I’ve written more sex scenes than I can count.
When we first started self-publishing, the erotica market was booming. That made it a low cost, low risk environment for us to test everything we knew about how to sell books online. Unlike the rest of fiction, erotica is more like nonfiction in that it’s keyword-based. Imagine you just finished an amazing book that’s a bit science fiction with a dash of social commentary. It’s set in the not too distant future with a sprawling cast scattered across several exciting locations. Your high concept works well, and it’s easy enough to follow once your reader has her eyes on the book, but good luck getting her to find it through search.
But the basics for erotica are much more straightforward. When it comes to writing about sex, keywords are more important than your story, at least when it comes to discoverability and finding readers for your work. You may have written the world’s best erotica novel, but it won’t matter if no one can find it, and when it comes to reading about sex, specificity rules.
I started writing erotica because, with a few thousand words and a cover, I could see how my stories performed in the wild and how the algorithms behaved. I wrote a lot of sex scenes so I could learn how to sell books without them.
I may not have put ten-thousand hours into writing sex scenes, but I have written more than 1.3 million words worth of erotica, in addition to another million words or so of romance. With all that practice, sex scenes for me are now among the easiest and most effective ones I can write. They move fast, carry meaning for the reader, and stick in their heads longer than the average chapter.
Now I want to share what I know so the same will be true for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all use for sex scenes in your story, or way to go about writing them, but there are general understandings and best practices to follow that will simplify your process and improve the experience for your reader.
Here are the 22 things I learned about writing sex scenes:
1. Know Your Why
People like having sex, and they enjoy reading about it. Even so, a sex scene should never be in your story “just because.” A sex scene in an erotica novel or short will play differently than a similar scene in a mainstream thriller, but both have their place.
Whether your scene exists as the emotional climax of your central story, an element in your subplot, an interesting way to build or establish a character, deliver exposition, or titillate your reader, sex is the same as any other scene in your book in that it must have purpose.
By have purpose, I mean that the sex changes something meaningful for the characters having it. Even if you’re writing straightforward erotica, the characters’ relationship should be changed in some way by the sex, or they should see themselves differently because of it.
2. Think About it, But Not Too Much
Like sex in real life, your scenes require some thought, but overthinking things will lead to diminished results. And as with sex in real life, there is a measure of both instinct and practice to getting started, then improving on, your craft. Some writers are too brazen, with an almost ridiculous level of confidence to their approach that leads to some truly terrible — and cringe-worthy — writing. Other storytellers are struck by paralysis because the vulnerability required by even a modest sex scene might be too much for them.
Writing a meaningful, memorable sex scene takes practice. The best of them read as if they were written in flow. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t, either way there is an ease to the reading that feels natural, just like good sex should. Chances are, whether or not the writer was drawing from their own experience, they still found a way to:
3. Make it Personal
We can’t get much more intimate on the page than when we’re writing about sex. The lines can be thin between fantasy and experience. Getting it onto the page can be freeing or painful, depending on the storyteller and the context of what they are trying to say. Some writers take advantage of their own histories or imaginations to craft realistic scenes that bleed from inside them. Other storytellers are more removed.
Sex is universal, and the act itself has some general truths, but nuances of sex are also dependent on culture, gender, traditions, and general attitudes of any given time and place. That must all be kept in mind while writing the scene, and must be factored into the personality, style, and goals of both the writer and the story they’re trying to articulate.
Find the line between what everybody understands and what you know because you’ve lived it. Sex scenes shouldn’t read like diary entries, unless that’s the point, but they should read with as honest, and that will only happen if you’re willing to get at least a sliver of yourself onto the page. And (again) as with real sex, you need to:
4. Know Where to Draw the Line
Sex is all about boundaries and personal preferences. Only you will know what’s right for you. The difference between erotic and crude most often comes down to the audience. There will never be a universally accepted sex scene, so focus on writing what fits with your storytelling style, the expectations of your ideal reader, and the type of story you’re trying to tell.
- If you’re writing straight porn (and yes, of course there’s a market for that) the work should be all about the body and very little about the mind. You do want to touch on it, but that’s not why your reader is there.
- If you’re writing erotica, the focus should be on the sex itself, but you can’t forget that there are people inside those bodies, having an emotional experience alongside the physical one.
- If you’re writing mainstream romance, a 50/50 split is nice. Romance readers often want to experience the thrill of a sexual encounter while staying in the characters’ headspace enough to care about what’s happening.
- If you’re writing mainstream thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, or any other genre where sex can end up as a part of the subplot, sex scenes should be mostly about the character, with a few choice descriptors to put your reader in the scene, and perhaps in the mood.
- If you’re writing something for children or a more conservative audience, you can keep the sex behind closed doors and refer to how the characters respond or feel about the encounter both before and after the fact.
A lack of confidence in the bedroom will turn even the most self-assured person into a terrible lover. The same is true when it comes to writing. Be direct, and never fear the language. Don’t ever, ever use “manhood” unless you’re making a joke. Penis and vagina are not sexy words, so don’t use them unless you’re making a point. Once the bedroom door is closed, coarse language is usually most acceptable. If your scene is softly lit with satin sheets, making love is likely right. But a young couple stumbling into her apartment drunk are about to fuck. And he’s probably going to do a lot of things to her cunt with his cock if it’s erotica, or a similar variant in any other form of commmercial fiction.
Always know your audience, your personal preferences, and your boundaries.
Taste and craft aren’t the same. Boundaries are one thing, and the mechanics required to articulate any given scene to the reader is something else entirely. As with any other element of writing, the more you understand the rules the more you will be able to bend or break them in your favor. But you should also understand the environment you’re writing in.
5. Sex Without Emotion is Porn
There’s not anything inherently wrong with porn, if that’s what you’re buying or selling. Porn has existed since, well, forever so far as we can tell. The German archeologist Harald Stäuble found a sculpture of “the oldest representation ever of a pornographic scene,” and it was almost ten-thousand years older than PornHub. The sculpture showed a man and woman in coitus, with the male genitals clearly visible. And when Pompeii was excavated in the 1700s, guess what they found? That’s right, a heap of Roman porn, sexually-explicit sculptures and frescoes scattered throughout the ruins.
In general, romance puts story before sex, while erotica does things the other way around. Yet, even in those sex-first narratives, emotion will anchor the reader to what’s happening. If your characters aren’t having emotional reactions to the sex throughout their scene, the end result will feel like straight-up porn, even if the language you use is suited to romance.
“Oh god, that feels amazing!” is not an emotional reaction, it’s the character narrating their physical feelings. Focus instead on how their perceptions of and feelings for each other are changing because of what they do during sex.
Does that thing he always says suddenly seem endearing instead of annoying, because now she can see where it’s coming from? Is she surprised to find out that he wants her to be on top, because he’s been so incredibly alpha male until now?
Make good use of interior monologue to show the reader how the sex is making the character feel about themselves or about the other person, and how that changes as they get to know each others’ bodies better.
What is he’s tempted to tell her that he’s resisting the urge to blurt out? It doesn’t have to be as momentous as I love you. It could be I’m sorry I teased you yesterday, or thank you for being the first person brave enough to try this kinky thing I like.
A few lines of interior monologue can be the difference between a sex scene that feels mechanical and one that feels magical. And don’t forget the pillow talk afterward — even a single line of post-sex dialogue can elevate the scene by showing what the sex means to both characters.
6. Great Sex Scenes Reveal Character
Sex on the page offers unflinching psychological insight into character, so your scenes should always be more about the humans having sex than about the mechanical act itself. Your readers understand that the people in your story want to get it on, because they’re (probably) human and most humans are wired with that primal drive. But your readers do need to know why your characters want to have sex with each other. Also, what can you say about the characters through the way that they have sex?
- Will this particular encounter merely satisfy a primitive need, or is there something more to it?
- Is there anything more that your characters are hoping for, beyond an orgasm and a swapping of fluids?
- What are the stakes?
- What are your characters willing to give up to get what they need, and how will their lives be different once the encounter is over, for better, worse, or even in the most incremental of ways?
- And after the sex is over, what will the consequences be for everyone involved?
A sex scene should always be about the humans more than their anatomy, and be more about the characters involved than the physical act. People aren’t objects, and should only read as though they are if that’s the specific point you’re trying to prove in your story.
Sex scenes should feel like a natural progression of an established relationship, even if that relationship is only a few minutes old and started on a sweaty dance floor. Once that scene is over, ask yourself, has having sex changed anything for my characters? If the answer is No, delete the scene.
A sex scene should get your characters naked in more ways than one. Fully exposed, they can now reveal more of themselves than they would normally show to others. Vulnerability wins. Readers will always care about that. And they love to be surprised.
- What if a big talking character is shy in bed?
- What if a timid character is a gutter mouth in the sack?
- What if a confident character is riddled with doubt in intimate situations?
Take off your characters’ clothes, and then show the reader who they really are. And one of the best ways to do this is:
7. Write Dialogue That Puts Your Reader in the Scene and Moves the Story Forward
Dialogue should never be just about what a character says, it should be about what they do, or refuse to say in front of someone else. People rarely share exactly what they are thinking, but once naked and vulnerable undiluted honesty becomes easier to achieve.
This isn’t a place to be lazy. Dialogue can be the most effective element in a well-crafted sex scene, but done poorly (as it often is) it’s a wasted opportunity. We get a lot of Oh God!s, but that tells us nothing about what’s going on in the character’s heads.
Sex has a lot of physical communication, but some of that exchange is usually verbal. Before the sex starts your characters might be telling one another what they want, but then after they’re going they might be expressing what they actually like. Women tap into their imaginations while male arousal is usually driven by more directly visual triggers.
In real life sex, dirty talk can be a way to give your partner real time feedback about what you like or want, while adding an element of sexual play and the added edge that turns sex into a multi-sensory experience. On the page this is yet another area where you have to know your characters, understand your reader or genre expectations, and be aware of your own comfort level. Because while dirty dialogue can elevate the effectiveness of any scene, poorly done it will rip your reader right out of the story.
There is a definite spectrum here, same as we discussed earlier. Your dirty talk can go from dialogue that isn’t really dirty at all — You look so sexy right now or I really like that — to exchanges that might make you blush as you type them: You’re going to need crutches when I’m done fucking you!
For some storytellers, writing dirty dialogue is even more difficult than detailing the sex itself, but even if it’s uncomfortable at first, this is an element that can add a compelling and perhaps even necessary dynamic to your sex scene. And one that might help to anchor the truth that:
8. Your Sex Scene Is Also About Sex Itself
Writing a sex scene doesn’t just include your characters and their emotions amid all that physical pleasure, as the author you’re also writing about sex in general. How you portray the act as healthy or shameful, a guilty pleasure or a birthright, something to indulge in or something that opens you up emotionally and perhaps even spiritually.
Your perspective is yet another channel for you to connect with your reader, whose upbringing around sex may or may not have been positive and whose feelings about their own sexuality might be conflicted. Even a simple sex scene can mean more to a reader on a meta-level, and once you have their mind you’ll be able to move into the rest of their body and focus on the experience by paying attention to this next tip.
9. Use All Five Senses
This is general writing advice you’ve probably read a thousand times. Of course you’re supposed to write with all five senses. And yet, in the endless procession of sex scenes I’ve read over the last decade or so, from the erotic to chaste it’s shocking how often three of the five are neglected.
Most writers have sight and touch handled, but scent, sound, and taste are far less frequent. Yet, all are a visceral part of sex that deserve documentation in your story. All five will help to keep your reader in the scene and feeling what you want them to.
- Sight: Don’t just tell the reader about the characters’ appearance. She wants more than a description of what they look like naked, or how they’re moving, she also wants the environmental details that will help the encounter feel real to her. She wants to know what these people she’s getting to know so intimately are noticing about what’s happening to them, beyond the obvious. What are they seeing in their world that’s different than before?
- Touch: This is obviously a big one when it comes to writing about sex. If your character closes his or her eyes, they should still be able to see with this second sense. Touch isn’t just about the bodies, it’s about setting and everything else. Are your lovers on a picnic blanket? In the backseat of a car? Rolling around on luxurious sheets? Can they feel the sun on their skin or a soft wind kissing their sweating limbs? Ask yourself what touch can add to your sex scene, beyond the obvious.
- Scent: Sweat and musk and the smells of passionate sex are all fine, but they’re also expected. What about candles and perfume, flowers or the aroma of wine being poured, maybe the fragrance of roasting meat wafting in from the kitchen. Filmmakers have a lot of tricks that authors don’t when it comes to establishing a scene. But scent is an area where writers can shine. By describing scent, we’re pulling our reader deeper into the experience. Your sex scenes will be better with the inclusion, and even more so if the articulated scents are pleasant yet unexpected.
- Sound: John Mayer or jazz in the background, traffic rolling in from an open window, passing strangers on the outskirts of a risky public encounter —sound can be a part of the setting, or used well, a minor character in itself. Make your reader hear the experience.
- Taste: Even when this one is touched upon, more can usually be done here. If you’re writing about sex, then every taste should be appealing, unless your scene has a specific reason to move the other way. That should go without saying, but I’ve read a lot of scenes that used truly terrible descriptors. No taste is universally loved, but you can focus on fruits and sweets that are generally considered pleasant to get your point across. Never neglect this part of the experience without intent.
Sex is visceral, so showing will beat telling even more than it usually does. Incorporating all five of the senses in your writing will immediately improve it, and set you up for the sixth sense:
10. Fill Your Scene With Rhythm
Great sex is never static. Even if it isn’t athletic, sex should be balletic at least. The speed rises and falls amid a steady thrum of two (or more) hearts pounding either in time or against each other.
Sex is action. It can’t be all about the body, nor should you ever just stay in the head. Your scene must be dynamic. Start slow, gather tempo, gain speed then slow it down again.
And then, again.
Sex is a physical conversation, and someone is always leading, so your scene should also include the characters’ social rhythm. The best sex takes turns. From playful to intense, there should always be a back and forth. If not, that’s because there’s been a character choice or it’s the point of your scene.
Every great piece of music has a memorable beginning, middle, and end. So never forget that:
11. Foreplay and Anticipation Are Important
Suggestive conversation, teasing and withholding, light touch, caresses, whispers, and nibbles. Foreplay could be anything, but it does need to be there. Involve your reader in the experience by making them want the characters to start shedding their clothes.
Foreplay starts long before the bedroom. It’s a tension built through anticipation that can smolder from mild want to obvious longing. The slow unzipping of a dress, or fumbled buttons on faded 501s, elongate those moments so they matter more to the characters, and ultimately to your reader.
Anticipation builds drama. Even if it isn’t as earth-shattering for your reader as it is for the characters, they should still feel a sense of release. But that won’t occur unless they’ve been eagerly waiting for the encounter to happen.
Tease then separate to drive the tension in your scene. A volley of control is effective because it underscores a universal truth that Oscar Wilde nailed a century and a half ago.
12. Sex is Often About Power
Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
That might be my favorite Oscar Wilde quote.
What is the power dynamic in your characters’ relationship before they have sex? How does sex shift the balance in one direction or the other? Is one character trying to get more power, or perhaps even willingly surrender some of theirs for the sake of that intimate connection?
Of course, sex isn’t always about power. We can’t squeeze such a complex issue into a single descriptor. But there is always a dynamic at play. Sex is a set of activities, moods, and emotions. Sex can be used as a way to bond with a partner, alleviate a carnal need, or simply pass the time. Ask yourself: What are these characters expecting to get from the sex? And what do they get from it that surprises them?
Sex can be the way a person makes a living, climbs the corporate ladder, or says they’re sorry. But no matter the mood, there is usually a power dynamic at play. Knowing that makes it even more important to:
13. Be Mindful of Consent
This wasn’t on my radar at all when I started writing erotica, but it’s become a part of the cultural conversation in the last decade and now it’s something to ignore at your peril. Learn the conventions in your sub-genre in regard to how consent is established and negotiated, and be respectful of the norms.
In the BDSM realm, someone who’s intoxicated is considered unable to give consent. Makes sense: if you’re negotiating things like acceptable levels of pain, you need to be making clear-headed decisions about what will be too much for you.
But a scene in a romance where the heroine gives in to her desire and sleeps with the hero while she’s a little tipsy might be just fine, if you’ve established that she’s reached that threshold of mental consent long before the couple goes out drinking, and that she’d welcome her partner’s attention if she were sober, too.
And if you’re writing edgy erotica where the relationship starts as a drunken mistake between two people who think they hate each other, that might be perfect.
Everything with sex exists in a spectrum, and this is one of the broadest there is. Choices will vary from genre to genre and author to author. Even in romance, there’s debate about what’s considered consent. The lines are tangled like Christmas lights in the attic when it comes to erotica. Find the spot that feels best for you in between what your ideal reader wants and expects and what feels fight for you and your story.
14. Use Location With Intention
One of the differences between a good television show and a great one is in the way they use location. A movie has two hours or so to tell the entire story. TV, by contrast, has time to kill. The same sets playing host to a suite of similar conversations gets old. So smart writers and directors know how to use environment as a character. You should be doing the same thing with your sex scenes.
The environment should fit the mood you’re working to establish. If it’s sexy, you need an arousing location. If it’s dangerous, the reader needs to feel the threat. What does the location say about your character’s age or place in life? There’s a big difference between 800 thread count Egyptian cotton and the back of Daddy’s Buick.
It’s not just about dressing the scene in the right lighting and music, though you want to do that as well. It’s about designing the encounter for optimum impact. Treat your scene like it deserves to be shot with the very best cameras, and performed by your dream cast.
Elevate the environment, not by making it appear more expensive, but by giving it meaning to the characters. Think about what each unique setting might say about the story you’re trying to tell.
- A penthouse
- An outhouse
- A moonlit beach
- Under the pier
- An art gallery
- An empty warehouse
- A retirement community
- A dorm room
- An elevator in a Manhattan high rise
- An alleyway in midtown
- A posh restaurant
- A garishly lit bar
Where could your characters have sex that would push their boundaries?
Make it easier for them to be vulnerable with each other?
Or drive them out of their minds with excitement?
How does the place they choose to have sex say something about who they are or how they feel about each other? Would a hotel room make this scene more exciting? Or the roof of that hotel? Maybe the bar, or out by the pool. If it’s a hotel on the ocean, again there’s the beach. The living room, dining room, or kitchen. The shower or bathtub, of course. Out on the balcony, even in plain view or at risk of discovery.
Change it up. If they’re on the beach, then keep them out of the waves. We’ve already seen that. Maybe they find an abandoned campfire with the embers still glowing, or they climb up into an empty lifeguard tower.
If you excite your characters with the location, you’ll do the same for your readers.
15. Understand That Sex Can Be Hilarious
I’ve written sex scenes with multiple authors, but so far only Johnny has fully embraced sex as the instrument of deep humor it can be. We wrote an entire line of raunchy comedies because we find that caricature and vulgarity often bump uglies beautifully. We had sexbots as comic relief in an otherwise serious sci-fi series. One of our regular characters that shows up in some form or another in several of our books is the “slutty best friend,” because a reader will forgive the delivery of exposition if it’s punctuated by laughter, and sometimes sex lends itself to the most obvious yet hilarious jokes.
Think about the worst sex you’ve ever had or heard of. Think about your first time or one of your friends’. Maybe a story you read about. Of course you want to capture the thrill of a new experience, but maybe for these characters, poor coordination tells a much better story. Clumsiness, ungainly movements, bumping into each other, the unique breed of awkwardness that comes from fumbling in the dark with a brand new body against you.
What about the surprising, embarrassing, or totally irrelevant-to-the-moment things we might think during sex? How different would the thoughts of a couple be the first time they’re together versus a husband and wife who have been married for more than thirty years?
Differentiate the experiences and find the humor in both. It helps with this next one.
16. Make Sure Your Sex Scene is Plausible
Yes, sex scenes are fantasies surrendered to language, but even so they should be grounded in reality. Fuel the drama without ever turning your characters into actors beholden to a script. And unless you’re writing porn, or your characters are athletes, sex should feel real rather than performative. It’s easy for limbs to get out of control, but you need to know where they are at all times. It’s remarkable how awfully some scenes are written if you account for basic human geography. Act out your scenes with a willing partner, if you have one. You might find yourself rewriting.
Keep the mechanics to a minimum. In most cases, your reader won’t be as interested in the nuts and bolts, anyway. Unless of course, they’re reading for the nuts and bolts before everything else. But if so, your genre will have told you. In all cases, if your scene lacks physical credibility, the experience suffers.
Stay out of the weeds. Detailing a scene thrust-by-thrust is rarely sexy, and often exhausting for the reader. As with real life, withholding the details can be best. Lingerie implies as much as it reveals. Instead of being specific about what the characters are doing, record their reactions to whatever it is that’s being done.
You want your reader to do some of the work, and you make it easier for them if you can enter the conversation about sex that’s already taking place in their head. You want them to let go and get lost in your story, so you should be willing to do the same. We’ll cover that in a moment. But first:
17. A Note on Safe Sex and Plausibility
You probably won’t be surprised to read that there is no commonly accepted norm here. Until recently, safe sex in romance and (especially) erotica was like the same thing in porn: a rarity. Most of the audience didn’t find it sexy. There is currently a movement in romance promoting safe sex, but even so I highly suggest keeping any focus on the condom to an absolute minimum, unless it’s part of the scene.
If the question of whether protection is going to be used as a plot point you can give it a passing mention, like, “after he got the condom on” or “while he was doing that she …” You can even establish the character’s perspective on protection in a sentence, or have them wearing a protection spell if you’re writing a paranormal romance.
You’re an author, be creative, and follow the rules that feel right for you. Yes, we want plausible, but not at the expense of the best possible reader experience. With that out of the way, let’s talk about how to get your best story onto the page.
18. Just WRITE
This is general advice I give to everyone, no matter what they’re writing. You should never ever get in your own way during the first draft. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, even after more than ten million words behind me I still question myself through the rough. But I tell myself to shut up, knowing I’m safe because everything I write gets at least three passes.
In the first, I say it; in the second, I say what I mean; and in the third, I say it well.
This is never more important than when writing a sex scene.
If you’re doing your job, you moved some of your honest self right onto the page. Whether it was hard or cathartic or terrifying, or perhaps even paralyzing, it probably wasn’t like writing just any old chapter. That might change after you’ve written a few, but heightened emotions can naturally make sex scenes harder to write.
Don’t let your discomfort in tackling the subject matter dilute the story your characters deserve. If you’re second-guessing yourself during the draft, that’s what will happen. Keep it raw your first time through without holding back, knowing you’ll have another chance to second-guess yourself later. The first time through should be written uncensored. Find a private space, pour yourself a glass of wine, lubricate yourself however you need to. But write the scene that’s inspired by your instincts, and never bow down to the doubter inside you.
19. Stay Aware of Structure
Simply put, your scene should be structured like sex itself: foreplay, action, climax, and cool down. And again, ask yourself how you would film the scene. Even if the sex scene isn’t a chapter on its own, it should feel like its own story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Open with a hook that introduces conflict, escalate that conflict until it gets resolved at the climax, then leave the scene on another hook. And to braid experience with intent, make the conflict emotional.
A fear of rejection, an embarrassment that must be overcome, a boundary that’s about to be crossed — there are an infinite number of ways emotional conflict can drive sex, but making that part of the structure will ground the story and be more likely to captivate your reader.
Maybe one character is trying to get the other to see them differently, or perhaps to be seen at all. Is he young and about to sleep with someone he shouldn’t be, inches from a life shaking mistake? Is she an empty nester trying to reconnect with her husband, now that their children are gone and his attention has waned? Those are very different stories, thus the sex should be written differently and — even more important — so should your characters’ reactions.
The beginning, middle, and end of your scene should be more than foreplay, sex, and climax. It should focus on where the characters are emotionally before the encounter and what it means to them at the end.
There’s always something under the surface. Fostering that is an excellent way to:
20. Keep Your Characters Growing
Your story might be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your characters are simple. Sex itself is inherently powerful. That’s why it’s the most used storytelling device in the world. The pull of sexual tension and the resulting release is like nothing else in literature or life.
But if your characters have conflict or chemistry or something explosive between them, the experience for them and the reader can be exponential.
This isn’t just true in the moment. If your book has several sex scenes with the same character, there needs to be an arc there as well. If a couple has sex three times in your story, that’s yet another chance to give your reader the beginning, middle, and end she’s craving. Their sex had better be different, so what does the evolution reveal about who they were in the beginning versus who they are at the end?
You have to get in your character’s head for the reader to feel that evolution, but that doesn’t give you a license to head-hop.
21. Stay in One Character’s Head at a Time
Never, ever head-hop. A scene should belong to only one character at a time. The lead might change between them, but not the internal monologue. That will destroy the experience for your reader. If you need to present a dual perspective, then the scene should be split into two so that each partner gets their half of the exchange.
Hopping from one head into another within the same scene is a narrative misstep more often than not under the best of circumstances, but sex already has enough going on both physically and emotionally to make this one of the closest examples of an unforgivable sin. It’s writing about sex, so there are no rules, but doing this without a specific reason that makes it vital to your story (like maybe if you’re writing about a schizophrenic masturbator) is almost for sure a big mistake that will undermine what you’re trying to do.
And the most important thing I’ve learned after writing more than a million words worth of sex scenes:
22. Stay Inspired
If you’re not excited to be writing about sex, you probably shouldn’t be. That goes for everything you’re writing. Writer’s block usually stems from one of two issues: you’re not engaged or excited by what you’re writing, or you’re writing the wrong thing.
I know a lot of very successful romance authors who hate writing sex scenes. They grind through the sex scenes, resenting the words. Willing to loathe the process because they enjoy cashing the checks. This is a shame. Not only does it suck to unnecessarily suffer while writing, there’s no way those scenes can ever meet their true potential if the writer is showing up with half their heart or less. If you don’t want to write sex scenes, a fade to black can be beautiful. But once you decide to get your pen dirty, you need to get your best effort on the page.
That means staying inspired. You can do that by:
- Drawing on your own fantasies. One-hundred percent of humans have fantasized. And once a person is exposed to sexual ideas, very close to one-hundred percent of them have in some way fantasized about sex. You have some idea of what turns you on. Don’t be afraid to use what you know. It’s all a part of the cocktail.
- Use other people’s fantasies. You’ve read books, you’ve seen movies, you’ve read articles in magazines and online and talked to friends and overheard that one thing while standing in line at the movies. It’s all yours, have fun.
- Mine your pasts relationships. Of course there are gems all over those walls. Don’t use names or places or think of it as a forum for secret revenge or public embarrassment, but those experiences are yours and will naturally inform some of what makes it into your rough draft at least.
- Analyze great sex scenes. In movies, TV shows, and books. What worked on a character level and why? What worked as a simple vehicle for arousal? Pay attention to what other storytellers have done effectively, then try to implement those lessons into your scenes.
- Research. This is an endlessly fascinating but admittedly bottomless topic. There isn’t a branch on this tree without a trunk of its own, and so many of them are worth climbing. At the very least you should be reading up on psychologist’s perspectives on sexual issues that everyday people are suffering with and how they manage to work around things not going perfectly, or even well in their lives. If your sex is identifiable on the page, you will bond deeply with your reader. Understanding sex on a broader and more human level is also helpful. It won’t just help you with your sex scenes, it will make you a better writer and a more insightful human as well. Come as You Are and Sex at Dawn are both excellent resources.
- Watch porn. This suggestion isn’t for everyone, but don’t automatically assume it isn’t for you if you’re not already a consumer. Chances are, you’ve investigated porn at least a little. According to the numbers, most people dabble, and traffic that used to be overwhelmingly male is now one-third women. If you’ve never looked due to a moral objection, I understand. But if you’ve stayed away because you’re scared of what you might see, know that porn is growing up in a lot of ways. You will still see people having sex, but that’s what you’re going to write about, and it’s always helpful to have a practical example. Examples don’t get any clearer than that. Porn is also an excellent vehicle for self-discovery. Sex is biological, and it’s helpful to understand what arouses you, or actively turns you off. Rather than going to PornHub or any one of the other tube sites, consider looking for something that feels more suited to you and signing up for a month. Not only will you be in a safer environment with the freedom to explore behind defined fencing, tube sites are destroying the erotic economy. People being unwilling to pay for their porn makes it increasingly difficult for performers to get paid for their work and makes exploitation easier for unscrupulous people.
- Ignore the wrong messages. That includes Cosmo and any sort of pop culture glamour shot attempts at covering sex. This is empty calorie coverage that will erode your understanding of what a reader actually needs from their story experience much more than it will enlighten you. And even though porn is growing up, the majority is still geared toward male fantasy and in no way an accurate depiction of the emotional or physical realities of sex.
Sex doesn’t have to be kinky to be extra hot, but it should in some way challenge, reward, or enlighten the lovers. Infinite variety can be added to even the most vanilla characters’ sex lives.
If you think of your sex scenes as something more than just sex scenes, you won’t just write sexier scenes, you might also be helping your reader get in touch with feelings they don’t really have any other way of exploring or expressing in other parts of their lives.
Do that, and you’re changing the world in your own tiny way with a story.
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