Annotations: Petition (Chapter 22)

When it comes to the inclusion of explicit sex scenes in fantasy novels (particularly those not targeted towards romance readers), the decision tends to be divisive. Readers typically fall into two camps: those who find the sexual content gratuitous and/or unnecessary, and those who disagree.

I’ll admit that I used to be in the former camp. I didn’t hate or skim explicit sex scenes, but they often read awkwardly to me (sometimes to the point of being cringe-inducing). But even when they were well-written, I generally didn’t understand the author’s reasons for including them.

Case in point: the explicit sex scene early on in Fonda Lee’s Jade City, when Hilo visits Wen. We’re five chapters in (it’s titled “The Horn’s Kitten”) and this scene is our first introduction to Maik Wenruxian: she’s a stone-eye (someone without the ability to use jade magic) and the younger sister of Hilo’s two most trusted men.

When I first read this scene, I remember being extremely puzzled and put off. I couldn’t figure out why this interaction had to be shown on page—in that level of detail, with that kind of blunt, explicit language, and with that much of the word count devoted to it—instead of written as a fade-to-black or alluded to. There was nothing, I thought, that you couldn’t have gotten from a short sentence or two summarizing what happened. All of the important plot-relevant exposition you need takes places during the post-coital conversation the morning after.

Eventually, I got to the conclusion to the trilogy, Jade Legacy. It has another explicit sex scene that takes place between the same characters, many years later.

When I read that, I finally understood.

Hilo and Wen have a beautifully complex relationship that evolves and grows over the course of the trilogy which spans some thirty-plus years. Where they start (an up-and-coming gangster and his side piece, who has no place in gang business) and where they end up (as the mob boss and his most trusted advisor) is a study in contrasts. Who these characters believe themselves to be, who they are to each other, how they relate to each other and to the world—it’s a deep and nuanced exploration of all the ways in which love and duty complement and conflict with each other.

Looking back at the overall story, I don’t think those arcs and those later moments would have landed or been as emotionally powerful as they were without the explicit sex scenes. Those scenes ground the characters and their relationships in a raw and visceral way that other moments wouldn’t. When we see Hilo with Wen, whether it’s through his perspective or hers, we see him being vulnerable and open in a way that doesn’t come across in his other scenes. When we see Wen pursue the actions she does in secret, knowing why she makes those decisions, knowing how Hilo would feel about them, knowing how she feels about him, it adds stakes because we can guess at—and anticipate—the hurt and the fallout when he discovers it.

That was the moment when it clicked for me.

The sex scenes in The Green Bone Saga are not about the sex.

Which is a very long-winded way of getting to the point of this particular annotation: why did I write an explicit masturbation scene into Petition?

Because the scene is not about the sex.

But also because it’s the 2020s and hey, guess what? I’m sick of reading epic fantasy novels that feature subplots with female characters going on sexual/romantic awakening character arcs that culminate in her “becoming a woman” because some male character has “taught her” to do so and, somehow, no matter what her ambitions/wants are, she discovers that her life was “incomplete” prior to “falling in love” and suddenly finds ultimate meaning and purpose in life through being his sexual/romantic partner.


Girls and women do feel sexual desire and they don’t need a boy, or a man, or anyone for that matter, to satisfy that desire.

It is actually possible to feel sexual desire or have romantic inclinations towards someone and not want to take it any further because, you know, you’ve got priorities and being in a committed romantic relationship requires work and you don’t have the bandwidth for that.

And we don’t need to be ashamed of any of these things.

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