This was something I posted on a DorothyL listserve discussion (April 26) which I thought might be of interest:
Long before I started writing mysteries, I published a book called Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel. After a brief flurry of sales, it died a merciful death. In the first of my Quin and Morgan mysteries, Still Waters, there is a strong sexual component. A rape scene, crucial to character and plot, is presented with retrained brutality that underscores the lasting horror. The description of a male’s first affair is emotionally graphic and a subsequent fantasy tryst is emotionally empty; in the latter, the sex is graphic, in the former it is muted, tender, and fraught with innocence. My point: sex is character, sex is plot. When it’s neither, as in life, it’s just sex.
The third novel in the series, “The Gibraltar Coordinates” which is due out next spring, is more of an action-packed thriller (the second is gothic, the fourth a drawing-room puzzle). There’s lots of intimacy and affection but little on-stage sex; there’s violence enough to keep the wheels moving fast, but never separable from character-in-plot.
There are no rules, each representation is different, an integral part of the composition. But if sex is difficult to write, or awkward to read, it shouldn’t be there. If violence titillates when it should terrify, it’s extraneous.