"Because I'm a virgin I've been worried that my sex scenes won't be very good, but your comments have given me back my confidence!"I admit, my first reaction upon reading that was to think, yeah right, those scenes are going to suck bad if she's never even experienced sex herself.
Then I pondered my very
I'm all for authors having the freedom to write about experiences they've never had -- occupations, places, people, etc. If all authors only wrote what they themselves had directly experienced, the book world would be a hell of a lot less diverse than it is. I want to read about firefighters and treasure hunters and lawyers, and most authors have never, and will never, hold one of these jobs. I want to read books set in Alaska and New York City and 18th century London, and I don't particularly care if the author hasn't ever lived in that place, in that time, as long as the setting feels authentic to me as the reader.
But here's the thing: Even if an author researches her butt off, she's still likely to get some of the details wrong. There are just some things that you don't know until you experience it firsthand -- and you don't know what you don't know -- so it's almost inevitable that an author will get something wrong. It may be a minor thing, or it may be a major thing, but either way, if it's a subject that you, as the reader, knows very well, the inauthenticity of it is going to pull you out of the story.
Then again, the majority of readers won't have a clue that the author got something wrong, nor will they care. Because, like authors, most readers haven't had firsthand experience with all the occupations and places featured in books. I've never been a firefighter or treasure hunter or lawyer; I've never been to Alaska or New York City or 18th century London. So the only time this issue arises for us readers is when the book we pick up happens to be one of those featuring something we are intimately familiar with. Otherwise we remain happily clueless.
As I see it, the big problem facing the virgin writer above is that the overwhelming majority of her readers have experienced sex, and they're going to know if she gets it wrong.
But, wait. It's not like Romance Novel Sex is completely realistic in the first place, is it? We have Magically Orgasming heroines and Expert Sex God heroes, and romance couples never get sand in uncomfortable places after sex on the beach. There's no awkwardness or pain or messy bodily fluids or not-so-sexy noises. It's a perfect, rose-colored view of sex, and much of it ain't exactly realistic, although I do think the realism has improved over the years.
So, if the writer in question relies on the conventions of the genre, will her sex scenes read authentically to readers?
Part of me thinks she could fake it, but the bigger part of me thinks the scenes will feel "off" in some way. Why? Because, as a reader who started reading romances long before having sex, I know that I didn't really "get it" until I experienced it. Sure, I understood the basic mechanics from sex-ed classes, and I'd read a gazillion romance novel sex scenes, but it was all still rather hazy and indistinct. It didn't click until I did it. Hell, it didn't fully click until I'd done it a lot more than once.
TMI? Anyway, moving on...
What about female m/m authors? The m/m romance and m/m erotic romance genres are rapidly growing, and it seems like most of the authors and readers are heterosexual women. Do these authors' m/m sex scenes read inauthentically given that they've never experienced m/m sex, let alone what it's like to be a gay man? As I'm not a gay man, I don't really know. But that's exactly my point: If most of their readers are straight women, they're not going to know either, will they? Which means that most readers aren't going to be bitching afterward about how the author "got it all wrong." And hell hath no fury like ticked off readers.
Which brings me back to my main conclusion: That the biggest problem the virgin writer is facing is the fact that she's relying on books, research, and her imagination, whereas most of her audience will have firsthand, intimate experience with the subject at hand. Even with Romance Novel Sex conventions on her side, she's fighting an uphill battle to convince readers of the realism of her sex scenes.
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Do you think authors can ever write a truly authentic experience they've never had?
For further reading on the subject of writing and authenticity from a reader's perspective, check out Lynn Spencer's post All in a Day's Work, and Rike Horstmann's Familiar Territory.