“Did they or didn’t they?” When a sex scene is so subtle, you just can’t tell.


Photo by Jeremy Vandel

The other day, I was texting with Michelle about a book that we’ve both read. I told her that while I was reading a certain scene in said book, my thought process was approximately this:

So she’s going to have sex with this guy. Or . . . he’s about to go down on her?

Wait. No. I guess neither. They’re just holding each other.

And now some time has passed and they’re . . . putting their clothes back on? What? When did they take them off? Why did they take them off?

Unless . . . hmm. They must have done more than just cuddle. But WHAT DID THEY DO?

Now, I know that there are some readers out there who would appreciate this kind of subtlety, who would find it “classy” that the author didn’t “go there.”

I am not one of those readers.

This isn’t to say that I want every detail every time. (In fact, please, no. I’m looking at you, Jason Myers. ;-)) I guess I just feel like if I’m spending time in a character’s head and they are confiding all sorts of things in me, if sex was had in a chapter that I’m reading (or even in between chapters), I should know about it. Right?

I’ve actually come across this a number of times over the years, though. I’ll be reading along and find myself uncertain of whether I’m interpreting a scene correctly. I once discovered, like, 30 pages after the fact, that the very sensitive narrator I was chilling with had lost his virginity. It was kind of a big deal, and he didn’t bother to clue me in at the time. Dude! Why not?

Another thing Michelle and I discussed is those situations when a narrator has a crush on/is in love with someone. S/he wants that other person so badly and tells readers all about it for pages and pages, but then they finally get it on, and the narrator goes silent about it. FOR THE REST OF THE BOOK.  I don’t necessarily need to witness or find out how everyone’s performance was or the mechanics of it, but I am certainly thinking: You just got what you wanted, but was it really what you wanted? Regrets? No regrets? Confusion about whether you have regrets? Give me something!

In some cases, I never get to find out.

Luckily for me, Michelle also is of the opinion that knowing how characters feel about sex and whether or not sex has actually occurred is important!

Garrett Hedlund gives a thumbs up to NOT wondering about sex scenes! (Ignore the cigarette. I’m sure it’s just, you know, for a role or something. :-P)

The way we’ve outlined the story we’re writing together, we’ve left plenty of room to surprise each other and ourselves with what is going to happen. At this point, we don’t know the specifics of  when or how or if any characters will be hooking up onscreen. But  whatever way it ends up going, readers will not have to wonder whether it happened or not. We promise!

7 thoughts on ““Did they or didn’t they?” When a sex scene is so subtle, you just can’t tell.

  1. Angela says:

    I cannot stand that either! you often end up wondering about that and missing other important details in the story. Having sex is HUGE, whether you are a teen or adult. We all have emotional backlash from sex, good and/or bad, so acknowledge it.

    • Mindi Scott says:

      Right? Holding back can make the writing feel sanitized and distancing. That isn’t what I want from my reading experience.

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh my goodness, I have had that same question. One particularly memorable did they or didn’t they scene scene I read took place outside and I was all,

    “1. If they did, ewww, that’s a muddy riverbank, and I sure hope they used condoms;
    2. If they didn’t, still, ewww, that’s a muddy riverbank.”

    I actually had really enjoyed that particular book up until that point, but I found it distractingly confusing whether or not something very important had happened between the characters.

  3. Suzi says:

    I would find this annoying too. If it’s important enough to put the lead-up to it in, then we should know what did or didn’t happen.

    I wonder what the reasons are behind why authors do this. Is it because they don’t want to get into the sex stuff? Or is it a mistake they didn’t catch? Probably a little of both.

    • Mindi Scott says:

      I feel like it’s usually done deliberately. Maybe even as an artistic choice. There are times when I truly don’t mind the vague (although, I’m a bigger fan of NOT vague), but I do agree with you. If the lead-up is in a scene at all, what is the purpose of shutting the reader out by that point?

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