Blog written by Natali Juste Simmonds, Manager of All-Things-Blogs and Digital Content at Jericho Writers.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Whether the characters in your book are falling in love or having a wild but instantly-forgettable night of passion, there comes a time in most writers’ careers when they have to bite the bullet and write a sex scene.
I know. It’s hard (sorry, this blog will be full of double entendres – just roll with it). Which is why we, at Jericho Writers, will be with you to help you through the sticky patches. So, where do we start?
We start with you.
Like with any form of writing, if your heart is not in it, then it will show. If you’re scared, or nervous, or embarrassed – then that is going to affect your writing. So, before you start flicking through the Kama Sutra for inspiration, take a deep breath and ask yourself why writing sex scenes is harder for you than writing any other type of action scene.
I’m a (self-published and traditionally published) author of 6 books and counting, and every single one of my books has a sex scene in it. I don’t write erotica, but I do write romance, and if you’re going to string your readers along with a sweeping tale of forbidden love and eternal longing, then it’s only fair to give them a happy ending. Which means I’ve become a bit of a sexpert on all things steamy – I even lecture of the subject.
So, here’s a brief overview of everything I’ve learned via a quick Q&A addressing the questions I’m most often asked…
1. What if my mother-in-law reads it?
Well, she probably will (especially if she hates you and wants to know how someone like you managed to snag someone as wonderful as her son). But, like with anything you write, you have zero control over who picks up your book and what they think of it. And writing sex is no exception. Most readers realise that what a character gets up to between the pages of your novel has no bearing on what the writer does in real life. And that counts for between the sheets too. Will your mother-in-law think you are a business whiz because your MC is? Will she think you are a serial killer because your villain is? Then I highly doubt she’ll think you are a brazen madam because your main character is at it like two rabbits on an 18-30s holiday.
When you’re writing sex scenes, try to create a persona that you are writing for. Maybe your sex scenes are passionate and beautiful and in your mind, you are writing for a 50 year old librarian who dreams of meeting her very own hero. Or maybe your audience is a woman in her early 20s who wants a humorous and fast-paced smut-fest. Or maybe it’s a 17-year-old teen who needs a book to help her navigate the ups and downs of first love and all that comes with it.
These are the people you are writing for. Your mother-in-law can deal with her own shame of explaining to her son why she enjoyed your steamy scenes so much.
2. Do I even need a sex scene in this book?
Not every romance novel needs a sex scene. If you’re not sure, then there’s a strong chance a tasteful ‘fade to black’ scenario will suffice. Sex scenes are no different to any other action scene – they must move the plot forward, and/or help deepen characterisation, or sate the reader’s expectations (if you’re writing erotica, for instance, and don’t give your readers regular sex scenes you won’t have very happy readers).
Think about whether you are adding the sex scenes because everything has been building up to this moment and your readers (and characters) deserve closure…or you just really fancy imagining these two people having sex even though the story works without it. By all means write your own smutty fan fiction, but sex won’t always make every story better. So only add it if it’s necessary.
3. Do I have enough experience to write a good sex scene?
Listen, not everyone who writes sex scenes is a Don Juan. Writing successful sex scenes isn’t about knowing how to satisfy someone in bed, it’s about understanding your characters better. Please, and I can’t stress this enough, remember you are not writing a sex manual. Most adults reading your book will know what sex looks and feels like. You do not have to demonstrate what goes where and for how long and a blow by literal blow that takes as long to read as it does to do. There is nothing remotely sexy or romantic about that.
When a reader is enjoying a scene with a grand sword fight in it, or a big sporting moment, they simply want to see the highlights and how it makes the protagonists feel. It’s the same with your sex scenes. If you write ten books with, with ten sex scenes, involving twenty different MCs, every single sex scene should feel and sound different because every character is different. For instance, if your timid and shy protagonist is suddenly a wild cat in the bedroom, then this has to be you foreshadowing the fact that she’s not all she seems – not because you didn’t realise that a person’s personality is generally the same in most situations. Because if your character is not hiding a big secret, then she will also be shy and timid in the bedroom meaning the sex scene will be slower, more gentle, and more romantic.
Make sure how, where, and why your characters are having sex match their personalities and motivations.
4. How do I keep readers engaged?
Believe it or not, pleasing your romance readers has little to do with the sex scene and all to do with the build-up. Like any romantic movie, the pacing of your story and the will-they-won’t-they is what keeps viewers on the edge of their sofas. And it’s the same with books.
Even stranger to believe, this has exactly the same effect whether you are building up to the first time your MCs hold hands, to your protagonist partaking in a wild orgy. Regardless of what they are building up to, the tension and pacing has to be so palpable that the romantic scene is inevitable and can’t be left out of the story.
If you have two characters with no chemistry having sex, then is it even a scene worth reading?
5. What words do I use?
And finally, the dreaded question: Do I have to use words like ‘pulsating member’ to write good sex scenes? No. You don’t. You really don’t.
Again, it all depends on your style of writing and genre. If you write amusing rom coms, then make your sex scenes fun and funny. If you write gripping book club novels, then your sex scenes will use the same literary language. And if you are satisfying your ever-growing smutty audience, then drop your overly flowery euphemisms and say it how it is.
The best way to improve the language, flow, and rhythm of your writing is to read lots and lots of sex scenes in your chosen genre. Make a list of words and phrases, if it helps, play about with ideas and styles. If it excites you writing it, chances are it will have the same effect on your readers.
The most important thing to consider!
BUT…and this is the biggest butt in sex writing…before you set off to write your sex scene ask yourself this one very important question:
Am I writing this scene because it’s an integral part of the story and vital to the plot or am I just getting off on some literary titillation and maybe I should be writing smutty stuff for my own amusement and not inflicting this on others?
I may sound flippant here but having worked in the industry for many years I can’t tell you how often I’ve read work by budding writers looking for an agent – when perhaps they should be looking for a therapist. Writing romance (that you expect others to read) is not the place for you to process your trauma, to act out your deepest darkest fantasies, or where you get to be totally gross. There’s a reason why agents feel the need to stipulate that they won’t accept submissions with graphic on-page sexual abuse or gratuitous violence. Things can get very disturbing when it comes to sex in books, and a lot of that does not belong on bookshelves.
Please try and remember that when you are writing romance novels, your aim is to make your readers swoon and wish they were your characters. They need to feel the love, the passion, the tension your characters are feeling – no reader wants to question a writer’s motives.
So have fun, drop your inhibitions, and let your characters have the time of their life. Because the very best romance novels are the ones where it’s evident from the start that the writer has enjoyed every second of writing it!