: This post is a serious discussion about writing a common feature in literature and how to do it. It is not meant to be humorous, titillating, or controversial. That being said, this post will go into a topic that many people find uncomfortable, so please use your own discretion before proceeding further. Thank you for your understanding.
Sex scenes show up quite a bit in fiction, and seem to have increased with the passage of time as society has become much more tolerant of (or maybe obsessed with) the subject of sex and sexuality. That being said, many writers aren’t sure how to write these sort of scenes into their stories, let alone if they should have one to begin with. I recently wrote one into my WIP, and I figured now might be a good time to talk about this subject.
Now, I don’t write sex scenes often. However, I’ve written a few in my career, as well as read too many to count, including some in erotica novels and short stories (though not for the reasons you’re probably thinking). I’ve gained some insights over the years into this type of scene, so I think the ones I share here with you should be helpful.
This brings us to our first question:
Should I have a sex scene in my story? The obvious answer is, it depends. And it depends on two factors: the story’s need for one and the author’s level of comfort. Some stories just don’t require a sex scene. My upcoming novel Rose didn’t require one and adding one would’ve felt gratuitous, so I didn’t include one. For my WIP River of Wrath however, I could see where a sex scene might actually add something to the story, so I included it.
How do you tell which stories should have a sex scene? Well, some are more obvious than others. However, if you’re not sure, go back in later drafts and see if the scene feels weirdly inserted upon a second reading. And if you’re still not sure, ask your beta readers. That’s what they’re there for.
And if you as the writer don’t feel comfortable writing sex scenes, no problem. Everyone’s comfort levels with these things should be taken into account, and we’re all comfortable with different things. If you don’t like the idea of casually broaching the subject of sex, let alone writing about it, don’t. No one will send you to prison for it, let alone prevent you from ever getting published.
So if the story could use a sex scene and you feel comfortable enough to write it, what’s next?
Have the scene evolve like sex normally does. Sex doesn’t just happen: there’s a progression. Sometimes it starts with a kiss and involves foreplay. Sometimes it involves a look and goes straight to doing the deed. It depends on the people involved and what they’re up for. Likewise, how it happens in your story should have a natural evolution. Just having characters talk or meet and then go straight to sex doesn’t usually work, so show how it happens.
Pay attention to language. I’ve received some feedback on this from my own sex scenes, so I’m passing it on to you. First off, don’t be afraid to actually talk about certain body parts or their nicknames (apparently women are okay using the word c**k or d**k in literature. I was very surprised to learn that). You don’t have to get super-technical about it, using words like “vulva” or “vas deferens.” Just don’t be afraid to talk about them or what’s being done to them.
The second point is that the language should match the mood of the scene. Going for something risque? The language should reflect the adventurous nature of the scene. Kinky, maybe even involving BDSM? Rougher words would work better. Romantic, like the one in my WIP? Words emphasizing sensuality, connection, touch and love work the best.
Just don’t use phrases like “Holy cow” to describe one participant’s reaction to the other’s penis being unveiled. Sorry EL James, but that’s more laughable than erotic.
The scene doesn’t have to be super-long. I’ve encountered sex scenes that have gone for a whole chapter comprising of several thousand words, and I’ve encountered some that were as short as a page. The one I wrote in my WIP was a little over a thousand words, or about four or five pages. So if you write one that’s maybe three pages, don’t feel bad that it isn’t longer. As I said, they come in all different lengths.
Pay attention to all body parts and surroundings. As much as we think of sex as involving only a few select body parts, it involves the entire body of each participant. As much as the scene may emphasize what the lower parts are doing, pay attention to what the arms and legs are doing. What is the back doing? Is the hair doing anything worth noting (yes, it can be worth mentioning)? Keep all that in mind while writing the scene.
Also, pay attention to surroundings. Is the scene taking place in a bed? Does it creak during the scene? Are items on the wall affected? Perhaps it’s taking place in a more public setting, like the back of a car. The participants may worry about being spotted by passerby. In a club? Are they noticing music playing or other people passing by?
These are important things to keep in mind, so don’t lose track of them while writing your scene.
And finally, there’s one more piece of advice on this subject I’d like to impart:
Read plenty of other examples and practice. Writing is often learned by intuition, example, trial and error. That being said, only so much can be imparted by reading this article. If you’re truly interested in writing a sex scene, read plenty of scenes from other authors from many different genres. See what works and what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your own style.
And it couldn’t hurt to practice writing these sorts of scenes. It hasn’t have to be part of a story you’re working on, or something you’d ever consider publishing. Just try it to see if you can write a scene that you’d consider halfway decent. Like anything in our field, getting good takes practice, and that includes sex scenes. So consider practicing them as well when you have a moment. It can’t hurt, can it?
Whether or not you’ve ever considered writing these scenes or whether or not they’re necessary, it’s always a good idea to have some idea on how to write a sex scene. A lot goes into writing them, so it’s always a good idea to have some idea of what to do when working on them. I hope this article helped in some capacity with your own sex scenes.
How often do you write sex scenes? What tips do you have for writing them?
I have one or two sex scenes in a romance, but then again, how long the scene goes for and how “hot” will depend on the story. I don’t force a scene just because I think it’s expected. I use softer words, more sensuous, and rarely use c**k and similar words, as I don’t see the necessity for it in my books, and personally, I’m not a huge fan of reading those words in romance – again, I am not talking about erotic romance. I have nothing against those words, I just don’t use them. I think the scene, the explicitness, and the length all depends on the story and the characters. Some of the best scenes I’ve read don’t actually have the sex, but the heat between the characters, the few yet suggestive words and hot looks was enough to make me fan myself. Sometimes sex scenes can bore me! It all depends on my mood, the story and the way it’s written.
That is true. Sometimes no actual sex is needed. Sometimes the spark is enough to satisfy us as readers. I’d totally forgotten about that. Thanks for contributing.
It does depend on the genre. Romance and erotica, definitely. Others, it’s more if the story calls for it. Good advice.
It’s not so much that I feel uncomfortable WRITING a sex scene but that I feel uncomfortable with anyone READING a sex scene I wrote. Honestly, I’ve gotten pretty bored with reading sex scenes in books. Especially if the characters have jumped into bed too soon after just sharing a look and an instance attraction. If there’s no buildup, the scene doesn’t interest me much. An exception to this is when two people might be forced into marriage in a historical. In that case, even though they don’t know each other well, there’s a sort of innocence about the scene. If that makes sense. But I want the romance. I would rather read romance without the sex than sex without the romance.
I only have two or three books I’ve written that have sex scenes, and they’re a little vague. There’s only one that is very sensual, and it’s still not explicit. I never use coarse words. They turn me completely off.
This advice could not have arrived at a better time, seriously. I’d just given up writing a tragedy and begun a new adult story which included a sex scene, which had been the starting off point that got me excited to begin writing in the first place. Soon after though, I started worrying about the audience I was writing for and took the sex scene out. But that left me less excited to continue writing the story. This is the point I was at when I read this article and have decided to put it back in. Without the scene, the story seems forcibly “cleaned” even though I do not use explicit, vulgar language. With the scene, using a less is more type approach, the characters’ emotions are propelled further. All in all, thank you for the reassurance.
I’m glad I could be of some help. Good luck with your story. I hope the writing process continues to go well.
You’re welcome! 😊