Thursday, 27 October 2011

What Does Explicit Sex Mean Anyway?

Think about real sex and fictional sex made me remember being taken to task by someone at a workshop I ran earlier in the year.  Someone had asked about writing sex scenes, and I'd done my usual no body parts, no instructions spiel.  At which point someone else perked up and said, 'But you write explicit sex.'

I was surprised, because I think I don't.  So I asked when had I written explicit sex.  He cited the beginning of Adultery for Beginners.  I frowned, because I don't think that's explicit at all.  In my opinion, there are no body parts, no instructions, the word sex (or any synonyms) isn't used at all.  I hope - as I hope for all my sex scenes - that if you know what's going on, you know what's going on.  If you don't know, you wouldn't be any the wiser.  

But maybe I'm wrong. With trepidation, I'm going to copy the beginning paragraph here, and see what you think...

Damn, Isabel thought, feeling a cooling trickle of stickiness on her inner thighs. Neil lay heavily on top of her, as if the effort had given him heart failure. The huffing and puffing seemed to have expelled all the air from him.  Perhaps he wasn’t breathing. His body, hairy, sweaty, still rumpled with sleep, swamped hers. She felt her arms and legs sticking out from under his body, flat as a gingerbread woman. The tissues were out of reach, supposing there were any left in the box. Damn, damn, damn, she thought. I only changed the sheets yesterday.

So, what's just happened, and what's happening now?  I think it's clear, but I also think that it is implicit rather than explicit - nothing is spelled out: if you've never been in Isabel's position I don't think you'd know what's going on. (In passing, I wonder how many men have, in real life, had the thought about sheets, compared to how many women.)

Implicit or explicit? Over to you...

12 comments:

Claire King said...

Yes, it's implicit, but the way it's written means that the reader can easily fill in the blanks, 'stickiness' transforms effortlessly into semen and voila, the scene is very vivid.
I love that she is thinking about the sheets though :)

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm happy to know it's not just me!

clarekirkpatrick said...

Implicit, but it's a testament to your good writing that the reader was able so easily to transform it into explicitness.

Anonymous said...

I loved this paragraph when I read the book for it's down to earth reality and especially loved the gingerbread woman description. Pure genius.

Ann Patey

Doris O'Connor said...

No, it's not explicit, but it's very clever and humorous. Had to smile at the tissues and sheets :-)

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I agree - it's implicit and no one is surely left with any doubt. I do also love the reality of the sheets too!

Sarah Duncan said...

Well, I'm glad you all agree it's implicit but you knew what was going on. And found it both real and funny. Phew!

Eryl said...

I can see no explication, and only the words 'sleep' and 'sheets' indicate they are in bed at all. So I'm guessing your student must have been in one or other of your character's position and his memory filled in the gaps to such an extent the scene feels explicitly written to him.

My sheets are in the machine right now, so I might just pop a sleeping pill into my husband's cocoa tonight!

Shauna said...

I loved the extract - it made me laugh. Unfortunately it would seem we females spend too much time thinking about the practicalities of life. Also loved the gingerbread woman description, and yes, it's implicit.

Sarah Duncan said...

Eryl - hope your husband survives the cocoa!

Shauna - well, the marriage is about to take a headlong plunge downhill...

Tenerus said...

It's implicit because the para does not describe the act, simply the aftermath. If you smoked, you might have written instead that Isabel and Neil shared a cigarette.

From the male perspective: we are not, repeat NOT thinking about having to change the sheets. If we are thinking at all, we are calculating whether it is nobler to lie unbidden in the damp patch or suffer the barbs of an ignominious instruction so to do.

Sarah Duncan said...

LOL! (I think going for the first option earns more brownie points BTW)