Sex Scenes and You!
By British guest author Alex Markov
A lot of authors are terrified of writing sex scenes, and I don’t blame them. Get it wrong, and you’re another infamous author nominated for an ironic award. But there’s still plenty of reasons to try: how someone acts in an intimate/vulnerable situation can tell a lot about the character and their relationship with their lover. Or you can titillate; sex sells, and it’s a lot of fun to read and write.
It’s no secret amongst my peers that I’ve dipped my toe into the erotic: some of it good, some bad, and some absolutely dreadful. What I’ve learnt is that aside from the usual maxim of ‘practice until your fingers bleed’, there are a few easy ways to improve your smut scenes.
Forewarning, I will be using foul language. Fuck.
1) Who, what, and why?
The ‘who’ is which of your characters are doing the fucking. Sex is a very personal thing, and no two (or more) characters are going to do it the same way. Try to think about how they would act in an intimate situation. Nervous? Confident? Caring and patient? Keep in mind that this isn’t always the same as how they act in public: the archetype of the good Christian girl with whips and chains is there for a reason.
‘What’ refers to what kind of sex scene you’re writing. A cheeky quickie in the janitor’s closet is going to have a very different tone to a romantic honeymoon. And ‘tone’ really is the keyword here: if you don’t style your tone to the situation, it’ll read as flat, or worse, shoe-horned.
Finally, the two-pronged why: why are you writing the scene, and why are the characters doing it? If you can’t think of why two characters would fuck, then there is little sense in describing them bumping uglies. Even if you’re writing sex for sex’s sake, it still has to make sense. Titillation and meaning are not mutually exclusive. Nor should they be; our closet-quickie could show how long workdays have forced our protagonists to grab a few moments of intimacy between busy schedules.
2) Structure of sex scenes
I separate sex scenes into four parts: Segue, Foreplay, Main Event, and Aftermath. The segue is how we get to the good stuff; it can be as sudden as grabbing a lover’s tie and pulling them into the closet, or it can be the chapter-long all-out-brawl between rivals. While I have seen some authors start a perspective partway through a sex scene, it tends to be used to show a playboy/asshole character mid ‘conquest.’ Context is incredibly important for the framing of a scene. It can also be sexy all on its own, depending on how much tension you build.
Foreplay, like in real life, should never be skipped. Even if one is already raring to go, the other parties still need a bit to get their motors running. Kissing, fondling, or a bit of oral if you’re building up to something bigger (make sure to reciprocate.) Oh, and tease the hell out of one another: never waste an opportunity for banter!
At some point in either segue or foreplay, you’ll want to slip in a quick consent check. Some people will pitch a fit, saying this ‘derails the pacing’ or ‘isn’t sexy.’ Ignore them. Even just two lines can work:
“Are you sure about-?”
She silenced me with a kiss. All the answer I needed.
See? Short, sexy, and no harassment suit in sight.
The main event is precisely what you think it is. The biggest issue here is timing: drag it on too long, and it gets dull and repetitive, but make it too short, and your readers will despise you. I find its best to do at least one position swap per scene and to play around a bit with who’s on top or doing the stimulating.
Finally, the aftermath. There’s a lot of feelings post-sex, and exploring them helps build character. Plus, who doesn’t love a snuggle? Or proper aftercare, if you’ve gone kinky. In a longer story, you’ll probably explore a lot of the aftermath in the coming chapters (how it affects relationships, etc.) but for the immediate future, have them wind down and relax.
3) Dynamics matter!
This point comes in two flavours: power dynamics and character dynamics.
Power is sexy; you can write the most erotically-charged scene in the world, but it’ll never match tilting a defeated opponent’s chin up with the tip of your sword. It doesn’t have to be hardcore domination (care and compassion are kinds of power) but giving a touch of control to one side adds spice. Bonus points if you play with that power (see the position switch from before!)
As I mentioned before, the ‘who’ matters a lot in sex scenes. Character dynamics are the core of a good sex scene. We’re here to read about these particular characters having sex, not two easily replaceable dolls. On top of that, you have an opportunity to play with those dynamics. Maybe have the grizzled badass fumble as they deal with the shock of finally being vulnerable, tentatively letting their partner lift the burdens and responsibilities for a while. Or have a character slowly grow in confidence, turning the tables on their experienced partner as they roll about the hay.
4) Sensation and Emotion
The advantage of reading porn over watching it is that you get to experience more than just the visuals. How it feels, physically and emotionally, is critical. Smell, texture and taste are good ones to lean on: don’t say ‘she scratched him’ when you can say ‘she dragged a sharp nail over his stomach.’ But, like with all writing, don’t overdo it. Blunt statements work if they hammer in the nature of the scene; ‘she pounded him from behind’ tells you all you need and has a similar ‘oomph’ to the act itself.
The emotions are tied to the ‘why.’ Are they friends having fun or romantic lovers? Maybe they’re two comrades desperately seeking comfort from the dark realities of their world? Always keep this in the back of your mind, and let it tint your word choice. ‘Snatched breaths’ has a different feel to ‘soft gasps.’
Both of these affect one another. Our previously fighting rivals may have their blood boil, crushing their lips together as they vie for dominance. The cramped quickie could start with nerves that give way to pent-up lust as their partner kisses and nips at their skin. Play around with it!
5) Cut the euphemisms
Look, if you’re not comfortable writing ‘she pounded him from behind,’ then chances are you aren’t comfortable writing sex scenes as a whole. And that’s fine! This is why ‘fade to black’ exists. But if you’re going to write sex then write sex. Rough sex is dirty, clumsy, and downright carnal. Sweeter scenes focus on closeness – soft kisses, warm skin, and longing gazes – but should still be explicit rather than abstract.
This isn’t the only reason people break out the flowery metaphors: sometimes, authors feel like they have to spice up or add a touch of variety to their prose. Our hero ‘plunges his quivering man-sword into her precious cave, and she sighs as the wind does through warm valleys.” Except, no, he didn’t; he rammed his cock into her pussy. Unless all you want to do is imply a sex scene, you should never use more than the standard array: ‘dick,’ ‘cock,’ ‘shaft,’ ‘balls,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘pussy,’ ‘clit/clitoris,’ ‘folds,’ ‘lips,’ ‘tits,’ ‘breasts,’ ‘chest,’ maybe ‘member’ at a stretch. Anything else usually reads as childish.
If you’re struggling to think of how to vary your scene, try expressions or noises. Shivers and shakes as you run your hands over them. Do they have a smug look on their face as they tease their partner’s junk? Does she melt under him as his kisses trail over her neck? You have a whole body to play with, so play with it! (This goes for fiction and real life.)
6) No numbers
No inches. No heights. No bloody cup sizes. It’s sex, not architectural design. People imagine things in terms of ‘thick shafts’ and ‘perky handfuls,’ so use that kind of terminology.
7) Dirty Talk
Obviously, don’t have a conversation. But a little back-and-forth can go a long way in spacing out blocks of description. Even just a line…
“I love it when you shiver,” She purred, holding his chin between thumb and forefinger, “It’s as if even your body knows it’s mine.”
… Can have a substantial impact, while serving to reinforce the characters (there’s that power dynamic!)
To sum up: context and character are the essential ingredients to a good smut scene. Pace yourself with a bit of build-up and wind down, with your focus staying firmly on the sensations and emotional beats. Don’t overdo your descriptions.
But, most of all, make sure you and your audience are enjoying yourselves.
Alex Markov writes and sells original erotic fiction to a worldwide audience. He works on commission. You can find out more about him and his sage lewdness through Twitter.