It's traditional in most of fiction to fade to black when you get to the sex scene. Many of my favorite writers advocate such practices, and some of them seem to find it almosttacky, to linger on the intimate details. But I've always felt that who we are in bed is a fascinating part of human nature. And if one of the prime purposes of fiction is to uncover the truths of the human heart, then surely just skipping over the intimacies of the bedroom means cutting yourself off from a significant part of human experience.
People's lives have been made, and destroyed, by whom they choose to have sex with. Marriages end, careers are ruined, sometimes over a single ill-thought-out sex act. If the legends of Troy and Camelot are to be believed, entire kingdoms have been won and lost for the sake of sex. As writers, it seems crippling to avoid writing sex, especially if you're avoiding it out of fear, or shame. Out of concern for what the neighbors will think.
Now, I'm not saying that we should throw in gratuitous sex scenes. But then again, I wouldn't advocate gratuitous fight scenes either -- or gratuitous knitting scenes, much as I love knitting. Any such element in a story must serve multiple purposes -- to advance the plot, to set the scene, to establish mood, to develop character, etc. But if you can use a sex scene to develop character, and especially if you can bring out an element of character that might not be visible elsewhere (for example, how many men in our society only feel comfortable speaking of intimate fears in the privacy of their bedrooms, with their wife's head resting on their chest?), then I would argue that the writer is missing a wonderful opportunity if they avoid writing that sex scene.
All of this is mostly directed at simply writing sex, in as much detail as the scene requires. Erotica is actually something else again.
Erotica and horror, I would argue, are genres of mood. Your goal, with a horror story, is to horrify the reader, to frighten them, to make their guts churn. If you don't manage that, then I'd argue that your story has failed as horror. Similarly, erotica should actually arouse the reader. You're trying to create an atmosphere, evoke a tightness in the throat, an accelerated beating of the heart. A stirring in thenether regions. Not every story will horrify or arouse every reader -- tastes do differ. But when you're writing in a genre of mood, I believe you should aim towards evoking that mood as vividly and viscerally as you can.
I plan on most of the stories in Demimonde (if it gets funded) being sexually explicit, and most of them will aim towards being erotic as well. But possibly not all. If there are stories which seem to demand a mood that is primarily horrific, for example, or particularly politically charged, then for the sake of the overall book's coherence, I'll let the stories be what they want to be. Based on what I've written so far, I'm envisioning a book in which people's intimate lives are being dramatically affected by major political and social events. Xenophobia is rising in their society; violence is breaking out. People in power are scheming for more power, and people without power are getting angry about it. In the midst of all of this, chaos and explosions, are people who are just trying to live their lives with the people they sometimes love. That's what I'd like to write about. I think writing the sex will only add to the human complexity of these characters and their stories.
Tomorrow, I promise, I'll actually talk about why science fiction. But in partial apology for hijacking today's post, here's one of the very first erotica stories I wrote, "A Jewel of a Woman." Please note that this is decidedly NSFW. I was having a lot of fun with this piece, but also hoping to create a mood, to turn the reader on. You can tell me if I succeeded. :-)