(Warning: This post contains vulgar language. I debated whether to go formal or go true to myself with this blog thing. Ultimately, I decided to do it my way. If this is offensive to you, I apologize.)
So you want to rock your readers worlds, do you? Wanna whisper sweet nothings into their ears? Wanna make their toes curl?
Well, you’ve come to the right place! Maybe! I guess we’ll see. Good luck! ¯_(ツ)_/¯
I have been writing sex scenes since before I should have been writing sex scenes. I remember my first attempt. It was a fanfiction for a video game called Tekken. I posted it on a forum somewhere and got my ass laughed off the internet. Completely mortified, I immediately deleted that story and swore I’d never write another sex scene again.
It took me a month to break that promise to myself.
I’m 34 now. That’s almost 2 decades of smut, right there. Hopefully that buys me a little erotica expertise. If nothing else, though, it buys me a shitload of comfort talking about it! So I’m here. If you got questions, you can find me all kinds of places. Twitter’s probably the easiest one. Whatever site you’re finding this on might do too. My DMs are always open to writers and readers with genuine questions.
Okay, let’s break this shit down!
Levels of Intensity
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to use 4 levels of sex scene intensity.
Fade to black
This one is so common, I bet I don’t even need to explain it. Now watch me explain it anyway: Fade to black is characterized by a scene cutting out right as the characters are getting to the good stuff. It’s a solid choice if you’re uncomfortable with writing sex scenes, or if your target audience is too young, too formal, or too disinterested.
Quick and painless (figuratively)
This intensity is the cinnamon of sex scenes. Not too spicy. You will rely on implications and shadows, and may even fade to black part way through.
This is where you will start referring directly to body parts rather than just implying. The descriptions and actions will be fleshed out. You’ll be painting a clearer picture and steaming up some windows. If you’re writing a Harlequin-style Romance, you may even play around with purple prose.
This is where we writers get nasty. You’ll likely only use this in genuine erotica or smutty fanfics. This is hardcore stuff. It’s where you use words that offend and shock. It’s where intimacy hurts. Where extreme kinks and fetishes flourish. Don’t hold back. Describe those body parts, describe what they’re doing: the pain and the pleasure converging.
Should you include sex scenes in your story?
Do you want to? If no, then don’t. Please don’t allow pressure from editors or readers force you to do something you don’t want to do.
If you do want to, the biggest factor in this should be your target audience, and the expectations of your genre. If you’re writing historical literature for Mennonites, maybe don’t do the sex thing, like at all. If you’re writing a spy thriller, a little bit of racy never hurt anybody.
If you want to, but you’re uncomfortable or insecure about it: start small. Exposure therapy is the best cure in this case. Write it. If you’ve never read smut before, read some first. You don’t have to show anyone your first attempt. Or your second or your third. Just write it.
Writing fade to black
Lay the Ground Work
Give your reader something. Anything. A kiss. A touch. A hint that something is about to happen, even if it’s the characters exchanging furtive looks and disappearing into a red lobster restroom together.
Your reader’s imagination will fill in those blanks, provided you’ve done the work to lead their emotions in the right direction.
Play With Innuendo
Alfred Hitchcock was famous for using shadows instead of outright showing the horror happening. It was hella effective, and it can definitely work to your advantage with this. If you’re writing in 3rd POV, you could show it from an uninvolved character’s perspective. Have them see shadows or hear the moans through the wall.
Tips for quick and painless
Implications are your friends
Here’s a simple example: “He thrust in.” Easy? Easy. Assuming you’ve made the circumstances and position clear, your reader’s going to be able to suss out what’s thrusting into what.
Brevity is Kindness
This scene should not be much more than a page or two. Ten pages of making your reader parse through subtext could get real tiring real quick.
Tips for Indulgently Explicit
Treat this scene like the plot of a story. It needs a lead up, a middle, and a climax, and all three of them need to be more than a sentence. A lot of writers don’t know how to write an orgasm so they skimp out on it, but do you have any idea how frustrating it is to read this epic love scene and it’s 10 pages of erotic build-up towards what’s promising to be a mind-blowing peak, and then all you get is ‘they came together’? Wow. Trust me on this. Also, try not to skimp on the lead up. Your readers aren’t going to get into it if they don’t care about at least one of the characters.
Real Life is Boring
Some of you can claim to be exceptions to this rule, but in general, being 100% true to realism might hurt more than help your scene. That being said, unless you’re writing a flowery, purple prose romance, small doses of realism can make the scene so much hotter. Maybe they trip. Maybe someone steps on someone else’s hair by accident. (Or on purpose, if this is enemies to lovers?) Maybe something gets a little gross, but they’re still totally into it. That’s all fine. Just don’t be afraid to exaggerate. Don’t be afraid to inject excitement and fantasy into your realism.
Tips for Gratuitously Explicit
Bad Words Are Best Words
You’ve graduated from innuendos, I’m afraid. Time to break out all those words you were taught your whole life to avoid. I’m not going to repeat them here. You know what they are. Words only uttered in the heat of the moment. Dirty talk. Vulgar, direct words that mean exactly what they sound like. Don’t worry, your readers like ’em.
(I hope this doesn’t need to be said, but no, do not use biggoted slurs in your sex scenes.)
Manipulate your reader with pacing
You have all the power. You wanna go at a frenzied speed and brutalize your reader, do it. Action, action, reaction, action, action, reaction. Be clear. Be concise. Weave in just enough description to paint the scene, and keep your actions uncluttered and punchy. Read up on word economy for this. Learn about how to edit out unnecessary actions, because too many will bog the scene down and slow your pace just as much as an info dump would.
General Tips for all heat levels
(These may not apply to Fade to Black)
Avoid formal language.
There’s nothing sexy about “Mr. Peach entered her.” or “Miss Petunia moved her hand over Miss Mei’s pert buttocks.” Avoid clinical text book terms, and if you want to have some heat in this scene, for the love of all things depraved, please do not use conversational words. If your scene is full of words the queen of england might use to discuss the weather over tea, you have made a grave mistake. Or you’re writing a crack fic.
We have five senses. Use them. Taste and smell are powerful descriptors in sex scenes. And, of course, touch.
This means backstory, infodumps, even just your characters thinking too much about what’s happening. The only time it’s acceptable to throw in a character’s internal monologue in the middle of a sex scene, is if you’re trying to show that they’re not enjoying it. If your characters are enjoying the sensations, they would not be monologuing. They’d be banging.
It Takes Two to Tango
Unless it’s a self-service scene. If you have two or more characters involved in a scene, there should be two or more characters reacting to each other. Even in 1st POV or 3rd limited, non-POV characters can still shiver, shudder, yelp, and grunt.
You’d think writers were good at this because of all those memes about writers and their search history. Hell, some writers are good at it. But a lot of us are mostly just good at meaning to research something for a book and instead falling down google rabbitholes for four hours and forgetting what we initially intended to look up. If you’ve never taken an anatomy course in school, take one now. For some of you, boobs and downstairs bits don’t work the way you think they do. I’ll include some helpful links for this at the bottom.
That’s it for now!
Do you have tips you’d like to add? Feel free to add them in the comments or DM them to me on Twitter. Remember, these tips will not be right for everyone. Take what works best for you and read more articles. Try new things. Learn rules just to defy them. This is an art, and art has no right answers… It’s got a few wrong ones though!
To Show Your Support
Where to Find Me
- Anatomy of a Bad Sex Scene
- Watts the Safeword (an Educational and cute youtube channel. Has stuff about kinks.)
- Ask Men—Sex Section
- Secular Sexuality (Another educational youtube channel. A weekly call-in show that focuses on a variety of topics.)
Disclaimer: No References were used in this blog post. The contents were drawn from my personal experience with writing various kinds of erotica over the years.
More Writing Advice!
My first big event on the server since my return was a summer story collection (It’s still ongoing, btw). And being a moderate success, and having so many people show interest in having a critique circle again, it feels like the right time to buckle down and get organized for one.
Let’s step into a dark place shall we? One of fear, but also titillation. One where the shadows might whisper your name and lure you in. One where desire and terror swirl together into one. Let’s talk about Erotic Horror.
I bet this was a curiosity click, wasn’t it? Would have been for me too, to be honest. Hell, I had no idea I would write about this topic until 10 minutes ago when I was ranting to a friend about how many people brag about not practicing self care. It’s a weird flex, isn’t…
Sam Clover is an author of M/M dark romance. She swears like a sailor, gobbles up horror movies and m/m books like they’re going out of style, and runs an erotica discord server.
She’s Canadian, pansexual, demi-sexual, atheist, humanist, and loves all things sea-related. Especially pirates… And sea creatures. And Storms, waves, water, seaside villages, weathered wood, sea glass, delicious seaweed, and everything else that ever existed in the ocean at any time.