On a fairly regular basis, I get comments from readers to the effect that although they love Athenian Steel and look forward to sequels, they could kinda do without the frequent and graphic sex. I completely understand and respect that point-of-view. However, I don't think I'd tone it down, and I want to offer a brief explanation as to why.
The sex in Athenian Steel and its sequel Spartan Beast, which I'm publishing serially in draft form on my website, isn't there just to titillate (although if it achieves that effect... well, all the better, really). It's there for at least a few non-arbitrary reasons.
First, this series is not really about a historical war, and it's not a "what if" exercise in alternate history. It may have begun its existence that way, but what it became was the story of Demosthenes and Thalassia, two people from vastly different places in time & space. One is a product of the 5th Century BCE, the other a far-distant future. If these two worlds have just one thing in common, it's this: our modern standards of morality have no place. Ancient Athenians owned other human beings, a number of which were what we would call sex slaves. Female citizens were married at puberty and had no expectation that their husbands would be faithful to them sexually. Male homosexuality, famously, was not just accepted but an essential aspect of social life. In Sparta, both men and women had same-sex partners without shame or stigma. And all across Greece, anyone who did any kind of sport or exercise did it in the nude, hence the English gymnastics, or 'something you do naked.'
It's hard for most of us to imagine living with realities like those--nearly as hard as it is to imagine a far-distant future where enhanced, near-immortal humans are capable of just about anything. What we hear about Thalassia's future-world makes it clear that it's largely an amoral one, and so even less than Demosthenes can we hold her to our own moral codes. In writing characters such as these (and all the supporting cast), one of my goals is to insert you into their reality, which is a more primal one than our own. It has beauty. It has kindness. It has tenderness. It has lots of brutality. And it has sex, which to these characters is a more natural and organic part of existence than it is for most of us, who are used to treating it as a sensitive and compartmentalized matter best left unspoken about. But to me, it just doesn't make sense to apply that 21st (or 18th, or 12th) Century moral standard in the telling of these characters' stories by fading to black when things get intense. Even less does it make sense to have them behave according to a moral code that's misplaced in space, time, and mind. (That said, I do need and want to make them likable, or no one would keep reading!)
[On a side note, sure, I could have chosen to make Thalassia's world one dominated by rules, honor, and duty... but that's not fun. In spite of all the death and darkness in this series, I definitely want it to be fun--unlike the vast majority of dead-serious military SF & Fantasy, but I digress...]
The second reason for the graphic sex in The Hellennium is an artistic one. There was never any question that there would be no shying away from blood and gore in this series. But I think that to let loose on violence, yet sanitize when it comes to sex, would show a lack of balance. More than that, it just doesn't seem logical to me without, again, resorting to a moral standard that isn't applicable. In fact, it somewhat bothered me in past drafts to sanitize (to use the word closer to literally) when it comes to characters' bathroom needs (see, I just sanitized a couple of more vulgar terms there). In an ancient world that lacks plumbing even in cities, doing #2 is no minor matter. But... it's convention that we don't describe our heroes wiping themselves with leaves in the woods, and I opted not to fight that convention. (You're welcome!)
My third reason, and the one about which I'll be the most brief, is that frankly I kind of like to offend when I get the chance. Those of you who smirk with me when the going gets hardcore (so to speak) or who stick around even though you aren't smirking, are the ones I've really managed to reach. That's kinda perverse, I know, and likely not a path to riches. But it's there.
In conclusion, I do understand that these scenes make some of you uncomfortable. I tend to think that if you were actually in 425 BCE (or on Spiral, the Veta Caliate HQ) you'd be more than just uncomfortable, for a lot more reasons than sex (the above-mentioned plumbing, to name just one). I'm pretty sure I'd downright hate it. So you could think of your discomfort as a little taste of what you might feel if you actually spent time in this era, stripped of our all our romantic & sanitized illusions of what it was like... or maybe that makes no sense whatsoever. In any case, a huge thanks to all of my readers. I appreciate every one of you, whatever your opinion is on this issue. I have ass-kicking plans for this series, and honestly I'm so glad that anyone at all is aboard. You're awesome.