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Sexposition (Do NOT Google That)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 21, 2019
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The word for ‘porn’ in Greek is unsurprisingly ‘porn’. But its vernacular synonym is a word that in reality means ‘tack-on’ or ‘added scrap’. It signifies the common (or at least until recently common) assumption that scenes with explicit sexual activity were there to pad the runtime for a movie or to keep an audience's engagement with the movie in an artificial manner (i.e., relying on something other than the plot and characters).

Along came the (in)famous Game of Thrones and changed all that with the new approach to presenting information, called ‘sexposition’, “the technique of providing exposition against a backdrop of sex or nudity,” as Wikipedia informs us.

Now, as can be imagined, such an approach to storytelling will be met with controversy. Some feel that it's evidence of poor writing (since the author needs to show bewbs to keep people from tuning out of the info being discussed) and some think it's genius, or at least an excellent way to watch porn without being called out about it by mom.

While, depending on the show and the accomplishment of the creators, either might be true, I do believe that sexposition can be a very powerful storytelling tool, if used in context. What I mean by that is that sexposition might indeed be just a trick to keep you watching if the characters engaging in hot steamy action are also discussing something completely irrelevant to said action. Let's face it, unless it's a fetish, it's not easy to wind up talking about how to do your taxes while boning (or while other people are where you can see them).

However, sex and sexual activity is a form of communication in and of itself. From pure true love lovemaking to drunken, carnal, thoughtless sex, there is some form of exposition taking place just by the sex occurring- assuming that it occurs as a natural development in the plot. Characters willing to engage in sexual act have motivations, emotions and even strategies that come attached to it. The way they have sex is also a demonstration of their mood or personality. If they talk during sex, chances are they won't launch into a speech about anything, but the snippets of phrases and words they utter can give an audience an insight into where they stand with regards to the other partner(s) they're with as well as with regards to their own story arc.

The choices they make (or refuse to make) during intercourse are also very important. Whether they wish to stop intercourse, or whether they are forced to again can tell the audience a lot about a whole range of things they are thinking and/or going through, or where they draw any lines, or how intimate or close they actually are with their partner(s).

There was a very interesting movie about an undercover agent who was a very happily married man. When he's back from the undercover job, the first thing we see that tells us he is not going to be the same man with his family is the (not too garishly) different way he tries to have sex with her, which promptly turns her off, and they have an intense row rather than a happy and sexy reunion. I forget the name of the movie though, alas.

The same goes about people talking in a room while others are having the sex. Unless talk is happening in a brothel (and probably not in the brothel's lobby or main room), it will take a lot of careful construction of the scene and special characters to sell the point that they'd be interested in talking about anything else except the people having sex, if at all.

The point I'm making about sexposition in general is that, like all tools in our arsenal as storytellers and creators, it has to be properly used in order to add to a story. And proper use implies suspension of disbelief. If the sex scene + talking between characters is believable, then it's going to work well. If the scene throws the audience out of immersion by having them question why on earth they're talking about things while having sex, then it is used improperly.

Have you ever used sexposition? If yes, how did that work for your audience in your experience? If not, have you considered doing it, or will you do it in the future?

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Banes at 3:23PM, Dec. 22, 2019

Game of Thrones in particular was suited to sexposition. It would have to be the right series and setting for it to make sense.

Banes at 3:21PM, Dec. 22, 2019

Great article! I will make an effort to add sexuality to all my stories if possible. Gotta give people some reason to keep looking at pages. Gotta move them units! There's bills to pay, people!

bravo1102 at 3:32AM, Dec. 22, 2019

I've used sex scenes for characterization because people really let all their barriers down and can be brutally honest during shared intimacy (there's a lot more to sex than nakedness and penetration) And when depicting a different time or place there can be casual and practical nudity that has little to do with sex. We haven't always been puritans pasting fig leafs on nude statues.

bravo1102 at 3:23AM, Dec. 22, 2019

I always saw sexposition as a variant of pillow talk. Before and after people can and do have conversations. During though it can tell a lot about a person precisely what they reference. Do they quote movies? Follow a porn script? What feelings do they express? Just what they say can speak volumes to characterization. There can also be juxtaposition between how different folks do it, even positions and passions. See John Boorman's Excalibur for a great example of this. Wrote a paper on it in college for my Arthurian Romance class. MOrgan is correct. I remember seeing Slapshot and plot points would come out in pillow talk because of characters passing on gossip after sex. And they'd be naked like people often are after sex as opposed to keeping on strategic bits of clothing to get a specific MPAA rating.

ozoneocean at 10:37PM, Dec. 21, 2019

Well written article Tantz! I haven't used sexposition much in my stuff I once did a porn comic and had to have some there because how else can you tell a story without it? You can totally have characters realistically talking and doing serious deals while sex is going on around them- they do that in The Duce and Boogie Nights were people are filming a porno or there's group sex... and well there are many other real situations like that (won't go into detail). Serious chats WHILE doing the act... well in fiction it makes for a really interesting or funny contrast, in reality it tends to kill the mood.

usedbooks at 8:15PM, Dec. 21, 2019

I wonder if the trend came about because people are so lazy about writing exposition or lack confidence in making exposition interesting. Frankly, I always found sex scenes incredibly boring, so if they are supposed to hold interest, they have the opposite effect. :P I love creative exposition (can't really write it myself) like during a ping pong match or while cooking or working or some other activity that is actually interesting. (Or you could have exposition happen when people actually would normally converse. Getting ready for bed is a natural setting for conversation as are commutes/drives or meals.)

mks_monsters at 7:52PM, Dec. 21, 2019

Plus, I only want to show what is really necessary and only have such situations if necessary. If not for any other reason, it's because I don't like filler that much.

mks_monsters at 7:51PM, Dec. 21, 2019

I do see some artistic value in nudity when it is presented in a way that you present the body as something you respect and when two people are being intimate based on love, that's not dirty. I also accept that not everyone is as bashful as I am. Though I have to be honest though that I feel our society is too liberal when it comes sex. How often do we tack on nude or sex scenes in a show just to get ratings in even when it contributed nothing to actual story. I myself would love to write a story for adults that implies certain situations, but I want to do it tastefully.

hushicho at 5:30PM, Dec. 21, 2019

People are far too scared of sex, and even nudity, which is not necessarily anything to do with sex. That's most typical in the US, but it's ridiculous anywhere, frankly. Exposition during sexual intimacy, I agree, does need to be used appropriately...but that's more for the exposition than the sex. Most of the time, people can do sex very well. The exposition...not so much. It's very important to make the exposition appropriate, I think.

jerrie at 3:50PM, Dec. 21, 2019

Sorry...I googled sexposition!

marcorossi at 5:32AM, Dec. 21, 2019

IMHO, sexposition sucks, because when you are doing things right exposition is interesting by itself.

usedbooks at 4:49AM, Dec. 21, 2019

Btw, I showed a friend a draft I was working on yesterday, and she said, "He should just be naked except the apron." I told her, "Cooking safety requires pants."

usedbooks at 4:47AM, Dec. 21, 2019

I don't usually write about sex at all, not for being prudish or anything. I just sort of forget that that's a thing that happens in the world, and it's never seemed a relevant activity. (I have no personal interest in it and have always been drawn to other aspects of romance/intimacy.) Nudity sometimes happens, though. And the comfort levels of characters with being "exposed" around others says a lot.

MOrgan at 3:47AM, Dec. 21, 2019

A big difference between movies using nudity in the 1960s vs. the 1980s onward was that in the '60s they didn't worry if there was nudity during exposition scenes, but from the '80s on they were concerned about selling the movies to TV so they consigned the nudity to easily edited parts of the movie. It was there but could be removed to air on broadcast TV with a G or PG rating.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 3:32AM, Dec. 21, 2019

Now that you bring it up, I have been thinking about it, and I most definitely would like to, if one of my stories ever get to that point where it becomes appropriate, use it as a means of transcendence for those involved in the sexual act. I've read about Tantra Buddhism and how the great Dakinis, mortal godesses, used sex as a means of transcending theirs and their partners/apprentices state of being to a state of divinity. I've seen one short story in a Heavy Metal comic use sexposition in that kind of fashion, and it came on, no pun intended, as this powerfully cosmic scene of sex, symbolism and poetry in outer space that brought this profound feeling of inner resolve to the characters at the end. I hope I can achieve a sexposition scene like that some day, but we just have to wait and see what happens.

damehelsing at 2:14AM, Dec. 21, 2019

I totally used sexposition or at least the nudity aspect of it in my comic pretty early on, right around the start of chapter 2. Originally it was because I couldn't figure out what I wanted my character to wear so as a joke she was gonna be naked... but then I realized I could actually do that and make it; I tried to use it or have it be seen in two different ways, for one character, the one that was nude, it was an open-book-sort of thing, the other character was intimidated by it so the open-book kinda failed?? lol even though it's not said, it's basically a character trying to approach a situation seeming completely harmless while the other is totally not getting that vibe and instead is uncomfortable. :'D I totally can see why people would think it's weak writing, but there is a time and place for sexposition. Definitely don't force a scene, let it flow and get to that point.

Avart at 12:53AM, Dec. 21, 2019

Superb article @tantz_aerine. I have used it two times with my main characters. Not ashamed of that, but instead I think I used the 'sexposition' too early on the story (as I explained before, my comic was a one-shot but then I make it a full comic). Normally, vampire stories have suggestive themes, in this case sex and I think that showing this scene could make the readers engage a bit more. The second scene is less graphic than the first one, but it fits a bit better in that part of the plot. And I'm sure I'll using this resource a few more times. I'm now working on a better paced story and this kind of stuff will show up when it really needs to.


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