During the London Blitz young women would jokingly ask one another:
“And whose arms will you die in tonight?”
There is a poignancy to wartime love scenes that is not present during the peacetime quickies-before-breakfast. The uncertainty of tomorrow. The ever-present fear of death.
In a previous post, I’ve discussed Comfort Food. In this one I will discuss Comfort Sex. Most of us have experienced it.
One of the last taboos in writing?
I’ve had more than a few reviewers comment about the sex in this book, one even expressing wonder that such things happened during the war.
In doing research for this book I occasionally delved into the BBC WWII archives. Entries such as Love at First Sight, Courting During the Blitz, or 48 Hours to get Married, were a delight to read. It seems that in times of great stress, humans crave intimacy.
Writing about a free-spirited, eighteen-year-old woman in the emotionally charged landscape of war, I suspected sex would rear its head. I decided early on that Katrinka’s sexuality would be one of her more notable characteristics. She had no fear of her sexuality, and I admire her for that. If she had to endure the horrific scenes I put her in, she was darn well going to enjoy herself along the way. None of this dying in her lover’s arms, desires-deferred.
Curiously enough, readers have a ghoulishly high tolerance for descriptions of painful agony and graphic violence. But pleasurable sex between two happily consenting adults can cause squeamishness.
Ripped to ribbons? Unfortunate.
Blasted by bombs? These things happen in war.
The sexual act might be skimmed over in many novels because it is so darn hard to write without sounding comical. Words like shaft, saber, winkeys and ding-dongs, or rosebuds, jay-jays, vee-vees and hoo haws can be jarring to the reader immersed in erotic scenarios.
This is such a difficult issue that there is a book award presented annually to the novel with the most dreadful scene of sexual description in an otherwise satisfactory story. This award, fittingly called Bad Sex in Fiction, was presented to last year’s winners at a gala event at the In and Out (Naval and Military) Club in London.
Yes. The In and Out.
So what to do when an author finds herself with two panting characters ready to rip bodices and codpieces asunder. There are a few awkwardly written lines, followed by the discreet fadeaway to morning’s light. Here they waken, rapturous and fulfilled in each other’s arms (or possibly, horrified).
But hey, wait a minute. This is an interesting part of your character’s personality. Frankly, I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they behave in bed. Curious minds need to know. Give us some tips, pointers, ideas-- even commiserations.
How did it unfold? How did the man behave? Was he generous? Madcap? Silent? Was it fun, or intense and dramatic?
And what about the woman? Did she achieve fulfilment? Was she allowed active and inventive participation? Were there cuddles afterwards? Weeping?
A word of warning. I’ve been admonished that anatomically correct words are unappealing. Specifically the “v” word, among others. But if women are ever to live bravely in this world, we should be allowed to say vagina without embarrassment. These words are not meant to be rude, or offensive, but simply the exact word I needed at that moment.
One of the previous titles of this book was Unpractical Hearts. My characters were very unpractical when consumed by the fires of lust. This behaviour drove my dear editor wild. She gave me long lectures about safe sex and unwanted pregnancies. We had many battles on this issue with both sides eventually finding a satisfying compromise.
If you see a condom hastily inserted into the sexual episodes of this book, it is due to the level-headed insistence of my esteemed editor. And if a few episodes slipped by, condom-less, she graciously looked the other way with no comment.
But as Lysander said, “…the course of true love never did run smooth.” And so my characters careen through scenes of lust doing the best they can amid premature ejaculations, sex to sooth the shattered spirit, experimental situations, ulterior motive sex, and loss of steam, mid-stride. The great thing is they were all good sports about it, and came out intact on the other side, ready to carry on.
I suppose I attempted to show sex simply, without adornment. A human function like eating, drinking, or sleeping. To be written head-on with no embarrassment or shame. Viewed by a young woman who gazed upon it with unfiltered eyes.
In dealing with emotional difficulties or trauma, sometimes the human touch; the warmth of another person’s arms around them in the night, can make things better.
So if you are fortunate enough to have a loved one during these turbulent times, be sure to hold them. Hold them tight.