Sex versus Story

by | March 21, 2020 | General | 5 comments

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels


I’ve always been a story teller. I started reading other people’s stories when I was four. Without any particular prompting, I began to create my own. Of course, my dad served as a model, regaling my siblings and me with his wildly original tales of ghosts and monsters, and my early teachers encouraged my knack for narrative, but I probably would have written stories even without those influences. It’s just part of who I am.

During the third decade of my life, I began producing erotic stories – stories about the experience of desire, and its fulfillment. My own rather broad experiences as well as my still-unrealized personal fantasies inspired my early erotica. Those tales included a lot of sex. This didn’t get in the way of the plot or character development, though, because these books were in some sense sexual coming-of-age stories. They chronicled the heroine’s journeys as she explored and came to understand and accept her own sexuality – especially her interest in power exchange. In a sense, the sex was the story, the escalating intensity of the erotic encounters teaching the heroine who she was – a sensual, polymorphously perverse creature destined to live outside the bounds of conventional “morality”.

When I began writing erotic romance, the shape of my tales changed. Now the plot was about the development of a loving relationship, as is traditional in romance. Still, this was a sort of journey, and once again sexual interludes formed the milestones along the way.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with a different sort of erotica: sex-first, over-the-top tales with many characters, all of whom are engaged in outrageously lewd activities with one another, without, in most cases, the societal whitewash of romance. For want of a better label, I’ll call this genre “stroke”, though this term has some negative connotations. The basic idea is to provide readers with plenty of heat and variety, without any angst. My Vegas Babes series epitomizes this genre.

It’s great fun to write stroke fiction, because I can let my dirty imagination run free. I don’t have to worry about delivering the sine qua non of romance: fidelity, a focus on the protagonists’ relationship only, and a long term commitment. Even when my characters are in love or married, they can enjoy themselves with other partners. Furthermore, I can mix up MF, FF, and MM interactions in the same book, a practice that romance readers seem to loathe.

So I just started a new stroke series. The genre is steam punk erotica, with tongue firmly in cheek. However, I appear to have a new problem. For the first time, story is getting in the way of sex.

Let me explain. My current WIP, set in an alt-Victorian world, follows the progress of a brilliant young female engineer, Gillian Smith, as she tries to win a place in the secretive Toymakers Guild, an organization that creates bespoke sexual devices on commission from the wealthy and influential. As might be expected from a group of people who design outrageous sex toys, a lot of carnal activity goes on in the remote Devon mansion where the Guild is located. Gillian is an enthusiastic participant – confirming the fact that she’s well suited to be a member – but her ultimate focus is on being accepted as an official apprentice, not on getting her rocks off.

My rough mental outline has her proving herself to the Guild, demonstrating not only her technical competence but also her resourcefulness and her loyalty. Along the way, she succumbs (willingly) to various lures of the flesh. That’s a good thing – I wouldn’t have a stroke book if she didn’t. However, my efforts to introduce the necessary characters and to sketch out the conflicts that will come to a head later in the book are making it hard to include as much sex as I’d like – or perhaps I should say, as much sex as the book requires.

As a rule of thumb, a stroke book needs some sex in every chapter. Otherwise, the folks who are reading only for the naughty stuff will start to get bored. But I find myself balking at the idea of throwing in truly gratuitous sex scenes that are unrelated to the plot. Even if I try, I can’t just write disconnected sex scenes. That’s not a story. There’s no build-up, no narrative arc, no crisis and resolution. And without those essential dynamics, readers who are looking for more than just sex are going to be disappointed.

Hence I find myself struggling, trying to figure out how to make each sex scene an organic part of the story, when for once my story is not fundamentally about sex.

Maybe that’s the crux of the issue. Perhaps I need to revisit my ideas about Gillian’s motivation. It could be that in order to make this book work, her journey has to become sexual, as much as emotional and intellectual. I’ve planned some femdom scenes for later – perhaps this book is really about Gillian becoming a Domme, not about her finding a place as a Guild apprentice.

Interesting thought. Maybe that’s a path to the synthesis of sex and story that I’m seeking.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Larry archer

    Sex for sex’s sake is its own reward! 🙂 I think the big danger is death by runaway steam-powered vibrator for Gillian!

    Personally I enjoy writing stroke and agree that you need sex on virtually every page. You’ve done a great job with your Vegas Babes series and personally I think that is where you shine as an author. Just because you write stories that are more suitable for being in the bathroom with the door locked doesn’t mean that it’s worse than discussing loftier topics with your little finger stuck out.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks for the kudos, but I’m having trouble making Gillian’s story as hot as the Babes. Maybe the whole problem is the “making” attitude. Got to let things flow.

      • Larry archer

        Part of the problem I can see is weaving a storyline in Victorian times where morals were much more rigid. To me, romantic erotica and stroke are two completely different genres and share little with each other. While I agree that “stroke” has a negative connotation, it has followers. I firmly believe that we all need to escape from reality at times and being able to immerse yourself in an anything goes story is fun. In my world, stroke stories are closer to normal than romantic erotica.

        BTW – Loved this: “[A] sensual, polymorphously perverse creature destined to live outside the bounds of conventional “morality”.”

  2. Rikki de la Vega

    Sex doesn’t have to get in the way of the story! It can be a milestone in the narrative, or a way of showing aspects of character development. Or it can just be added spice. But you know what they say: “Sex is like pizza, it’s always good!”

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks Rikki. I know you’re right, but the story is fighting with me.

      Maybe it has nothing to do with the sex.

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