I admit upfront most sex scenes bore the crap out of me. It’s almost as if authors these days feel compelled to put in at least two or three (and often far more!) graphic physical encounters per book, and the sad fact is most of those scenes are badly written. I end up skimming them 99% of the time.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with “drawing the curtain” when the lovers take to their bed. It’s what leads up to that moment that’s exciting, even arousing. Once they hit the sheets, well, yawn. And why is that? Because so much of what is titillating about sex is missing. You can write about smells and sounds and touches, but it’s really difficult to convey visceral things with words. This is why porn is so popular and always will be: the visual is far more exciting than words can ever be.
That being said, I have read good sex scenes. Sex is part of life, and it should be included in a romance or love story, but exercise a little common sense. The main characters have had four intimate encounters already and you’re only halfway through the story? Then you’re no longer writing romance, you’ve crossed the line into erotica.
I like a strong dose of reality in my reading. Instead of love wand and his pulsing manhood, authors can now honestly say cock, dick, and prick. I love the word cock, but after reading it a hundred times in one scene, it loses all its punch. It’s just another ho-hum word. Sex scenes should be kept to a minimum and short; when they drag out, repetition rears its ugly head. Don’t drag on and on and on for page after page, telling me about every breath they take and giving me a laundry list of caresses and kisses.
The best sex scenes don’t revolve around what the characters are doing so much as what they are feeling and experiencing of their surroundings. Tab A into Slot B isn’t going to get the reader there.
How do you know whether or not to add that intimate encounter? Ask yourself a few questions.
- Does the scene doesn’t reveal anything new about the character(s) or move the story forward? If not, leave it out. Take the reader to the bedroom door, then close it. Alternately, lead them to the bed, write a few sexy, graphic things, then draw the curtain.
- Do not give me a blow-by-blow, touch-by-touch description of the action. There really is nothing more boring. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, het romance novels were really popular. None of them contained explicit sex scenes; it was left to the readers’ imagination. Today, authors are allowed, even encouraged to include such scenes (“Sex sells.”), and nearly everyone is doing it, and it’s all gotten quite tedious. There are only so many ways to write sex, and it’s all been done and done and done again. If you read a lot of romances, you know what I mean. The sex written in so-called literary or mainstream novels is almost always better than what’s written in romances, because it doesn’t belabor the point! It doesn’t get down in the sheets and roll around in them until everyone pukes. Sex is part of the story, not the main <ahem> thrust of it. And remember: you’re writing romance, not erotica. The last thing I want to read in a romance are multiple, cookie-cutter sex scenes. I have no interest in watching the author masturbate; give me more story.
- Say you decide to include three complete sex scenes in your book. How can you make each one different? It’s the author’s job to make every word count, and that includes the ones in sex scenes. Make it unique, bring it alive, give the reader a jolt! Don’t use the same phrasing and sequence of touches from scene to scene. Readers notice, oh yes we do.
I don’t expect every author to agree with me about this. Lots and lots of them are writing tons of sex scenes, and nothing I say will make them change, nor should it. “Write what you love” goes the saying, and if it’s sex that gets your motor running, go for it. But I won’t read what you write, and I have a feeling lots of other readers are getting tired of the same ol’, same ol’ too, if only because there’s so much of it available now.
What ultimately makes a story sexy is the relationship between the main characters and the story being told. “Sexy” isn’t only when they hop into bed. “Sexy” is the buildup of emotion between them and a final, satisfying resolution. “Sexy” is attitude. If the author has done their job, the most innocent phrase can knock me out of my socks because the entire book is sexy, and there might not have been even one, on-page intimate encounter. That’s the book I want to read. That’s the one I seek out.
Happy reading, everyone. See you Friday.