Lion of the Blogosphere

Robert Heinlein, not good at writing about sex

In my previous post about the Robert Heinlein novella Gulf, I wrote:

The last quarter of the book has a lot of pointless dialog between the protagonist and a female character who takes a liking to him, reminiscent of Heinlein’s last few novels, but without any kinky sex (or rather without letting us know that kinky sex was happening; Heinlein may have had some weird ideas about sex, but he didn’t write descriptive pornography).

In 1982, a reviewer for the New York Times made the point I was trying to make a lot better in his review of the book Friday:

The bulk of the novel describes Friday’s amours. Unfortunately, Mr. Heinlein has a knack for the difficult task of making sex boring. Neither Friday’s sexual partners (as in effective romance) nor the details of her sex life (as in effective pornography) are of interest. Her numerous partners, male and female, are all interchangeable, and the details are coyly vague, unlike the precise descriptions of her sexy clothes, elegant meals and artful fighting techniques. Some readers may decide to skip the sex to get to the good parts.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

July 12, 2017 at 10:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

13 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. This is something quite difficult to be good at, I think.

    Personally, I always skip sex scenes in books. Women, of course, tend to enjoy these, but for men, a picture of an attractive woman will always say far more than a thousand words ever could.

    Though I think the same about sex scenes in movies and TV. I’ve never been entirely sure if these exist primarily for women or for a certain kind of man who is too prudish to ogle women for ogling’s sake but considers it morally acceptable to ogle nude women and simulated sex when there’s a story involved.

    Now that these sex scenes are increasingly gay, they’ve gone from being an annoying distraction to downright disgusting.

    The Godfather books had way too much sex; the movies wisely cut all this out, resulting in masterpieces of family and political drama. If they made the Godfather movies today, they’d probably dial all the sex up to 11 and find a way to work in a few gay scenes as well. Also the women would be the ones actually running the family, and the most badass hitmen would all be hitwomen.


    July 12, 2017 at 10:38 am

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sex scene in a (non-porn) movie that wasn’t painfully awkward.


      July 12, 2017 at 11:57 am

      • Original Terminator is often cited as one that is both decently done and somewhat relevant to the plot. Haven’t watched the movie in a while though so I don’t know how well it’s held up.

        Jokah Macpherson

        July 12, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      • The old slasher movies had a lot of decent, although pretty gratuitous, sex scenes where the dramatic tension was somewhat heightened by the knowledge that at least one of the participants would soon be dead, maybe before the sex ended.

        Jokah Macpherson

        July 12, 2017 at 8:40 pm

  2. To be fair, to write descriptive sex in a non pornographic way is a very high level of skill that few writers have. I think of the writers I’ve come across, John Updike probably handled it the best, and that wasn’t great. But particularly for a writer who started writing in the 1930’s, there wasn’t any venue to even try to practice that. Of course with Heinlein, he had some weird ass views of both human nature and sexuality, so the less sex from his books the better.

    Mike Street Station

    July 12, 2017 at 11:37 am


    At the turn of the century Vladimir Korolenko wrote that descriptive portrayal of sexuality debases literature. I agree with that. Great writer, if you aren’t familiar, check him out.


    July 12, 2017 at 12:05 pm

  4. Sex scenes are usually terrible. But as some British literary critic pointed out, Anna Karenina, have no sex, and yet the heat of passion rose from the very pages. I think that’s what we’re talking about with Heinlein. There was just nothing sensual about his writing, not that he didn’t do sex scenes. He was an adolescent, writing for other adolescents. Appreciate him for that.


    July 12, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    • Or Lermontov’s ‘The Hero of Our Time’ for this matter. This is what Korolenko had meant.


      July 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      • “has no sex” – another dictation woe.

        It was a British TV producer interviewed by Dick Cavett. I wish I remember his name but I remember what he said about Anna Karenina. It had a profound effect on me.


        July 13, 2017 at 10:41 am

  5. Graphic sex has no place in literature or movies. And Heinlein was weird. The first and only Heinlein novel I read was actually the first one he wrote but the last one published, For Us, the Living. It was published posthumously. It was also his preachiest which is saying something. It irritated me so much I never read anything else by him except a short story called All You Zombies. I read it after watching Predestination (2014) which is based on it. They were both pretty good. Surprising since it fits so well with the most recent social justice craze. If you watch or read it then you’ll know what I mean. The short story and movie weren’t that preachy which is probably why it didn’t annoy me. Plus the concept was interesting.


    July 12, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    • I wrote a review of that book a few years ago.

      But key to understanding that book is that it was written in the 1930’s when Heinlein was still a socialist, not the conservative-libertarian that informs almost all of his later work.

      And it’s not a very good book.

      Mike Street Station

      July 13, 2017 at 7:08 am

    • “Graphic sex has no place in literature or movies. ”

      Amen. And I’m also sick of birth scenes. Enough already. I got the point 4,832 birth scenes ago.


      July 13, 2017 at 10:38 am

  6. Nah. Unlike the NYT, Heinlein understood most of his readers were women and he struck the right note FOR THEM unerringly.

    His most famous Mary Sue, Jabal Hershaw, writes philosophy tracts disguised as heartthrob novels and novellas..

    The NYT is always out-of-touch. Heinlein’s Friday was the background of every future Star Trek, and I’m reading an article where some professor is grappling with the moral implications of sex androids gone sentient.


    July 12, 2017 at 7:28 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: