Erotic Fiction – When is there too much sex in a novel?


Many writers will write an erotic or explicit scene at some point in time, and many ask themselves – is this really necessary? Perhaps you’re writing a steamy scene to attract a target audience. Perhaps you’re writing it because it’s important to the plot or character development. Or perhaps you’re writing it because it gets you off.

Hey, I ain’t gonna judge!

No matter the reasoning as to ‘why‘ people write erotic fiction, one thing is obvious; a novel tends to lose it’s credibility as serious literature the moment it crosses the arbitrary line into ‘overtly pornographic’ for the sake of just being erotic, and nothing else.

Of course, what constitutes too erotic to be good literature is completely subjective, but most people have their line in the sand somewhere.

How seriously people are willing to take your erotic writings depends on how serious the story’s plot is overall. If your story’s sole purpose is to be erotic and nothing else, don’t be surprised if people write it off as PWP (porn without plot). But what if you do have a plot, a genuine story that you want to tell that just so happens to be titillating? Well, now you’re entering a gray area where it’s going to be up to the reader’s discretion to decide how much is too much sex in a novel to where it starts to distract from the plot. If your story’s main plot revolves around a romance, you might be able to get away with including far more erotic scenes than, say, if your story is an action-adventure. If your story isn’t particularly romanced based, you have to be extra careful to make sure that any explicit scenes are necessary to develop the plot or the characters. Otherwise, it’ll come off as gratuitous.

One of my favorite series is The Earth’s Children by Jean M. Auel, but after the first book, many literary critics tend to pan the series due to what most describe as constant gratuitous and unnecessary sex scenes. I love the series, and I enjoy erotic fiction on occasion, and even I’ll admit she goes overboard at times, but it is clear that for some people, the overuse of erotica became detracting from the story.

Oddly enough, I’ve had the opposite scenario happen. Many times I’ve set out to write something purely erotic and go overboard with the plot instead. That hardly seems like something to complain about; a good plot is the substance that holds the steamy erotic scenes together, but when you just want to write something quick and dirty, for laughs or spanks, whichever, and end up writing some big long epic adventure, it can have its own challenges, such as making gratuitous amounts of sex seem out of place in a story that was contrived just to showcase gratuitous amounts of sex.

I hate when that happens! There are also some readers for whom any amount of sex is too much in an erotic novel. Yep, you read that right; think teen romance. There’s a HUGE audience of fiction readers, mostly younger, but sometimes older, who want hot, steamy, sexy, teasing…and then no payoff.

I call these; the Blueballers. (Blue ovaries doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).

Blueballers are people who focus more on the romantic and sexual tension of a story and gain all their satisfaction from the drama or the build-up, but who are okay with the lack of an explicit payoff.

I suppose not every story has to end with a bang.

What do you guys think? When does a work of fiction stop feeling like a real story and start feeling like porn? How much sex in a story is too much? Are you a Blueballer? Where do you draw the line?

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2 Replies to “Erotic Fiction – When is there too much sex in a novel?”

  1. Hi J! Interesting blog. As an erotic fiction writer (for fun, not money) I’m probably biased, but I personally have nothing against a sex scene in a good book. That being said, it’s not easy to get it right and there are a lot of “parameters”, like how detailed body parts and the sex act are described, and what words are used. Readers often cringe at certain words, and while one person might find the sex scene boring another one finds it cheesy or obscene.

    1. Thank you for your insights, Abby. I agree. Whether or not a reader interprets a sex scene as obscene is often up to the descriptive language, but also a reader’s personal preferences or expectations. I feel the best way to gauge the appropriate language and detail of a sex scene is to have an understanding of one’s target audience when writing anything erotic. If a book is say described as a romance, a sex scene popping up shouldn’t be a surprise, but perhaps shouldn’t be as over the top as a scene in a book marketing itself as purely erotic fiction. If a book presents itself as non-romance or non-erotic and a sex scene happens, it should be relevant and completely necessary to the plot, or otherwise, risk being gratuitous and feeling out of place. A skilled writer has ways to let their readers know in advance what to expect from a story. Especially if a story spends a great deal of time building up sexual tension. A sex scene coming out of seemingly nowhere is far more jarring to the reading experience, and perhaps only effective if shocking your readers is your intent.

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