Firstly, let’s make something clear. This tutorial is about writing sex scenes in fiction NOT writing erotica.
For those who don’t know the difference, erotica is literature written specifically to excite. Erotica has very basic plots that are moved along with sexual acts.
This tutorial is about writing sex scenes within regular fiction (leaning, as usual, more towards fantasy fiction).
Secondly, while my examples will portray heterosexuals many of the techniques, issues and suggestions can be adapted for homosexual sex scenes as well.
Thirdly, these sex scene tutorials became popular on DeviantArt than I expected and while the majority of peoples notes and comments seemed to suggest they found these useful in their writing, I did get a lot of notes from people who went into a lot of graphic detail about their own stories…which in my eyes were erotica.
While I am fine with sex scenes in books (if they work and do something for the plot/character development) I have no interest to be reading erotic plot lines or heavily gratuitous scenes.
All my thoughts on writing sex scenes will be listed here and in the second part of this tutorial. Please don’t ask me to read your sex scenes for my advice.
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No Sex for Sex sake, please
Unless you are writing erotica, it is unwise to just throw in a sex scene or two for the hell of it. Like everything in a novel, there must be a reason, a purpose.
Too many novelists will suddenly thrust their main characters together while the poor reader is stunned having not even realised there was chemistry between them.
Think about why you want to write this scene, is it a natural point?
- Have your characters built up a relationship and need to take it to another step?
- Does it have a point to your plot such as a lonely wife seducing the young gardener as punishment for her husband’s long business trips?
I have seen many writers (both published and unpublished) who have, for whatever reason, been driven to add in some unnecessary sex scene. It does nothing for the story and has even dragged down the plot.
Some stories I’ve read, I couldn’t continue because it changed the whole dynamic of the characters.
Sex sells, but do you want that to be the reason your stories sell? In the end, it’s up to you, but my personal thought, unless there is a really good reason for it or if you actually want to write erotica, think before you throw in any sexual scenes.
Who Are Your Readers?
If you want to be a published author you need to keep the reader in mind. Do not compromise everything for your readers, after all, you are surely writing for the love of it. But you need to think about what sort of age range your books may appeal.
You do not want to write something that will be easily swept up by younger people which may make adding a raunchier sex scene difficult. One help here is the age of your (main) characters.
If they are children or teenagers you are more likely to get a teenage audience because they can relate to the characters.
If your characters are in their twenties or thirties you may have some older teenage readers but maybe more adult readers which will make it easier if you wish to add sexual encounters.
Again, male and female readers are different – it tends to be (but not a definitive rule) that male readers are not as offended by more explicit sex scenes. However, this can be off-putting for some women. So if you feel your larger reader group will be female you may want to tone it down.
Sex not Erotica
As mentioned this is about writing sex not erotica. Most erotic novels are quite explicit because the book is all about sex and there is less of a plot.
If your story is just inclusive of a sex scene you are better off keeping your sex scenes more “appropriate”. This usually comes in the wordage you use.
Erotica will use more gritty and, for want of a better word, vulgar terminology. Whereas you will often find in novels the sexual encounters are more muted in their physical descriptions.
Example of erotica: “He squeezed her tits hard.”
Example of sexual tones in a novel: “He took her breasts firmly in his hands.”
Even if you used the exact same sentence (he squeezed her breasts hard). Just by changing that one word, it changes the image.
A word like “tits” does have a social tag of being crass. From the first example, your reader could not imagine this was, say, a Lady in a Royal court.
Another thing to remember is how often you have sex scenes. Your readers aren’t buying porn or erotica they’re buying your story. A plot and well-defined characters are what they want, sex scenes can be part of it but not all of it.
Be aware of your readers – you cannot please everyone but you can easily drive away a whole lot of people.
(My) RULES OF SEX SCENES
I find a lot of novelists especially new novelists fall down on a number of points when writing sex scenes, so here are (my) rules that I find work well.
While you may be writing fiction, try and be realistic. Firstly not everyone is multi-orgasmic (and certainly not all of the time) so decide whether your characters need to be in your novel.
This can actually be quite tedious to read especially if it happens every time there is a sexual encounter. Secondly, not everyone reaches orgasm.
Something you will often find in novels especially heavily romanced ones are how often the coupling characters will reach orgasm together. Yes, that does happen, but again not every time.
Realistically, if we are discussing heterosexuals you have to remember these two genders are different and react differently. There is a reason women go on about foreplay – it has its uses.
Example: the likelihood of a man and woman reaching orgasm at the same time is increased if foreplay is done first. You don’t have to write it up like that, the building of sexual tension throughout a scene can be enough “foreplay” if you do it right.
Again when writing sex scenes you need to consider your characters. Not everyone knows what they are doing. I’m not just talking about a virginal character new to the experience, I’m talking about real life.
Example: A man raised in a strict religious family, married young to a woman who was like him. Maybe their sex life is more for procreation so the only position ever used was the missionary (Man on top).
He ends up leaving her and meeting someone new who is a little more adventurous. How would he feel if his new partner suggested a different position?
Remember your characters can be taken out of their comfort zones; suddenly the idea of sex is marred by this nervousness. Suddenly he feels insecure and less sure of himself.
Does he have to learn to let his new partner lead and take control, something he’s never done because he was brought up where the man is always in control?
This above example gives you a reason for the sex scene – you would develop his character, shaking him up and seeing what happens.
How will he respond to this? Will he feel emasculated by this or would he be turned on? You can use these scenes to really learn about your characters.
However, don’t fall into a trap of always pigeon-holing your characters. For example – Age – Maybe you have a teenage character that is quite wild. Maybe he/she has more sexual experience than say your older character who has been celibate or maybe with only one or two partners.
Love & Sex
It’s a nice dream that sex is only performed between people who love each other. However, that isn’t the case. Sex scenes can be used for other reasons. Here are a few to think about: lust, politics, power, revenge, torture, duty, occupation.
Lust and love
Lust and love are different, but if you are in love you can lust for the person you are in love with. Remember this because lustful sex is seen as hot, fiery, wild almost uncontrollable.
It is often written for secret lovers and unfaithful spouses but again don’t pigeon-hole – your in-love characters can experience lust for each other as well.
Politics & power
This is always interesting – the idea of getting ahead, it is often used by women in literature. Female characters using their bodies to their own advantage, or how about the idea of a father arranging a marriage of his daughter to another family.
The union could dissipate a long-standing feud and the child from that union could be seen as a fresh start of peace between them.
Here the sex would be political but only in the eyes of the father – so what about his daughter, or the son of the other family? How would they feel to have their bodies traded?
Another pigeon-hole to avoid – in the above situation, it is instinctive to see it from the daughter’s point of view and imagine maybe that she would be devastated, hateful or painfully resigned to this life of domestic rape.
But you can twist the concepts, maybe she is attracted to this boy but he is not interested, maybe he loves another and only wants to be with them or does not feel ready for such an obligation? Maybe one of the character’s is gay and unable to reveal that to their parents?
Does the wife of an unfaithful man finally succumb to the attention of his best friend, not for love or even lust but just to hurt her husband? How does she feel after (or even during?)
Does she stop him, suddenly crying no and making the best friend feel like he forced her? Did the best friend truly love her so now becomes bitter when he realises why she slept with him?
Revenge is hot and it burns through the blood and destroys logic. It is often unsatisfying. We react, barely thinking of consequences but they are usually there, ready to show themselves later. Think about this if you use sex for revenge.
The next part touches on rape. For those who may find such topics triggering, please be aware. Note: There is NEVER an excusable reason for rape. All points here are to enlighten on why things happen, but I say again. There is NEVER an excusable reason for rape.
Torture & violence
One thing about novels is they can be a platform for showing issues you may feel strongly about. Many people may not have thought about sexual situations being used for torture. Yet our news is full of it, our world history is full of it. Men and women assaulted and raped.
First, sex means sexual intercourse. Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse. Things to consider regarding consent. Depending on your reason for including any such act, you can explore other issues:
Example: in Africa, many lesbians have been subjected to “corrective rapes”. Women are attacked often by gangs and raped to “cure” them of their lesbian inclinations.
From this, we see that many people in these areas do not see these rapes as a crime, whereas the homosexuality of these women is. So people’s perceptions are different.
Example: In some countries, children and young people (both male and female) are raped if they are virgins. It is believed that sex with a virgin will (wrongly) cure AIDS. The same belief applies to sex with the elderly.
Others believe that having sex with a baby will bring them a fortune to get a job. From this, we see that maybe the rapists actually believe they are doing it for a good reason. Maybe they feel they have no other choice.
Example: During Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia, rape was used to create terror and humiliate whole communities. The boy-soldiers Taylor forced to work for him were often forced to rape their own mothers, grandmothers and sisters as part of their initiation. This was to break these boys as well as the female victims.
Rapists don’t consider themselves rapists. They never think they are doing something wrong. In some countries, it is part of a “right” that some men have. Whether they think their victim wanted it, needed it, liked it or deserved it. But the truth is, if it was non-consensual, it’s rape.
Convictions for rape
Again different places treat rape differently, in some countries, if the rapist is a man many will not stand against him, including wives (even if it is their own daughter/son who was the victim).
Why? Because the man was the breadwinner and if he is arrested they lose that money.
In some countries and cultures, a rapist will have to marry their victim, especially if a child is produced from the union. Sometimes the family of the rapist will pressure the victim into retracting their statement.
You have the concept of shame – victims of rape can often be thrown out of the family home for bringing shame. They can be seen as being unfit to marry.
Some places/people do not believe there is such a thing as rape, especially domestic rape because if it happened between spouses it is acceptable. Even in countries where rape is seen as a crime, there is still society-lean towards victim blaming/shaming.
Rape is not just a crime against women. Rapists are not always men. There is also such a thing as spousal/domestic rape where the assault is done between marital or common-law partners.
The young and pretty are not automatically rape targets. Rape is mostly about power, need, domination, control.
Statutory rape is consensual rape where one of the partners are underage and the other is a legal adult.
Sex slavery/sex trafficking is still very real and happens in every country.
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Prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions. It is a service, the use of one body to please another. It is not limited to women, there are male prostitutes. Not all prostitutes do it to fuel a drug habit; some just do it to feed themselves.
Others (many) are trafficked or tricked into it or maybe pimped by their partner etc. They can be locked up and beaten until they agree to service clients.
Maybe in your world, it is an honourable profession (think Companions in the TV series Firefly) that comes with a graceful dignity.
Example: Prostitutes were part of war-times, many countries believed it was acceptable to have prostitutes available to service their fighting men. These women rarely had a choice and would often have lines and lines of men waiting their turn.
They were often abused by doctors who were there to give them checkups and many of these women ended up pregnant.
These are people who sexually arouse someone so they can then perform with another person.
Example: You could have a knight who is chosen by his queen as a sexual partner. He is unable to refuse this order. Does she supply him with a fluffer, so that he will be ready for her as she will not tolerate failure?
Example: You could have characters that follow a religion that honours certain days by a union. Perhaps the priest and priestess must couple on the altar. It is a duty/occupation and there is no affection or bonding between them – maybe it is needed to bless the land so it will yield fertile crops.
Something I always noticed if reading a novel with a sex scene, both the partners always have clothes with buttons that can be “ripped off”, easy to undo belts and zips and skirts that can be slipped off or hitched up.
The clothes are always sexy, attractive or alluring too. However, the reality is that just isn’t always the case.
Feel free to have your characters in bosom-heaving corsets that open at the simplest pull of a cord or breeches that drop on cue. However just be aware it isn’t always like that. Maybe the clumsy fumbling can be part of the scene.
Example: Your characters are secret lovers and they get very few stolen moments together so the frustration of fiddling with pearl buttons or tight-fitting waistcoats is infinitely heightened. Maybe this leads to tempers flaring as their time together is shortened.
Also, depending on the era you are writing in things like bras, suspenders, garters, thongs, boxer shorts, mini skirts may not part of the wardrobe. Does a push-up Wonderbra really work in your fantasy world where people don’t even have electricity? Again –try and lean towards more realism.
I’ll just come right out with this – when it comes to writing, size matters. Namely that many writers overdo it. Your character’s physical size (both male and female) needs thought and understanding. Let’s cover a quick few:
There does always seem to be a rash of big-breasted heroines in fiction. Not that you must have everyone petite in the chest.
I think the issue always comes with the fact that writers will often stick very large breasts onto a petite frame. (It does happen in real life, however, it’s not common and usually, these women have a lot of trouble with aches, pains etc with many electing to get reduction surgery).
The truth is most women with large breasts have a larger figure and the same applies to small breasts on smaller women.
Having your female character stick thin with huge breasts won’t read well (unless your novel has plastic surgery).
If you want your heroine to have big breasts fine but remember physiology. Think high and pert – gravity just won’t allow it. So unless you feel like changing your world’s gravity you will need to think realistic.
If you want her to have a strong curvaceous figure that’s heavy up top, be prepared that once her undergarments are removed her breasts will sag somewhat. This is not a negative and should not be seen as such, just a truth of biology. (Think “pencil test”)
The same applies to small breasts, don’t make your female character slight and then talk about her plunging cleavage. Remember their appearance and stick to it.
Like the above, if you have small breasts then when you lie back they flatten even more. Always remember your biology as it helps to create more realistic characters. TIP – Breasts don’t get bigger just because a sex scene appears.
Similar to the breasts, you don’t have to make all your characters ultra-toned. Not everyone is.
Remember your world, maybe large voluptuous women are seen as well-standing because they are seen as having wealth whereas someone thinner is considered diseased almost.
How about the idea that petite frames are considered better for sex workers whereas larger frames better for marrying and childbearing?
If you want your characters strong and able, give them an occupation that makes sense. A young man with a muscular body may be a farm hand, working long hours.
If he is a minstrel… it doesn’t really work as well (unless he’s secretly lifting huge hay-bales in his spare time)
Okay, one thing I have noticed in novels is that often the main male characters are written as heavily endowed in sex scenes. I’ve even read novels where actual measurements are given.
Firstly, not everyone is heavily endowed. Secondly, penises are different – shape, size, even reaction – e.g. when aroused some grow in size, others are already their full size and merely harden. (You won’t believe the uncomfortable questions I’ve asked my male friends regarding this organ).
Description is rarely needed for the penis. A brief suggestion is enough. If you do have your characters heavily endowed, be aware that their sexual partner may find this uncomfortable or overwhelming.
A quick biology lesson – the average vagina is 3-5 inches long from opening to the tip of the cervix. And while, when aroused the vaginal canal can lengthen, it usually doesn’t lengthen that much. Which is why the average length of a penis is 5inches.
Body sizes in this way can mean some positions are not as enjoyable as others – same applies to smaller organs.
Personally, description of genitals are rarely needed in sex scenes, again this is expected more in erotica stories. If in doubt, leave it out.
Sex does not have to be localised in the bedroom. In fact, the location of the sex scene is just as important as it creates the image and atmosphere.
Example: There was a cold damp smell to the room. Tatty curtains barely kept out the dwindling grey sunlight. As the small bed creaked in time to every thrust, something small and furry scurried along the far wall, disturbed by the noise.
Her head rolled to the side, counting away the minutes. The crumpled bills on the small, worm-eaten table would be just enough for a meal.
From the above example, you create a feeling. There is nothing inviting about this room. Even without more information, you can imagine this woman’s predicament. Trapped in a dingy room, plying her trade for scraps, most likely her johns haggle over the prices.
If I were to continue the scene, we could see how she reached this point – maybe the reader would already feel sorry for her.
Example: Jasmine fragranced the air, making the girl light-headed. The satin cushions at her back shifted until she felt the cool polished marble of the floor against her warm skin. Sunlight streaming through the windows shattered into rainbows that cast against her master’s arm. It was the only part of him she was permitted to see, head turned to the side while he took his liberties.
From the second example we get the sensation of a different location, it sets a different atmosphere. Would the readers feel sorry for this girl as quickly? The concubine of a Sultan lives in a paradise land but still a slave. How we paint the picture is how we invoke our readers.
In the second example we see a concubine with a master – because of this she will have no say in her choices, not even paid for her services. Yet the first example we see a hooker who has at least some control, can choose her johns (mostly), receives money.
However, both are slaves, one to a master who owns her, one to her own predicament. Always think about what image you are creating.
How to write realistic sex scenes (pt 2)
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Thanks so much for visiting my blog, I hope you found this article useful. Due to its length, I have broken it down into two parts.