It is no secret all three of my novels contain explicit sex. In Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, I recount in graphic and disturbing detail twelve-year-old Millie’s exploits with five grown men. In An Unexpected Exile, I portray sizzling, obsessive sex that progressively pushes the envelope from passion to abuse (and by the end of the novel, unmistakably crosses that thin line). And in The Floater (coming later this summer), I explore and expose intimacy issues between a man and a woman through unambiguous renderings of their love life that leave little to the imagination.

Why do I do this? I have asked myself this question perhaps a hundred times. Sex scenes make me squirm. They turn me on, and turn my face red, even as I write and rewrite them. And yet, I want my readers to have this same reaction, which is why these particular paragraphs are the ones I craft most painstakingly and pore over most arduously. But I worry, do they brand my work pornographic?

According to Wikipedia, pornography (or “porn”) is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter (well, they've got me there!). But wait—Wikipedia goes on to elucidate the distinction between erotica (“the portrayal of sexuality with high-art aspirations, focusing also on feelings and emotions”) and pornography (“the depiction of acts in a sensational manner, with the entire focus on the physical act, so as to arouse quick intense reactions”). I don’t know whether my sex scenes fall into the category of “erotica”—Millie’s certainly do not. But I believe (and hope) that my characters’ plain-spoken sexual experiences will evoke intense emotions in readers, as they are meant to do.

And when it comes to sex, what a difference a “showing” makes (not to mention first person vs. third)! Four out of five of Millie’s encounters take place in real time (the first being recounted from the therapist’s couch, and through flashback). This, in no small measure, accounts for the intensity of my debut novel, right along with Lee's deranged outbursts. In my second novel, An Unexpected Exile, Risa recalls many of her sexual episodes with Arturo after the fact, a deliberate device on my part that has garnered me accusations of too much “telling” and not enough “showing.” Likewise, two out of three of Norma and Oscar’s couplings in The Floater are depicted through the prism of Norma’s memory (again, intentional), while the third and perhaps most climactic (no pun intended) unfolds in the present moment before readers’ eyes.

If these scenes evoke intense reactions, then I have done my job as a writer. In Millie’s case, the revulsion a reader feels witnessing her voluntary defilement is precisely the point. In Risa’s, I want readers, like my protagonist, to be turned on by the undercurrent of control, manipulation and—eventually—outright violence proffered by a passionate-yet-unbalanced new love interest. If this strategy works, it should offer insight into Risa’s haplessness, and oblige readers to forgive her more obvious errors in judgment where Arturo is concerned. As for Norma, when The Floater is released, I want readers to see, feel, and taste what she experiences when, for the first time in her life, she gives herself to a man she truly, deeply loves but who, by his very ardent and straightforward nature, pushes her vulnerable psychic buttons.

I’ve come to a contented realization: Like all good art, skilled writing is about stirring emotions and eliciting primal reactions. Authors do this by calculatedly choosing what they want to portray through their work, then distinctively selecting and formulating words to paint this series of unique pictures. I want my books to provide readers both an emotional and sensual experience on a visceral level; in some instances, this means veering into the sexual. Sex is as much a part of life as eating, eliminating, and dying (all of which also have a place in my novels). So I go there for the sake of both authenticity and artistry. And if, as I immodestly like to think, I am creating art through my writing, isn’t that precisely what I should do?