The Truth About Sex Scenes

Mining my life for sexual material wasn’t entirely new. I’d written, after all, about my sex life in various publications and even penned an extremely graphic novel chapter about a guy masturbating to a picture of a girl he liked and read it at Rachel Kramer Bussel’s now-defunct reading series, “In The Flesh.”

But that scene was funny more than it was dirty. Besides, it wasn’t about me. Plus I’d abandoned that novel halfway through so it never saw the light of day.

In the books I’d published, I’d somehow avoided sex. My mother even commented at one point that the sex scenes in my books were more coitus interruptus than actual coitus.

But when I was writing my memoir, Falling For Me, I decided it would have sex. Possibly even explicit sex. Had by me. And it just so happened that during that time, I’d met a guy with whom I was having the best sex of my life. He was the first man to ever make me feel, sexually, like he was giving me something rather than taking something away. I felt excited, empowered, and incredibly turned on.

With his permission, I committed what was happening between us to paper.

But, in re-reading it, I realized I hadn’t done the experience justice. So I went, as they say, deeper. The scene got smuttier. And the publication process moved along.

Then, in May, with my book due to come out in October, I suddenly woke up in a panic. I had written in graphic detail about sex in a book that, if I was lucky, would be around for a long time. A book that, if I was lucky, my future child or grandchild would read. A book that my parents and colleagues and people I in no way ever wanted to think about me sexually could read provided they had about 10 bucks. What in God’s name had I been thinking?

I called my editor. We had to, I explained, yank the explicit sex from my book.

Because she was incredibly respectful and cool, she listened to me. It was possible, she said. But because of the way printing works, she explained, if we took out those pages, each book would have to contain that exact number of blank extra pages at the end.

I weighed this. Who would notice some blank extra pages at the end?

“For what it’s worth,” my editor added in her gentle manner, “I think you should leave it in.” I had a few days to make the decision. So I made the decision the way I’d made other decisions along the way: by not deciding. The deadline slipped by. The scene stayed in.

Most people I know who have read the book—and those I don’t who have written reviews—don’t mention the sex. Bloggers have noted that the book is honest and a few of those have commented on the fact that it’s particularly honest when it comes to the sex but no one has disowned me, been outwardly horrified or even commented on my potential kinkiness.

I tell myself that I made the right choice by writing about—and leaving in—all the sex. I remind myself that author Kathryn Harrison wrote about sex with her dad while Catherine Millet wrote about orgies and gang bangs. Part of me thinks I did it to try to lure in male readers—a poorly conceived plan if ever there was one since it comes so late in the book. Most of me wishes everyone else would calm down about sex and just talk and write about what it’s like.

Mom, it should be noted, was asked to avoid this book altogether. As far as I know, she’s complied. Thankfully. Because my theory is that, no matter what comments she’s made in the past, she’d prefer to read about the interruptus than the coitus.

Anna David is the author of Falling For Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love