How to write a sex scene
I’ve written sex scenes, oh have I written sex scenes. I’ve written twelve-page ones, six-page ones, one-page ones. I’ve also written two-paragraph sex scenes, and they’re just as special as the longest of the long. The reason? It’s all about the feeling behind the sex.
I came to this understanding through trial and error, so if you’re just starting to write, take heed. At the beginning, it was about who touched what when, and what the touchee touched in return. The first time I typed the word “nipple,” I thought the paper would go up in flames. In time, my typewriter gave way to a computer, and the novelty of writing body parts faded. I wanted those scenes to be meaningful, and to be meaningful, they had to be couched in emotion. The strongest emotion? Love. It may be nascent; the characters may not yet put a word to what they feel. But it’s there.
It’s been years since I’ve written a sex scene that doesn’t involve love. That’s the nature of my books. Gratuitous sex doesn’t do it for me – not as a writer, a reader, or a woman.
So how do I approach a sex scene? First, I decide what the characters are feeling at that particular point. Curiosity, fear, compassion, confusion, love – I write down the words. Then I pick a setting that works both with the plot and the nature of the moment. If, for instance, a relationship is tentative and new, I’m not sure I’d have them do it behind a cabana surrounded by raucous laughter from party-goers at the pool. In my mind, tentative and new demands a gentler setting. That said, the first sex in Escape took place on a forest floor. Born of fear, relief, anger and love between a newly-reunited husband and wife, it was sudden and strong, and it worked.
Words, body parts, motions — all have to fit the emotional mix. How blunt to be? That depends on your audience. Mine doesn’t like heavy graphics, so I don’t dwell on hardness, wetness, or thrusts the way I might have twenty years ago. That said, feebleness doesn’t work for me. My characters feel passion, and if that occasionally translates into fast and rough against a wall, that’s okay, as long as (a) there’s a reason for it in the plot, and (b) it’s mutual.
Just as every scene in a novel has to advance the plot in some way, so does every sex scene. There has to be a purpose for it, ideally in furthering the relationship between the characters.
I just wrote the first sex in Sweet Salt Air. What are the characters feeling? Mostly, they are taken by surprise. Neither is looking for sex. Neither wants to feel attracted to the other. Neither is conscious of the slow build until it hits. Their lovemaking is startling, forbidden but sweet, which is exactly what they are feeling at that moment.
There you have it. Write a sex scene from the heart, and it’ll leave you wanting more. How’s that for a closing line?
P.S. I don’t post gratuitous photos, either. There’s reason for this one. A moonlit beach? The rhythm of the tide? No one around? Think Sweet Salt Air and dream.