Sex. Buttering the biscuit. Burying the bone. Bumping uglies.
It’s easy to do, but harder to write.
It can be difficult to conjure up a sufficiently sexy, non-cringe-worthy sex scene. Too often erotic scenes turn into a melting pot of theatrical dialogue, weird metaphors, and phrases like “quivering member” or “pleasure cave”. So, how do you avoid making these mistakes when your characters finally decide to thread the needle? Before I give you some tips as to what you SHOULD do, let me give you an example of what you should NOT do:
Scoundrels: The Hunt for Hansclapp by Major Victor Cornwall and Major Arthur St John Trevelyan
“Empty my tanks,” I’d begged breathlessly, as once more she began drawing me deep inside her pleasure cave. Her vaginal ratchet moved in concertina-like waves, slowly chugging my organ as a boa constrictor swallows its prey. Soon I was locked in, balls deep, ready to be ground down by the enamelled pepper mill within her.
Nothing quite sparks the mood like a boa constrictor slowly chugging on one’s organ, am I right? So, how does one capture sex? I’ll give you a hint – avoid references to reptiles or enameled pepper mills. Sex scenes are very subjective, so it’s difficult to write something that everyone is going to like. What one person finds sexy, another person will find uncomfortable. Despite the subjective nature of sex scenes, there are a few points you should definitely keep in mind when writing a sex scene. Below I’ve listed my top 5 tips.
#1 is it called for?
They say that sex sells, right? But that doesn’t mean you should clog up your novel with repetitious, pointless sex scenes. Before sitting down to write a raunchy scene, ask yourself these four questions:
- Is the scene called for?
- Is the scene identical to an earlier scene?
- How does the scene add to the plot or character development?
- Would the story be exactly the same if you took the scene out?
Sex scenes should never be forced. They shouldn’t be present just for the sake of sex. Readers will see through a weak story line which uses sex to distract or excite them. You don’t want to bore your readers to death with multiple sex scenes which don’t add anything to the story.
Make sure that if you have a sex scene within your novel, there is an obvious purpose for it. Is this the crucial moment the characters decide they’re in love? Is it an act of revenge? What have we learnt about the characters from the scene? How does the scene alter the story line from here on?
Make sure your sex scene adds something to the plot or character development. Failing to do this is a sure-fire way to have your readers skipping pages. Erotica is the exception to this rule. If you’re writing erotica then thread that needle all you like.
#2 lets talk specifics
Unless your book is called “How to Have Sex”, it’s unlikely your readers want an in-depth exploration into the mechanics of intercourse. Avoid being too explicit and detailed about the physical aspects of the sex scene. When authors get lost in the specifics of the scene, other good bits get left behind; the tension, the chemistry, and the emotions of the characters. A good sex seen will find the sweet spot between the physicality of the act, and the emotions involved in the act. When writing a sex scene, less is more. You want to guide your reader so that they may envisage the scene, but they are left to fill in the gaps.
How do we do this? Readers like to know what the moment means to the character. Weave enough tension, chemistry and emotion into the specifics so that the mechanics of it is not the focus. You obviously need to describe the physical movements and actions of your characters, they just can’t be the focus. Instead, focus on what the character is feeling emotionally and physically, and their reactions to the physical acts.
#3 naming naughty BITS
It can be difficult to decide how your characters label their own and other’s bits. What some people love, other people will hate! In my own writing, I tend towards softer descriptions of my character’s bits – manhood, her core, her breasts.
This is largely dependent on the genre, characters and tone of the novel. I read and write predominately historical romance, and I feel softer words are most fitted to my characters and the overall tone of my writing.
You have to think about how your characters would realistically speak and think. If your novel is set in 1500’s England, using phrases such as “core” or “junction between her thighs” is more fitting than using “pussy”. If your character is rough round the edges, or a “tits” and “arse” guy, don’t have him thinking about “breasts” or “behinds”. It’s really just determining what is going to meld best with your characters! Don’t try to shock your readers with explicit words if it does not suit the characters or the scene.
Laurel Clarke has put together a sexy thesaurus, listing many of the terms often used to label privates: https://laurelclarke.com/2014/08/18/sexy-thesaurus-romance-erotica-words/
#4 build the tension
Don’t rush into it. The most exciting stuff ALWAYS comes before the deed is committed. As in real life, foreplay is super important. You want to warm your readers up a little. Some of the sexiest scenes are the least explicit. A heated stare or a brush of the shoulder can be very effective in creating sexual tension between characters, and when skipped, it can make a sex scene seem very out of place.
By the time your characters are actually having sex, you want your readers to be waiting for it. The actual mechanics of sexual intercourse are not that exciting if you skip the sexual tension and build up that leads to it! When I write a sex scene, the actual act of sex forms only the last paragraph or two. The sex is the crescendo but by no means the main affair.
#5 realistic dialogue
Don’t have your innocent, virgin maiden moaning “fu*k me harder”, and don’t have your manly hero saying things like “I want to make love to you beneath the stars.” It’s unrealistic and it can ruin a sex scene. Keep things realistic and stick to your characters usual tone. As with naming naughty bits, you need to put yourself into the mind of your character and determine how they would really express themselves in matters relating to love and/or sex.
I recently read a book in which the characters lost all credibility during the sex scenes. The brooding, brutish, Scottish laird seemed to turn into a twelve year old girl the moment he and his love interest were having sex. I found myself rolling my eyes with every bit of dialogue. I thought I’d surely shoot myself if he made one more reference to her eyes being as sparkling and beautiful as the starry night sky. Now, this is obviously very subjective… Some readers may love grown men turning sappy at the sight of their woman. It’s not for me, however, and I think it’s definitely something to watch out for when your characters finally do the deed.
So, there you have it. Those are 5 of the most common things I notice authors fail to consider when writing sex scenes. These mistakes can be easily avoided, but unfortunately, can be book-ruining if ignored! Leave a comment below if there’s anything else that you feel ruins a sex scene.