Sex and Sexism in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Over the past week or so, the subjects of sex and sexism came up on Magical Words, one of the blogs I follow. As is often the case with MW, both articles were thought-provoking, and the blog readers poured many of their own thoughts into the comments.

Twice as Many Male Authors

Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F) have historically been considered male-dominated genres. Even today, according to one publisher’s statistics, men submit twice as many novels as women. That’s a huge disparity.

In the comments, we debated why that might be. Do fewer women actually want to write SF&F? Does society discourage them from writing it? Are men just more confident about submitting their work?

We may never know, but everyone agreed that the story is the thing. The gender of the author is irrelevant; the story just needs to be good.

It would have been helpful to have statistics on SF&F readership. Most genre writers are also readers of that genre. If twice as many men read SF&F, it makes sense that you would see twice as many male author submissions.

One of the problems with analyzing the disparity is the issue of sub-genre. Both Science Fiction and Fantasy are fragmented into multiple sub-genres. Swords and Sorcery (aka “hack and slash”) is likely to have a larger male audience than female, but paranormal romance? Probably the other way around.

Plus, when you get into sub-genres, the demarcation lines between genres start to blur. Is Paranormal Romance a sub-genre of fantasy because of the paranormal aspect? Or is it a sub-genre of Romance? Maybe both? The works of some authors, like Diana Gabaldon and Nora Roberts (with her Key trilogy), can be difficult to categorize.

Writing Sex Scenes

The other issue that came up related to sex was the difficulty of writing sexual encounter scenes. Both the male and female participants in the blog comments confessed to having difficulty with that one.

David B. Coe, author of the article in question, passed along a piece of advice that I’m certain will help me when the time arrives for me to try writing my first sexual encounter scene. When struggling with the issue himself, he was reminded by another writer that it was all about the interaction of the characters, not the sex itself. The characters are still the same two people they were five pages ago, but now they are facing their first moment of intimacy together.

The easy thing to do is just skip the sex scenes altogether. Many fantasy authors do. However, letting the reader experience that intimate moment between the characters can dramatically increase the reader’s engagement with the characters and the story.

So, I’m convinced. At some point I will probably write an intimate encounter between my main character and that character’s love interest. But not today. I think I need to do more research into the subject first.


If you’d like to read the posts I referenced in this article, here are links on Magical Words:


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