Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fan, watching The L Word on DVD is one of my guilty pleasures. Like most of Showtime’s dramas (or at least, the ones I’ve watched), there’s quite a bit of fairly explicit sex in it. At first this is scintillating, but by the fifth season, it starts to get pretty old. And I realized that it really does the series a disservice as a drama, because it forgoes the opportunity to build romantic tension over time so that it actually matters to the viewer when two characters have sex. Instead, I find myself thinking, “Eh, it’s the obligatory sex scene,” and just waiting for it to be over so the story can continue.
I don’t want to come across as prudish, but I think the rather low threshold for what is allowed to be shown on TV regarding sex–especially on cable–has done storytelling a disservice. Last summer I went to The Gathering, a geeky convention for Gargoyles fans. One of the sessions included a Q&A session with Gargoyles creator and cast members in which our IDs had to be checked because the questions tended to get a little raunchy. Garg creator Greg Weisman was clearly a little bored with the obsession and said that he was tired of this idea that there were only “three bases,” and that he and his friends had decided when they were young that there’s actually something like twenty-three (he didn’t elaborate on what they all were). The point, of course, is that there’s a wide range of options when it comes to romantic and sexual benchmarks and expression, and getting to each of those points creates the tension you want in your story. If every hit’s a home run, you never get to see the other bases, and the game is over before you’ve even tasted your popcorn.
Like any other cliche, sex that happens the same way again and again and again stops being interesting. Most people say that sex within a meaningful relationship is better, and as creators, it’s our job to establish that meaningful relationship — not between the two characters who have sex, necessarily, but between at least one of the characters and the reader. Spontaneous or illicit or unexpected sex can be exciting in any story, but like anything else, it becomes boring when it’s overdone (and what good is unexpected sex when it’s no longer unexpected?)