Do these things, and you’ll lose readers before the big finish
Writing a great sex scene is a beautiful and intricate dance — one that straddles the line between reality and sexual fantasy.
There’s a delicate balance between dialogue and action, character development and narration, and a million other variables that can either make readers crave your next story with agonizing desire — or send them packing, never to take a chance on your work again.
One of the most difficult things about writing a sex scene is navigating your way between craft versus taste. You could be the most gifted writer of all writers, but what seems erotic to you might be silly, gross, or even appalling to others.
It’s all about finding your unique voice, learning how to express your own style, and building an audience that connects with your writing.
The art of writing is already such a subjective thing. One reader’s E.L. James is another reader’s Henry Miller. (I happen to like both because I have eclectic taste, but you get where I’m heading.)
When it comes to writing sex, there’s a lot of advice floating around out there about things you should do to improve your work.
But there are a few key things you shouldn’t do — unless, of course, your goal is to write an absolute garbage sexual encounter that makes readers cringe.
So if you want to write, just, the worst sex imaginable, then by all means, follow these tips and tricks.
1. Don’t make us care about the characters
Whether you’re writing a novel that builds up to a sex scene with a slow burn or a short story that gets to the action right away, you still need to add characterization so that reader cares about what’s going on.
Some sex scenes are very light on character. That’s okay! But we at least want a good visual description of the people involved, and we want to tap into the lead character’s mind as the sex is happening.
Is the steamy scene about passionate romance and human connection? Pure animal lust? Maybe it’s an instance of giving in to temptation — the boss lady can no longer resist her long-time employee, even though they both know it’s against company policy.
Add some interesting details to make your story more original and intriguing. It only adds to the hotness factor.
2. Skip the foreplay
We all know foreplay is important before real-life sex. That’s a given, right? RIGHT?!
If you’re writing a good sex scene that eventually culminates in an explosive climactic ending, you’ll want to have your characters engage in some tension-building foreplay first. Intense kissing, massage, groping, oral. Maybe some spanking or some other kinky activity if you’re writing for the BDSM audience.
Just as you build the plot by introducing characters and situations with the right amount of pacing, you also want to pace yourself by spending a portion of the sex scene on physical foreplay.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. A quickie with little foreplay can stand out and be super hot, but it’s not typically the best way to create anticipation, which is often a huge part of the reader experience.
3. Give characters as many limbs as you please
If your reader has trouble keeping track of whose hand is doing what or whose tongue is exploring where, they’re going to be spending too much time deciphering the puzzle of limbs flailing everywhere and not enough time appreciating your scintillating sex scene.
Not only do sex writers have to keep track of who is doing what to whom and where (and how and in what orifice ) — they also have to make the action flow easily and effortlessly for the reader.
This can get damn hard for the best romance and erotica writers. Throw more than two partners or same-sex couples in the mix, and your challenge becomes doubly difficult.
Figure out the best point of view for your story (first-person is great for same-sex couples), and avoid overly long and complex sentences that describe too much in one line. For example:
He stroked her left breast with his right hand as he took her right nipple into his hot mouth and pulled her blonde hair with his other hand while using the fingers of the hand opposite that hand to lightly stroke her between her legs, of which were long and shapely as they were wrapped around his waist and also his shoulders — all at the same time.
As an erotica editor, I have to tell you, I’ve seen worse.
4. Don’t give good imagery
If you don’t spend time creating powerful imagery, your sex scene will fail to pop off the page and into the reader’s mind. One good way to make the passion come alive is to blanket the reader’s senses in what the point-of-view character sees, smells, tastes, hears, and feels.
Spread these details throughout like little golden nuggets and weave them between action and dialogue — don’t just dump them all into a big long list.
Give the reader enough description to entice, but not so much that it becomes boring. While being way too specific doesn’t allow the reader’s imagination to take over, being far too vague feels lazy and will make your story forgettable.
5. Be super repetitive with sexual language
In my editing days, I often came across clients who would use the same word so many times it started to lose its meaning. “Pussy” can be erotic and effective the first one or two mentions, but let me tell you, 15 pussies in one page is too much pussy (if there is such a thing).
Short of relying on overly flowery language that is more comedic than arousing (the engorged rose of her femininity, anyone?), find at least some variety of words for the different parts and acts that you can implement so that you don’t overdo it.
6. Don’t get creative with locations or scenarios
Setting the scene in the bedroom can be incredibly hot if you have the hang of writing sex. But even if your location is ordinary, make sure the scenario itself is extraordinary — something well-written that draws the reader in will put your work above the lazy writing lurking out there.
And don’t be afraid to move away from the bed. Whether your characters are on the stairs, in front of the fireplace, in the office, on a train, in a closet at a dinner party, or any number of creative scenarios, have fun and take full advantage of your sexual imagination.
7. Use “cum” instead of “come”
Let’s just get right to the meat of the matter.
We can all debate this until we settle a colony on Mars, but I could write a 69-page essay full of evidence from credible sources about why come is more fitting and appealing than cum.
One might say, “But Holly, cum is for writing dirty smut porn, and come is for romance — and I prefer writing smut, so there!”
I’m here to say it’s all about a cleaner, more cohesive look that makes grammatical sense. I know when we’re orgasming, we’re not thinking about grammar. Or what makes sense. But — even when your characters are about to have the most mind-blowing climax of their life, we don’t just abandon all language rules completely.
“Yes, YES! I’m about to cum…yishg, doo it two mees. Right their! Gafdh. Fuk!!!”
See? That’s a difficult sentence to read. If we just started spelling shit all wrong when our characters climax, the heat is gone.
And, if we “cum” in present tense, then do we “cummed” in past tense?
All joking aside, if you love cum instead of come, I say do what works for your style. Every writer is different! But I think come is highly versatile and can be used in both the dirtiest and classiest of sex scenes.
8. Ignore the natural ebb and flow of lovemaking
One way that can help create an authentic, euphoric sex scene is by making the rhythm of your writing similar to the rhythm of sex.
For me, it really helps to put myself in the minds of the characters and think about how I feel when I’m having sex. I utilize my experience.
I don’t want the sex to be over too soon. I don’t want it to drag out too long. I want some teasing. I want to hit the high points when I’m ready for them. I want to burn slowly until I’m boiling, then I want release.
Play around with different sentence/paragraph lengths to create beats and mimic sex: longer lines for the slower, building action, and shorter lines for a faster pace. Bring the reader on a roller coaster ride and enhance your writing with ups and downs throughout.
9. Throw realism right out the window
That tightrope looming over realism and fantasy sex is a delicate one to cross as you’re writing. Whether it’s a fictional tale or an amazing true experience in your blog, you can write incredibly realistic sex in an evocative and powerful way.
And sometimes, a few creative liberties makes the read all that much more enjoyable.
But if things happen between characters that are so completely out of the realm of real sex, you risk taking your reader out of the story.
Does your male character make your female protagonist come at the very first thrust, with absolutely no stimulation of any other part of her body?
I’ve read it in a story, folks. And then I laughed and said, “Ha ha! That’s pure male delusion if I’ve ever seen it!” And yes, the story’s writer happened to be male.
Also, don’t be afraid to incorporate birth control or protection. Or periods. Or the need for lube. You can find sexy ways to work these things in. We deal with them in real life, and it’s something readers can relate to.
If you’re writing fantasy and your character has magical powers (say, they can fly and have sex in mid-air), then by all means, get creative with your awesome fantasy sex.
But keep in mind — even the gift of flight does not mean the woman comes with little to no effort on her partner’s part.
The More You Write, the Better You’ll Get
If your goal is to actually write great sex and not terrible sex, avoid the pitfalls above. If you’ve noticed yourself fall into any of these bad habits, don’t stress. Continue reading romance and erotica. Observe how other polished writers are able to craft real and wonderful sex scenes.
And, even if you’re just starting out, write as much as you can! It may be rough now, but you’ll get better and better the more you practice.
For those of you who, like me, are serious about writing high-quality sex, keep at it. Have fun with it. And enjoy the journey along the way.
By the way, did you know the working title for Henry Miller’s classic erotic tale depicting his sexual exploits in Paris was Crazy Cock? The fact that it was later changed to Tropic of Cancer just shows how taste plays an insanely important role in erotic literature.