For many people, writing about sex is one of the hardest things to do well, or at all. There are a number of valid reasons for that, and we want to help guide you through the process. As a warning, we will be using examples throughout this that may not be appropriate for younger readers, though nothing blatantly vulgar. Please exercise discretion before proceeding.
Should your have a sex scene?
In the 1960’s through 70’s, science fiction novels had an unusual requirement: they had to have at least one sex scene in each book, unless you were a top-tier author. Even second-tier, established authors still had to comply with this requirement. The reason was simple: publishers believed that nobody would read sci-fi just for the sci-fi’s sake. Instead, they felt there had to be the promise of sex to get people to buy. The result was a useless sex scene that interrupted the plot, instead of advancing it.
You need to determine whether your plot requires a sex scene. WingedPanther has some stories that skip over the sex scenes, and others that go into graphic detail. Sybil usually writes implied sex scenes, or occasionally a low-detail scene. In every case, it’s about what furthers the plot, and what information needs to be conveyed.
Usually, sex is not a vital plot element. If you’re writing a story for the sole purpose of writing a sex scene (Plot, what plot? – PWP), that’s fine, but if you’re writing a larger story, you should definitely think about whether the sex should be implied or not, and if not implied, in what detail.
Remember, every scene you write should have a purpose. It should further your plot, develop your characters, or strengthen/weaken/transform relationships. Unless the purpose of your plot is to write about sex (trashy romance novels), it’s usually not necessary. In other words, never feel like you have to write a sex scene if you’re dabbling in a romance. WingedPanther has a horror story with explicit sex, and a romance story with only implied sex.
How much detail should you write?
First of all, think about where you’re going to be posting your story. Some sites have strict limitations on what level of detail you can write. For example, fanfiction.net limits you to non-explicit suggestive adult themes. Detailed descriptions of sex are not allowed. You can have your story or your account revoked. Other sites allow detailed descriptions, but may have limitations on the ages of the participants (18+ participants only is a VERY common restriction). This means your decision on where to post may restrict what you can write.
Even if detailed sex of various levels is allowed, make sure you give them appropriate warnings. People may like certain types of erotica, but not others. Some people like slash (gay sex), others don’t. Warning a person does two things: it lets people avoid something they don’t want to read, or more easily find what they do want to read.
Next, write what you know. This doesn’t mean you have to have sex to write smut, but at least be educated about it. Readers who have had sex, or even certain types of sex, will be quick to call “BS” on certain things that are not written well. Certain actions that may sound sexy are actually painful, or even potentially deadly. Others can only be performed by circus contortionists on a Twister mat. We’re not saying you need to try everything you write, but a few google searches can help clarify what makes sense and what doesn’t.
Finally, write within your comfort zone, or just slightly outside it. Many people force themselves to write smut, and it gets extremely stilted because they have trouble writing or editing it. We’ve both read a number of fictions where a perfectly edited, eloquent story turns into a train wreck the instant things get hot and heavy.
What happens is the writers get so self-conscious, that their brains shut down. Sentences can become completely incoherent, eloquent descriptions get replaced by something a third grader would write, and the entire scene turns into rubbish. If that’s happening to you, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t write this scene. When in doubt, get a mature beta-reader to scan over it for advice.
Finally, if you want to start writing sex scenes, start by writing one you do not intend to distribute. Removing the pressure of other people reading this will help you relax. Also, easing into it helps. If your first scene is a menage-a-trois with tabs A-C entering slots D-F simultaneously, you will probably not do well. Starting with low-detail/high-emotion scenes and slowly adding details as you get comfortable with it will usually work best.
How do you make it believable?
First, it’s very, very important to understand that men and women experience sex differently. Each person is somewhat different, but when we get to genders, the wiring is totally different. A guy can go from getting ready to done in about two minutes. A woman can take over thirty minutes. To write the experience of the opposite gender, you need to find someone you can have a frank discussion with.
Winged went to Sybil when he started writing explicit scenes to ask how she experienced just about everything. Observing her reactions as a married couple was totally different from understanding what she was experiencing. Similarly, Sybil had a gay beta-reader who gave her a lot of advice about writing male-male relationships (hint: they’re both male!). If you can’t have one of these frank discussions, it will severely limit the POVs you can write from, or perhaps even your ability to write sex scenes at all.
As a quick summary of some key points to help, here are a few things you need to be aware of for sex scenes as far as gender is concerned. For a woman, her entire body is, to one degree or another, an erogenous zone. For a guy, the genitals are almost the only erogenous zone. Women tend to be cued in to touch and words (bodice busters). Men tend to be cued in to sight (Playboy).
Beyond gender differences, there are a few other things to consider. There are a lot of stories out there that describe things that make no sense whatsoever. When a five foot tall woman is making love with her six foot six beefcake, there is no way he can thrust into her while his mouth is latched on her chest. It’s just not going to happen. Ever. If your reader is visual, they will try to picture it, fail, and you just ruined the scene. Squeezing fingers between bodies pressed tightly together, anal sex without lube (and no, blood doesn’t count), flinging bodies about as if they weigh ten pounds, or twisting couples into pretzels all confuse the reader and interrupt the flow of the story.
If it’s not physically possible, don’t write it. It doesn’t matter how “sexy” it sounds, you’re ruining it for at least some of your readers, and they will complain or quit reading your story.
How do you make it sexy?
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way: you have to get the technical aspects of your writing perfect. Nothing says unsexy like “He thrusted inta her hole with her member, fasterer and fasterer, until she cummed like a bansheee.” Your readers will be too busy scratching their heads or face-palming to appreciate the glory of this moment. Side note: when Sybil first heard the quote read out loud, she started laughing like a hyena. Not the response you want to your great sex scene. This is a one-way ticket to being read on Bad Fanfiction Theater.
You cannot allow any distractions or points of confusion to get into your writing. Put two or three times as much effort into editing your sex scenes as any others. For reference, this post took two rounds of editing after it was initially written, and we weren’t feeling nervous about the content. Make sure your beta-reader hits them hard (no pun intended). Ideally, you will choose a beta-reader who has written sex scenes, or at least won’t get flustered by reading them. No, not all beta-readers are effective when things get hot and heavy. Also, some beta-readers will not beta-read certain types of sexual content. Shop carefully and be up front about what you’re writing.
Second, word choice is vital. Sex and comedy are the two areas where word choice matters more than anything else. Many people get insecure about what they’re writing, and come up with various euphemisms to avoid stating what they’re trying to say. We all know there are hundreds of phrases for the male and female genitals. However, if you start talking about how he “thrust his Rod of Lordly Might into her moist chamber,” the reader no longer knows if they’re reading a sex scene or a Dungeons and Dragons adventure.
“Penis” is probably too clinical. “Dick” or “cock” are common. “Hard member” is also common. Word choice reveals not only your own comfort with various words, but also your character’s. So, for example, if you are writing the POV of an inexperienced female, the descriptions need to communicate that inexperience, intimidation, etc. She won’t think, “he whipped out his tallywhacker and waved it in her face.” Instead, you just communicated silly dismissal of his masculinity.
At this point, it’s important to start thinking about what sex is. Sex is, under normal circumstances, the culmination of an intimate relationship. It implies trust and intimacy as two people seek to give each other mutual pleasure. This is also why rape is so horrible. It violates everything that sex is meant to be.
Of course, with trust and intimacy comes feelings of vulnerability. Further, the process of approaching orgasm comes with an increase in both physical and mental tension. This means you, as the writer, need to be describing how the character is experiencing these increased sensations. The details will vary by gender, experience of the partner, and the level of detail you want to write. Regardless, however, it should be about bonding two characters closer together.
With this in mind, to make your scene sexy, you have to talk about how this is achieved. Above all, keep in mind who your characters are, and the POV you are writing from. If the POV character is nervous, write about it! If the POV character is getting excited, write about the increased heart rate and breathing.
For the “first time”, the characters might not even culminate their experience, simply having some heavy petting. This will heighten the tension and anticipation for the next scene. Above all, stay VERY clear about which perspective you are writing from! Nothing is as confusing as switching from the feelings a woman is experiencing, to the discomfort of a rigid, throbbing cock that is desperate for relief.
There will be dialogue. People normally talk to one degree or another before, during, and after sex. It can be playful, talking dirty, or even the simple, “Yes! Right there!” However, avoid cheesy dialogue. That is you, as the author, trying to avoid the intensity of the scene you’re writing. Unfortunately, that means you’re robbing your reader of the intensity of the scene they could have been reading. If you find yourself cheapening the scene, just don’t write it! This is true of all scenes, not just sex.
Finally, more than anything else, a sexy scene is an emotional scene. It’s all in the head. It’s cementing trust, allowing themselves to be vulnerable, taking risks with another person. Men fear being inadequate. Women fear not looking good enough. Both fear not being able to give pleasure. In a world full of high expectations, sex is one of the scariest things two people can do. It is also one of the most rewarding, as two people deep in a loving relationship can use it to express their love and appreciation for each other.
A sex scene means something. It shouldn’t be a cheap thrill for your reader, unless you’re going for that PWP one-shot, but is a deep connection between two characters. Don’t get lost in how one person touched the other in this, that, and the other place on their body. As the characters get lost in their passion, they lose track of what’s happening and it all blends into a rising pleasure and tension. Porn isn’t sexy unless you use cameras. You’re using words, go for the emotional punch. Don’t write Tab A goes in Slot B descriptions.