On how to write sex scenes
In the world of romance novels, there are more than fifty shades of sex – from affectionate touching to BDSM gang bangs. When I started writing my romance books, I had no idea that there were so many subgenres of romance novel, nor that there was a category called ‘clean and wholesome’ romance, that has so many rules, including three sub-categories. These go from Level 1, which goes as far as ‘holding hands’, to Level 3 with the scorching ‘male shirt may come off, but nothing else’.
My sex scenes are so far removed from these that they are currently one step away from an orgy in hell.
There is a massive audience for ‘clean’ and ‘sweet’ romance amongst adults who are very familiar with the mechanics of procreation, but don’t want to read about it, and I can’t knock them for knowing what they like. However, when I read romance novels, I like to read sexy scenes, detailing exactly how hot characters give each other earth-shattering orgasms. The more invested in a character, the more of a build up, the more I want to see their minds and bodies blown.I like to read sexy scenes, detailing exactly how hot characters give each other earth-shattering orgasms. The more invested in a character, the more of a build up, the more I want to see their minds and bodies blown.. Click To Tweet
So when it came to my own writing, I bit the sex bullet and went to town. Writing a sex scene is almost as difficult as writing a screenplay. You’ve got to dig deep, and get to the core of your own sexual desires, as well as those of your characters. It’s hard to put into words what is often completely nonverbal, and for which there are so few descriptive words.
The Eskimos may have fifty words for snow, but we certainly don’t have that many to describe an orgasm, or enough words to describe a penis or a vagina without sounding like you’re reading from a medical text book or channeling a cheap porno.
So how do you write a sex scene? Where do you start? I’ve put a lot of thought into this having written countless scenes as well as having helped other authors when they are struggling to write theirs. So buckle up, and let’s dive into the world of writing sex.
How to write a sex scene
Who’s actually having sex?
So first up, who is starring in your sex scene? Is it a solo affair, a duo, a trio, or a menage involving half the men in the neighbourhood? Does it start with one person and end with more, either in the mind of the character or in actuality? By thinking about who is involved, it helps you start to create the scene in your head.
How does the scene advance the story?
Every sex scene is part of your story and so needs to advance it. Is this the first time they’ve had sex, or maybe the first time after a long gap? How does their relationship or the story change due to this sex scene? When you think about the scene in terms of story you can bring so much more in. In Trashed, the sex scenes in the car happen because the characters are so hot for each other and have nowhere else to go.
Later in the story, when Eddie climbs in through Carmen’s window, just before he skips town, breaking his parole agreement, the scene has a different charge and emotion about it, as well as the risk that her parents will hear them.
Are one or both of the characters virgins? Is this a scene where they realise their love? Does anyone see or hear them? Think about all the different ways you can use a sex scene to advance your story.
How does the scene advance character development or their arc?
What does the sex mean to the characters? Is it a way of them forgetting someone else, or a way to connect non-verbally with their partner? If they are unable to tell them how they feel then do they try and communicate through sex? Is sex a means to an end or an emotionless act giving physical release?
Maybe one character wants one thing but the other wants something completely different. Think about what each character brings to the act and also how it might change them. Having sex for the first time is a whole different matter to having sex with someone you’ve been married to for years.
Where is the sex scene taking place?
What is the environment? Up against a grimy brick wall in an alley or in a four poster bed in a castle? On a sandy beach or in water? In a car or in the toilet of a plane? On silk sheets or over a straw bale?
Is the environment hot or cold? Dark or light? Humid or windy? In a snowstorm or a sandstorm? The more you can think about the environment of your sex scene and how that impacts what the characters feel and experience, the more rich your scene will be.
What else is involved in the scene?
Are sex toys involved? Food? What else can be brought in to give depth to the scene and make it interesting?
Interest can be brought in even if the thing you mention doesn’t get actually involved – so think of a couple having sex for the first time and one opens a drawer to discover a stash of sex toys. How will this knowledge colour the sex they have even if they don’t experiment with them during the scene?
Choreograph your scene
Now we’re getting into the meat of it… In your head, or on paper, describe in note form exactly what bit goes where and in what order. You have to do this or characters end up having sex through clothes or growing an extra arm. You need clarity for the reader, as inaccurate logistics break the reader out of the scene. I do this in my head as I always feel slightly weird choreographing my sex scene on paper because it reads so crudely. Just make sure that you’ve thought it through step by step in detail before you come to write it – this is your sex scene outline.
Decide on your vocabulary
Are you going to call women’s genitalia her pussy, cunt, core, vagina, foo-foo, lady-garden or something else altogether? Tits, breasts or boobs? Cock, penis, dick, shaft or pole?
You need to decide your vocabulary parameters and stick to them. You might have a specific reason to change your language, for example another character comes along and uses words that the main characters would never consider, thus marking him or her as an outsider or threat. But unless you are using different language to make a point, stick to your particular sex vocab.
Then once you’ve decided what to call them, think about how your characters refer to them. A character might feel super comfortable with talk that would strip paint, or they might be acutely embarrassed. I’ve read many books where one character (usually the man) uses language that first shocks and then turns on the other (usually a woman).
Think about your imagery
This is where you can get creative. How does sex feel? How can you describe pleasurable and ecstatic physical sensations without over-using a few key words? This is where it gets challenging and also interesting. When I started writing my sex scenes, I first created my own sex thesaurus to help.
Lots of sex langauge is elemental. Think about language to do with fire, water, earth and air. How fire brings heat, sparks a flame, gives light, causes explosions. Think about how many different ways water can manifest. It can be a sliver of ice being dragged across the skin or kissed into a mouth. It can describe feelings of stillness and peace, or crashing, pounding, tumult that floods the body with pleasure.
The element of earth can be used to make characters feel grounded or ungrounded, like the earth is unstable beneath their feet. Also consider how earth imagery is often used to describe a man’s body; rock hard, solid, steely. Now think about imagery associated with air.
During sex do your characters feel like they are rocketing up towards an orgasm, flying high, weightless? How does air feel or sound as it passes in and out of their body? Are they gasping, panting, or breathless?
Following on from elemental imagery, think about imagery to do with storms – lightning, wind, tornados, and cataclysmic events such as tsunamis, eruptions, and explosions. Consider how sex is often seen as a religious experience, a transcendent and transformative event of ecstasy; leaving our body whilst simultaneously experiencing the intense pleasure it can give us.
Sex is also associated with oral pleasure, sensations to do with eating and drinking. Phrases like ‘she drank him in’, or ‘her kiss was like a cool glass of water’. Words like ‘consume’ and ‘devour’ are often used in sex scenes, as well as tastes such as sweet and salty.
Make sure you consider every sense when you are writing your sex scene.
Sight – What do the characters see? Are the lights dimmed or are they outside in bright sunlight? How do their bodies look? What is around them? Use the location and what they see to enhance the reader’s experience.
Sound – What can your characters hear? Do they talk to each other? What sounds do they make, or do their bodies make?
Smell – Describe what they can smell. How does this enhance their experience and that of the reader? Does the environment they are in play a part? Think of all the scenes that take place in horse’s stalls or in hay barns, or sex scenes that involve food.
Touch – How do they touch each other? Is it rough or gentle? A light touch or a bruising embrace? Think of how it might feel to have an ice cube run over your skin, or a feather, or nails.
Taste – Often described in tandem with smell. How do different parts of them taste? If food is involved then how does that taste?
When you’re writing your sex scene, think about how your characters experience every sense and then weave them into your descriptions to bind the reader to the experience you are creating.When you’re writing your sex scene, think about how your characters experience every sense and then weave them into your descriptions to bind the reader to the experience you are creating. Click To Tweet
Think about how your character’s breathing changes as the scene unfolds – is it fractured or uneven? Are they panting or breathless? Alongside their breathing, how do they sound when they are having sex? Do they yell, or whimper? Moan or growl? When they talk to each other, what words do they use? Is it to express love, desire, or to turn their partner on? ‘“You’re so fucking tight,” he growled into her ear,’ has a different feel to ‘’We can’t do this here,” she whispered urgently, her voice unsteady and breathless.’
You can also mix the imagery up as well – for example wet heat, or flooded with fire. Don’t be afraid to play with your language and imagery, but also don’t go overboard and hope that your sex scene will be improved by throwing metaphors at it.
How many sex scenes are in your book?
The more sex scenes the more challenging they are to write. You can either fade to black, or you have to mix it up – different location, different position, different emotions, and so on. The sex scenes are part of the story, not separate from them, and can’t be a copy and paste job.The sex scenes are part of the story, not separate from them, and can’t be a copy and paste job. Click To Tweet
When I was radically cutting Highland Games and Hollywood Games, I had to cut sex scenes and create new ones. However I couldn’t simply cut from one place and insert in another. It didn’t work, because the context had changed and the moment in the story had changed. I used some of the imagery but had to radically change the majority of what I had written.
Does your sex scene have a point of view?
Is your book written in the first person or third? Does your story unfold through multiple perspectives? If your story alternates between the point of views of the lead characters, then this is a wonderful way to vary how you write your sex scenes as you can describe them from different view points. Generally speaking it’s confusing to ‘head hop’ within a scene, however I have read a successfully written sex scene which switches between the heads of four participants. Beta readers are a great asset to your writing here, as you can run your sex scenes past them for feedback.
Writing your sex scene
Once you’ve gone through all the stages above, start with your detailed sex scene outline and break the whole scene into chunks or segments. So, for example start with the lead-in, then different foreplay stages, the main event and any variations within this, the climax and then the aftermath. Depending on how much is involved, this might have numerous stages. Then start writing each part in turn. Often when you start writing sex for the first time, it is incredibly difficult and can make you feel very self-conscious. So by dividing the scene up and tackling one bit at a time, it makes it easier.
If you get stuck on a section, leave it and move onto another, or think about how you could use dialogue to move things along or add depth and advance story. When you’ve got a first draft together, re-write it until you’re happy with it. I edit my sex scenes over and over again. Once I’ve finished a book draft, I then take out all the sex scenes and put them end to end in a separate document. This way I can read them altogether and check that they are sufficiently different and I haven’t been repetitive.Once I’ve finished a book draft, I then take out all the sex scenes and put them end to end in a separate document. This way I can read them altogether and check that they are sufficiently different. Click To Tweet
However, by the end of editing a sex scene, I can’t tell anymore if what I’ve written is sexy or dull, so I send them out to my friends for comments. This is critical, as I want the sex I’ve written to elicit feelings in my readers. Deliberately setting out to turn on your friends and strangers is extremely weird to begin with but once you’ve done it a few times it becomes yet another normal. And when you get feedback on how successful you’ve been, it can be hilarious.
To give you an idea, here are some of the messages I got from one friend when she was reading the first draft of Highland Games. I have changed her husband’s name…
Jack is getting it when I get home 😂.
I’m gunna grill Jack tonight. I told him what I’m reading and he said “ooh that Evie is a filthy one” 😂 and I was like “hell yes
You better be working on more stuff after this 😂 I think I’ve found my new hobby
Urgh, Rory’s so perfect. Such a man! A manly man! 😭
You’ve nailed it! He fucks her perfectly 😂 😂 👏👏👏👏
He’s literally doing all the things I need and request and Jack loves 😂 👏it’s so perfect
So Jack was trying to study today and I got a bit frustrated 😳 so I got in the bath… Jack called “how’s your bath?” I shouted “lonely” then he got in with all his clothes on 😂Then we both got out and did lots of sex 😂😂 AND AFTER HE GOES…“That book is no good for you” 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂
At the end of the day, always bear in mind that the biggest sexual organ is the brain. If you create characters that your reader is rooting for, half your work is done. If you’ve built your stories and your characters right, your reader has formed a connection to them and will be screaming at you to get them together. If there’s no connection then it’s much harder to get your reader excited about the thought of your characters getting it on.
Once you’ve written your first sex scene, rest assured, the second time is easier and less painful. And thinking of how your characters are going to get it on is a wonderful way to get through the boring parts of a day.
If you’re a writer, do you write sex scenes in your books or have you been too daunted to try? Has this blog helped give you confidence to take the plunge? And if you do write sex scenes then how do you approach them? Get in touch via social media and let me know your thoughts. And if you’re an avid reader, what sex scenes have stuck in your memory? What books should I be reading for inspiration? Let me know!
Ps – I wrote several sex scenes for Highland Games and Hollywood Games that never made it through to the final drafts. I had two masturbation scenes back to back (one for each character) half way through Highland Games that got cut, and so, for your reading pleasure, here is Rory’s. The story so far is that he is in lust with Zoe but thinks she hates him. He’s been a bit of a fuckwit and knows he’s burned his bridges. He’s just spent a chaste evening with her and is on his way back home through the wilds of the Scottish Highlands.
Rory made it a couple of hundred yards down the road before pulling off into a lay-by and killing the engine. He was on fire and in agony. Apart from a brief respite when he was inspecting the back boiler and putting up the guttering, he’d been permanently aroused all day. It was a thirst that couldn’t be quenched. He reached down, unzipped his trousers and pulled down the waistband of his shorts, finally freeing his cock into his hand. He’d worn his tightest underwear that morning. He knew by now that even thinking of Zoe made him hard, so he needed to try anything to keep it hidden. He closed his eyes, rested his head back, and stroked slowly up and down the shaft, hot and hard in his hand.
He had never been so bewitched by a woman. Everything about her captivated him. Her tall lithe frame, her deep brown eyes, the starburst of freckles across her nose, her incredible wild hair. He was already so close to coming, but he slowed down the rhythm of his hand, and released the pressure, his fingertips barely touching the hot skin. Darts of pleasure were shooting up his legs and down his chest, coalescing in his groin, drawing his balls up tightly, waiting for release. He pursed his lips and let out a long slow breath. If he could only be with her in his imagination then he didn’t want to rush it. He wanted to wring out every last ounce of pleasure.
He imagined the softness of her cheeks, kissing her freckles, running his lips down her jawline and then claiming her mouth as his own. Exploring her with his tongue, sucking gently on her lower lip, hearing her whimper as she surrendered to him. He saw her standing in the rain outside the cabin, fury in her eyes, her breasts outlined beneath her t-shirt, the nipples showing through. He felt his lips on them through the material, his hot breath on the cold wet fabric, warming her, rubbing the tips until she was insensible, begging for more, begging for him.
Every muscle of his body was tense, trying to stave off his climax. His breathing was fast and shallow, hissing in and out through his clenched teeth. The head of his cock was covered in pre-cum, and a tiny bead of sweat rolled down his temple. He felt such a primal need for her, to fill her, possess her, pleasure her, make her his and his alone.
He saw the two of them in her tiny tent, her body laid out naked before him, her breath unsteady, her eyes locked on his. He saw his hands cupping her perfect breasts, taking each nipple in turn and rolling them between his fingers and thumb, seeing her eyes closing, her hips rising up to him. He wanted to be responsible for all of her pleasure, to kiss her and touch her till she forgot everything and everyone except for him.
He kissed and licked around her breasts, spiralling slowly in around one nipple, his hand on the other. She was whimpering again, her breathing ragged, trying to angle her body closer to his, guide his mouth to where she needed it. He heard her say the word ‘please’, the sound soft and catching in her throat. He took her nipple in his mouth, hungrily sucking it and then rubbing the roughness of his tongue over the sensitive tip. She cried out, her hands grabbing handfuls of his hair, pulling and kneading like a cat.
His hand was now trembling around his cock. Blood pounding through his body, he couldn’t hold back much longer. He was teetering at the very edge of oblivion.
He kissed down her torso, dipping the tip of his tongue into her navel, feeling her sweet soft skin under his lips. With his hands, he pushed her pliant legs apart and began licking lower. She moved restlessly beneath him and he held her still with his forearms. He shifted even lower, feeling her quivering beneath him, her fingernails raking across his scalp.
He parted her soft curls with his fingers and then began to lap at her clitoris, holding her still as she began to shake under him. He was relentless, keeping up the rhythm, increasing the pressure, and using his weight to imprison her in a world of sensation. He heard her breathing change and he licked faster, taking his middle finger and gently inching it inside her. When it was buried deep within, he curled the tip of it towards her front wall and began moving it in and out, raking the calloused tip across her sensitive flesh.
He felt her body go stiff, her muscles spasming around him, her body convulsing with pleasure. As she cried out his name, he lost control, gripping and pumping his shaft, squeezing out his climax, a deep and guttural sound forcing itself out of his throat. He could hear the sound of blood roaring in his ears, feel hot semen hitting the palm of his shaking left hand, as the release overwhelmed his body.
For a while, he felt like he was floating. Caught in a liminal state between life and death, heaven and earth. By slow degrees his breathing calmed, his pounding heart and pulsing blood receded, and he opened his eyes back to the darkness all around him. He felt the wetness on his left hand cooling in the night air and reached for a handkerchief with his right to wipe it clean, reflecting on what had just happened. A grown man driven so desperate with desire that he couldn’t even wait until he got back to the privacy of his own home. He had resorted to jerking off in his car at the side of a road. The worst part was that it only offered temporary relief; a paracetamol against a migraine. He could already feel the need for more uncurling itself deep within him.
And the only meat of his she was interested in was the steak he could provide. He smiled wryly to himself. She was probably tucked up in her tent right now fantasising about rib eye. She’d have been horrified if she had any idea what he’d just been doing. He shook his head, turned the key in the ignition, and headed for home.Deleted Scene: Highland Games
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