By Mark W. Danielson
Sex is a necessity. Without it, mankind wouldn’t exist. Sex also sells, which is why so many novelists include it, but their take on sex may also reflect the social morals of the time. This is equally true for television and screen writers. For example, Dick Van Dyke and his TV wife Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show had single beds and yet they had a child, so either they occasionally shared a bed or their son was the result of an immaculate conception. Regardless, their twin beds worked for this show. Try doing that nowadays and the show’s producer would be laughed off the premises. (Or as Donald Trump would say, “You’re fired.)
Clearly, audiences crave sex. Why else would Sex and the City leap from books onto the small screen and then onto the big screen? But some consequences of our acceptance of casual sex are an increase in teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Another result is an increase in big and small screen shows that feature pregnant teens. Of course, teen pregnancy has always occurred, but movies like Juno seem to have popularized it, or at least made it more acceptable. Currently, many high schools provide child day care, but budget cuts may change that. Then again, most teen parents aren’t raising their kids. Instead, the grandparents end up sharing the burden. Just ask Sarah Palin.
With this in mind, every writer must question their motives for including sexual references in their stories or screen plays. Is it necessary for the plot? If so, how much is too much? Should it be graphic, or is implied sex enough? How much will the scene affect a younger audience? Ultimately, only the authors and/or producers can answer that.
Sex is a multi billion dollar industry and there is no escaping it, but for me, small references are more powerful than graphic description. Writers should tease their audience the same way a bikini clad model teases voyeurs. Allow your readers to fill in the blanks. Give them a fantasy, not a sex manual – unless, of course, you are writing a sex manual.
The best way to evaluate whether something is appropriate is to read it out loud. If it’s not something you’re comfortable reading to an audience or putting on audiotape, then you might want to re-think it.
Sex falls into the same category as humor; not everyone can write it. Editors and reviewers know this and will reject your work if it’s not well done. If this isn’t reason enough for concern, then remember your mom and kids may read it one day. Like casual sex, words linger and can stir regret. Then again, there are certainly times when it's best to sleep on it . . .