Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Write: Sex Scenes

Right now, I need to tell my parents to stop reading. I appreciate your love and support, but this is not the post I want you to remember me for. Click here instead. (goes doubly for grandparents)

Anyone else who doesn't appreciate R rated material should also skip this one.


My current work in progress, Awake, has something none of my previous works have had: a sex scene. Believe me, I've been trying to figure out how I'm going to show this novel to my parents without chopping out a whole chapter. Actually, when I first picked up the book Sex, Murder and a Double Latte the first sentence resonated with me:
"The downside to writing sex scenes is that my mother reads my books."  
Yeah, obviously, I'm not the first person to have this problem. I guess I'll figure something out when the time comes. (Just now getting a lot of unnecessary anxiety about this.)

Barring the difficulties of sharing scenes as intimate as these, getting the words out can be difficult too. This post's aim is to help with that.

There are different kinds of sex scenes for various situations.

For realistic scenes in which you don't want the girl to seem too easy, or the guy to be a coarse, ill-mannered brute, there's a specific order to the action, starting way before the scene itself. It's not so much what is done – ‘petting’ (kissing and limited fondling), ‘heavy petting’ (breast fondling with direct skin contact, stimulation through clothing), or even actual intercourse. Assuming mutual attraction in the first place, what matters is actually the order in which the characters do these things. As long as they each go through the same stages step by step and it is accepted by the other, everything is usually okay, even if the stages are gone through quickly. 

If you follow the stages in roughly the right order, sex will always seem consensual, and therefore acceptable. Some of the later stages often merge or are skipped altogether without problem. The faster it happens, and the more stages you skip, the more explosive and lust-based it seems, BUT you have to show both parties at same stage for it not to seem like rape for one or the other. The slower you take them through the stages, and the fewer stages you skip, the more it becomes love-making, and the more erotic it becomes. This order is roughly: 

  1. ‘Accidental’ hand touching.
  2. Hand touching/holding.
  3. ‘Accidental’ body contact. e.g. arm brushing breast or vice versa, hips/legs brushing while walking/sitting.
  4. Deliberate contact. Arm round shoulder/waist.
  5. Touching other’s face/hair.
  6. Kiss, with minimal body to body contact.
  7. Long kiss, full body contact.
  8. Brief contact with lesser erogenous zones. e.g. Ear lobe, neck, back.
  9. Longer deliberate contact with major erogenous zones (breasts, followed by thighs/legs, followed by inner thighs and upward, through clothing.
  10. Naked contact between torsos. Strong genital to genital contact through clothes, accompanied by strong pressure and movement.
  11. Full naked contact.
  12. Actual intercourse.

How to describe the sex scene:
  1. Making it coy, old-fashioned, clichéd and funny
    1. Use pet/old names for the sex organs. 
    2. Recycled metaphors and similes. “His train entered her tunnel at full steam ahead.” “Her maidenhead opened for him like a flower to the sun.” “His honeybee sipped her delicious nectar.” “His rocket launched into her orbit.”

  1. Making it pornographic:
    1. Rapid invasion of personal space.
    2. Make the sexual response one-sided.
    3. Focus on the sex organs and intercourse.
    4. Use lots of the four letter words repeatedly, and the more insulting slang.
    5. Repeat words like thrust, rammed, forced at regular intervals.
    6. Keep repeating the same actions over and over.
    7. Skip lots of stages.
    8. Focus on physical descriptions rather than emotions.
    9. Avoid gentle gestures, or touching non-erogenous zones.
    10. Skip kisses unless they’re brutal and forceful.
    11. Lots of loud cries, especially four letter words.
    12. Significant use of force or pain.

  1. Making it love-making:
    1. Go slowly through each of the stages, at least to start with, and show that each is enjoying and accepting it.
    2. Place the emphasis on how it feels rather than on what is being done.
    3. Loving touches on each other’s bodies away from erogenous zones, kisses and eye contact. Whispered endearments (but not coy ones). Lots of foreplay in other words.
    4. Show each showing their pleasure to the other. 
    5. A small amount of scratching and biting is okay, but it’s easy to overdo it. Qualify it to stay safe e.g., gentle scraping, nipping.
    6. Show mutual surrender to the pleasure as you approach the climax.
    7. Both achieve climax; together is best but not compulsory, as long as the one who reaches orgasm first continues until the other does. Let the climax continue for a reasonable time, at least for the woman. Average time for a man from initial onset to final contraction is up to about 7 seconds for a man, 30 seconds for a woman, though the last ten seconds or so, they’re fading down. 
    8. Don’t be too graphic/specific. If you need to be specific, stick to the accepted words and/or the commonest, least coarse alternatives/abbreviations. Even so, keep it the minimum.
    9. Gentle sounds if any.
    10. Remember intercourse is simply one stage in love-making.
    11. Repeat 3c after climax.

  1. Making it fairly steamy/ erotic/spicy:
    1. Go through all the early stages very quickly. Can put up to three in one sentence.
    2. Skip odd later stages, but mix in foreplay/kisses/eye contact even during intercourse.
    3. Include the same loving gestures as in love making. But make them more forceful and produce a stronger and noisier response.
    4. Can use more graphic/specific description but stick to the ‘acceptable’ options as in 3g.
    5. More of stuff in 3e, but more strongly, but make sure you show a pleasure response by partner, and have them return it.
    6. Make it noisier, quicker and more forceful for both.
    7. Make them collapse with exhaustion afterwards, if only for a few moments while they get their breath back.
    8. Even more important to repeat 3c afterwards.


  1. I LOVED (still do) that scene from Kyra Davis' book...can't repeat it, but the whole description is priceless. I hope that I am experienced enough to know how to describe things from good-girl, to slow & sweet lovemaking, to hot sexy lovemaking and even to porn and erotic (not the same thing), but until I have to write one out for a specific novel, I may be wrong about which is best for that particular audience. Then, I'll refer back to your wonderful list! (P.S. Love finding other Kyra Davis fans!)

    1. Yay for fandom! I'm slow, though ... I still haven't read her latest one.

  2. Great post!

    I've done a few scenes, but they were quite tame...I try to stay away from the forceful, one-sided scenes and I don't do raunchy in my writings. However, that's not to say that I don't like to read a hot-and-heavy sex scene...! I haven't graduated yet to the "actually describing it" sort of scene. Maybe I'll try that with the next one!

    Thanks for the info!

  3. I used to write pretty graphic stuff. My publisher liked it that way. Now, not so much under my own name, but under my pseudonym, with my collaborator....

  4. Great post!

    I write with my partner in crime there under our pseudonyms, and that gets very graphic. It falls more under the category of #3, and it gets steamy.

    In my solo novel, which is a completely different genre, there is sex, but it's not the emphasis to the story, and it seems it's the villains who are the ones getting lucky....

  5. Have a kiss - a little tongue in cheek...

    I suddenly became aware that I was exhausted.I caught hold of his hand and pulled him gently towards me, my eyelids already flickering.
    “Tuck me in?” He did so, then leant over and kissed my forehead. I forced my eyelids up, and raised my arms to his neck. “Proper kiss.”
    Michael smiled, allowed me to draw him down beside me on top of the duvet. We lay facing each other, my eyes slipping in and out of focus as I struggled to keep them open. His hand slid under my neck, curved to the back of my head where it began to stroke my hair, moving my head towards him with a light but insistent pressure. His hair riffled against my fingers as I slid them to the back of his head. His other hand caressed the curve of my shoulder, its warmth on my skin soothing and stimulating at the same time. I lost the battle with my eyelids.
    Michael’s breath touched my mouth first, featherlike, followed by his lips. They were firm, and supple enough to make contact with every sensitive nerve ending in my own lips. To my surprise, they triggered not lust, but pleasure and contentment. The desire I usually felt when I thought of him hovered at the edge of my awareness, held at bay by my exhaustion. The tips of our tongues touched and made a pact to meet again. I floated into the kiss, and closer to sleep.
    His taste reminded me of something, something wonderful.
    Lime ice lollies. Lime ice lollies are my idea of bliss.
    Sleep closed the shutters on my conscious mind to the thought that Michael tasted of bliss.