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Sex isn't sexy

"...describing two human beings engaging in the most intimate of shared acts is very nearly the least rewarding enterprise a writer can take."
--How to Read Literature Like a Professor, page 143

I think this is pretty true with any sort of physical experience where primal desires or feelings are involved. I mean, try writing about the pleasures of eating a delicious chocolate cake. Reading about sex or eating really good food is kind of secondary to the real thing. That's why, unless you're trying to write porn, the only real purpose for writing a sex scene is to carry the plot forward. Take The Time Traveler's Wife, which is a romance novel, so you'd think the sex scenes are pretty important. But they rarely describe the physical details of Henry and Clare in the act. Sex is pretty prevalent in the story, but we never really see them having sex. Just like them eating; we assume they eat, since they don't talk about starving, but we don't actually need to read about they physical details fo them eating. It's sort of the same thing with the sex, I think. Sex for Henry and Clare is wonderful and passionate in the beginning, and they do it constantly, but we usually just hear about the post-coital glow or Henry just states flatly something like "We fuck carefully, silently." Then Clare feels they're having too much sex, and then sex becomes stressful because it's a way of attempting to get pregnant again after several miscarriages. It's a way of showing what Clare and Henry's relationship is like at different points in time, but Audrey Niffenegger lets us know what the sex is like for them by them talking about it and not actually showing it, which is a good idea because even if she was able to somehow capture how good their sex is we'd probably all just get jealous.

Comments (5)

Aja Hannah:

But, the thing with sex is that it is popular. A large percentage of books checked out today or bought are about romance or sex. And this sex is not metaphorical really either. The only purpose it serves in "The Time Traveler's Wife" is to move the plot forward and complicate the relationship. It's not really literary because it doesn't stand for anything nor is it hidden.

Alyssa Sanow:

I agree with Aja that sex is used in the novel to move the plot forward or to complicate the relationship. I think it also plays the important role of demonstrating how the relationship between Henry and Clare matures over time. Initially their sex life is carefree and spontaneous. It then becomes (as you mentioned) a source of stress. It's like the author is suggesting their relationship had moved beyond the physical and that sex, which held Henry in the present for so long, wasn't as important anymore.

Juli Banda:

I like what Aja said, that sex is popular. Yes, it is in our time and we all know that sex sells. However, I don't like reading the sex scenes in books when it's actually describing the act. I like how it is portrayed in "The Time Traveler's Wife" because it is more just Niffenegger talking about how the sex affects their lives and, like you said, not the way they look doing it.

Sue :

I agree with you but how do you think the sexual tension (and the fact that they have sex on Clare's 18th birthday) during the time Henry time travel's back to see Clare when she is young plays into all of this?

Nikita McClellan:

Yet, it is the sex is not described in detail because it is not main focus in this book. Yes, it is there and yes,it serves to move the plot along. In ways, to me at least, it seems like the sex is needed in this book to explain the complications in Henry and Clares relationship. Especially when Clare does have the miscarriages which goes along with Henry's time traveling genes and we then find out why she keeps losing the unborn children. It also show the growth of Henry's character as he ages. After so many miscarriages, Henry has a vasectomy to prevent Clare from getting pregnant. When the younger Henry comes along , his views are different at that age, and, well we know what happens. Scenes like this give us a reads a great deal of information into the insight of the character.

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