Sex and relationships- to include or not to include?

Erynnwrites shared a wonderful post on when and when not to include a steamy sex scene, and I immediately thought about one of the Big Things in Asylum. In the first draft, we’ve included lots of explicit sex time, almost as if we’re rewarding our characters for being cooperative. Thank you for showing us your story, now you get to go have lovely sex. Plus, it’s been a lot of fun to write (I’m not gonna lie, I’m probably one of Seth’s biggest fans). And, it’s helped us to really get to know the characters themselves, who they are and how they interact.

But honestly, most of it could easily be cut.

Except for the Big Thing.

In my first round of mental pre-editing, I’ve waffled and wavered about what to do with this scene. There’s a bit of very complicated magic that simply would not happen if not facilitated by sex. There is straight up no way. And it’s too important a scene to just gloss over. It really needs to be explained in at least some detail what’s going on. Does it a need a blow by blow, stroke by stroke? No, and it’s not currently written that way, but that leads me to another thing.

The scene is completely and totally a Darling of mine.

Do all darlings have to die? No. Do they all need very careful scrutiny and a firm hand? Oh yes. But part of the trick is that a darling is a scene we love, and we might love it for a very good reason. It might simply be a very a good scene. And there’s no shame in liking your good work. All writers are readers, after all. All it means is that you have to pay very careful attention, and know that it’s a potential weak spot.

So how does this knowledge help me? Not at all. 😛

The fact of the matter is, I will simply have to send this scene out to beta readers, and get some less biased feedback.

But all of this has me thinking about the role of sex in Asylum, and the myriad of sexualities and relationships represented in it. At one point, Caitlin actually stopped and had to actively search her mind for any heterosexual monogamous relationships in our nest. She found one, but even that is an inter-species couple, and Matthew had to leave the wolf-pack because he was tired of dominance fights to prove he was allowed to marry his arctic fox sweetie Carrie.

I got to wondering what all this might say about our work. We’re not setting out with any deliberate messages, that’s just the way the Asylum dancers are. Many of the supernatural cultures in our world differ from what we’ve grown up with in the real world. Fey don’t even have typical parent/child relationships, why would they feel the same about needing to have one mommy and one daddy as humans do? Serpents are raised village style in community nests, so their ideas on physical closeness and interpersonal relationships will be more fluid than what we see in our real world society. The Asylum dancers reflect that, but I do have to stop and wonder if, narratively speaking, including such information is world building or distracting. Will people misinterpret Chris and Lena’s open relationship to mean that they love each other less? Will Naj’s fondness for Kain detract, narratively, from his deep dedication for Nica, especially with Seth to muddy those waters? Will Kain’s interactions with Nat leave people wondering who is there for Marie, now that her best friend is gone, if it seems like her girlfriend is going after someone else? For the dancers themselves, they know how things are and are happy with each other-jealousy is just not an issue. They’re one big happy family and who sleeps with who isn’t important as long as no one has to sleep alone. That’s them and how they work.

But as an author, you can’t ignore how your audience works. I’m not saying everything has to be hetero-normative whitewashed, just that it helps to think about the head space your audience is coming from. Just because it’s a non-issue for you and your characters doesn’t mean it won’t be a huge issue for them, and a potential distraction.

I have no ready answer for this, but these are my thoughts. I’d love to get a good discussion going on this, get some view points from people who aren’t bisexuals in an open/poly relationship – we’re coming from a very distinct perspective here, and one that’s undoubtedly a minority.

How do alternative sexuality/relationship styles affect your experience as a reader? Is it distracting? Hard to relate to? Not something you really notice unless it’s narratively relevant? Does it enhance or detract from your reading experience, or does it not affect you at all?


14 thoughts on “Sex and relationships- to include or not to include?

  1. The sexuality of relationships and characters doesn’t bother me at all, what I look for is romance and love, no matter if it’s between m/m, m/f, f/f, alien and alien, robot and robot 😀 As long as the characters are strong and their relationships is great, who cares about gender? It’s the story and character development I’m looking for!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll notice that all your examples were still just one on one – what about triads, or open relationships, or things like that? It’s fairly easy to ignore gender when that’s all that different from the traditional one person loves another person idea, but when you deviate from that formula, does it throw you off at all?

      It’s my normal, so it’s not weird for me, but I’m suddenly wondering how it feels for my readers.


      • I can’t really comment on it, as I don’t think I’ve read a book on that. But I’d certainly be open to reading it as long as the relationships felt real. That’s all that matters to me generally 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, if you’re curious, the Libriomancer book I raved about a while back included a really lovely three-way. It was actually a really important part of the characterization, not just some throw away add on.


  2. “Will people misinterpret Chris and Lena’s open relationship to mean that they love each other less? Will Naj’s fondness for Kain detract, narratively, from his deep dedication for Nica, especially with Seth to muddy those waters? Will Kain’s interactions with Nat leave people wondering who is there for Marie, now that her best friend is gone, if it seems like her girlfriend is going after someone else?”

    Respect respect respect and communication! I’m personally not poly, but I have a LOT of friends in really awesome, loving poly relationships and they talk to each other, explicitly, all of the time. It’s like a mini, directly democratic government for their relationship. They even make time for check-ins together, private 1-on-1’s for more sensitive issues etc. I’d suggest reading introductory books about polyamory. If you’re up for some heavy research, Wilhelm Reich’s Sex-Pol is bound to have a ton of stuff in there that you could think about. Model your characters after real poly relationships – but that also means they can’t be perfect ;] They’re going to misunderstand, fail to communicate, get into fights etc. As long as you depict these things as normal aspects of any relationship, and not as a condemnation of the style of their relationship then your audience should pick up those vibes!

    Very cool.


    • I’m poly myself, so I’m not too worried about “getting it right”. It just never occurred to me how readers who aren’t in those sorts if relationships might read things. I know Lena can be with Jon without it upsetting Chris, but would a non-poly reader be able to relate to that, or they misinterpret things?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Have you seen the #weneeddiversebooks stuff on tumblr/twitter? Because I think that this question fits into that well. I’ll be the first to admit that I have lived jumping from liberal bubble to liberal bubble, and so have a very skewed sense of “normal.” But I think the world needs more literary models of relationships, identities, etc that are outside the “norm.” Especially models of healthy, loving relationships that are outside the “norm.”


  4. Oh, wow, I think that I can go on and on about this so I’ll have to work to keep it short so that I don’t write a novel about it.
    My own personal feelings on love (in any novel that I read) is that I want to see a healthy relationship. Hush, Hush had a relationship that was essentially one of the most unhealthy I have nearly ever seen and I’ve read Twilight. The blogosphere lit up with loads of comments about it since it was essentially a mutually abusive relationship and it made me sick to think that girls were idealizing this, thinking that this equated to love and that all the adults went on with it and didn’t interact with this couple in this gross relationship.

    I have also read Geography Club, Annie on my mind, the Rainbow Boy’s series and The Empress of the world, all which featured same sex relationships. None of it bothered me and I think that those novels will help teens who are questioning their sexuality to explore it in these novels. It doesn’t effect me at all as long as I see that the characters love each other, care for each other and are there for each other, that is beautiful to me. It has never distracted me. If Alice’s girlfriend is really upset, I want her to hold her and tell her that everything will be ok. If they are kissing in bed then I think that it is awesome! If Shane’s boyfriend makes a touchdown to win the game and runs over to his boyfriend and his boyfriend takes him in his arms, swings him around and kisses him then fantastic! I love seeing these scenes because to me, it shows me that the love is real and true. If the characters aren’t *out* and they need to discuss hiding their relationship then I love the stolen moments that they get together and I actually worry about them being caught. I’ve caught myself biting my bottom lip and feeling like the bottom of my stomach had dropped out if I read that they are caught and there parents are getting ready to kick them out of the house. I can sometimes feel my heart beating faster. Why? Because I have connected to this couple, I have loved this couple, I have seen their struggles and am rooting for them. I don’t care about sexuality and it has never been a big deal to me–if your characters have loved, grown together and are strong in their commitment then that is all I need and I am reeled in.

    If your characters are in an open relationship, I think that you should address it casually in the novel. If Chris and Lena have an open relationship and so Chris is at Early Bird and kissing Nica, I’d be like, “Whoa, boy, you’re gonna get hurt badly later by Lena!” So I think that it would need to be explained at one point by either one of them, “Yes, we’re in an open relationship, but that does not take away from the fact that we love each other. We do absolutely and completely and our other loves will never take away from this main love.” (Or however Chris and Lena would phrase it because I’m sure that I could do a much better job then me.)

    (And if you haven’t, look at the AtR thread under Xeke and Ash. They address some of these issues.)

    Write love and you will continue to get love!

    Seth, you sexy, sexy serpiente! I’ve missed you!

    I meant to make this short. I really did. Sorry! Hopefully it helps.



    • That! That was what I was wondering about. I suppose, in a way, relationship dynamics like this are no different than any other world building unique to a story’s setting. Get the important differences out early, and the reader will just run with it – is that it?


      • Yes, exactly. I mean, you could draw out the open relationship (“Why hasn’t Lena killed Chris yet for kissing another girl?”) if you can make it *fit* but if you want people to respect and understand the relationship, then yes, you have to explain it early. However, if we haven’ t seen Chris and Lena for 600 pages and then they are hanging out and Lena’s girlfriend come in, you may want to put a little note that they are in an open relationship because your audience might have forgotten.

        Yes, relationships are like world building and as long as the relationships are explained in a way that everyone can understand then your readers will run with it. In fact, with Lena and Chris’s relationship, people may be more amazed then confused by the openness in their relationship and wish to have it more fully explored. Sometimes readers love seeing different expressions of love because it is exciting and so it makes it exciting to read about! Ohh, something new! Cool! Not another boring love triangle! (Or whatever.)

        Unique relationships are the best because there is so much to explore in them, in my opinion.

        Make sense? Any other questions? (And now I wonder if my first post was clear at all. Lol.)


      • Yes, it makes perfect sense! Thanks for giving me another point of view to compare mine against. 🙂

        (And yeah, I was wondering how much sense my original post had made, so we’re in the same boat.)


  5. Pingback: We Need Diverse Books! | Eclectic Alli
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