Trixieland

words about words

The Promiscuous Protagonist – Where is the Slut Line?


What’s the line between slutty and sexy? And does a heroine need to be heroic? As I write my novel I have a couple friends that are kind enough to read some snippets, allow me to bounce ideas off them and give me their opinions. I just finished chapter seven and my main character has had three sex scenes. Do they give insight into her character and state of mind? Yes. Do they move the plot forward? Uh…one of them does. One of them might be completely gratuitous but it’s a funny/weird/embarrassing situation that I’ve been wanting to use for a long time.

One of my reader/friends says that the sex scenes and my character’s sexy persona is fun and a compelling part of the story. My other friend says that her sexual behavior diminishes her and that she should flirt and tease more–put out less. 

I want this character to be complex and flawed and real. I don’t need readers to admire her, but I want them to root for her and feel invested in what happens to her. Is there a slut line? Such that if my protagonist crosses it, readers will stop reading? 

I tried to think of promiscuous (and to be clear, this character is not a prostitute or an indiscriminate sport-fucker. She’s young and cute and single and thinks sex is fun.) female characters in literature and it’s kind of hard to do. First, you have the cheaters. The cautionary tales of women who followed their ladyparts into dangerous places with dangerous men and destroyed their families and ultimately themselves. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, natch.

ImageImage

Good old Constance Chatterley (of Lady Chatterley’s Lover) was a cheater, but had her war-injured husband’s permission. He just thought she’d pick someone aristocratic…not the groundskeeper. She was a lusty and passionate woman, but she only boned the one dude. As she survives the novel it’s safe to say she failed to cross the line.

Image

Let’s talk Holly. Holly Golightly, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I know you didn’t read the book though you should. Holly was promiscuous. And in the book she doesn’t end up with the dude from the A-Team, fyi. It does not end happily for Holly.

Image

Brett Motherfuckin Ashley. Heroine/anti-heroine of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. She’s in love with Jake Barnes, but something bad happened to his dick in the war. WWI was bad for dongs (see also Lady Chatterley’s Lover). So she bangs a bunch of other dudes for fun. Because sex is fun, right? Poor Jake loves her but since he can’t bang her he has to watch her gallivant all over with dicks not war-damaged. She’s kind of a bitch, but she’s a bitch you admire. 

Image

 

And then. Lisbeth Salandar aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She sleeps with chicks, she sleeps with dudes. If she gets an itch, she’ll jump up on whoever’s around. No big deal. Does it diminish her as a badass hacker? I don’t think so. Do we feel sorry for her because she sleeps around? I didn’t. I felt sorry for her getting raped by her court-appointed guardian but she doesn’t want our pity. She took care of that piece of shit. I submit that that her badassery is intact though she may have crossed the Slut Line.

Image

I’m not going to venture into the realm of hero vs heroine and how we love James Bond more for every hottie he bangs and tosses aside. Obviously there is a double standard.

So what do you think? Can you name some female literary characters that sleep around and are still sympathetic? It’s harder than you’d think. Chicks in romance novels (if memory serves from 8th grade) have a lot of sex, but it’s always with one dude who is either her arranged/forced marriage husband or marries her by the end.

How much sex is too much for a character? Where is the Slut Line? And how the hell is this even a thing in 2012?

 

 

Advertisements

Single Post Navigation

21 thoughts on “The Promiscuous Protagonist – Where is the Slut Line?

  1. Gred on said:

    Fun! Enjoyed this one! I’ll have to spend the evening trying to come up with a few more.

  2. Most definitely this should not be a thing in 2012, but there is always going to be the double standard (Thank you Mr. Bond), because a woman who always sleeps with more than one person will almost always be considered a slut, but it is quite alright for a man to do it, and it really pisses me off.

    But, seriously, those are some very good examples and as far as other female literary characters, I’m trying to think of a few but you’ve most definitely got the main ones that I can see. I did not read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, or see the movies because they are some that don’t interest me, but from your description of the character she definitely fits the bill and by today’s societies’ standards she has crossed the “Slut Line”.

  3. Send me chapter seven and I will tell you what I think… LOL

  4. Sex is complicated and personal (i.e., each reader will react differently). A lot depends on how the author treats it. Does the narrative hold it up as healthy or hint at underlying damage? Have you watched Weeds? Nancy Botwin has a lot of sex, and sometimes I think “Hey, she’s got the itch, more power to her,” and other times I’m like, “Jeez, lady, you’re just out looking for trouble, aren’t you?” Sometimes I’m happy for her, other times I’m afraid for her. But that’s all based on my experiences with sex combined with what the writer wants me to think about it (I think). I don’t think there can be a hard and fast line, because some stories are about people who have active sex lives. Readers uncomfortable with that will stop reading (or at the very least, hide your book between the mattresses–a perfectly respectable outcome).

  5. I think of Anita Blake from the The Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton. She was a strong character but it never bothered me she was having sex with more than one guy. It just seemed a natural part of the story. Mind you, later in the series, the stories were making me blush but I still read them because I love the character.

    Besides a little sex in a mystery story just makes it even more exciting so bring it! 🙂

    • I’ll have to check her out. Question: does she stick to one partner per book? Kinsey Milhone and VI Warshawski hook up with dudes, just one per novel. Maybe that’s the line…

      • Oh no, she has two usually, but they are same for several books (One is a vampire and other is werewolf but it’s NOT Twilight), then she gets a few more here and there. The books after Obsidian Butterfly is when she goes sex crazy.

      • You’re going to have to read pretty far into the series. I think I had to read to the 6th book for her to FINALLY hook up with someone. Before that she was the “terrified virgin” which in and of itself is also an irritating gender stereotype, like virgins can’t figure out how to fool around or something, or they’re just so flipping sex starved if someone tweaks their nipple they’ll be humping everything (furniture included). I never actually got to the later books zaythar is referring to.

      • And I forgot to add, excellent post.

      • Thanks! 🙂

  6. Jeff on said:

    I’d love to read what you are working on and I’d even offer feedback 🙂

    I agree with you that this is a charged issue, but I think you underestimate your own power as a writer. As the author, you get to decide what is “right” and “wrong” by how you slant your descriptions.

    The basic problem is more than free sex, its anything that is too “free” when you write. If you want your readers to care about the choices your characters make, you need to give them enough emotional/logical context that make them seem like they have meaning. If your character won the lottery three times in the first seven chapters, the readers would be desensitized by that too – unless each winning had some meaningful bearing on them and/or the plot.

    The desire for a character to flirt and tease more could come from two things – one could be your sex scene descriptions are lacking stimulation for your reader. The other is that the reader is looking for an emotional connection to make the interactions more real. even if she’s a “real” heroine, she’s not a robot who puts things indiscriminately into her body (and if yes, that’s an excellent but of character development in and of itself)

    You have my email address, shoot me an email if you want my comments on the actual text.

  7. The first name that comes to mind for me is Modesty Blaise, heroine of the comic strip, short stories, and novels by Peter O’Donnell. She’s a pulp-style heroine engaged in endless Bond-style capers, aided by her sidekick Willie Garvin. Their relationship is platonic, but they both bed countless partners and aren’t ashamed to be doing so. Promiscuous? Yes. Slutty? No.

    How much sex is too much is matter of taste. The same could be said of scenes of action or violence. While it’s best if all the scenes advance our understanding of the character and/or the plot, it’s not essential–depending on your audience. Readers of “men’s action series” (a lot of western series novels these days, as well as the Executioner or Destroyer series and the like) like a lot of action, even if it doesn’t give us deep insights into the hero’s psyche. (I know, I’m one of them. I love me some Destroyer, though as much for the satire as for anything else). The same is true of pure erotica, which I also enjoy (and write). The balance may change as you move into other genres, but even there it depends what sort of audience you’re seeking.

  8. I also think part of it is HOW you write the sex scenes.
    When a scene becomes so graphic that it makes you blush to read it in the doctor’s office (or any public place), when it is so hot that you have to put the book down… or if you want your readers to be reading one handed… then it’s crossed the line and become erotica.
    Not that there is a problem with erotica. It just sounds like you want your book categorized as a mystery.
    Personally I think a heroine should have as much sex as she wants. Of course, I always recommend safety, but that’s a personal choice as well.
    Also, 3 times in 7 chapters is all relative. Is the time span days, hours, or weeks? If she’s having sex with 3 different guys in one day… yeah, that’s going to be perceived as slutty.
    Again, if Bond did it, it would just be an indication of how virile he is. 🙂

  9. thebaffledo0queen0ocomposing on said:

    Hi. I came across your blog on Freshly Pressed today and was so happy to find it. I’m also a writer, and one who has recently finished a novel, and one who finds lots of their writing habits and processes mirrored in your blog. Then I read this post. Slut shaming is a really awful thing, even when you’re aiming it at fictional characters. Women should really stand up for other women against the unfair standards that are placed on all of us. It was a really smart and well put-together post, but the topic was really off. I otherwise have really enjoyed your blog, too.
    Pam

    • Hi Pam, thanks for the comment. I’d hoped I was clear that I think the Slut Line is absolute bullshit, but perhaps I wasn’t. I actually ended up keeping all the sex scenes exactly as I’d originally wrote them, and added a few more. So my test reader #2 got overruled.

  10. ismav on said:

    All of Steig Larrson’s important female charecters have active sex lives…well most of them seem to be sleeping with Mikael Blomkvist.The author gives Lisbeth an intruiging personality and makes sure the reader relates to Lisbeth’s emotional and mental state before she has sex with anybody.So when she does it with Blomkvist you understand why she chose to do it.This is also a charecter with very few outlets to express herself as she is not very trusting especially of men….so you have to understand that when she deciedes to do something spontaneous or decides to trust someone that far it is a miracle.What kept me flipping pages across three books and keeps me pining for more?Dead simple,I wanted to know more about these charecters and their lives.

  11. lissaaddyman on said:

    This post is brilliant. One of my biggest pet peeves with many romance novels is the fact that so many readers love the promiscuous hero, but frown upon a heroine who enjoys more than one sex partner. In this day and age we should welcome a more realistic female that isn’t a blushing virgin. It annoys me to no end that the women who are more free with their bodies are so often the “skanks” the hero used before meeting the heroine. Because those women like casual, consensual sex they’re seen as lesser than the heroine that is inexperienced and naive. Why? It makes me angry and a bit sad.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: