Sexuality in High Fantasy

Question: I am a die-hard fan of high fantasy, and would love to make a career of it. But more than modern pop-culture fantasy (orcs, elves, etc.), I take a lot more inspiration from classical mythology, mostly from around the ancient Mediterranean. One of my biggest problems: Sexuality plays a major part in all these mythologies, and so my work does too. I personally see nothing wrong with it, but obviously sexuality is a much bigger deal than it needs to be in certain circles of today's society. I don't know how much mythology you may or may not have read, but sex turns up A LOT. Never explicitly or highly detailed; it's just brought up a ton of times in a ton of situations for a ton of different reasons. Sexuality plays a huge part in the worlds and stories of my fantasy novels too, and in similar ways to the myths. I was wondering if you could give me any advice on how I might include this kind of content in my work without too many people reading it and freaking out... or, if the worst comes to pass and I have to omit or censor something (fingers crossed!), how might I make the publishers or whoever happy, but still keep my story together? After all, like I said, sexuality plays a big part. Thank you very much for any input!

Answer: I was going to start with a comment that the ancient world was a lot less hung up about sexuality than today's, but then I realized that's not true. Sexuality has always been part of literature, and it abounds in ancient writings as well as in today's fiction, with a few exceptions.

The exceptions are things like ...

1. Children's books (naturally).

2. YA books that are marketed to the younger part of the YA spectrum (the older part consists of adults in their early 20s). Sexuality for the younger YA crowd seldom goes beyond kissing.

3. Some parts of the world where more Victorian attitudes prevail (not too many any more).

3. YA books marketed to school libraries, bookclubs, or other organizations that feel a duty to choose wholesome books for young adults rather than just let them read what interests them (and who fear complaints from parents).

4. Books marketed specifically to Christian readers.

If you're writing for adults, I think you have little to worry about. You can never please everyone, but you can please most people if you treat your subject matter with honesty, portray your characters realistically, and avoid mere gratuitous sex.

If you're writing for YA readers, you may broaden your market by being less graphic in your depiction of sexuality. Again, honest, believable characterization matters. I would suggest you read a few YA books where sex occurs to get a feel for how other writers handle it.

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