethie might be subtly different...

  6. Does this mean there is some passionate canoodling (which until I consulted with Merriam Webster's online dictionary I had thought was spelled with a "k") in "Catch a Falling Star"?

    I will say that while you may very well be correct about the male/female differences and the primeval places from where those differences come, you gotta admit that some of the most romantic prose, poetry and movie scenes have come from the minds of us hairy, horny guys. And when it is well done, we respond to it too. Just as lots of women respond to male "exotic" dancers.

    There is a song lyric by a group called Good Charlotte that goes:

    Girls don't like boys, girls like cars and money.
    Boys will laugh at girls when they're not funny.

    A somewhat jaundiced, and one would hope overgeneralized bit of pop tunesmithing. But there is undeniable truth in there too.

    The lesson? In order to get what you want, you need to recognize and deliver what the other person wants. If you can't or won't, time to move on. What ultimately matters is motivation on both sides.

    My advice column can be found at www.You'


  7. Alan, I pretty much favour the three dots approach when it comes to sex scenes.

    Mary Renault said that if your characters have come alive, the reader will know what they are like in bed. And if they haven't, the reader won't care.

    And yes, I know men can be just as romantic as women, sometimes more so.

    Personally, I'd find male 'exotic' dancers an excruciating mix of hilarious and embarrassing. But NOT sexy. Are the Chippendales still doing the rounds?

  8. They must be. I keep getting calls from their recruiting folks.

    I like the "camera pans to treetops and billowy clouds" in the movies and the subtle but unmistakable difference in the characters' interaction in the scene(s) that follows the intimate (offstage) moment in movies, plays or books. That tells us all we need to know about how it went and whether it was a good idea or not.

    There are, however, going to be situations and characters that almost require we spend some time with them during these moments, because it may be the only time when an important character trait or motivation is revealed. I do think it is used as a much too convenient and lazy way to do this nowadays and the really fine writers who had to deal with strict rules like the movie censors of past decades certainly found ways to communicate the full range of the human experience.

  9. You are making it up! You do not sufficiently resemble a tan leather buttoned sofa to be of interest to a Chippendales recruiter.

    Crashing waves were another good thing to pan to, I recall, back in the days when it was compulsory to smoke afterwards.

    There was a 'post your sex scenes' thread on Authonomy which would put anyone off both sex, and writing about it, for a while. All too much of it was wince-inducing, or unintentionally funny.

  10. Okay, so Chippendales has never called. I can't put anything past you.

    I completely skipped that thread on Authonomy. The whole idea sounded bizarre and more than a bit sick to me. A surefire way to induce gagging, which is something most thinking adults don't purposely invite.

  11. Your art is pretty good, Lexi. Particularly the tan leather-buttoned sofa.
    Interesting perspectives here.
    Respectfully yours....

  12. Hi Anton!

    Thanks for dropping by. I am fortunate in my blog visitors - they're an interesting and articulate bunch.