It’s like that one Pepper song--where you literally have to put your mind away, and let your hormones do the rest--on the first draft. Every draft after that should have an editor cap on.
So in observance of February, the short-ass month where babies are made and sex (is supposed) to be prevalent, we’re going to talk about writing an effective sex scene. And by sex scene I mean the qualities that make a great indoor sex scene, outdoor sex scene, angry sex scene, make-up sex scene, ex-boyfriend sex scene, bad sex scene, good sex scene, oral sex scene, and everything in between. Intimacy in writing (and in real life but who are we kidding) should not be held back.
And I get it--writing sex can put you in a sticky position. There’s almost no way in hell you’re going to accomplish writing persuasive sexual tension in a coffee shop or writer’s group surrounded by people. A personal opinion: intimate scenes should be written in intimate environments. I suggest cleaning your room, putting on incents (I’m dramatic--get at me), and writing with your heart on your sleeve. No rules, no boundaries, just you, your characters, and sex.
There’s also that stigma where great writers are usually terrible at sex scenes, and terrible writers can write a hit trilogy on BDSM with shit dialogue between a billionaire and a girl who is super appealing to teenagers because she’s: a virgin, clumsy, and insecure.
PSA: female characters do not have to be a virgin, clumsy, and insecure in order to have intercourse.
If you’re close enough to your characters, writing a sex scene for the first time can convey similar feelings to actually having sex for the first time. You might feel embarrassed, slightly vulnerable, and the rereads may be a bit painful. The worst part? You’re going to wonder if you were terrible at it. Especially when the day comes where your manuscript with one or multiple sex acts are in the hands of someone else. Depending on your level of experience, you may feel naked again--only this time, it’s in front of friends, family members, and strangers.
Similar to real life sexual encounters, no one really cares. A good sex scene will be remembered but rarely talked about, and a bad sex scene won’t be talked about at all.
So what happens when your characters finally strip down? How fragile and romantic do your tough characters become when in the hands of a romantic partner? Who makes the first move and on what Chapter does the action finally take place?
Set the scene. The tone. The mood. The moment right before the kiss where they know there’s no escaping. Make it obvious that all logic is shut off. It’s just them, and their hearts beating as one. Humanity in intimacy should never be held back. The awkward attraction should be obvious. The buildup to the moment should move the reader to the edge of their seat like a thriller, screaming MAKE-OUT ALREADY. There’s nothing more powerful than sexual tension to set a single scene.
Light your character’s emotions on fire. And by light them, I mean write them! Writing sex is so much more powerful when the reader feels what the characters are feeling. I get there’s a rock-hard penis but what’s going on on his mind? Her hands may be taking off his shirt but how is she taking off his shirt? In a hurry? Is she nervous? What’s she thinking when she goes down on him? Who turned off the lights and who turned on their iPhone to play music? The little details make intimate moments realistic for a reader.
Keep it real. I get erotica has a bunch of phrases like “pulsating” and “swelled up loins”, but I promise writing penis or vagina is not that scary. Everyone say it with me:
Does it fit in the plot? Can you imagine if Agatha Christie threw in a random sex scene between two characters in her mystery novel that didn’t further the plot? If the novel needs a sex scene to get from point A to point B, then yes, write the hell out of it. If you need to write a sex scene because you had the best sex of your life the night before, open your diary and write it there, or save it for your secret erotica novel that I’m more than certain 65% of writers have on Google Docs.
Pacing. Yes, sex needs pacing too. Does the sex come first, then the blow job? Who goes down on whom? I’ll emphasize it again: keep. it. real.
I truly believe there is power in what the characters don’t say. You don’t have to tell your audience there is awkward tension between two characters. Show it through intense eye contact. Show it through frustration, confliction, denial.
And now we arrive to our last question: Do I need to be experienced?
Yes and no. If your audience eats sex for breakfast, they’ll notice. But if your audience is in high school, they’ll eat up tension.
The best part about writing sex is that you can lose your literary virginity anywhere and anytime you want. Publishing a sex scene, on the other hand--that’s a whole other level of courage, and I applaud anyone who shows off their sexual prowess loud and proud.