Ten Tips and Tricks for Super Sex Scenes
TEN TIPS AND TRICKS FOR SUPER SEX SCENES
1. A Sex Scene is a Scene (or a Sequel).
A sex scene should be a scene like any other scene or a sequel like any other sequel. That is, it should either have a goal, conflict, and disaster, or emotion, analysis, dilemma, decision. It needs to move the story forward.
2. A Sex Scene is not IKEA.
A sex scene isn’t about Tab A and Slot B. It’s about character, plot, and emotion. Who does what to whom isn’t as important as how and why they do it. Don’t give a play by play. Change up the order of events from one scene to another. No two or more characters should have the same sex scene; it’s not plug-n-play either.
3. A Sex Scene is like a Football Game.
A lot goes on in both a football game and a sex session that you don’t really need to see; that is, they both span more time and activity than you need to narrate. If you were writing about a football game, you’d focus on the scores and turnovers. Sex scenes are much the same.
a. Use a camera pan-and-zoom liberally to focus in on small, intimate moments and zoom out to cover periods of time where the action is consistent. Ie, don’t detail every thrust. Focus on a nip or a kiss instead.
b. Give a two-minute warning/don’t rush the kicker. In football, you get a two-minute warning before the game is over (usually for a commercial break). In a sex scene, make sure the reader knows the climax is coming; most of the time, it will be significant. In football, you can’t rush the kicker, because he’s vulnerable when his foot’s up in the air; if the scene/sex climax is the kicker, don’t rush or crowd the characters, because they’re vulnerable and there’s a chance to reveal something about them.
4. A Sex Scene is not an Anatomy Lesson.
A sex scene isn’t the time or place to trot out your Gray’s Anatomy unless your character is a doctor. Use character- and genre-appropriate language to describe activities and body parts. You know what your heroine calls her grandmother, so you should know what she calls her vagina, too. A sex scene may not be a lesson in anatomy, but you better know yours; from joints to blood flow, make sure you know how a body moves and responds during sex.
5. A Sex Scene is an Experience.
Use sensory description, unique setting and environment to make every sex scene unique. Your characters don’t all need a toy chest or a dungeon or a lot of advance preparation for a scene to be hot, kinky, sweet or what have you. Employ a krav maga theory of sex scene writing: use what’s in the character’s immediate environment. Frex, is there a glass of ice water on the nightstand? Play with the ice, the water, and the glass. Anything can enhance the experience. Use your imagination!
6. A Sex Scene is a Fantasy.
In a romance, at least, a sex scene is a fantasy. It should be larger-than-life, better than regular sex, more exciting and more fun—or worse. Focus in on the emotions and the characters’ intentions to make it so. Nothing’s sexier than a person’s intention to give pleasure, and nothing’s more important to believing in a love scene than focusing on the specialness of a partner. Even if you’re writing a sex scene in a mystery or science fiction and it’s not part of a romance arc, if it’s going to be in the story, it needs to be worth imagining.
7. A Sex Scene is not Fantastic.
On the other hand, a sex scene should not be fantastic. That is, don’t have virgins being taken by men with huge penises without pain or preparation. Women have natural lubrication, men and anuses don’t; unless your character is an alien with different biology, please don’t forget the lube without a highly specific reason (e.g., Brokeback Mountain (video, NSFW)). Not everyone who gives oral sex to a man can deep throat or easily swallow semen. If your character can, there should probably be a back-story reason. If your character does have unique physiology, make sure we know about it before we get to the sex scene; surprise tentacles are no one’s friend.
8. A Sex Scene is not a B-movie.
Avoid wound words—frothing, weeping, leaking, gash. Avoid cutting violence words—rending and sawing really aren’t sexy. On the other hand, impact words can be erotic—pounding, slamming, hammering. The key is, don’t push it over the top. The characters can giggle, but if the readers do, make sure you actually mean to be funny.
9. A Sex Scene is not the Kama Sutra.
In the same vein, your story shouldn’t be the Kama Sutra or any other treatise on sex. Variety’s good; an encyclopedia of positions and pleasures isn’t. On the other hand, know your contortions and kinks before you use them. This is, you’ll have noticed, a running theme. If you’re using toys or unorthodox positions, make sure you have a good grasp on how they work and their effects.
a. Don’t hop on the band wagon. Say you write m/f romantic suspense and you’re writing a sex scene. You want it to be significant and unique. You notice that suddenly ‘pegging’ has become the ‘in thing’ to write about. Don’t do it just because. Your book isn’t going to be improved by the alphabet soup of sexuality. Only do it if it says something meaningful about you characters.
b. A special note about BDSM. Suddenly it’s everywhere, like Fifty Shades invented it, but Anais Nin, Anne Rice (The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy) , and lots of other people got there first. This is one trend that you absolutely shouldn’t jump on unless you do a lot of homework. Understanding the mechanics of tying someone up is only 25% of it (see, e.g. Race Bannon’s Learning the Ropes). Power exchange is at the heart of a lot of BDSM practices. It’s about vulnerability and trust and openness and control. Not everyone is wired for this kind of sex play, but learn about it anyway. Understanding power exchange can make even the most vanilla scenes more significant.
10. A Sex Scene is a Character Study.
Way back up at IKEA, I noted sex scenes aren’t interchangeable. Throughout, I’ve focused on specificity, motivation, emotion, significance. That’s because a sex scene, ultimately, is a character study. It’s an opportunity to reveal things about your characters that you might otherwise not be able to. Focus on what’s meaningful to your character, and remember, whether you’re writing sex scenes or not, your character’s sexuality is as significant as their religion, race, sex, gender, physical ability, intelligence, etc. Don’t erase it; explore it.
–adapted from multiple conference presentations on writing great sex, given by me, Allie Berg/Allie McKnight