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February 26, 2009

I am terrified of sex scenes in my writing, which is why there is an exclamation point above where normally there is empty space. Sex itself might be an enjoyable experience shared between two people, but on the page? It’s like that first awkward conversation with your Dad about the birds and the bees.

For some reason, I always think that readers will be able to infer explicit and private details about my own sex life if I write about sex between two characters. If writing is reflective of a writer’s soul, then writing sex scenes should share the same connotation. No?

My first novel is a romantic thriller, which means that the two main characters are going to need to get busy at some point. I haven’t figured out when or under what circumstances, but my crystal ball says that clothes are coming off. When I reach that climatic point in the manuscript, I’ll bet I’m covered head to toe with hives and chugging Vodka like its water.

Yeah, sex scenes are that scary.

Part of me wants to take the easy way out when it comes to sex scenes in my novel. You know, the old fade to black approach that you find in PG-13 movies. Two characters come together in front of a moonlit window, their eyes sparkling with lust. Their lips meet in one brief, passionate kiss, and their feet begin shuffling toward the bed which is conveniently only a few feet away.

And they have sex.

We all know what they’re doing. We know how the parts work, we understand the mechanics of the act. Why should I have to describe it in explicit detail and risk exposing myself to the entire world? When I’m reading a novel, sex scenes often feel gratuitous, as though it would have been a total flop if BREASTS and PENISES and VAGINAS weren’t mentioned.

I’m sorry, but common sense dictates that if people want pornographic material, they’ll buy porn. A few paragraphs describing animalistic copulation isn’t going to make or break a story.

Before you dispense with the hate mail, let me assure you that I understand the importance of sex scenes in some literary works. I’ve read numerous tasteful sex scenes that didn’t make me want to take a shower afterward, and I recognize their value as a literary device. And some writers are better at this than others.

The question that enters my mind, however, is how do you know if sex scenes are necessary? I’ll finish my manuscript complete with horizontal gymnastics only to discover that those scenes are superfluous.

Or maybe my literary agent calls me up and says, “Those sex scenes in your manuscript? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’ve been doing it wrong.

You probably think I’m a prude for writing this post, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I find it difficult to believe that I’m the only writer in the history of the universe who has ever blushed scarlet over the idea of writing sex scenes. I’ve got no problem sharing sexual escapades with my close girlfriends or discussing our sex life with my husband. But when it comes to sharing sex scenes with the whole world, I’m a basket case.

So if you are a fiction writer (or even if you’re not), how do you go about writing sex scenes? And do you think of them as necessary or optional? I want to know.

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