Slippery Pistons and Fiery Cupcakes of Love: Writing Sex Scenes

canstockphoto1808539As I continue to write my second novel, I’ve stumbled into a patch of writing ground that makes me giggle like a 10-year-old or mutter “that’s just gross” under my breath to no one in particular. It is never my intent to write about love or sex, here, there or anywhere, but human relationships apparently involve a lot of both ingredients. And unfortunately, both my novels seem to include humans.

If writing what I know is key to authenticity, I am, to use an obvious pun, totally screwed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I tend to skip the pageantry and focus on the execution. I’ve read a lot of erotica (that’s what they call lady porn) and there are some writers who do it exceedingly well. And inevitably, I look at the writer’s picture and think “that is one adventurous gal”. So wrong, I know. I mean, the point of being a fiction writer is that you get to make up all kinds of shit. On paper, you should be able to write out every debauched, non-normative thought you’ve ever had and not have to go to confession or blush while writing it.

I’m Reality Writer. While I can read a good sex scene until my knuckles turn white gripping my Kindle, in the back of my mind, I usually think: Please, for the love of all that is hygienic, take a shower now. There’s no way, after all that grinding and slobbering and flopping about, that those people don’t reek to high heaven. But no, they’re back at it first thing in the morning with nary a toothbrush in sight. Some things are not, like fine wine, improved with time. So on top of all my sophomoric giggles, sensory issues really impact my ability to have my characters get it on.

It might say something about me that the last really good erotica I read was because of the realistic dialogue. The characters were genuine and funny, so it was easy to overlook that there might have been toenail clippings in the bed or she was going through skipping-a-shave Movember month. It was easy to ignore that he only had a two and a half pack and everything rippled when they were going at it. Or that the dog stared at them the whole time. From the end of the bed.

My novel is not a romance or erotic novel. At least it wasn’t until I tried to explain why my main characters were married to each other. Even if it’s unlikely that sex scenes will make the final cut, I feel compelled to work through their relationship and sex is a part of that. My inclination to cut the scene made me think about what including sex scenes in a novel does to it. Writers I like, outside of the romance/erotica genre, rarely have sex scenes and if they do, it’s because some sort of crime is being committed. Does having a sex scene immediately change the genre of a novel? What are examples of literary fiction where sex is included but not the focal point?

This is how I manage not to write more. I start wanting to puzzle out what kind of writing I’m doing and get completely distracted from actually doing it. She said doing it. Snort.

46 Comments on “Slippery Pistons and Fiery Cupcakes of Love: Writing Sex Scenes

  1. Shout out loud laughing here! I’m still trying to decide whether Amanda will get to have sex, and if so with whom, but I rather suspect she will need to. But I’m with you on how difficult it is NOT to think about how completely unappealing most human bodies are The Morning After, sans some time in the bathroom.

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  2. Hilarious!! You could overcome the hygiene issue by having your couple have sex in the shower :). Sort of like killing 2 birds with one bar of soap???

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    • Despite the cinematic magic of many sex-in-the-shower scenes, I want to know that they have good insurance first. Why would you do gymnastics in the place where most injuries occur in the home? See? I really am not very good at this! But it’s been very funny to try.

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  3. I have so far avoided sex scenes altogether in both my novels. If I have to write one, I have my experiences to fall back on. And my imagination. I suppose I could write what I would like to happen. Although I’ve never quite figured out what chandeliers have to do with it.

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    • There are some serious acrobats out there when it comes to some of the sex scenes I’ve read. I generally stop reading if I am puzzled by the choreography. As I said, it’s unlikely that I’ll leave in any sex scenes, but it rather cheered me up to laugh about it as I was writing. I’m pretty adept at figuring out my weaknesses as a writer!

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  4. Nice firm ending… (huh, hunh, huh. huh)…’cause whenever I think of sex, Beavis and Butthead immediately spring to mind.

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  5. I think most non-erotica books I’ve read have tackled this pretty well, with mentioning sex in one or two sentences as to showing how well it went, not skipping over the act entirely. I tend to look at it this way: how intimate do you want to get to know the characters? A 50s approach would certainly fit with some stories. But showing a bit more of the sex scene can also show more of the characters, as well their relationship. Are they controlling? Submissive? Dominant? Respectful of their partner? But then, I’m biased — since I’ve written a fair number of erotic stories. Best wishes on your writing!

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    • That’s a very good question: “How intimate do you want to get to know the characters?”. From a character development standpoint, I’ve found that I need to know them really well, but this is part of my process and not necessarily the story I want to tell. I suppose, too, I get frustrated with these clearly delineated genres where any descriptive sex suddenly makes it a romance or erotica, when sex is often part of the development of a relationship. Still, it was fun to try something new and when editing time comes, I’ll have to see if it goes with the flow of the story or serves as a distraction. Thanks for your perspective!

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      • It really is too bad that just a bit of sex could catapult the story into romance or erotica. You’re completely right: sex is part of relationships and could simply be part of the story.

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        • Since I am not a loyal reader of any particular genre, it’s okay for me, but I think people sometimes limit themselves with those publishing industry designations. I’ve read numerous articles about how hard it is to market a book unless it’s declared as part of a specific genre and I think that’s going to be a puzzler for me down the road.

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  6. I think you just nailed the reason I haven’t written a novel. Fuck. Giggle giggle.

    Actually today I read the most beautifully written sex scene in “Somewhere in France” by somebody Robson. Lovely book and she did a great job.

    Maybe I should consider children’s lit.

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    • I consider myself to be relatively worldly, but my sense of humor is obviously not, since any time the word “balls” in any context is mentioned, I start giggling.
      My 3rd novel is going to be a young adult book that my daughter and I are going to work on together, so I have to get all my shits and giggles out on this one.

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  7. My excuse for not being able to write erotica is that I haven’t had enough personal experience. (Sigh.) That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Some writers develop convincing characters by telling the story of the characters’ lives and relationships outside the bedroom . . . conveying their feelings and fears . . . creating invisible interpersonal energy (often through witty dialogue) . . . building anticipation, suspense, or inevitability . . . and . . . when FINALLY our lovers come to the brink of naked sex, our writer conjures a loud vortex of fury so sweet it burns . . . conjures it out of the reader’s own imagination, using fewer than a half-dozen plain words.

    Like that, it’s over. Done.

    Gentle reader is gasping on the floor in a pool of sweat and ejaculate, ennui already setting in . . . and knowing s/he has — just barely — missed out on a transformative metaphysical experience.

    Or cheated, at least, out of something meaningful.

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    • I can see, John, that it might be a little more natural for you to write than I. Once I start reading about bodily fluids, I think “Cleanup in aisle 14!”. I’ve finished writing the scenes, so I’m guessing this type of writing is out of my system and I can get back to the story in progress. Thank goodness.

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  9. Since I consider myself somewhat an erotic writer, there’s a lot of story tension that can be created in what keeps a couple from consummating. But, then, what’s left once they do? (Sort of like all those TV series couples that go flat once they play Hide the Salami.)

    Anyway, sex, like everything else in a story needs to have a point for me. How does it move the story? How does it change the characters? What conflict does it bring? Sex for sex’s sake, no matter how juicy, is just boring.

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    • I know what you are referring to and I am likely not to be caught up in story lines of the “will she or won’t he” ilk. I’m fond of those series, both in television and books, that make the characters and relationship itself compelling enough not to rest on consummation or declarations of love. I’m also the person unmoved by grand gestures of romance, since the subtleties are what interest me. And this may be why I will never sell jack for writing!

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  10. Ha ha ha!! The dog watching!! What a great post! I feel for you. But not empathetically: I skim supposedly-erotic scenes in books and fast-forward them in films, finding most unrealistic, or ludicrous, or–often–sexist, or just boring as heck.

    But then, I’m both Aspie, and atypical-female, so my opinion doesn’t count.

    MY favorite sex scene in lit is the Reveal about Jake in The Sun Also Rises. If I remember right–and I may not–the sex goes kinda like this:

    Then… And then…

    Although I very much doubt Hemingway would have stooped to two adjacent ellipses.

    But I will help you, Michelle:

    If you want your married couple to have it hot and steamy, while she is undressing after a night out, totally naked and about to remove her f#ck-me heels, have her husband growl:

    “No. Leave your shoes ON.”

    (Can you take it from there, Michelle? I sure can. See? I do have some steam.)

    If you instead want either humor or a hurried hookup, I’ll tell you something you may be able to use:

    One of my old BFs and I were so constantly hot for each other that we did it once in the elevator of…could it have been a Planned Parenthood?

    Stop button pulled, of course. But alarm blaring the whole time!

    Hope I helped 😊.

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    • I grew up sneaking my mother’s Rosemary Rogers romance novels, which were these horrendously sordid, sometimes violent and quite misogynistic romances (lots of no meaning yes and violent encounters that ended in declarations of love).
      Your prompt brings to mind that godawful movie “9 1/2 Weeks” and the Randy Newman song “You Can Leave Your Hat On”. My most/least memorable encounters involved a lot of alcohol and 80s dance clubs, so my points of reference seem blurry to say the least!
      I think I’d best stick with humor or avoid those scenes like the plague!

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      • Uh-oh. Sorry to have touched a nerve. Have never seen 9 1/2 wks. Adore the Randy Newman song, and find it sexist not a jot. (Hat-woman needn’t be a hot, svelte, chesty babe, either. I think that song’s about long-term LOVE-based lust.)

        MOST first-world women get skewed first impressions of romance and sex, don’t we?

        In my day, it was spying behind-counter porno mag pics shown me by boys, depicting, in one case, a barely-clad woman suspended by her thumbs being walled up behind bricks. THAT was supposed to be a turn-on? It turned SOMEthing on, for I still remember it half a century later.

        Or it was the lurid covers of paperbacks. Many showed fully-clothed men violently overpowering semi-clothed or, perhaps nude, women. I remember one had a guy in a Zorro cape, mask, and hat (!).

        For romance, we had insipid romances-slash-mysteries, where any hint of real sexual heat meant the man was a cad. The heroes were like Ken dolls: Good-looking, well-dressed, good kissers, but free of genitals other than virtual.

        “He took me as I had never been taken before.”

        And the girls at the club say:
        “How perfectly lovely for you, my dear.”
        and order another round.

        When I got me my first real”some”…
        I was not prepared. How could I have been?

        Today, it’s the same, but worse. The skewed women-abusive images are worse and ubiquitous and unavoidable. No more behind-the-counters allowed, thanks to misinterpretation of free speech. Girls and boys are exposed to them from toddler-hood, and immersed in them from keyboard-competency-hood.

        Expectations on both sides are more skewed than ever.

        How can anyone WRITE a realistic sex scene when live people are having trouble HAVING realistic sex?

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        • You are absolutely correct. And of course, the subject of warped sexuality has filled tomes. This is where I consider erotica or porn to be a problem – not a moral or ethical quandary for consenting parties, but for the fact that it is generally unrealistic, not nuanced and really skews an individual’s expectations. The focus on sex as a disconnected activity from the human experience alienates us from the full breadth of intimacy. Perhaps, too, my sense that I’m awful at writing it, is that I do tend to be realistic and those scenes do not conjure up waves crashing on the shore or amazement at the number of available orifices on the human body. Delighted that I have moved past them and returned to the story I want to tell!

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        • Thank you! THAT is why the film scenes are so juvenile.

          I was about to go on, but then…We Aspies do that, don’t we? Enjoy your day πŸ˜‰

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  11. Hmm. Sounds like your characters need to bump uglies, even if the passage never sees publication. You’ll know what they did and can giggle at how they curled their toes at the crucial moment. Ha! John

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    • The main relationship between the husband and wife undergoes a drastic change and I was trying to develop what the relationship history was and found it impossible to write without some degree of physical intimacy. On the other hand, it is not a writing skill solidly in my possession, so will only serve as a distraction.
      Before I got married, I had a counseling minister talk about how important humor was in a relationship and he relayed (in a non-creepy way), how in an attempt to spice things up in the bedroom, he and his wife got one of those position books and both ended up with injuries and stories that had them laughing for years. Those are likely the scenes I would prefer writing and seem more true-to-life.

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  12. I had so much fun reading this post! But unfortunately I’m not capable of proving help or expert advice as my first one was written by a rescue dog who didn’t witness any sex from the end of the bed, and my second one is a memoir’ish account of my escapades in Africa. The writer will not let the reader know the main character that well.

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    • Thanks, Helen. I think it would be somewhat out of context to have one of those scenes in your books! I like to think I have plot-driven books, but I really am interested in developing characters with more depth. I realized that in the myriad of ways to do that, sex is, of the human condition, only one aspect of intimacy. Besides all the giggles, it has given me a lot to think about in how writers develop characters that readers know.

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      • Then it really served a purpose for you, whether or not those scenes ever make it into the book!

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  13. Most of John Grisham’s novels contain not even a hint of sex. And in the exceptions, it’s only a romantic hint. One of his most racy scenes was a comely attorney purposely wearing a short skirt, the better to hold the attention of the male jurors.

    In Grisham’s latest, “Gray Mountain,” his main characters are portrayed as sexier, and with more active sex lives, than usual. However, he makes us believe the characters are promiscuous, at least by the standards of 40 years ago, while avoiding physical detail. A hedonistic glass of wine is about as much detail as you’re going to get from Grisham.

    His plots are so convincing, his mastery of danger and/or suspense so complete, and his ever-present legal riprap so authentic (yet not boring) . . . that the stories keep readers turning the pages without thought of sex.

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  14. In my “on the road/train trip” novel, I had an almost-sex-scene in a treehouse. One of my Beta readers told me to take that sucker outβ€”it would come back to bite me. (I don’t think she had any sense of irony there). I thought it was funny. So did later readers who said it was their favorite scene. The book is “commercial women’s fiction,” not romance or erotica. On another note, I think more sex scenes need to be written from the dog at the end of the bed’s point of view.

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    • I missed this comment – sorry for the delay in responding. Now you have me thinking about humans from a dog’s perspective. That could be a very funny or very boring book, depending on how much one anthropomorphizes the dog!

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  15. “Reality writer” – love it πŸ™‚
    That’s what I think I am and what I want to continue being haha
    Love your tone of voice. It’s very…fresh πŸ˜‰

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    • Thanks! It looks like I missed a couple of comments at the end of this post – sorry for the delay in responding. I often wonder if the focus on reality and authenticity leaves much room for imagination and then that leads me down the path of wondering if fiction is really my thing. Apparently, it doesn’t matter, since I still insist on writing it!

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