Writing Sex Scenes
If you have looked at the cover image on my website, with the sexy couple in the center, you can probably tell that I write steamy romances. I chose to write sexually explicit material for a few reasons.
- I like it.
- I think we need to be more sex-positive as a culture. Sex-positive, by the way, means also respecting people who choose not to have sex, for whatever reason. The idea here is that everyone gets to decide and no one else gets to judge them for their decisions.
- I like it.
- Because sex and intimacy is an important part of the kind of romantic relationships I’m exploring.
I write steamy romance, but you don’t need to be writing romance to have sex scenes in your book. For that reason, I wish writers in other genres would pick up a romance book or two before attempting to write a sex scene. Sometimes, the sex I encounter in other genres is amazing and well-done. Sometimes, it makes me want to cry. So, even if you don’t write romance, if you want to write sex into your books, please pay attention.
How to Write a Sex Scene (The Basics)
The first thing to acknowledge is that, like any kind of writing, a reader’s enjoyment of a sex scene is very subjective. There will be lines that they are uncomfortable crossing, or that they wish you would have crossed. There will be certain terms that give them a negative reaction, or that inspire unintentional humor based on their life experiences. You can’t avoid any of these things except by not writing the scenes at all.
Instead, let’s focus on what you can control.
Here are my “rules for sex scenes in books.” Note that these apply to any kind of story with a sex scene, not just romance.
- There must be a story reason for the sex scene. Or, to put it another way, we should learn something about the characters, the plot, or the relationship through the scene. Otherwise, even if well-written, the sex is gratuitous.
- It must be physically possible, or at least plausible within your world. Your mileage may vary on this one, but very creative sex positions have the potential to throw me right out of a story. Or even conventionally “daring” positions that could just not happen – like the tall hero and petite heroine getting it on—standing up—in the shower. Unless he is so tall that he can kneel and have their genitals line up, I call foul.
- Adjacent issues – if you’re going to write about types of sex you know nothing about, do your research. Try it out if you have a willing partner. Don’t make assumptions about people living other lifestyles than you. Talk to them.
- Everyone must consent, without manipulation or coercion. If there is no consent, even if the other person ends up feeling pleasure, you have just written a rape scene. Now, there is such a thing as dubious consent (such as when the reader knows that a character is attracted, but the character denies it to the world, or in historical romance when heroines are so sheltered they have no idea what they’re getting into with that marriage of convenience), but it’s very difficult to write without crossing lines. I don’t suggest attempting this until you get a lot of practice writing enthusiastically consensual sex first.
- Don’t try to get too creative with your language. Overly flowery descriptions, unusual euphemisms, and a plethora of analogies can obscure what’s going on in the scene, and confuse your reader (or make them laugh). But don’t get too literal, either. If you talk about a penis entering a vagina, it’s going to sound like a science book on the mating habits of humans. I like to pick somewhere between one and three terms to replace the more technical-sounding ones, and then alternate those throughout the scene. That gives consistency without destroying the rhythm and beauty of the prose.
- Be confident. If you don’t feel comfortable writing sex scenes, don’t write them. It’s better to shut the door or pan to the curtains than write a very awkward, un-sexy love scene. Now, it is also possible to be super confident and still write an awkward scene. That’s why we have editors and beta readers. Use your network. But more often, it is a writer’s hesitancy that comes through on the page. I doubt you will have read this far into the blog unless you’re interested in writing sex scenes, but if you have come this far and still don’t feel right, just don’t do it. You can be sex-positive and close the door. Don’t let anyone tell you how hot or not to write.
So, bottom line: Sex is good. Unless you don’t want to have sex, which is totally your choice and no one should ever force you to do it.
Mal and Etta have some very steamy scenes. If you want to check them out, Essential Magic is now available!
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