This is one of the many questions I asked myself when I started my book.
From the moment this question came to mind, I went into full research mode. Thanks to an anxious disposition and a scientific mind, honed by years of academic study, I am extremely fond of doing my research. I love data, facts, and results. Strange, for a fiction writer. Even stranger for a fantasy fiction writer. But everyone has their little idiosyncrasies.
So, I spent hours weighing up the pros and cons, scouring the internet, hoping to find the answer. And finally I resigned myself to the fact that there is no definitive answer.
It is entirely subjective.
I know, I know. That is such an unsatisfying, vague, non-answer. But it is the truth. No-one can give you a conclusive yes or no answer on whether you should include a sex scene in your writing. Your agent, editor, or publisher can suggest turning up the heat, your book may even be rejected by some for the lack of sex appeal. Sex sells, it’s a fact of life. But ultimately, this is your story, and I believe that you need to be happy with the story you’re telling.
So, although I cannot tell you what to do, I can give advice to other budding authors, based on my own long, arduous experience desperately trying to get an answer to this question from some external source.
You need to decide as an author, whether you believe that a sex scene will benefit the story you are trying to tell, and whether it fits the plot, the character, the genre. The book I am currently working on is a good example of this. Sex is a very conflicting, but important part of life for my main character. She loves sex, she is sexually uninhibited and adventurous. However, she has had past sexual trauma, and is very private about her personal life, except with the few people she trusts. As this story is told in the first person, I had to think very hard about how she would tell her story. And I just didn’t think that graphically depicted sex scenes would fit the character. If this story were told from a different perspective, things might be different.
So yes, it is important to consider whether sex fits in with the narrative. But, even more important are your own feelings on the subject. You need to decide whether or not you want to write about sex.
Forget publication, forget sales, forget reviews. Do you want to include this in your writing? Some authors just don’t feel comfortable writing about sex, while some don’t want to write without it. It is a very personal thing. And if you are not comfortable writing it, then I doubt the readers will be comfortable reading it, because like it or not, our feelings towards our writing will always show in our work. If you don’t love it, how can you expect anyone else to?
And sex may sell, but not all readers enjoy it. Some people love raunchy books, some cringe reading even the most eloquently written sex scenes. Over the years I have read thousands of books, some without any mention of anything slightly sexual, some that end the scene/chapter before the act, and some that go all out with the eroticism.
I personally don’t have much of a preference towards the presence or absence of sex in the books I’m reading, though I would prefer no sex to poorly written sex. However, I am aware of how a good sex scene can further elevate an already amazing book (see book two in the Captive Prince series by C. S. Pacat).
Your writing will never be to everyone’s taste. So again I reiterate the point: the choice is yours. Do your research, ask the experts, weigh up the facts, but in the end it is your story to tell. So, write what you want to write, write what makes you happy, comfortable, proud etc.
There is no right or wrong if you are doing what you love. So do what you love. Whether that means writing about the act of love, or not.