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Writing sex scenes is something that many authors don't even think about (unless they're writing erotica) until all of a sudden they need to know how to write a sex scene. Chances are if you read a lot of books within the romance or erotica genres (or any sub-genre), then you've come across more than a few bad sex scenes. And there's a really good reason for that: writing sex scenes is hard.
Writing about sex is hard.
Especially for the first time. Writing those steamy sex scenes requires a whole different set of skills than writing just about anything else. It's uncomfortable and embarrassing and makes you believe you can't write at all. And it's easy to fall into some bad traps.
This was not something I knew before getting hired for one of my first ghostwriting jobs - to write a romance novel. I hit the keyboard running, fingers flying and words pouring out. Then I came up to the first sex scene and....
The characters stopped talking. My motivation was gone. The scene tripped over itself and all I could do was stare at the previous scene and pull my hair out. What I ended up with was a paragraph loosely describing missionary style...
I was frozen -- a point that showed to my client when my client asked me about editing that particular scene later. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the worst sex scene ever written -- not by a long shot. I've read some pretty horrific sex scenes.
But this one was pretty bad.
Table of Contents
Now here I am, about a decade later, and I have written dozens of steamy sex scenes in several genres and I can tell you: this is one area where practice definitely makes perfect.
Why Does it Matter? What's so Important about a Well-Written Sex Scene in a Romance Book?
Shouldn't the story be more important than the sex? Won't readers just forgive your meh sex scene if the story is good and compelling?
Romance novels have always been one of the most popular genres in literature, and it's not hard to see why. The promise of love, passion, and intimacy has a universal appeal that transcends cultures and time periods.
However, as a writer, it's not enough to simply rely on the appeal of the genre to carry your book. You need to deliver on that promise with well-written sex scenes that will leave your readers breathless.
A good sensual scene is more than just gratuitous sex or titillation. It's about creating an emotional connection between two characters and conveying their intimacy through physical acts.
A well-crafted scene can deepen readers' investment in the characters' relationship, making them care more about what happens to them. Sex scenes also add variety and texture to the pacing of a romance novel.
A book without any romantic or sexual tension can feel flat and boring. By contrast, strategically-placed sensual scenes can break up long stretches of plot development or dialogue-heavy sections.
Writing good sensual scenes is simply fun! It's an opportunity for writers to stretch their creative muscles and explore different facets of human desire and intimacy.
What Makes a Good Sex Scene?
While every writer has their own unique style for adding sensuality into their romance books, there are some common elements that make up a well-crafted scene:
- It needs to be character-driven. The scene should develop both characters' personalities while deepening their emotional bond with each other.
- Sensory details are essential. sight (visual), sound (auditory), touch (tactile), taste (gustatory) and smell (olfactory). These details transport readers into the story world by immersing them in the experience.
- Pacing is important. A sensual scene should build gradually and steadily, creating tension and anticipation until the final climax (pun intended). A good sensual scene should be inclusive of all kinds of bodies and desires.
As a writer, you have the power to represent different types of people and relationships in your work. You can create more vibrant, inclusive stories that reflect the diversity of human experiences.
Setting the Scene
Choosing the Right Location for the Scene
Choosing the right location is crucial. You want to find a place that will add to the sensuality of the scene and create an intimate atmosphere for your characters.
Consider choosing a location that is private and secluded, such as a bedroom or a quiet corner in a park. This will allow your characters to explore their desires without fear of interruption or judgement from others. (Obviously, they may not apply to ever situation or relationship. Voyeurism, exhibition, and why choose genres may benefit from more public areas or somewhere in between).
It's also important to consider how comfortable your characters are in this setting. Characters are people, and like people, if they don't feel at ease, it will be difficult for them to fully immerse themselves in the moment.
Another thing to consider when choosing a location is how it relates to your story and your characters' relationship. For example, if your characters are on vacation, you might choose a beach or poolside setting. If they're reconnecting after being apart for some time, you might choose their home or another familiar place.
Set the Mood with Ambiance and Atmosphere
When writing sex scenes into romance books, creating an ambiance and atmosphere that sets the mood is essential. That's a given, right? This means carefully describing not only what can be seen but also what can be heard, felt, tasted and even smelled.
For example, if your scene takes place in a bedroom at night, describe how moonlight filters through curtains or blinds leaving patterns on sheets while outside the silence broken by crickets chirping nearby. If you're describing an outdoor scene like on beach use descriptive language like "The salty air tickled my nostrils" so readers can get lost in sensory details beyond sight alone.
You might also describe any relevant objects that help establish mood: candles flickering bright enough to light up shadows around floorboards while perfume scents fill every nook and cranny.
The ambiance you create in your scene should be sensual and immersive, drawing the reader in and making them feel as though they're there with your characters.
Building Tension and Anticipation
Using Dialogue to Create Tension Between Characters
Dialogue is a powerful tool for creating tension between characters by using double entendres, playful banter or even heated arguments.
Words that suggest one thing but mean another can create a powerful undercurrent of sexual tension between characters.
For example, imagine two characters arguing about something seemingly mundane like the weather. One character says "I love when it rains," to which the other responds "I prefer it when the sun is shining."
Now imagine this innocent disagreement is happening while in the office, the character who loves rain standing in front of a window as raindrops slide down the outside. The other character standing behind them, their hot breath brushing past the ear as they whisper their response.
A simple disagreement that would normally be harmless, but in this case, it's loaded with sexual tension. The first character's comment could be interpreted as innuendo, especially when combined with the second character's response.
Using Body Language to Create Tension Between Characters
Body language is another powerful tool in building sexual tension between characters. It can show how they feel about each other without them having to say anything at all.
Leaning in closer or making eye contact for longer than normal are signs of attraction and interest. Incorporating nervous gestures like fidgeting or biting one's lip can also indicate underlying sexual desire. Even touches that may seem incidental such as brushing against a hand or an arm can be charged with sexual tension.
For instance, imagine two characters sitting at a table across from each other. They're having a conversation but their eyes keep darting to each other's lips. One character reaches out and takes the other person's hand, feeling their pulse quicken beneath their fingertips.
Incorporating Sensory Details to Heighten Anticipation
Sensory details are essential for creating memorable sex scenes because they allow readers to experience the scene through their senses beyond just reading about it on paper. It might include describing the scent of a character's perfume or cologne as they lean in closer, or the taste of their lips as they kiss. Visual cues like the flickering light of candles and the play of shadows across a character's face can add to the drama and atmosphere.
Incorporating tactile sensations such as the feeling of silk against skin or the brush of fingertips across bare flesh can also heighten anticipation, adding another layer to your scene. As one character leans in for a kiss, they feel a shiver run down their spine as they anticipate what is to come.
Building tension and anticipation is important in writing any scene, but if you want to write an effective sensual scene, it's crucial. You can do this through dialogue that suggests one thing but means another, body language that shows attraction and interest, and sensory details that add depth to your scene. Keep at it and you'll be creating memorable scenes with strong sexual tension that will keep readers coming back for more.
Describing the Physical
Going into Detail
In a sensual scene, the characters' physical descriptions create an immersive experience for readers. So give readers a clear picture of what the characters look like and it will help them visualize the scene in their minds.
Detailed descriptions of hair, skin, eyes, and body type can help bring your characters to life and make them more relatable. Don't be afraid to get specific with your descriptions. Do they have striking facial features that are particularly attractive to one another? Describe how each character’s body feels under the other’s touch – is their skin hot, soft, or slick with sweat?
Instead of just saying that someone has "brown hair," describe it as chestnut or mahogany. Use sensory details like texture and thickness to paint a vivid picture in readers' minds: fine hair can slip between the fingers lightly while thick, curly hair can wrap around the fingers.
Similarly, rather than just mentioning someone's height and weight, describe their build - are they muscular or lean? Alluding to their physical appearance can engage your readers and heighten sensuality.
Additionally, don’t forget about clothing. Clothing can be an important factor in physical movements between characters.
Tight clothing, for example, can restrict movement whereas loose-fitting clothing allows for more freedom of motion. Last but not least, be sure to keep the scene moving forward.
Don’t get bogged down with too much detail or description that slows down or halts the progression of the scene – remember, you’re trying to build tension and keep your readers engaged. Keep things natural and flowing so that the reader feels invested in what is happening on page.
Focusing on Specific Body Parts Adds to the Sensuality of the Scene
Depending on what you want your scene’s tone or theme to be, you could focus on hands tracing over curves of body parts like hips or thighs being explored sensually; eyes meeting with intense stare-downs; fingers running through hair–these are some examples one could incorporate into this intimate moment. Or physical attributes such as toned abs or defined collarbones which can be highly tempting when described in detail.
For instance describing how defined muscles move under lustrous skin as if carved by an artisan's hand could make it sound quite impressive yet still erotic. Just try not to focus solely on one person but both (or more) individuals’ bodies being described in depth which adds additional layering to the sensuality element.
For instance showcasing how each character reacts physically will create tension and increase intimacy between them. When describing the characters' physical attributes and focusing on body parts that add to the sensuality of the scene, be sure to use vivid descriptions that appeal to all five senses. Get specific about textures, colors, and shapes to help readers feel like they are right there with the characters experiencing it. Remember not to be too vulgar or explicit but also avoid being vague so readers can properly visualize what is happening in the scene.
Adding in Action and Movement
Unleash your characters' passion with physical movement
"Actions speak louder than words" right? Oh yeah, especially when we're talking about sex. A good sex scene is not only focused on what the characters are feeling, but also on how they are moving. The physical interactions between characters is just as important (if not more than) as their verbal exchanges.
Incorporating movement into the scene keeps it from becoming static and adds an extra layer of excitement. To begin with, think about the location where your sensual scene will take place.
What props are available? What furniture can be used?
Can you add details to enhance the overall atmosphere?
Then, consider how your characters will move around in this space and interact with each other.
This is an opportunity to show off their personalities and passions. Using action verbs is a great way to describe physical interactions between characters.
These verbs help to create vivid imagery in readers’ minds, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the scene. Some examples of action verbs include “grab,” “kiss,” “caress,” “grind,” “trace,” and “tangle.” Be creative with your word choices and use them liberally throughout your scene.
Movement not only creates a more dynamic scene but also allows for more emotional depth between characters. For example, during a kiss, does one character pull back while the other leans forward?
Does one character’s hands roam freely while another’s stay planted at their sides?
Consider these small details when writing out movements between your characters; they can reveal a lot about them.
Try breaking down each individual movement in detail – from where each hand goes during a caress to which part of the body is pressed against during an embrace – it all contributes to building sexual tension within the story. Also remember that every character has different body types; keep this in mind when describing their movements or actions so that they feel authentic on page.
Make an Emotional Connection
Show, Don't Tell
If you've been following me for a while, you know I believe that sometimes it needs to be "Tell, Don't Show." In fact, writing a book really requires striking a balance between showing and telling. These elements work together to build tension and pacing.
But when it comes to writing a good sensual scene in a romance book, building emotional connection between characters is key. In order for the scene to be truly effective, readers need to feel invested in the characters' relationship and care about what happens between them.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is through "showing" rather than "telling." Instead of simply stating that characters have an emotional connection, show it through their actions and words.
For example, instead of saying "John really cares about Sarah," describe how John takes time out of his day to do something special for Sarah or how he pauses during their intimate moments to look deep into her eyes, brush her hair away from her face and whisper "I would do anything for you" before leaning back into the action. These kinds of small actions can go a long way in deepening emotion and establishing a strong connection between characters.
Inner Thoughts and Feelings
Don't forget to include inner thoughts and feelings.
By letting readers see inside the characters' minds, they are able to understand their motivations, fears, desires, and vulnerabilities. This creates a deeper understanding of who the characters are as individuals and what they want from each other. One effective way to include inner thoughts and feelings is through introspection or reflection from one of the character's point-of-view.
This can be done through dialogue or internal monologue where the character reveals their true feelings about the situation at hand. By doing so, readers can get a better sense of what's going on beneath the surface and feel more connected with both the character expressing their emotions as well as their partner responding.
The Power of Touch
Touch is also an incredibly powerful tool for conveying emotion in romantic scenes. Physical touch can communicate so much without ever having to say a word - it can show tenderness, passion, comfort or even anger depending on how it's used.
Be sure to include descriptions of touch that enhance the emotional connection between characters. For example, a tender caress on the cheek or a quick embrace can signify deep emotion and create a powerful moment between characters.
Authenticity is Key
If the emotions and feelings of the characters in your scene aren't genuine or believable, readers will quickly lose interest. Be sure to take time developing your characters' personalities, desires, and motivations so that readers can fully understand and relate to them.
Additionally, remember that emotional connection doesn't always mean everything is perfect - conflicts and disagreements can actually make for more compelling scenes by creating tension and drama. Just be sure that any issues are resolved in a satisfying way by the end of the scene so that readers feel happy with where things are headed for the couple.
After building sexual tension and slowly bringing the scene to a climax, it's time to wrap things up with a satisfying conclusion. When you're writing a sensual scene, the ending is just as important as any other part of the scene.
You don't want readers to be left feeling unsatisfied or disappointed. One way to wrap up a sensual scene is with an explosion of passion - think fireworks, heart-pounding adrenaline rushes, and intense orgasms that leave characters gasping for breath.
Another approach is to end on a more tender note, with characters cuddling or expressing their love for one another in gentle whispers.
Whatever direction you choose, make sure your conclusion feels authentic and appropriate to the characters and their relationship. If they've been building sexual tension for several chapters, it might not be realistic to have them immediately fall asleep in each other's arms afterward. On the other hand, if they've been in a deep emotional connection before this moment, then it's natural that there would be moments of vulnerability and tenderness.
Leave Readers Wanting More
A good sensual scene will always leave readers wanting more - but how can you make sure they come back for seconds? For starters, make sure that your sex scenes are integral parts of the story; don't include them just for shock value or because "that's what romance novels do." Sex scenes should reveal more about the characters and should affect the plot in some way.
Another way to keep readers engaged is by using cliffhangers or callbacks to previous scenes throughout your book.
Maybe there was a fleeting touch between characters earlier on that hinted at their attraction; now that touch can become an entire sensual scene unto itself. Pay attention to pacing throughout your book - if you have too many sex scenes all at once (or too few), readers may lose interest or feel bored.
Instead, space out your scenes so that they complement rather than overpower the rest of the story. Writing a good sensual scene for a romance book requires careful attention to detail in setting the scene, building tension and anticipation, physical descriptions, action and movement, and emotional connection.
A satisfying conclusion is just as important as any other part of the scene. Don't forget to leave readers wanting more by making sure your scenes are integral to the story and using pacing and callbacks to keep them engaged throughout your book.
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9 Quick Tips for How to Write a Sex Scene
Remember Writing Sex Scenes is just like Writing Any Other Scene
While it's true that the ins and outs (hehee) of a sex scene might be structured a little different than other scenes in your book, the best place to start is to remind yourself that it's still a scene.
And that means it has to have a place in your book. It needs to strengthen the story in some way. It either drives the plot, reveals something about the characters, or introduces a new conflict.
Read More Sex Scenes
Especially sex scenes that can turn up the heat to the same level you're aiming for.
Now, I know I've said before that reading (alone) is not what makes you a better writer. But reading more sex will do other things to help.
For one thing, it'll help you get over that embarrassment and discomfort.
Additionally, you'll see which words and descriptions work and which ones don't.
And read all kinds, not just the best-sellers. And if you read scenes that are little sexier than what you're aiming for, you can learn to desensitize yourself to it enough to write your own.
Turn off your Inner-Editor
We talk about turning off that pesky little editor a lot.
When writing your normal scenes, that little editor can get you stuck in your tracks hunting for the exact right word.
But when you're writing sex scenes, that little editor will really turn up all the most uncomfortable parts of writing.
Not only will you get stuck looking for the right words, but you'll get stuck looking for the right euphemisms -- you'll get freaked out that you haven't brought the scene far enough, and then freak out again that you've brought it too far. You'll start worrying about whether or not your readers will understand any of it, or if they will merely dismiss it as an unfulfilled fantasy of yours.
Remember, this is just about getting it written -- you can fix bad writing during editing.
...And speaking of getting it written...
Write the Entire Scene in one Sitting
Do not, under any circumstance, get up to start running errands in the middle of writing a sex scene.
Don't stop to check Facebook, don't run to the grocery story, don't walk outside to check the mail.
Believe me, interrupting yourself to run some errand while you're in the middle of writing sex scenes is just like stopping in the middle of sex to go to the bathroom -- it just kind of kills everything for a bit. Get your errands and everything else done and out of the way before you sit down to write that scene, then use writing sprints to get it all written and done before you get up again.
Write From a Single Point of View
I've read plenty of books that like to go head-hopping. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. However, during sex scenes -- it doesn't work.
Pronouns and hands start getting mixed up, thoughts and emotions get tangled and messy. It goes from being a sexy scene into a scene filled with eight legs and four arms all clutching and clenching and clamping on body parts in ways that seem humanly impossible.
Try To Stay Away From the Misogynist Tropes
Reading clichés in books is hard enough -- reading them in sex scenes is gut wrenching.
It's just the worst.
The couple fighting until they fall tongue-first into the other's mouth. The extraordinarily handsome bad boy who just happens to have somewhat of a soft spot for the extraordinarily busty librarian who will, likely, turn into quite the dominatrix about half-way through the scene. Or the woman who falls into bed with a guy because he's a guy and there's a bed.
Now, I'm not saying turn your characters into prudes who would never have sex, but give them some depth. Give them a reason to get into bed together other than interlocking genitalia, boredom, and sexism.
Let's be honest, not all good sex scenes have to have good sex. Okay?
There's laughing, tripping, bad aim, dogs barking in the other room, sore hips, things that don't fit just right, shower water that comes out too hot (or too cold) at first, a really cold kitchen counter...you get the idea.
For two (or more) people to have sex for the first time and be able to pull off some intricate pretzel formation without so much as an uncomfortable grunt? Not very realistic. Have you ever had sex while riding a horse? Do you know and understand how to move to do your thing and not fall off that horse?
If not, get to researching some physics.
If your readers can poke holes in your sex scenes, they're going to poke holes in everything else.
Your Characters Should React to the Sex
Like I mentioned, if you're writing sex scenes into your book, they should be there for a reason.
There needs to be some point to their existence. And most of the time that existence comes out in the characters' reactions to the sex.
Once they're done writhing, it's time for a lull. Fixing clothes, straightening hair, smoking the proverbial cigarette -- and reacting to the sex.
Especially if this was their first roll in the sheets.
Fix the Details After You're Done
Once you finish the scene, take some time away from it and then go back to do your edits. Make sure articles of clothing are all accounted for, make sure everyone has the proper number of hands grabbing and rubbing at things.
If she took off a pair of pants, she should not be pulling on a skirt unless she traded britches with her partner. Even the best sex scene can be ruined because someone bent their spine in half to lick something humanly impossible to lick.
50 Sex Scene Prompts
Need a little extra help getting your steamy scene started?
Here are some sex scene prompts you can use to get the juices flowing!
- Amidst the flickering candlelight, they found themselves alone in a secret garden of desire.
- The sultry summer rain provided the perfect excuse for seeking shelter in each other's arms.
- Their eyes locked across a crowded room, igniting a fire that only they could quench.
- In the dimly lit jazz club, their fingertips brushed accidentally, setting off an electric charge between them.
- A chance encounter on a secluded beach led to an irresistible dance beneath the moon's gentle gaze.
- The shared laughter over a glass of wine quickly turned into a passionate exchange of stolen glances.
- As the sun dipped below the horizon, they surrendered to the enchantment of twilight's embrace.
- A masquerade ball brought them together, and behind their masks, a tantalizing connection brewed.
- The gentle breeze carried the scent of blossoms, mingling with their shared, unspoken desires.
- In the hushed confines of a library, they discovered that words weren't the only things worth whispering.
- They sought solace in a cozy cabin during a snowstorm, kindling a warmth that couldn't be contained.
- Beneath the twinkle of city lights, they strolled hand in hand, intoxicated by the city's energy and their growing affection.
- Lost in a labyrinth of desire, they explored the depths of passion in an ancient, forgotten ruin.
- A cooking class brought them together, and the kitchen heat soon spilled over into a simmering romance.
- They swayed to the rhythm of a slow song, their bodies magnetically drawn to each other.
- Underneath the fireworks' dazzling display, their hearts burst with a shared sense of euphoria.
- In the art gallery's tranquil silence, they discovered that beauty wasn't only confined to the canvases.
- A shared love for adventure led them to a hidden waterfall, where their inhibitions cascaded away.
- The setting sun painted the sky with hues of pink and gold, mirroring the blush on their cheeks.
- A chance encounter during a masquerade ball led to a dance that neither wanted to end.
- They sought refuge from the rain in an old, abandoned theater, where their passions took center stage.
- As they exchanged stories by a crackling fireplace, the sparks between them ignited a different kind of flame.
- The aroma of freshly brewed coffee intertwined with the allure of their blossoming connection.
- During a night of stargazing, they lost themselves in the vastness of the universe and each other.
- In the tranquil quiet of a lakeside cabin, their spirits found solace in the warmth of companionship.
- A chance encounter in a bustling marketplace led to an unforgettable exchange of glances.
- Beneath the glow of a full moon, they wandered into a garden of love, their hearts in full bloom.
- A shared umbrella on a rainy day provided the perfect excuse to huddle closer and savor the moment.
- The crashing waves provided the rhythm to their dance on the sandy shore.
- Lost in a labyrinthine city, they found their way to each other, guided by the pull of destiny.
- A serendipitous encounter in a botanical garden led to the blossoming of a passionate affair.
- They took refuge from the summer heat in a hidden grotto, where their desires flowed like a cool stream.
- In the soft glow of a candlelit dinner, their conversation turned from sweet to sensuous.
- The gentle sway of a hammock invited them to relax into each other's arms.
- A shared painting session revealed the artistry of love, as their brushstrokes blended into a masterpiece.
- The heat of a bonfire mirrored the flames of passion that danced in their eyes.
- In the cozy atmosphere of a charming cafe, their souls entwined like the steam rising from their cups.
- A chance meeting in a vintage bookstore led to a story of love that transcended time.
- As they strolled through a sunflower field, their affection bloomed with each step.
- A spontaneous game of hide-and-seek in an old mansion brought them closer in unexpected ways.
- The scent of lavender in the air set the stage for an intimate encounter in a picturesque garden.
- In the tranquility of a lakeside retreat, they discovered the depth of their connection beneath the surface.
- A late-night rendezvous at an amusement park led to rides that made their hearts race for different reasons.
- The melody of a soulful ballad became the soundtrack to their intimate, tender moments.
- In the glow of a candle-lit bath, they surrendered to the warmth of each other's touch.
- A shared passion for astronomy led to a night of stargazing that left them feeling small in the vastness of their emotions.
- In a quaint tearoom, they discovered that the subtle art of tea-drinking held a sensual allure.
- The captivating view from a rooftop terrace paled in comparison to the sight of each other's smiles.
- A chance encounter in an art class revealed that painting wasn't the only way to create something beautiful.
- As they twirled in a moonlit garden, the world faded away, leaving only the intoxicating scent of love in the air.
Writing sex scenes is one of the most intimidating aspects to writing.
It forces you into a vulnerable mindset. And good sex scenes can go very, very bad if you're not careful. Be respectful of the scene and of the characters involved, pay close attention to the details, and watch how it affects the story, and you'll master writing these scenes in no time.
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