Saturday Writing Tips: Writing Sex Scenes #WritingTips

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

I edit a lot of erotica and romance, some of it fairly mild, some of it less so. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk on a Tuesday afternoon with a cup of tea and a digestive, deleting unnecessary adjectives from a raunchy scene and I’ll think to myself how strange my job sometimes is!

But it’s not just erotica and romance that calls for X-rated scenes.  If you’re a writer, the chances are that one day you’re going to have to tackle a scene of this type. This is something that worries a lot of authors. So here are some tips on how to write a sex scene that won’t make you or your readers cringe.

  • Skip the euphemisms. Show your reader some respect. If you need some awful examples to avoid read 50 Shades (Down there? Really? What are we, eleven?)
  • Make it consensual. Obviously consensual. Non-consensual sex is not erotic or sexy. At all. It is just wrong.
  • Your characters are not porn stars. Unless they are porn stars. It needs to be hot, but not unbelievable. Don’t use clichés from terrible porn movies.
  • Stay true to your characters. As with all action scenes and as with all dialogue, your characters need to behave and speak in a way your reader can believe they would behave and speak.
  • Make sure the scene has a purpose. Like any scene or event in your book it needs to drive the story forward.
  • As with all your writing, but especially when writing about sex, use all five senses. ALL of them.
  • Often the idea of sex is more erotic than the act itself. Build up the tension.
  • Act it out! Seriously – one of my best teachers on my Masters course had written both excellent fight scenes and excellent sex scenes and she insisted that the best way to make both realistic and readable was to act them out. (That way you don’t end up having your characters do things that would take three hands each and I don’t have to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon wondering what’s supposed to be going where when I’d rather be eating a biscuit).

Once again, my top tip is to read. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper write better sex scenes than a certain other author mentioned above, as does Sylvia Day (sometimes). And of course you can’t beat a bit of DH Lawrence. Though in my humble opinion Flaubert did it best with poor old Madame Bovary.

And if you want some examples of how not to write sex scenes, then do follow Men Write Women on Twitter. Sorry, men.

12 comments

  1. Some years back I read a blog post by a writer who went on a course to learn how to write sex scenes. Later, I read the book. The sex scenes were utterly cringe-making, filled with arched backs and ecstatic moans and every other cliché you can think of, that made me wonder if the writer had ever actually ‘done it’!!

    I avoid writing them, generally, but sometimes you do need a bit of sexy stuff. I agree about the tension often being more sexy than the actual scene, and this doesn’t have to mention any physical contact at all. I think it’s best to ‘keep it real’ – hell, use your own memories, even if it’s been a while since you last had a passionate encounter! The way I look at it is this – if it makes me cringe to write it, it’ll make the reader cringe, too. There is a lot to be said for asterisks 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read some sex scenes that have made me wonder if some people have actually ever met another human being (not in any of the books I’ve edited I hasten to add!). It is a tricky thing to get right and better to leave it out than get it very wrong!

      Like

  2. It’s no secret that women write — and have written — some of the best erotica ever. As a guy, I especially appreciate your advice to use all five senses. (We guys do tend to ignore smells and tastes, for starters, and even the subtleties of touch or a breath. Action and visuals are another thing altogether.)
    The one point I wish you’d amplified was the caution that our characters are not porn stars. How rarely do we encounter figures here who aren’t impossibly well-endowed, vigorous, youthful, and so on, usually in those cliches you warn against?
    As you say, stay true.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually leave sex scenes to the reader’s imagination but I did write a tiny one recently, and it was using memories from long ago. It actually made me feel a stirring – and I’m 78! Writers of erotica would think it was pathetic because I didn’t go into details. I hesitated to offer the book to mature ladies but one reader said she had given it to her 92 year old neighbour! Perhaps I’m just out of date.I don’t think I’ll do it again.

    Liked by 1 person

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