Since humans are so naturally obsessed with sex, you would think that writing a sex scene would be quite easy. I mean, we all fantasize about various scenarios – why not put one of those down on paper (with a few modifications, of course)? Why is it so difficult to write a good sex scene?
Some have it easier than others. For me, writing a sex scene has always been difficult – not because I didn’t know what to say, but rather for me it’s always about going to far. Giving too much detail. Almost two decades of corporate technical writing and marketing copy will stiffen you up, and not in a way that is conducive to writing sex scenes, I assure you. When your sex scenes start to sound like a technical whitepaper, you know there’s something wrong.
Throughout my trilogy there were numerous sex scenes. In the first book, The Bravest of Souls, the one sex scene that did exist was so passive that the two characters involved could have just as easily been sanding a hardwood floor. I love the story that I wrote, but I fully admit that that the sexual tension in the beginning between the two characters was sorely lacking. I made up for it in the next two books, but even then, my wife and a female editor had to coax out more detail and emotion from my technical sex scenes.
My fourth book involves some sex as well. I’ve repeatedly pointed out that I do not write romance novels, but romances do happen in my stories because they are just a natural part of life. And so yet another boundary must be shattered – calling my scenes romance is difficult for me. They are not erotic, but they CAN be erotic if I allow them to be. Any good sex scene is erotic, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of the book. Then it would be a romance novel, and that’s just not my interest.
So what is the secret to writing a good sex scene? I’m still learning the answer to this, but I want to give you some things I’ve learned:
Drop Your Inhibitions
Writing a sex scene is extremely exposing. Even if the scenario you are writing is complete fiction and is not based whatsoever in reality, you are still bearing your most private thought processes to the world. This is intimidating, but you must let this go. By freeing yourself from the stigma that you, and only you, place upon yourself, you will not only write a better scene but you’ll also be more free in other aspects of your writing.
Be Realistic With Clothing and Avoid Anachronisms
Unless it’s a planned event, most people are not dressed for sex. Your female characters likely have mismatched underwear and your males have not been working in a field all day with oiled muscles. It isn’t necessary to divulge that your female characters’ legs may not have seen a razor in the past 3 months, but keep the realities of life in mind when staging an unexpected scene.
Nothing will break a period piece narrative like an anachronism. If you are writing in a time period other than today, it’s important to adjust the sexual attitudes of both your male and female characters for the time in question. Don’t ruin your medieval tromp with a porn-inspired scene riddled with modern terminology.
Don’t Be Afraid of Detail
This is my biggest problem – detail in sex scenes. There are limits, of course, but in general: the more the better. Don’t be afraid to elaborate on something interesting. Since you don’t have the benefit of a screen to project your story, you have to fill in the dots so that your reader can have a good mental image of what is going on.
Sex is Emotional, But…
Your sex scene should have a large dose of emotion. If it doesn’t, then it truly is erotica. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for, but even good erotica is going to have some level of emotional involvement between the characters. If you’re heavy on the details but light on the emotion, then your narrative is going to feel hollow. Consequently, if you focus entirely on the emotion and sacrifice details of the physical actions taking place, you will end up with a very sweet, romantic hardwood floor sanding scene.
Learn from Others
There’s always someone that has more experience in something than you. My wife forwarded me I Give You My Body… How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon and I instantly snapped up the Kindle edition. Anytime you can get advice from someone for $2.99, take it! There are numerous other articles on this subject and a quick Google or Bing search will yield plenty of results. I wouldn’t recommend doing this from work, though.
Now Go Write Something
Remember, everyone has sex. It’s how you got here. Even if you were born in a test tube, there were people who really tried hard to bring you into existence. Don’t shun this vital part of being human in your writing!