Writing sex scenes is like any other skill. It takes time to develop. Furthermore, an author’s comfort level with writing sex scenes depends on so many factors that have nothing to do with the characters. Yet, there is no denying, as with every other form of entertainment, that sex sells. If you’re a reader or writer that prefers your books to be free of on-page action, that’s okay, but this blog isn’t for you today.
However, if you’re an author who writes in any genre and want to make your character’s on-page heat make your reader sweat, then this is for you. This is meant to be a cursory look at steaming up the reader’s glasses, but note there are whole books written on this topic and I’ll mention a couple at the end of the article. Feel free to skip there if you know you’re looking for an in-depth dive to heating it up.
1. Keep it physically possible
This will mean different things to different authors depending on their genre (Ice Planet Barbarians, anyone?). It could be easier if you’re writing on Earth with humans, but even that can be tricky. Regardless, do your research on the physicality of sex in all the sexes. Your reader will most likely have experienced sex themselves and will know that males take a few minutes to recover after orgasm (hormonal, not stamina related). Or most women will know that they’ve never had a “tingly cervix.”
Even if your genre is less based in reality there are physics that go into a mixed species sex scene. If your character is extra tall, very small, has wings, or a tail factor those things into the positions you choose. Can they lie on their wings comfortably? Would their tail make certain actions uncomfortable? Don’t forget to keep it consistent. If it hurts to fall on their wings, it won’t be comfortable to be thrown onto them by their partner, etc.
Tips for realism:
- Look it up. Look up realistic recovery times for males of different ages or ways to describe sensations.
- Use models to explore positions. Katee Robert famously uses barbies to test polygamy scenes for possibility and description.
- One author I talked to went so far as to check adult sites. She did not recommend this, but it may provide help to other authors, especially if it’s not something you’ve experienced.
- Try it out. If you have a willing partner, try what you’re trying to write. Note how you feel, where you feel it, and maybe see if they can help you describe their feelings.
- Avoid describing things that couldn’t be possible at all.
2. Keep your character’s personality in mind
Ask yourself, is this character’s responses and actions in line with them as a character? If your character is shy, timid, and anxious, it is unlikely that they will turn into an aggressive dom in the bedroom. Although their personality isn’t the exact same it also won’t change completely. If your character’s bedroom personality is important to the arc or storyline, make sure it’s reflected in their characterization outside of the bedroom.
I’ve read books where the male main character is a golden retriever and then once it gets sexy he turns into a controlling and aggressive partner. This is jarring for the reader and overall changes the level of authenticity and immersion your reader experiences.
Tips for aligning personality in and out of the bedroom:
- Consider who your character is as a person and how their sexual experience will or won’t affect them.
- If your character does change due to a new found confidence in the bedroom, that should reflect back into the story.
- Avoid adjusting your character for one type of scene. If you think your character needs to be darker or lighter to be digestible, consider why you’re writing to that trope or experience.
- Ask yourself would this be exciting to them?
3. Avoid flowery metaphors or euphemisms
Euphemisms used to be IT for sex scenes, but as readers have become more comfortable with sex and bodies, tolerance for euphemisms have gone down. This isn’t to suggest you should be overly clinical in your descriptions either but avoid using too many words to describe body parts. Nothing can stop a reader in their tracks like hearing of a heroine “losing her precious flower.”
Regardless, occasional euphemisms are needed to avoid becoming overly clinical. Inserting a penis into her vaginal opening just doesn’t elicit the imagery or emotion of an intimate scene. Further, overly clinical or overly flowery language is sure to show the writer’s discomfort and in turn make the reader uncomfortable.
Tips for avoiding metaphors and euphemisms:
- Keep it simple. The more words you use to describe a body part or act, the more obvious it is that you’re avoiding the topic.
- If your grandmother described it that way, it’s too much. Yes, some people had cool grandmas, but generally, if she would’ve said it during a sex talk it’s probably too flowery.
- Aim for directness. Readers appreciate immersion and euphemisms muddy the waters, so stay clear.
Repetition in scenes is not only redundant and distracting, but also frustrating. Somehow, in sex scenes this sentiment is magnified. While there is a certain level of repetition of some tasks, others seem to be interpreted as excessive.
Though you are being straightforward, are you only using one word to describe acts or body parts. Can you use pronouns to break up the use of a word. Is the scene fully revolved around talking or touching with nothing else in between. Remember, even in a sex scene the environment plays a role. Repetition is viewed as dull and annoying. Or does the MMC keep stroking her hair or does the FMC only moan rather than voicing her preferences, or could she even offer a different sound.
Tips for avoiding repetition:
- Reference books you enjoyed. What types of scenes have you enjoyed as a reader and what worked in them for words?
- Since you’re remaining true to your characters as mentioned above, try getting in their head and expressing themselves through their lens.
- Use environmental clues and sensations to break up the dirty talk or to give the reader some space from constant sexual references. Ex: She stopped when her legs hit the mattress.
- Try a thesaurus or a sex thesaurus (referenced below). It’s a great way to mix up your word choice. Yet, don’t get too carried away.
5. Take it slow
An easy mistake that authors make the first time they write a sex scene is to write it too quickly. Get to the good stuff and get it over with. This is typically done due to the perceived awkwardness in writing sex. It’s a personal thing to write something so intimate. But, remember sex scenes in romance are an extension of the story. You wouldn’t rush your characters through a meet-cute and you shouldn’t rush them through sex either.
As with any other scene, describe what the characters see, feel, smell, and hear. Let your reader experience their thoughts and, since you’ve opened the door, let them be in the room. Although it’s tempting to get it over with, take a breath and remember that somewhere a man has written it worse.
Tips to slowing down
- Focus on the nonsexual details at first. If writing sex scenes makes you uncomfortable start slowly and focus less on the sex and more to the build between the characters.
- Remember sex scenes are like any other scenes. They serve a purpose, they progress the plot, and they build relationships between characters. Remind yourself where this is leading.
- If you find you’ve rushed through it, go back and add sensory details. External factors and maybe explore what parts feel rushed to add in detail or narrative.
The question is now, Is it steamy enough? Yes.
What I mean by “yes” is that when you’re satisfied with the scene is when it’s enough. There are different depths of graphic and explicit and each story will have its own level of enough. Your book may have one sex scene or it could have twenty, but that is wholly reliant on the story you’re telling and the purpose of each scene. Do your best not to compare your sex scenes to other authors and focus on staying true to your style as an author and your characters within the story.