The joy (and terror) of writing sex

This week I started working seriously on the second draft of my novel. I’m aware that the story needs a big overhaul, and I’ve a good idea of where I want to go with it. One thing that I’m still torn about, however, is sex. The current manuscript has an awful lot of sex in it. An awful lot of graphic sex.

 

Sex-in-literature

Sex-in-literature is a tricky subject, and one that’s been much talked of lately. Personally, I enjoy sex in books. Well, let me clarify – I enjoy good sex in books. How often do you find a really well-written, moving, and genuinely sexy sex scene in a novel? In my opinion: not often enough.

The relationship between my characters is founded on sex, which develops into something else, so this aspect of their story is very important. But I worry how this comes across, not only to readers, but to potential agents or publishers. What if I want to write a children’s story? I don’t want to be ‘the woman who writes porn’. The thing is, writing about life and the human condition is the same thing to me as writing about sex. How could it not be? Without sex, we wouldn’t be here.

 

How to write it?

I think it’s difficult to know where the line is – what is classed as erotica? What strays into pornography? Why are we so concerned about keeping sex a secret anyway? Regardless of my opinion on the writing, it’s brilliant that people feel able to read books with the graphic nature of Fifty Shades in public. Sex should not be a taboo.

One problem is that sex is difficult to write well; it can be a minefield to negotiate corny dialogue, flowery description, and clangers. Clangers are words that act as instant turn-offs when you’re reading them. The problem is of course that they’re different for everyone: if I read the word throbbing, I’m out of there. I remember reading Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan last year and loving it, but I had to turn the page when I reached the sex scenes. I couldn’t even begin to read them, they were almost painfully dreadful, I’d just skip a few pages and hope it was over!

I do think that more people should learn to write sex well. Because when it’s done well it can add an awful lot to a story. Sometimes it doesn’t, and a cut away suits much more, but for my story I know that the sex belongs in there as it’s such a massive element of the characters’ development. I think young readers (I’m talking about mid-late teens) should have access to books that talk about sex in a sensual, yet realistic way. People should be taught that sex is okay. And they should learn that different kinds of sex are okay – like BDSM, and I think novels are a great platform for that.

I’m really interested to know how other people feel about this subject. I have always been firmly behind more openness about sex, and I believe more writers need to be.

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About sarahgracelogan

Sarah Grace is an itinerant scribbler and general layabout. She runs a writing group called CAKE.shortandsweet, because any form of procrastination from actual writing is always attractive to the serious author of refined taste. When not distracted by laser pens, Sarah Grace writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, poetry, stage scripts and screenplays. She has performed her work at Stirred Poetry, Bad Language and Tongue in Cheek Manchester. Her first publication, Humping the Boonies is a self-published chapbook available directly from the author, or from Travelling Man, Manchester. You can find more details about her ongoing projects, not to mention a selection of free stories up for grabs right here on her blog. https://sarahgracelogan.wordpress.com/about/ She also likes to talk about theatre, film, books, photography, and especially games and other things that involve collaborative storytelling. Sarah Grace likes feedback, in whatever form it comes.

6 comments

  1. I think there’s kind of a line between open sex and graphic sex. Many TV shows will show characters kissing then fade away, but you get the idea..

    It depends what is important to the story, the fact that your characters had sex (in which in can be implied without graphic detail) or the act of sex itself (in which graphic detail is acceptable). Don’t shy away from what works for your story- you’re the writer after all!

    • Yes absolutely, and the tricky part is knowing where to draw the line. I know the story needs the sex, it’s just a case of feeling out how explicit it can be without crossing the line.

  2. How often do you find a really well-written, moving, and genuinely sexy sex scene in a novel?

    Not very often! I do feel that it is very easy to do it wrong. If it isn’t bizarre metaphors it is perfunctory and very unsexy words used to describe the act.

    I don’t tend to like putting links to my own blog over everybody else’s blogs – I find it rude to do so without permission. But if you want to read somebody else’s thoughts who has recently written his first sex scene, then please feel free to visit.

    • Absolutely, I think writing it well is a skill, and it’s one earned through long hard practice.

      I don’t mind at all – you did it with grace and humility! So how did you find your first time?

      • Well, here’s the specific post.

        It took a lot more thought than I expected it would. It needed to work on two levels – firstly did it work as a sex scene, would it titilate the reader. Secondly on a deeper level it had to be about the characters. “Would he say that?” “Would she react in that way when/if he kissed her?” “Would they use those words?” So it had to fit right, I didn’t want it to be a generic sex scene that could have been between any two people.

        I enjoyed it though and the handful of people who’ve read it described it as steamy and natural so I guess I did something right!

      • It sounds like you did pretty well! It’s true, it can be very hard to write the first sex scene between two characters, but as their relationship develops I think you feel more comfortable writing them in bed together more. Of course, the issue then becomes how to make each scene original and interesting! The key, as you say, is that it’s about more than just sex. It must advance the plot or the characterisation somehow.

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