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When Should You Have Sex (in Your Sci Fi Story)?

Solid Core of AlphaUp until the last year, most of the stories I had written had been “straight” sci fi (pardon the pun) or fantasy – stories that relied on the sci fi or fantasy plot as the main driver of the story. Oh sure, they usually had a gay character or two, but not always as the main character, and even when they were, usually without a major “romance”.

Then I discovered Dreamspinner Press and their upcoming anthology submissions page. I decided to try my hand at writing some short stories that were MM romance with a sci fi or supernatural twist. It was a whole new thing for me, but it raised the question – when is it appropriate to include sex in a story? We’ll leave out erotica, which of course revolves around the sex, from the current discussion.

I realize most romance stories will include some sex, even if it’s of the “and they embraced as the lights went down” variety. But I’m talking more about in-your-face, sick it in there sex in writing.

I’ve always followed the rule of thumb that sex should only be included in a story if it advances the plot in some way, and that to do otherwise is gratuitous.

But does the same thing apply in LGBT stories, where our identity is inextricably tied to sexuality, and therefore to sex?

I’m reading Amy Lane’s A Solid Core of Alpha – it uses sex as a plot driver, as the (abusive) gay sex one of the main characters experiences serves as both a commentary on artificial intelligence and as something that moulds his character.

I also dipped my toe in the “sex in the story” pond for a story I’m writing for the Gay Sci-Fi (m/m romance) site at the request of Ashlyn, the site’s moderator – the instructions included the note “The requirement is ‘sex and sci-fi’.”

So I had to find a way to write a story where sex in the story has a specific purpose – in my case to make the main character question the fluidity of sex and gender in the future.

So how do you use sex in your stories, if at all? And as a reader, when do you want to see sex in a sci fi story?


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8 thoughts on “When Should You Have Sex (in Your Sci Fi Story)?”

  1. What bothers me here, what always bothers me when this subject comes up, is that this question only comes up when it’s about explicit sex between consenting adults in anything that is basically not a contemporary romance (written primarily by and for women).

    I literally walked away from mainstream fantasy because I could not take one more book filled with rape and much of it pretty graphic. My brother got sick of the genre for the same reason.

    Nobody talks about that, though.

    My books are constantly dismissed by the fantasy world because a) they’re also romance and b) they’re LGBTQ and god forbid we have fantasy containing explicit (gay) sex. (And mind you, I’m on the barely there end of the spectrum. Most of my books contain little to no sex, and the ones that contain a lot are rare exceptions) Time and again we discuss whether or not explicit sexual content is acceptable, or how much is acceptable.

    But all those thousands of books filled with women (and less frequently men) getting raped for no other reason than to motivate the Noble Hero. Those are fine. No need for that discussion at all. My heroes can’t have yay, we survived sex, but it’s perfectly acceptable that their female companion got gang-banged by some mercenaries.

    It seriously upsets me that nobody cares how much violence is in a book, if that’s gratuitous or not. Nobody cares how much rape and abuse might be in a book. But healthy, consensual relationships–that needs to be discussed over and over again.

    But does the same thing apply in LGBT stories, where our identity is inextricably tied to sexuality, and therefore to sex?

    One, this implies that if it’s LGBT then it must include sexual content. That LGBT characters (PEOPLE) are first and foremost about sex, and anything else is secondary. That is a huge problem with the LGBT community, both in how it’s treated as a bunch of sex-freaks by people outside the community, and all the pressure within it to conform to that lifestyle, or the stress that comes from resisting. Look at the way the question itself just completely disregards asexuality. It’s a gross, horrible stereotype that the LGBT community has been trying to overcome for ages, and right here it’s still being perpetuated.

    Two, it implies that if the characters are LGBT then the story must be about them being LGBT, which is problematic. Stories about straight characters are not about them being straight. There are no stories about a character struggling to be accepted for his straightness. To say that LGBT stories must revolve around their sexuality implies that even in sci-fi and fantasy, such people are Other and that Otherness must be the focus of the story.

    Some stories DO focus on the fact the character is LGBT. But plenty of other stories focus on character who just happen to be LGBT. That is, actually, something I’ve always been very stubborn about. I refuse to read fantasy books anymore that revolve around a character who lives in a world where homosexuality etc. is forbidden. It’s lazy, it’s a crutch, it’s a cheap and easy way to create an obstacle for the romance, for conflict in general. The moment you make ‘gay is bad’ (and such) an issue, it becomes THE issue, no matter what else is going on in the story. And there is no reason, except laziness, to do it 99% of the time. It limits the story telling, confines it to one small matter that usually doesn’t need to be there, that the story would be stronger without.

    Not every story with LGBT characters has to be about THIS CHARACTER ISN’T STRAIGHT. I think more stories need to be about characters who happen to be LGBT.

    And I think people should stop asking when is sex appropriate, because I think a genre filled with violence, abuse, rape, etc. can handle a bit of healthy sex between consenting adults.

    • Hey Megan

      Thanks for the great, well-thought out reply. I wanted ti clarify that I do not think that sex must be in all LGBT stories – quite the opposite. But I think that the fact that our identity is tied up in our sexuality, which includes sex, makes it an interesting question, and I do think we have opportunities to explore that sexuality with sex in our stories, when it’s warranted.

      I also agree that gratuitous sex, whether it’s rape or even just plain vanilla sex, doesn’t belong in literature – it should have a reason that forwards the plot if it’s going to be there – gay or straight. And I also agree with you that I’d lie to see more depictions in sci fi of characters who just happen to be gay.



    • Megan’s comment is badass. I agree with everything you said.

      As a trans person, I have to say very strongly that my identity ISN’T wrapped up in sexuality – and it isn’t even that wrapped up in gender at this point in my life. My identity has always been a multiplicity of things. As a writer, I write as much or as little sex as needed, as much or as little queerness as I feel like, and never feel particularly compelled to stick with one or the other.

      To deviate briefly from the original topic, because Megan basically covered everything, and I would only end up parroting: I really do think that the LGBT communities need to have a good look at what stories we are telling, and what stories we are excluding. It’s not just the straights perpetrating oversexualization and fetishization of queer people in fiction, and LGBT people are often as guilty of ‘Dead Queer Syndrome’ – the killing off and/or punishment of LGBT characters as plot devices, examples, or just because they’re ‘other’ – as non-LGBT writers.

      I have been thinking a lot about these things, and have many questions I am mulling over as I work on my novel and novella series. Who, in our communities, are we representing? Why? Why aren’t we writing and reading healthy role models in fiction, a lot of the time? Why aren’t people reading them? These dialogues really need to start happening between writers and between writers and readers.

      I can’t agree with you about the role of sex in fiction though, Scott. I think that sex stories with lots of sex are rather like action novels (which have lots of violence) or thrillers. What’s wrong with having sex in place of violence as a form of key action? What makes that less fantastic as a form of conflict, resolution, triumph or transcendence than war or The Quest or any other primal human thing? Why can’t it have a place in literature? Some stories are ‘sex stories’. Some stories are not. Some stories have a bit of sex when appropriate. In some cases, you want to fade to black; in others, you don’t. It always depends on the story. I don’t think being queer or trans should really effect that, in an ideal world.

      • Hey James,

        That’s how I view it for my own stuff and what I read. But I’m not everyone, and many folks have different tastes than I. :)

    • You raise some very good points. I’d like to aim you in the direction of Laurie King’s “A grave talent” book and it’s sequels. The PI, a lesbian woman, lives with her partner of many years. There are some occasional issues with her colleagues, but the Kate Martinelli is the kickass PI and she drives the plot with how awesome and clever she is. Her sexuality is there, but it’s far from being the main focus.

      Another “pre-gay marriage” author that pioneered LGBT heroes is Mercedes Lackey in her Valdemar series. In a world heavy with magic, a kickass mage goes on to save it from certain destruction. He happens to be gay, and some characters have an issue with it, but it’s a sideline plot. It’s mostly about him and his skill, sacrifices, and so on. And he does find a partner.

      I think the contemporary focus on LGBT rights and marriage equality created a market, because there is interest. This is not a terrible thing. I came to see LGBT folk as “normal” through slash fan fiction, where I sat back, and thought: “Wow, those two guys are really beautiful together. It’s really no different than a man and a woman, is it?” So I see this as an evolutionary progression. People will see love as just love, even if it’s not what they’re used to. Even if straight guys will prefer lesbian books and straight women will prefer gay books, the seeds of acceptance have been sown, and are taking root.

      Now, as you correctly point out, we can start treating our LGBT characters as “regular people,” and even give them some privacy. They are, and they deserve it.

  2. While I agree with everything Megan and Kate said, I’m going to offer a different response.

    You are asking about a specific submissions call, and that very specific question hasn’t necessarily been answered.

    In truth, it depends. What’s the set up for the story and the stage of the characters’ relationship? That drives the right place and amount of sex.

    If your MC is working in some space brothel, or visits a space brothel, the sex is going to happen fairly quickly. If he secretly loves his co-pilot, then it might not happen until much later. If he’s single and he’s an engineer who creates the perfect fuck-bot, then sooner. You get the point.

    You have to decide the main elements of your story and appropriate relationship progression before you will know the correct answer.

    Given the short word-count limits of most Dreamspinner anthologies, you won’t have lots of room for real relationship building, so your characters may need to hop into bed (or wherever) much more quickly. With that in mind, you may need to make sex a bigger part of the plot.

    There is no one right answer. But the worst thing you can do is throw in a sex scene without it fitting into the story. We’ve all read too many of those and we don’t need more.

  3. But does the same thing apply in LGBT stories, where our identity is inextricably tied to sexuality, and therefore to sex?

    As Megan said, I find this idea extremely problematic. I think one reason this viewpoint persists is that the words we use to describe these concepts make it appear that sex is the central focus. But I don’t believe that’s the case at all. Sexual identity is primarily about emotion, not about sex.

    Regarding the larger question, I write sex as part of romance because I think it’s important to the development of a relationship for most people. I’ve written sex in scifi and fantasy, and I’ve written sex involving men and women in different combinations (M/F, M/F/M, M/M, and M/M/M… so far). In all cases, I write sex scenes because they advance the story in some way, usually characterization and relationship development but sometimes plot, too. If they don’t add to the story, they shouldn’t be there, no matter who the characters are.


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