How To Not Write A Sex Scene
This is less how to write a sex scene and more how to fix that sex scene you just wrote. The tips here will help you write your next one though. I will be posting specific tips in the future to give you everything you need… Just broken up a bit because I’m actually doing a lot of writing of said sex scenes, not just writing about how to write them. Check out my Books, or my free m/m erotica story Awakening if you want to see some of my writing to give you an idea of my approach.
It is amazingly easy to ruin a sex scene. It’s so easy, I’m not surprised that the more popular scenes of these kind are written without a lot of character’s emotional impact. If your characters get away from you in these moments, they can ruin the scene for you, bringing in drama, ridiculous humor, or just start talking about boring, everyday things that just make a reader go ‘what the fuck?’
#1 Crude and Confusing Imagery
I want you to make a list of every word you’ve read in a sex scene that made you stop and refuse to continue reading. Once you have that list, think of every word that if you were to read it in a sex scene, you wouldn’t dare read it again. Then a list of words you would definitely stop and go ‘what the fuck is this doing here?’ Then never write those words in your sex scenes. Ever.
Some examples from my own reading. Remember, I enjoy a lot of m/m. Bowel. Yup, read that once. Spurted cum deep into his bowels. I was done with that story. Pretty much any mention of poop/shit will turn me off, which is why I don’t use the curse words ‘Shit or Crap,’ in certain parts of scenes for fear of my readers associating it with the sex. Not a fan of hocking a loogie, mentioning of crabs, nut rot, STDs, hairy assholes. Some examples I haven’t read and would never want to—mold, puss, fungus, boils, festering, cheese (aka nut cheese,) scabs, bugs of any kind, mention of poor hygiene, snot, boogers, hemorrhaging, no medical terms please, rape, punching, ripping—especially when concerning nipples, eww.
I’m sure you have your own. Could even be the swear words I write all the time. Some fics love to have the word cunt. I know someone that won’t read anything with that one word in it. Write your list out and maybe consider an even more reserved one for a broader audience if you’re looking to get more people into your work. Or a list of words that will suit a particular kink that you want to break into and make sure you mention them.
These are just simple words. If they’re enough to turn you off, they’re enough to turn your reader off. If you just spent the entire day trying to write the sexiest scene ever, but still insist on hocking that loogie in his palm to jerk it, you’re wasting your time and your reader’s. They’re going to walk away. Not because you’re a bad writer, but because we all have triggers that turn us off no matter how horny we are. Human nature. For some people it’s just a drop of blood. In real life, sex can be so difficult for people with oversensitized nerves, or for those dealing with mental neurotic symptoms where their mind and body can’t agree, so when turning to written sex, they can still be triggered by reading something that reminds them of that experience.
Next are the metaphors and similes. I’ve been known to do this myself—but at least I can say I learned from the line I was walking. I wrote a blowjob where I said ‘trying to fuck a hole through his throat.’ Not too incendiary at first glance, but not exactly sexy. Do you really want to think about actually fucking a hole through someone’s throat when you’re trying to get off? Ouch. How about fucking like a jackhammer? Cumming a whole river? Hard enough to stab through a door? You’re thinking about a cock stuck in a door right now instead of sex. Fuck.
So you might think, what’s the big deal? They’re just trying to get a point across in a witty way. Sex can be funny. It can, but it really can’t be laugh out loud, and sexy as well. The biggest thing for a reader when reading a sex scene is that they’re using their mind to take what they’re reading so they can create an experience for themselves. You’re feeling the character’s sweat, you’re hearing their moans, you’re getting tingly and your breath is speeding up because they’re going to—Cum harder than a firehose spraying through a five alarm fire. What? Is one of these characters a firefighter? What just happened?
It takes you out of the scene. Not just because it’s crude, but because it’s too fanciful, and your reader is trying to figure out why the hell they’re diving off some cliff face in Hawaii that was just like diving between her thighs when they were supposed to be in that club bathroom.
Your reader is most vulnerable during a sex scene. She (or he but I will refer to she because I’m lazy) opens up to the experience, going everywhere the characters do, and if she can’t trust the author to not freak her the fuck out with crude or confusing imagery, she’s going to walk away.
Now, I’m not saying write the most vanilla thing ever because you’re trying to please everyone. I’m just saying be aware of what you’re doing. Don’t ham it up if your intent is to titilate. I really don’t want to read about the dick sword fight while they’re getting it on. If you like to write rough sex, make sure it’s implied in the summary. Rough can imply some crudeness and blood. If you like to write outright crude sex, say it’s crude. If your story has a kink for something (oh, let’s say excessive amounts of cum, degrading your main character, cutting, urine, ballons, bondage, tentacles, sap and romance, etc.) let your reader know in the summary because if they don’t know what to expect, they’re going to be grossed out if it’s not their thing.
Don’t expect to make everyone happy—You can’t. Especially with erotica. Think of it this way. It takes a certain level of something to get you off and when things in the environment change—like hearing the tv in the other room, or you start thinking about something you really don’t want to think about, or you have a cold, or you have to be at work in ten minutes, it just doesn’t happen. That’s just you in your head with your body when you have the most control. You can write for yourself and know it works for you, but you can’t expect it’s going to work for everyone.
My constant swearing will be a turn off for some people. I don’t like crude smut, but some people will find my erotica crude compared to stories that tiptoe around anatomy talking about ‘hard lengths’ and ‘throbbing desire.’ Some might be upset that I have too much story while others will be upset there isn’t enough. The end of the day, it’s up to you what you write, and if you enjoy it at least you have a guarantee that one person out there thinks your story is amazing.
And for the love of fuck, don’t lie to your reader promising them one thing and giving them something else—They’re not dumb, they don’t like it, and they won’t come back. You want to build a relationship of trust so your readers can enjoy themselves. Be honest to a fault in that summary, and the right readers will find you.
All that said, there are some readers that just want to read weird shit, and crude confusing imagery fits that market. I feel like it’s a kink all its own to be honest. I don’t fully understand it, but considering how my boyfriend will come up with the weirdest imagery when telling me some fanciful scene of two chicks getting it on, or even two guys—even though he gets no personal sexual response from that—I think it’s a weird guy thing. Some women might be into it. Not so sure, haven’t really taken a poll.
I’m not dismissing it as the genre that seems to exist on its own, but as an author make sure you know who you’re writing for and that your readers can identify you before they crack open your book. If that style of writing is a kink/niche all its own, you’ll want to market towards it (or away, depending.)
#2 Inappropriate Thoughts
Where is your character’s head when they’re having sex? Wherever it is, it’s also where your reader is. So if you’re sexually aggressive guy is suddenly really focused on those groceries he hasn’t gotten, or the dog that ran away, his six year old that has lukemia, the argument with his dad, or heaven help me, how he was raped years back, your reader is thinking of all those things too instead of the hot sex. And unlike your main character, your reader doesn’t bounce back into the sex with a simple sentence.
Getting a reader off isn’t about one paragraph, no matter how great that paragraph is. It’s the build up. You need to hook them into the idea of sex, ease them into it, build the tension with suspense and anticipation, and then you have that great climactic paragraph, followed with many more. If you take your reader out of the sexual tension, they can’t just fall back into it. They lost the moment and they’re going to start losing faith that you as the author can even get them there.
Don’t mention that your character doesn’t want to be thinking about **insert unsexy thought here.** Don’t say how they put aside **unsexy thought.** Your reader has read the unsexy thought, and they’re thinking about it. They can’t help it. Some asshole just wrote it in the middle of their sex scene and now they can’t stop thinking about it. Get all the weird, useless plot points out of the way before the sex, or save it for after. We don’t want to have an “Oh god, oh god…” Did I remember to water the hydrangeas? “I’m cumming!” moment.
#3 The Sound Of Your Voice
This is a difficult one for some writers to hear. You need to learn how to write or your reader is never going to get into your sex. It hurts, but it’s true. I tried. I’ve read a lot of novice writing where the plots were so interesting that I gave them a shot. I have never not regretted it. Punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization; they’re important. But not as important as the voice of the piece.
Your writing has a voice. I’ve spent a lot of time making sure my writing sounds like the way I talk. It’s why I write so many swears—I’m terrible in formal situations, nevermind stores. I don’t speak in perfect sentences every time. I don’t write perfect sentences. Is it bad? Professional, academic writers would probably tear my work apart but I’m not crying about it. I fall asleep when I read their textbook shit. My readers get into it because the way I write feels like a real person telling a story. It’s easier to get into a scene when the written voice feels human and relatable.
I got a quarter of a way into a book where the author didn’t use a single contraction, even in the character’s dialogue. Couldn’t finish the damn book and assumed the writer spoke English as a second language. She didn’t. To explain how bad this is, when I write characters that speak a foreign language, usually elfish sorts or very refined, wellbred fantasy creatures, I make sure they don’t use contractions and then add a few specific slang words only their species speak. Such as, they say ‘I am overjoyed’, instead of ‘I’m happy’. It’s just awkward enough to set them apart from your ‘normal’ everyday characters without having to go overkill writing accents.
Don’t write sex with an academic voice. Your reader won’t get into it. Really quick comparison.
1) “Oh god… don’t stop. Yeah, that’s it. You feel so good inside me.”
2) “Oh god… do not stop. Yes, that is it. You feel so good inside of me.”
Number 2 is just so damn awkward because people don’t talk that way. Try reading an entire book and getting into a sex scene when you can’t relate to the voice. It doesn’t work. It’s sad but honest, and the sooner you learn and work at it, the better your writing will get.
Here’s another quick example. “Babe, you do me so good.” Uh, hello, the grammar police here would like you to know that the proper way to write that would be “Babe, you do me so well.” Superman does good, bitches. And that’s all well and good, but which one actually sounds like you might have heard it whispered in the dark? We don’t always speak the way we’re supposed to, but the wrong way is the common way and far more agreeable to the ear.
You’re going to find yourself using words like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’ and if you like to swear like I do, ‘jackhole,’ ‘fucktard,’ and other fine examples of creative curse words that aren’t really words but people say them anyways. Words will go missing from your dialogue–”How you doing?” instead of, “How are you doing?” Common phrases you don’t even think about until your grammar checker is poking you wondering if you’ve used the wrong word. “Your face. Bam! Suck it up. Byatch.” Suddenly you’re all over the urban dictionary for spelling because Merriam can’t keep up.
Then there are the words that are real but I would never use, like ‘hangry.’ Yes hungry and angry—fucking bullshit, you will only ever see me rant this word. And yeah, I have hypoglycemia and I can get angry from being hungry and I still won’t use this stupid ass word. Same with text speak in my writing—Very small amount. It’s got to flow or there’s no point, it just becomes decorative nonsense that takes away from the story.
Read your work out loud. Read it like you’re telling a lover this really hot thing that you saw of two people fucking, and you want to get your baby into it. I grew up as a drama nerd performing musical theater, singing and everything in between. But even if you’ve just watched a good movie, you know how characters can talk with ease, pull you in, tell you that story that keeps you hanging on. Why should your sex scene be any different? Why shouldn’t it be as riveting as possible? Allow your reader to relate to your characters by the voice of your writing, and they’ll be able to experience your scenes how they were meant to be. Felt, not just read.
#4 It’s Boring
Your sex is boring and your reader doesn’t know if it’s worth reading. The characters are doing all the right stuff, but damn, it’s just so boring. Your reader doesn’t really know why, all she can tell is that it just seems to go on forever and it’s not getting her hot.
There can be a few different reasons for this.
1) Your character dialogue can be going on too long. Dirty talk is great, and it can really get the heat going, but sometimes it just doesn’t do in large amounts. Or it’s not even dirty—Your characters are just talking during sex and it’s distracting as fuck. Or they’re talking in their head, thinking too much. Make sure your character is getting off too, not just talking, and that will help your reader.
2) You’re building the sexual tension and anticipation, but you’re unwilling to get to the good stuff. I feel like some writers think the sex ends when their characters orgasm. And, realistically, this might be true in nature. But this is fantasy when a guy can get hard and stay hard, and multiple orgasms are the norm. Don’t be afraid to get wet already. That first orgasm can be part of the build up. It doesn’t have to be all about just getting to that one cum and holding off from it so long that your reader is just exhausted and bored. I usually find that things start to get really hot once your characters have reached the first climax—Why stop when it’s getting good?
3) You’re all action and no feeling. I read this a lot, usually written by authors that have watched a lot of porn. Sex becomes a playbook where one thing happens, then another thing, then another, on and on, and hey, it’s hot stuff that’s happening, but the characters are just as disinterested as the reader. There’s no emotional impact. And no, I’m not talking about crying in joy, soulmate shit. I mean the characters aren’t ‘feeling’ the sex. Their bodies are going through the motions; moving, touching, sweating, cumming, but it’s like they’re dolls, numb to sensation.
It gets tedious to read. It really does just start feeling like watching dolls instead of living breathing people that feel. And for myself, I find those human personalities can be so much more sexy than just what their bodies are doing. When you find your writing is feeling redundant, action after action happening until it feels like you’re choreographing a play, try putting in some human reaction to those actions. It will break it up and get your reader into your character’s head and body much better.
4) Finally, it could just be too much happening without a break. Even when you have a balance of action and human reaction, a sex scene can go on too long.
Have you ever watched a movie (lets go with the new Transformers) where the action just keeps happening to the point that you’re exhausted by it? Yeah, it’s exploding, the building fell down, and everyone thinks they’re going to die. The humanity. But you’re just desensitize after a while because you can’t handle all that adrenaline and sitting on the edge of your seat. Same with a sex scene. Break it up when it needs it. Otherwise all your hard work is wasted because your reader is just too overwhelmed.
A few ways to fix this. One is to break it up with different emotional/dramatic climaxes that can pull the reader’s attention into a beginning, middle, and end, and put these points in your long scene. For example, while your characters are getting it on, one has an emotional breakthrough that he really likes being tied up. It’s poignant, slows things down a bit, pulls out from the action and into the head—not too wordy—and allows for the sex that follows to feel more energetic and flow faster because of it. It helps break up the flow, moving the reader in and out of the scene without pulling them out completely.
You can also break up the action by just having the characters take a break. Get up to stretch, take a moment to breathe after that last orgasm, check their voice mail (if you’re feeling cheeky.) If your characters take a break, your reader follows along, the action slowing down for a moment so that they can reflect as well.
Another way to fix this is to break that one sex scene up into multiple scenes. It can be done; I wrote the entirety of Coffee Guy as one long gangbang broken up by scenes. To keep things interesting and prevent readers from getting bored, I switched perspectives, pulled the reader out to look at the entire scene and surroundings and then brought them back to the action. It built tension to see how others were reacting to the main characters, and allowed for a rest to keep it from getting redundant.
Characters may not need to breathe, but your reader does. The end of a scene is when your reader stops and takes in everything that has just happened. That’s why you’ll find chapter breaks after pivotal suspense scenes in dramatic works. It’s the same for erotica. Let you reader feel that orgasm or post coital cuddle. Let them relax, get some water, and then take them back in for more. Contrast can be good, just don’t take them so far out with trauma or inappropriate imagery that they can’t get back into it again.
#5 Love = Sex
I feel like this is one of my biggest issues with erotica, and it’s the opposite problem to writing sex like a playbook. You’ve written your characters, you’re in their heads and they are just fucking unrealistic. I’m not talking two foot penis, I’m talking their ridiculous emotional reactions
I’ll be upfront; I don’t like sappy romance. I have a boyfriend of six years. I love him dearly. Love does not make our sex great. Lust makes sex great. Desire, anticipation, and a little nasty gets people hot.
Love is not sex. It’s not. When you’re writing a sex scene, focusing on the tears of joy for finally staring into your soulmate’s eyes, you’re not writing sex. It’s sweet and sappy as fuck, but it’s not sexy. Save it for the end, after your sexually aggressive guy/gal has ruined his/her soulmate like the dirty slut he/she is, then cry about how much they’re in love.
Yeah, I respect your right to write sap. But you need to prioritize what that sex scene is for—getting your reader off. Otherwise it’s not a sex scene. It’s a love scene. And if you’re writing love, you really don’t need your characters naked and dripping. They can be holding hands in the park, or chilling in front of the tv, or something equally mundane. Because love isn’t sex. Lust is sex.
That said, love can spice up sex amazingly well if you know what you’re doing. Love can be a hormonal powder keg of crazy. Forget the sap for a second and look at the jealous, possessive, crazy shit real life people kill over. Love can be hotblooded. Sap, not so much.
#6 You’re Not Into It
You write enough sex scenes, you can get bored. The words don’t flow, you’ve gone over it revising again and again, and it’s just not doing anything for you. And fuck, if you’re not feeling it, how the hell is the reader going to feel it?
So many of you might be going, ‘fuck, I have to feel as well as write? Do you even get how exhausting that is? It’s hard enough focusing on word count and plot lines and remembering to make the sex scene this long and this satisfying.’ Yes. Yes I do. Suck it up. Feeling is important in your writing. If you’re bored your characters can start coming off as bored—and then your reader gets bored, and that’s a big waste of all those words you just wrote.
When I’ve hit a sexual creative impasse that can not be fixed with a defined outline and pushing through, I have a few standbys on what to do. First, I walk away. Either start working on a different story (usually more plot oriented,) or just get off my ass and do something else for a bit. Maybe even for the rest of the day depending on how frustrated I am. I’m stuck inside writing a lot, so sometimes a change in scenery is all I need.
Maybe it’s not a lack of creativity. Maybe I’m just not feeling sexy. This is a huge thing for me when I write erotica. I don’t know if it’s for everyone else, but if what I’m writing doesn’t get me wet, I assume I’m not doing it right. So if I can’t feel my writing for whatever mental issues I’m dealing with at the time (pick between PTSD, disassociation and manic depressive,) I need to be able to get back into that sexy headspace.
My first go to is cardamom. I’ll chew a seed pod; it’s a mild aphrodisiac and just good for me in general. That doesn’t work, it’s time for exercise. It helps get me back into my body, out of the crazy in my head. Pamper myself for a day, masturbate, read something sexy that someone else wrote. Or just give it a few days, work on something else, and let my body figure out what the hell it wants.
I suffer from PTSD and if my brain is working through something, my body can just be numb and there’s little I can do about it but wait it out. Some writers might be dealing with physical ailments, pain, stress from a busy family or difficult work situation. Stress can be a sex killer. Writers are as varied as their readers—It’s a big, beautiful world out there full of people. Erotica can be a wonderful escape but sometimes it just feels like work if you’re not in the mood.
Make sure you’re in the mood when you’re writing. Make a habit of putting yourself in the mood. It’s great to feel sexy all the time. It helps your writing but, even better, it’s great for confidence and an overall feeling of wellbeing. I might write some rough, dark stories at time, but they still come from that feeling of warm honey happiness. Writing erotica is fun, and as long as you don’t take it too seriously, it can be a damn fine pastime.
Once you’re in the mood again, look over that scene. Was it really as bad as you thought? I’ll sometimes just scrap the whole thing and start over, only because once the creativity hits me, I know it will probably flow easier and fresher. As an artist, one of the biggest things for me was to stop being afraid to make mistakes. It’s the same with writing. You sometimes have to let go of the hours of work you put into creating something subpar, and allow yourself to start over and make something amazing.
It doesn’t have to be hard. I’ll focus in on the characters and their emotional driving points, feel them, and let them tell their sexy story as they meet physically. It’s a great way to get some energy when you might not be feeling energetic. Make your characters do the work for you while you do the writing. Let it play out like a movie in your head, and if it’s cinematic once it’s on the page, more power to you.