Sex In Thrillers-Not Always a Good Idea

by | Jul 20, 2016 | The Writer's Life | 6 comments

Canova’s Psyche Revived By Cupid’s Kiss

by Jamie Freveletti

This week’s topic has been about sex scenes in thrillers. I wanted to post a racy first photo, but at the last minute decided to go with the classic sculpture to prove that even the finest art can contain sexual content. And then there’s this:

His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

Yes, that’s an actual scene from The Castle In The Forest, a book by the late Norman Mailer that won the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Literature award. I have to admit, the whole sap thing is beyond weird, but I kind of like the piety line. At least he saw the whole event as a religious experience. But it does show you that even Norman Mailer can write bad sex. And if he can, then the rest of us might, too. So today’s post is a cautionary tale, really.

The problem with sex in thrillers, though, is that thriller writers as a group don’t spend enough time learning how to write these scenes. And unless they have experience in the romance genre, a sex scene written by a thriller author can be bad, or worse, boring.

Which is not to say that thriller writers are the only ones writing what the Review has deemed to be bad sex scenes. Seems that they exist in every genre, as shown above. Past nominees have included some of the best writers in any genre. Most of us would love to be mentioned in the same sentence as these authors. You can find the latest list here.

Luckily the bad sex award is a lighthearted award and most authors seem to accept it with good humor. Should I ever be awarded such a prize, I hope to laugh along with the judges.

I‘ve only written one or two sex scenes in my books and neither were graphic. I’m not sure that graphic explanation is worthwhile in a thriller in any event. Most readers aren’t interested in the genre for its sexual content. For a targeted good time a reader is better off picking up a romance book or erotica. And let’s face it, authors in these genres are excellent at writing these scenes, as they should be. (Though I imagine some bad examples can be found there as well).

The best scenes, in my opinion, leave the graphic bits to the imagination in any event. One of the steamiest sex scenes in movies can be found in The Big Easy. Starring Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid, the scene is sexy even though both are fully clothed throughout. Which just goes to show that imagination is the best aphrodisiac!

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    Hilarious example of a bad sex scene from Norman Mailer – but to be honest, not a Mailer fan anyway. Still, great cautionary tale. And good advice for all writers. Write it well or don't write it.

  2. Karna Bodman

    Oh Jamie – how true that there are many truly bad love scenes (that don't really depict "love" in my view) in some thrillers I have read. You are so right to point out that if a reader wants to read them, it would be better to pick up a romance novel as there are tons of sub-genres to choose from (historical, contemporary, paranormal, suspense). And it is so true that some of the best scenes simply describe the emotions and dialogue at the time.

  3. Sonja Stone

    Jamie, I wholeheartedly agree! These scenes are better left to someone other than me. Well said!

  4. Chris Goff

    I remember an hysterical panel at Bouchercon one year. Jess Lourey was the panel master and they read sex scenes straight out of attending authors books. I'd kill to have the sales of the worst one ever!

  5. Francine Mathews

    REALLY afraid to know why he named his piledriver the Hound.

  6. Jamie Freveletti

    THE HOUND! Completely strange, huh? And everyone, I agree re: leave the really graphic sex scenes to the "professionals" (read: romance and erotica writers). As for Jess' panel, wish I could have been there!