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.
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.
So here are my best tips to help you get through writing those sex scenes.
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.
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.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts on writing you might like:
- How to Write Through Stressful Times
- The 7 Best Books on Writing Fiction (or Nonfiction)
- 4 ways to Rediscover your Passion for Writing
- Writing Dialogue: 6 Easy Tips to Writing a Compelling Conversation
- As White Writers, We Have to Stop Failing Our Black Characters
Writing Sex Scenes FAQ
Why is writing about sex so hard?
Writing sex is a lot like writing dialogue — just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's easy to write about. It can make you feel embarrassed, vulnerable, and open for judgement. The added pressure to get it just right makes it even harder.
How much is too much when it comes to writing sex scenes?
Just as with any other tool or plot driver that you may want to add into your book, sex scenes should only be as long and as frequent as needed to drive the story or make your point within the story. Any shorter and your audience will get angry, and longer and your audience will get bored.
Aren't sex scenes just for erotica?
It's true that the majority of people writing sex scenes do so for erotica fiction, the truth is nearly any plot in nearly any genre can include an element of sex and/or romance. The trick is in knowing that the sex scene is needed to drive the plot, reveal information about the characters, or develop some other aspect of the story.
Are there any rules to writing sex scenes?
There are no hard and fast rules, just some basic guidelines that ensure the sex scenes you're writing into your novel don't suck: 1) Leave out any gratuitous sex that does nothing for the story development or the character development. 2) Writing a sex scene isn't required. If it makes more sense to fade to black, so to speak, then by all means do it. 3) Understand that the sex scene you're writing is not going to suit everyone's tastes and make your peace with that. Trying to alter a scene so that it has mass appeal is a sure way of killing it.