I've read my fair share of books that have explicit content interspersed throughout the pages. I have yet to read a book in which I was appalled by what I've read, though I suspect the reason why this is the case lies in the quality of literature that I have grappled with to date. Explicit material is hard to swing. It's already offensive, but that's the point. So, in my experience, time and delivery play a role in offering explicit content. Imagine that you are a stand-up comedian when writing. There is always a flow to consider.
I think one of the prime examples of explicit content that people don't know how to handle is the sex scene. (I've probably discussed this before, but I feel now I have some more to offer after finally completing my book.)
I think sex scenes, in general, are crass, but they need to be in there. Real people have sex. It's something that people do. If we want our characters to become believable and real, they need to have sex, or at least have an awareness of the desire to have sex. How people execute this varies from book to book. I know that William Gibson's Neuromancer has a few sex scenes in it, but the content infuses with the overall themes and tone of the work. The sex is therapeutic and works well in the plot, with Henry Case's rehabilitation being a predominant theme of the work. Another less appealing, though just as necessary scene is the gay sex scene in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I didn't enjoy reading a gay sex scene. Frankly, it disgusted me. It's not that I have anything against gay people, at least personally. (I don't agree that their lifestyle is okay, but they are still human beings worthy of respect and courtesy.) Did I need to know what what happened between the arab man and the jinn? Not really. But do those things happen in real life? Yes. The fine delivery of either moments allow them to work. They weren't crass, despite being incredibly explicit accounts.
Language follows a similar logic, though here I would argue that the difference between a good writer and a bad one circles around what kind of language is employed. "Edgy" language, foul language that is only there for flair and the "wow-factor" is the worst kind of language. Not everyone swears. I have a few surly co-workers that swear constantly, but that's because their language reflects who they are. If you have a character that is crass, then they must be crass. If a character has a foul mouth, but is an office worker, they need to have a reason to be foul mouthed.
Violence could merit an entire conversation altogether, so i'm going to save that for next week. In the meantime, pick up a book that you are familiar with that features a sex scene. Side-by-side find a trashy romance novel and compare how each scene is approached, why the characters are having sex, and see if there are any consequences that come from the scene. Let me know, as always how it goes. I'll see you all next week for our discussion on violence.