How to Write a Sex Scene

I was uncertain what to write about today, so as is my wont, I went to Twitter. One of the Megans I follow (Twitter is a breeding ground for Megans) suggested “How to Write a Sex Scene Using Goats as a Metaphor.”

Blame her. This whole post is her fault.
Blame her. This whole post is her fault.

She failed to clarify whether she meant “How to Write a Sex Scene That Uses Goats as a Metaphor (for sex)” or “Use Goats as a Metaphor for ‘How To Write a Sex Scene.'” I’m choosing to interpret it as the latter; that is to say, goats will be my metaphor for how to write, not for sex. Though I expect there will be some gray areas.

So how do you write a sex scene? It’s an area many writers find uncomfortable. I’m going to speak frankly, however, so if the previous paragraph about you goats and sex didn’t scare you off, be warned that adult content is coming (pun intended).

First, allow me to precursor this by saying I’m not an erotica writer. I have written my fair share of smut, however, which can be found on certain corners of the internet if you know where to look. I’ll be sharing a sample of it below, so if you’re not shy, you can read it and judge for yourself whether I write it well enough to be giving advice on the subject.

The first thing I’ll suggest is the same thing every experienced writer will tell you about writing anything: you need to read a lot. You have to write what you know, and in the case of sex scenes, “what you know” doesn’t necessarily have to be based on your own real life experiences. It can be based on what you’ve read. By reading more erotica, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the best way to learn how to write it yourself. I also suggest reading a wide variety, both the good and the bad. Read sex scenes like a goat in a junkyard: don’t discriminate, and chew on everything you can find. Sure, you might chip a tooth on a dull piece of tin or some tough rubber, but you’ll learn something in the process. After all, what better way to learn what NOT to do in your writing, than to read some bad erotica and learn from its mistakes (I’m looking at you, 50 shades of Grey)?

I’ve read more than my fair share, and based on what I’ve read, I’m going to lay out a few general categories:

1. The Ram – These smut stories rush right into the dirty parts without any style or grace. The result is usually poor writing, and is likely to be more pornography than erotica. The difference between porn and erotica is that one is art, and the other you just jack off to. Compare, for example, (NSFW) this versus this. One is artistic, meant to provoke emotion. The other is for milking your goat cheese. One of the key differences is good taste, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll explain in more detail about the “good taste” side, but what you should realize about the Ram is that its focus is just on the physical and the instant gratification.

I’d like to analyze these two photos from a purely artistic perspective. The first one, despite not being particularly crude as nudes go, is still a provocative pose. It’s designed to draw the viewer’s attention to the obvious female body parts. The model’s pose is simultaneously submissive and seductive, and from the spread legs, the arching of the back, and the expression on the face, it’s easy to imagine this model in a sexual context. I could probably find plenty of even more sexual examples on Google. Is this photo artistic? Yes. It’s clearly professionally done, and not just some snapshot someone took of their girlfriend. But it’s also clearly a shot designed to entice men in the way all porn does (and if you have any doubt, you can check the other NSFW shots from the same website, which get even more sexual).

Now, let’s consider the second photo. I found it among several others in a set that all strike me as being much more artistic. In these, the model isn’t the sole central focus of the shot. The backgrounds and lighting are as important in these shots as the model, whereas in the previous shot, the background was plain, non-distracting white. The model on the first image is even on a white table; this is clearly a deliberate choice to make sure nothing distracts you from the nude girl.

Take another look, and think about where your eye first enters the photos. Look at this one compared to this one. Where is your eye drawn? In the first one, the eye is most likely immediately drawn right to the breasts, and then down to the crotch. This isn’t accidental; the model’s pose creates a line of motion that draws the eye in that direction. Even the angles of the first model’s legs are all designed to be lines leading to a central point, the point the viewer is presumed to be interested in. (For a wonderful explanation of how object placement in a photograph can lead the viewer’s eye, I recommend this article). But with the girl in the barn, the eye is drawn first to her face, then along her back towards her feet. Nothing about that shot makes the woman’s breasts a central focus or signifier. Yes, she’s still a beautiful naked girl. But her pose isn’t seductive or sexual.

This is the difference between the Ram, which shoves the sex in your face, and a more artistic approach, where the sensuality is more part of the background. You can use a similar approach in your writing. Focus on the entire image, not just on the naughty bits.

2. The Sheep – The sheep is soft, docile, and easily guided by a firm hand. This is your relationship with a tantalized reader, who waits with wide eyes for you to take them on an erotic journey. Don’t scare them off. An average reader isn’t coming to your book to get rammed, and they (hopefully) keep their pants on the entire time they’re reading your book. Your goal isn’t to get your reader to seek their orgasm. Your goal is to capture their attention and keep them emotionally invested in your story.

In his book, “Stein On Writing,” Sol Stein says that the key to suspense is to give your character a goal, something they desire, then keep them from achieving that goal as long as possible. In erotica, the goal is the culmination of the character’s sexual desires, and the character should be forced to wait as long as possible to get what they want. If the reader is in tune with the character, they will be just as eager as the character to see it finally happen. In the romance novel my friend Carey wrote, the protagonist doesn’t get to taste her “forbidden fruit” until one of the final chapters. The result is a reader who is on edge the entire book, waiting to see if it will happen.

Even within the single sex scene itself, a skillful writer won’t ram right into business. There should be flirtation. There should be foreplay. There should be a LOT of “show, don’t tell” emotions. How long you wait to get to the “good stuff” depends on your writing style. It could be paragraphs, it could be pages. But if you grab the goat by the horns in the second sentence, you’re doing it wrong. Let the emotions and tension build for awhile before the climax (both in the story structure and in the bed).

3. The Pompeii – If you google “erotic goat,” this pops up. Click the link, and read the accompanying article. I assure you, it’s intellectual, not revolting (though it certainly might weird you out).

The reason I shared that article is because it raises an interesting, and I would say important aspect of eroticism in art. Our mythology is filled with examples of eroticism that aren’t limited to humans, and if you’re a sci fi or fantasy writer, this is an area you might find yourself delving into. The important thing to remember in cases like this is that this isn’t bestiality and it isn’t perversion. It’s history and myth. It’s also something you might want to use in your writing, if you do it right.

Piers Anthony is a fantasy writer who delves into this sort of thing, and does it in good taste. In his world, “Xanth,” there exist magic love springs that enchant any creatures that drink from them. After taking a drink, creatures are compelled to mate with the next creature they meet, and the magic ensures that the coupling can and will result in a child. Different species accidentally stumbling across love springs is how the world came to have species like centaurs (half human, half horse), harpies (half human, half vulture), and satyrs (half human, half goat). Though Piers Anthony never shows us a human and a goat mating in erotic detail, the results of the mating are there.

If you’re a fantasy writer, you may want to write human/dragon mating, or something similar. You can play it for laughs, the way Piers Anthony does, or you can address it with seriousness. Consider more than the physical questions of “will it fit?” Think about the cross-cultural differences between the two species. Think about how difficult the mating ritual might be between a mammal and an egg-laying reptile. Think about whether a dragon would have the human emotions associated with “making love,” or if they would view the act differently. Fantasy writer Elizabeth Haydon depicted a dragon in her novel, “Rhapsody,” as viewing his mate as a shiny piece of treasure to be guarded as part of his hoard.

All of these elements and more can become important parts of your story. They can be used to build up to the eventual sex scene, which instead of just being two people bumping uglies, will instead be a triumph over cross-species cultural barriers and all of the conflict that comes with them.

4. The Domestic Goat, Capra aegagrus hircus – Goats can be domesticated, like cattle, and kept as pets or livestock. This is like functional, bland sex; you might milk the goat every day, but that doesn’t mean the goat enjoys it. If a reader feels like reading your sex scenes is a chore, you might be better off skipping the milking and going straight to the breakfast table. There’s nothing wrong with the “fade to black, cut” method of writing sex scenes. It’s probably the kind I use the most often. Does your story need the sex, or are you just putting it there because sex sells? I only write a full erotic scene if there are strong emotions involved, and I’m trying to show the characters reaching a new level of their relationship or achieving an emotional bond. If it’s not important to the story, then you’re just going through the motions of the daily chore.

All of the above examples talk about the purpose of sex in a story, and how to sculpt a scene. “But Jason,” you ask, “when do we get to the naughty fun parts?” Well, as I said earlier, you need to tease your audience and make them wait to build suspense. But I suppose I can’t write a “How To Write a Sex Scene” post without discussing the language itself.

First, I’m going to share some examples of different ways to write descriptions in a sex scene. One will be an example of my own work. I don’t by any means think my own work serves as the highest artistic examples of erotic writing, but I do believe it’s appropriate that if I’m going to write about sex, I should have the courage to share my own writing.

Once again, everything that follows is NSFW.

First, let’s look at an example of bad writing; The Ram, in full force. Here is a short excerpt of a story on Literotica.com:

“I have driven to meet you at your house. After chatting online for awhile we were anxious to meet each other. It’s a hot summer’s day, so I told you to be in shorts, no boxers. It is a long drive but finally I arrive and knock on the door. You open it only to be pushed back inside by me. Seeing as you want an aggressive girl, there is no time for small talk.

The door slams shut and I drop to my knees right there at the door. You are not expecting to get moving so quickly. I look up to see a mixture of amazement and curiosity on your face as I start to unzip your shorts.

You open your mouth but I don’t give you time to say anything. I shove your soft cock into my mouth. I suck and lick it, making it grow and come to life in my mouth. Finally it is fully erect, gagging me as it touches the back of my throat.”

Now, I’d like to analyze this story, not as a work of porn, but the way I’d critique any piece of writing. Let’s review it from a professional angle. We open with no introduction to who these characters are, just that they have been “chatting online.” There is no description of their appearance, their occupations, or anything. The action starts in the first paragraph with the “aggressive girl” pushing her way in; this story tells us from the start what we should expect from it. Then, second paragraph, the girl is already on her knees. By the third paragraph, we have some extremely graphic language and a scene straight out of a cheap porno.

If this sort of scene appeared in a novel, would you keep reading? I wouldn’t. There’s no emotion. There’s no reason to care who these characters are. This story is about fucking, plain and simple. The entire story is 768 words, and there isn’t a single paragraph in it that isn’t about the raw, physical act of sex.

Now, if you want to write porn, you could use this style. But I think most of the people reading my blog want to write books and stories. That’s certainly what I want. So, how do you write a sensual, erotic scene in a novel, without it turning into trash like this?

Let’s take a look at something more emotional. The following excerpt is from my WIP novel, “Manifestation.” It contains minor spoilers from the novel, so be warned:

            “Hours later, Tock awoke in Frankie’s bed. She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, and realized it was four in the morning. She hadn’t intended to fall asleep there, but after a rather energetic night of fun and experimentation, she had passed out in Frankie’s arms. Part of her wanted to get up and go back to her room, but his arms felt quite nice around her. Something else also felt quite nice pressed up against her from behind, filling her with an urge that she couldn’t deny. She lay there for awhile and contemplated the most sensible thing to do. She knew that leaving, and letting the boy wake up alone, would be a better way to get the message through to him what it was really all about. She wasn’t prepared to do the relationship thing; her life was simply too much of a mess.

            She stared at the clock as the digital display ticked away another minute. What would Frankie Palladino think if he knew he was in bed with a murderer? Would that change his tune? She couldn’t ever admit such things to him, of course, but she still needed to make him understand that she wasn’t the ‘girlfriend’ type.

            But then, his body felt so warm and nice pressed up behind her . . .

            I’ll spell it out fer ‘im in the mornin’, she thought. She rolled over to face him and slipped her arms around him, then kissed him urgently. He moaned in his sleep as she pulled him on top of her and his body responded on instinct before he was even fully awake. Her gentle but none-too-subtle hands sought the source of her urges and soon woke him fully. The response she felt under her hand made it clear he was more than ready for another round.

            She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body. Frankie was strong, and his athletic body was warm and firm against hers. He made her moan, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, clinging to him as she let him have his way with her. Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .”

See the difference? First, it’s a little more than twice the length of the clip of the porno story, but you can follow the link to Literotica to read that whole story (all 768 words of it) and you won’t see what you see in my excerpt of “Manifestation.” Let’s analyze it bit by bit.

First, the opening paragraph of the “Manifestation” excerpt sets the scene. This particular scene comes after a short mid-chapter scene break, so what you see above, with Tock waking up, is the “beginning” of this scene, for all intents and purposes. That first paragraph names both characters, and it sets an image of the setting around them: a dark bedroom in the middle of the night, a digital clock counting away the minutes, and the fact that this is Frankie’s room (in the college dorms). These visual details aren’t much, but they’re certainly setting the scene better than “I knock on the door, you open it.”

Now, my first paragraph still sets an erotic tone, as Tock observes the feeling of Frankie pressed up behind her. I never name a body part, but you know which part is pressing against her. It’s subtle (more so, at least, than the other story). But it sets the stage for what comes next. More importantly, though, there’s emotion here. You can see a sense of conflict. She has doubts, and isn’t sure how to express them. That makes the lovemaking that follows all the more meaningful.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual vocabulary, shall we? Both stories reach a point where the penis enters an orifice, to use the boring technical terms. Let’s compare those specific moments in each story.

The Ram:

“I move down from your face, to your stomach, turning around to face you, so you can see my tits bounce as I press your cock into my ass. I take some of your pre cum and rub it on my tits, sucking the cum off in front of you.”

“Manifestation”:

“She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body.”

I’d like to set aside the crudity of the Ram’s language and focus on the actual imagery and emotions (or lack thereof). In the Ram’s story, we see “bouncing tits,” a “cock,” “pre cum,” and lots of rubbing and sucking. The images are all sexual. The only emotion we see is lust. As for the words themselves, these are all classic “porn words.” People who write stories just for the sake of getting off tend to focus on these kinds of words, thinking that the crudity is what a sex scene is all about.

The “Manifestation” clip, on the other hand, focuses on entirely different body parts and images. “She spread her legs,” “wrapping her arms around him.” We see “her fingernails down his back.” Even when the sex itself starts, it’s not “he shoved his cock into her pussy.” Instead it’s “She gasped as he entered her.” It’s still sensual and erotic, but it’s not crude. The focus isn’t on the physical anatomy. It’s on the emotions.

Compare these two scenes to the earlier photographs. As before, one is focused on breasts and sexual things. The other is focused on emotion and artistry.

That, in my humble opinion, is the key difference between porn and art. Art moves your heart, while porn just moves your genitals.

Focus on the characters. Focus on their emotions. The sex is just the background. The story is more important. As yourself what purpose a sexual scene serves in your story. The “Manifestation” scene above is meant to show Tock’s inner turmoil, the conflict she feels between her desire for Frankie (desire that is both physical and emotional) and her doubts and fears. The closing lines, “Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .” are the real reason that scene exists. If I weren’t trying to show those emotions, I’d have cut straight to the following morning. This scene exists to show the reader that conflict. The fact that Tock’s emotions and confusion are being shown during a sex scene has little to do with the sex, and everything to do with the story.

In closing, I hope you’ve read and appreciated this post in the mature, professional way I’ve tried to approach it. I love me some naughty bits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place to approach things from a serious angle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s