• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Maybe I Can Be a Sexy Beast

HI Betsy,

This is such a prude-y question. As practice I recently wrote out a scene between two people having a work fling. Its based on work crush I had ;o) I am happily married. My question for you is that when you or your husband write out sex scenes in your novels does it ever weird either of you out? You can tell I don’t share my writing life very much with my husband.
Dear Prud-y:
Great question. I think the bottom line is that people tend to assume that fiction is autobiographical and there ain’t nothing you can do abut it. But it sounds like the sex scene in question is more inspired by the work crush than with your husband. Awkward. There are sex scenes in my husband’s book, and I definitely recognize him/us in the proceedings. It’s not oogey to me because a) I’m a terribly sophisticated reader and b) I’m only concerned that the scene is well written and believable and necessary. Almost every sex scene I’ve read in submitted manuscripts over the years  is written with a Vaseline lens, and the woman’s climax  is usually  marked by PERSPIRATION ON HER BROW breaking out in tiny beads.
How do you write good sex scene?

54 Responses

  1. I say don’t forget to include a little awkwardness, and use the setting to make it interesting.

  2. If it goes a planned, it’s not worth reading. Delete.

  3. I think PERSPIRATION ON HER BROW would make a lovely book title. Perhaps better than my working title, which is DRY HUMPING.

  4. I write YA so my sex scenes are either non existent or very coy. And no, my husband is not in them.

  5. I write about teaching, so…well, oogey.

    Where’s Averil when you need her?

  6. The only way I know of to write “good sex scene” is to start with g and end with e.
    Though I’ve heard tell of people trying the reverse…

  7. Writing sex scenes tends to make me laugh. Oh gosh I have written some silly stuff!

  8. The best sex scenes have nothing to do with the sexual act.

  9. Seriously (and no pun intended), finding fresh vocabulary for a sex scene is HARD. What do you call that thing between the guy’s legs? Penis? Dick? Schmuck? Prick? Rod? Throbbing manhood?

    And don’t get me started on that thing between the woman’s legs.

    I tend to work around the nouns and concentrate on the verbs.

    It’s all about the verbs anyway. Ladies, am I right?

  10. In my mind, a good sex scene is about the emotion. Yes, there are the mechanics, but the mechanics could be written in one quick paragraph and be boring. The passion, tenderness, or whatever other emotions you want to involve are what make the sex scene successful and interesting. In my current novel which takes place in the 18th century, my characters make love in a coach. I had to research the inside makings of a coach to see what I could use and what my restrictions were. Same issue in the case of their wardrobe. But the emotions were strong enough that they couldn’t wait until they got home, so the coach also helped me stress that emotion.

  11. Sex scenes don’t work in my regular stories, but in longer works, yes. The questions revolve around the characters: what kind of people are they? what is the relationship? where is it going? A mean bastard isn’t going to treat a partener tenderly, or maybe they will surprise us. A gentle soul may have a rough side we haven’t seen yet.

    Maybe the best and most difficult are suggestive, rather than discriptive, a balance of intimacy or action. Then, since readers assume autobiography, there’s that question of how much you are willing to toss out there to be loved or ravaged.

    As always.

  12. Unless you’re writing erotica, you don’t need details. “They had sex on the couch, and the springs poked her back,” is enough. It’s like writing about eating. “She ate dinner,” is better than “She spooned the potpie into her mouth, and the crust dissolved deliciously on her tongue.”

    Too much sensual detail in writing gives me the creeps.

  13. Sex scenes don’t work. We know what happens don’t we? I don’t need someone spelling out the mechanics to me – it’s what leads up to it that counts…and what happens after. Sex scenes on tv and cinema are laughable. They’re not real..so I can’t believe in them. They’re usually just …squelchy!

    • I have to agree with you and RE in that the sex is not needed. I can’t remember a sex scene I’ve read or scene (on screen) that made the story better or saved it from being worse. I remember thinking it how stupid and gratuitous it was seeing Kelly McGillis briefly putting her girls on display in the movie Witness – and this was in my late teens!

      It’s interesting that even the comments in this post that are pro-sex scene hint at the overall unimportance of graphic depictions (see Leigh Sparrow’s). I say cut the mechanics and focus on the story.

      • I saw a decent sex scene in a movie this evening. The movie is “The Lincoln Lawyer.” The sex scene had what the consensus on this thread has pretty much been. It showed the initial passion between the lovers, with enough backstory and setup for it to make sense as to why there was this passion between these two characters. It showed enough of the encounter for it to make sense in the context of the story, deepen the understanding of these characters as the story went forward, and not go on a second longer than it needed to in order to show what it needed to show. It was about the characters and the story, and not about the sex.

  14. The scene is not important. It’s everything that happens before. Hum, is that art imitating life?

  15. Writing a memorable sex scene is like the difference between sex on the kitchen island in a triple x film and the pottery scene in Ghost. Both may tingle but one is ordinary.
    Doing it amongst the vegetables, or with the vegetables, is just soooo every day, but spoon while you muck around with spinning wet clay…mmm…where the hell is my husband anyway?

  16. When writing them, I find it easier to write from a peeping Tom stance. The actions have to take the place of the dialogue but at a great enough distance that I don’t have to be concerned with “throbbing manhood” as mentioned above. The more psychologically twisted the characters are, the easier it is to write.
    Now a loving scene, I tend to avoid, as it lends itself to “making love”. The words alone give me the heebie-jeebies and bring to mind Air Supply, bearskin rugs, glowing candlelight, and glistening skin, god help us.

  17. Not one of my strengths–the writing of it–hopefully not the real life part of it. I’ve found that for those necessary scenes I’m better with as little blow by blow description as possible. More like they start and then there’s the next scene. Leave the rest to the imagination. When I’ve gotten into the spirit of the thing in the past I tended to border on porno overkill. An anti-climax works best for this writer.

  18. “How do you write good sex scene?”

    I write it only if the story needs it. I keep its tone consistent with the tone of the story. I keep it physical and concrete and describe only that which needs to be described to make the scene fit with the rest of the story. I keep it natural and adult and don’t let the language get out of control. I avoid like the plague even any whiff of, Hey, looky, everybody, here’s a sex scene, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

    As for today’s illustration, are those capacitators or resistors or what?

  19. I’ve yet to write a good sex scene. Awkward. Stiff. I think my next try will focus on foreplay, lingering awhile in anticipation, unsure who is pursuing who and which one wants it more. The characters would come to realize they are suddenly perfectly connected.

  20. Honestly, I have very little interest in writing the nuts and bolts (sorry) part of sex in sex scenes. I might even skim those passages in novels (with the exception of Averil’s books, that is.) I’ll most often end the scene just before the beaded brow, or pick up afterwards. To me the most fun is in the build up and the winding down–the most opportunity for character exploration and for intimacy that feels authentic and not “soft-focused.”

  21. Whatever you decide to do, leave home the k-y, vaseline only and less is way more. And Betsy, I hope you are wrong about everyone assuming novels are autobiographical! Is there some blanket explanation you can give us to refute this? The composite thing?

  22. I write them with my eyes closed.

  23. The only sex scenes I’ve written that didn’t make me completely cringe and delete three seconds later happen when I’m not trying to write a sex scene but the sex happens interrupting something else crucial. Because it seems to me that the best sex happens when it does interrupt something, a conversation, plans, whatever. And then something happens to interrupt the sex. Like a cat or a phone call where each partners’ phone rings so someone has to answer because that almost always marks an emergency. Does that make sense?

  24. Organic, metaphoric, power driven and hot. Thats how i like it. Don’t make me think “Did anybody here order a pizza?”

  25. Practical and purposeful. I fear only the purpose differentiates mine, certainly the mechanics don’t. And I find I emphasize the role of the clothing.

  26. How do you write a good sex scene? You learn from Averil, silly. http://averildean.wordpress.com/. Not only does she write sex scenes, she gets you thinking about how the characters got there. What’s the underlying motive? Good stuff and beautiful writing.

  27. I don’t think I’ve ever read a good one. Sure, ‘that one’ in Atonement might work well — but not necessarily in the literary sense. I’m sure I mentioned here before that I went to see Martin Amis & Will Self talk about sex and literature a few years back. According to Mr. A, the best sex scene was only a bit of suggestion: Pride and Prejudice, when Lizzie/Lizzy has just come in after walking in the fields. Muddy petticoat or something.

    He says good sex scenes have to have an angle, be it humor, grotesqueness, whatever.

    I don’t really want to read titillating stuff unless it needs to be there.

  28. You think about having sex and with minimum attempt at effects or lyricism — I mean really minimum, which is zero — you describe what it’s like, explicitly. no beating about the bush, you know? Just the beating of the bush.

  29. No excitement in the writer, no excitement in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader, to borrow from RF.

  30. I don’t write sex scenes because it makes me giggle to try.

    But of course I’m terribly terribly sophisticated when reading sex scenes in other people’s novels.

  31. My current novel centers on my protagonist ending up pregnant after sleeping with her childhood bully’s husband. The sex itself is inconsequential compared to what the sex represents so I’ve written it in that vein. I trust my reader to fill in the details. Isn’t trust the key to good sex anyway? Wait, don’t answer that…

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