Sex in Writing: Part 1

            Sex sells. Whether people are honest or not, they want sex. Some see it as something light and fun, others cradle it as something sacred and profound, but can it not also be fun and profound? For readers, unless it’s a romance/ erotica–and those are two very different genres–there almost always needs to be a reason for your characters to have sex other than horniness. In real life, if you are in the mood, you and your partner can get busy, but in the book world, it needs to be something more, especially if it’s the first time. Sex without revealing character is what the audience refers to as titillation. Erotica is different. We know why we are reading. We want sex. However, in other genres, sex is approached differently. Down the road, if you’re going to write a sex scene between two well-established characters, no problem, especially if they are well liked by your audience.

            That said, don’t drag this out. Don’t wait for four or five books for them to finally get it on but fade to black. The longer the tease, the more of a romp it needs to be. The payoff needs to be worth the wait. Your readers have been reading this sexual tension, this rise to climax (for lack of a better word) in their relationship. Don’t cheat them. The scene that is about to unfold can tell a reader much about their personalities as any conversation, action beat, or passage in your book, perhaps more so.

            Most of the time, though not always, you can tell who wrote a sex scene, a male or female author. There are small tells that a reader can pick up on. The perfect scene would be written in a manner that the reader cannot discern who wrote the scene. Male authors tend to focus on visual aspects because men are visual and physical creatures. They also focus on how something feels or how they are touched, the physical pleasure. Female authors tend to be more in touch with the other senses, smells, and emotions. A female friend––who also happens to be a writer––once told me that women want senses-overload and to get out of their head. This insight is invaluable. Without dragging this out like the buildup to a prominent scene, we are going to jump right into it. There will be two parts to this, mine and my friend’s, the woman mentioned above.            

Sex rules to follow:

            General Rule of Thumb: “If sex can reveal character and/or advance plot and/or increase tension, and the genre allows or encourages or permits sex, then the writer should think about including sex in the novel.”

1: There is no right or wrong way to write sex … on your first draft. Writing sex is about the revision, the added layers and textures, not the bare bones or about the deed itself.

  • Having said this, your first draft needs to be rough, dirty, and read almost like watching porn. The point is to get it down on paper, block out the movements/positions, and the culmination.
  • Do NOT edit when you are writing your first scene. Do not interrupt the flow. Do not get up from your computer!
  • If you cannot sit down and write out a sex scene without interruption or getting up, then don’t start.
  • Your first draft should make you cringe. Use every foul language and modern term to write the first draft.

2: If you are not turned on (at least on some level) by what you are writing, your reader isn’t either because it’s not an immersive experience, and that means they aren’t engaged or committed.

  • This reinforces the first point. However, authors have a tendency to inject their own preferences, biases, or prejudices into their works, and sex is no different.
  • If you are going to write about something that you have no experience in, then you must A): do your homework, and B): edit out your own preference, whether it is liking, loving, or hating.
  • If your character is supposed to love BDSM, but you don’t, it will show in your writing. If the sexual act is something you hate, it will show when you don’t write about it.

3: There are many different types of sex (kinks) and sex scenes out there.

  • There is the romance, erotica, love scenes, first-time excursion (virginal), forbidden fruit notion/mentality, reconnection, casual, fantasy-fulfillment…
  • Point three reinforces the previous point. Know your character, know your scene. Remember, sex is not perfect like it shows in movies, which is meant to arouse and be artful.
  • Sex can be funny, odd, tense, evoke anxiety or anxiousness. Sex can be used to set the tone or a new tone in your novel. It’s not always about gratification and the climax.

4: The act of sex is about love and/or pleasure; reading the act of sex is about the senses, to engage the reader.

  • How can sex be used to engage the reader other than the act?
  • It can show anatomical differences between different species (elves, trolls, werewolves, monster, etc.), historical references,
  • Expresses an aspect of character or spur further development of character.

5: Guys are visual creatures and will write more about how a woman looks and feels than anything else. While this is good for a male audience, it can be a turn off for others.

  • Men and women both view sex differently; they also write it differently.
  • In sex, details are great, but it is in the manner in which they are delivered which makes or breaks a scene. Guys, don’t get carried away describing breasts or lips or any body parts.
  • Ladies, don’t skim over or skip visual details that act as a stimulant for half your audience.         

6: Sex in the first person POV can have an impact on half of your audience and alienate to the other half…

  • Fifty Shades of Grey anyone?
  • While on the subject of FSOG, please, no inner goddesses.

Word choice––Mood killers:

  • What kills your mood when you are in the mood?
    • Headaches and body aches? Sickness? Tired? Whininess? Derogatory statements, repugnant stench, obnoxious behavior, bad habits/hygiene.

There are mood killers in novel-sex, too, but these happen to be the words used.

  • There are words to not use during a sex scene, unless intentional.
    • Clinical terms or medical terms: Penis, Vagina, erection, phallus, or any iteration thereof.
    • Derogatory and vulgar terms and words: cock, pussy, vag, dick, taint, boner, tits,,…
    • Comical Terms: yodeling in the gully, fun bags, choking the chicken, beating the bishop, love pillows, daisy chain, jerk the gurgan, the one-eyed wonder worm, rod of love, cotton pony,
    • Everyday Terms: If there is a modern term for a sex act, don’t use it unless you are explaining something in dialogue or summarizing, and even then, use it sparingly.
  • Take the above with a grain of salt. Rules are meant to be broken, and I can guarantee that someone has already used the above.
    • Another thing to consider is prose: You don’t want over-flowery language, yet beautiful sentences similar to poetry can be a good thing if done in moderation.           

Word Choice––Words you can use:

  • Not everyone is going to agree, and you cannot please everyone, but here are common words I have seen used across the genres
    • Men: length, arousal, firmness, hardness, manhood, member, tip, rod, shaft, staff, root
    • Women: core, sheath, sex, heat, wetness, flower, bud, globes, mounds, contours,
    • Both: Peak, backside, bottom, butt, rear, rear end, rump.

Repetition––The monotonous and dull side of sex and writing.

  • Repetition will kill a scene and a book.
    • If you are using the same word or phrase of words, this kills all steam and momentum you are building. It’s monotonous, just like in any other reading/passage.
    • I once read a book with very well written sex scenes (especially for amateurs), but they used cock in almost every sentence while giving the girl’s anatomy a plethora of words. This was a huge turn off and took me out of the scene
  • Same can be said of actions within the scene.
  • This is the best time to break out your thesaurus and think of new ways to describe body parts, motions, emotions, dialogue tags, and senses.            
  • Taking two movements and saying them in different ways: I am not advocating that I use all of these, but they are examples. Also, some just by reading them sound painful, so use them with great care.
    • Men: The act of sex: breach, burrow, bury, dart, delve, dip (into), embed, enter, fill, impale, insert, penetrate, pierce, plunge (into), press (down on or into), probe, prod, push, ravage, settle (between/into), sheath, shove, sink (into), spear, stab, thrust, tunnel,
    • Women: Anchor, bear (down on), cover, grind, rock (against), rotate, settle over (mouth or body), spread, straddle, surround, tangle/entangle, twine/entwine, sinking into someone/sliding down onto, riding tightened thighs, pulling hips down.

Detail––Too much detail

  • Detail is a staple in fantasy, learning about a new world, the magic system, their currency, customs and cultures, rites, religions, beliefs, and politics.
    • Too much detail in sex can turn away readers. In the world, American culture is more puritan than any other and shuns sex and sexuality. A prime example is 50 Shades of Grey rating around the world, R in America and PG-13 or less in European countries.
      • George R. R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, when referring to American culture, said, “I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail, and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”
    • When asked about if he (GRRM) has too much gratuitous sex and details:
      • “Well, I’m not writing about contemporary sex — it’s medieval. There’s a more general question here that doesn’t just affect sex or rape, and that’s this whole issue of what is gratuitous? What should be depicted? I have gotten letters over the years from readers who don’t like the sex, they say it’s “gratuitous.” I think that word gets thrown around and what it seems to mean is “I didn’t like it.” This person didn’t want to read it, so it’s gratuitous to that person. And if I’m guilty of having gratuitous sex, then I’m also guilty of having gratuitous violence, and gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous description of clothes, and gratuitous heraldry, because very little of this is necessary to advance the plot. But my philosophy is that plot advancement is not what the experience of reading fiction is about. If all we care about is advancing the plot, why read novels? We can just read Cliffs Notes. A novel for me is an immersive experience where I feel as if I have lived it and that I’ve tasted the food and experienced the sex and experienced the terror of battle. So, I want all of the detail, all of the sensory things — whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, I want to put the reader through it. To that mind, detail is necessary, showing not telling is necessary, and nothing is gratuitous.” –GRR Martin.

Detail Continued

  • Sex can spice up your novel, make your reader focus, engage them, ensnare, but too much sex can make them bored, roll their eyes, skim, skip, or just plain quit reading.
    • Author Laurel K Hamilton (Anita Blake series) once spent thirty pages of sensory overload while her character thought about, fantasized, envision, daydreamed, and debated having sex with someone she just met. The character finally decided to have sex, and the scene was about three pages. In many ways, the lead up to the actual deed was far more detailed than the act itself, and the payoff did not live up to the tantalizing of the character before the engagement.
  • Best advice, let the scene get as big or as little as you want, then worry about adding to or editing down the length.
  • A tasty two-page romp that gives enough detail for you to understand what is going on is preferable to a twenty-page Olympic gods/ Greek tragedy sex scene.
  • A sizzling four-page that not only provides those same details but establishes things about your character is even better.
    • Size nor detail by themselves equates to an excellent or terrible scene.

The 5 Senses:

  • Guys are about visual and touch/physical feel.
  • Most of the time, though not always, you can tell who wrote a sex scene, a male or female author.
  • The perfect scene would be written in a manner that the reader cannot discern who wrote the scene.
  • Male authors tend to focus on visual aspects because men are visual and physical creatures. They also focus on how something feels or how they are touched, the physical pleasure.

Male Focus:

  • Guys will focus on what drives them. What guys can see with their eyes and get their hands on is what matters.
    • Those details tend to focus on breasts, backside, face, waist, maybe hair and eyes.
    • The only sensations guys tend to notice is the throbbing in their pants, the buildup of blood, and the sting/itch/yearn to release their seed upon the world.
      • Women writing men need to remember these details. Also, remember that men express their feelings and love (and receive love) through sex more than words and action.  
      • Guys writing guys need to mention these details but not focus on them. Focus on everything but this.       

Preferences: To Be or Not to Be Vanilla.

  • Don’t shy away from sex that is not “your” type of sex.
  • The puritan view is that sex is between a husband and wife. Marine Corps stipulates with an Order that you may only have sex in the missionary position.
  • There is more to sex than this or vanilla preferences.
    • Remember: It’s not about your preference, your taste, your desires but that of your character.
    • Just because it isn’t for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
    • However, DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED because someone pressures you into writing something.
    • You are under no obligation to appease anyone. In the end, it is your novel, your story, and you decide what goes in it.
  • If you want to write sex scenes but not about male on male or female on female, then don’t.
  • There is a big push in modern culture to make Americans and the world think there are more gays and lesbians than there really is. This isn’t a knock against any who is or their affiliations.
    • The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau found that homosexual couples constitute less than 1% of American households, and the Family Research Report estimates “around 2-3% of men, and 2% of women, are homosexual or bisexual.      
  • Remember: A sex scene doesn’t necessarily mean that sex must occur, but other forms and variants of it.

Other sexual preferences:

  • The mild to the downright bizarre, it all exists in the world, and therefore, should–theoretically–exist in your world.
    • Pinching, spanking, hair pulling, tying up, biting, scratching, blindfolding, gagging…
    • BDSM (Bondage Discipline/Domination Submission and Masochism), humiliation sex, play-acting scenarios, anal sex, fantasy/wish fulfillment, body suspension fetish,            
    • choker/ collar fetish, harness restraint, pleather,
    • Group sex, swingers, two-on-one, threesomes, polyamory.                                                      

Dialogue Tags: How to Say Something During Sex:

  • For those who hate any dialogue tag other than said, this is the time to put your hang-up in time out.
    • Said will not add to the flavor you weave in the scene.
    • Use alternatives that enhance the sensual nature: purred, cooed, whispered, breathed, whimpered, teased.

There is a lot more to sex scene than what is covered, but this is the starting point, a good guideline to help you craft your next enticing scene. As stated earlier, this is part one of two. I hope this helps and you found it entertaining.

 

If you enjoyed this content or you’re an avid, epic fantasy reader, check out my book, The Bearer of Secrets, on Amazon. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and print.

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