Sex and The Writer

Iconic: The camera was used to take this picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York's Times Square

(Iconic: Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's image of an impulsive sailor kissing a woman he did not know in New York's Times Square to celebrate Japan's surrender in 1945, became one of the most iconic of the 20th century. The Leica IIIa rangefinder he used sold for $150,000)


Writing about sex and especially describing a sexual encounter between your main characters can sometimes be extremely challenging. It’s not like you’ve just discovered a planet where’s there’s life and now will be writing about it. Sex is already a very familiar every day part of life. Not to mention, centuries of literature. So, as a writer, how do you keep the language of love-making fresh, new, or different, and certainly evocative? 

When I’d gone back to school for my MFA some yrs. ago, my thesis advisor said she could actually feel me blushing when I sat in her class writing a honeymoon scene that took place in the early 1940’s. Perhaps, that was because the couple in the scene was based on my parents and their not one, but two weddings─ one which was an elopement to Virginia on a snowy, Xmas Eve, and the second, a few months later, a religious ceremony held in a big catering hall in Brooklyn for all their friends and family. I, of course, missed both those events and arrived a few years later.

It was really difficult to write the scene of their wedding night. I felt myself turning into a squeamish teenager… Oh God, no….it’s Mom and Dad. Yuck! I was also aware of trying to write in relationship to that time and particularly that decade and the war, which in itself created a certain urgency I’m not sure exists with today’s twenty-something lovers. Though sex is sex, the language of sex, the romanticism of the 1940’s had to come into play. I stayed away from the clinical and instead opted for the atmosphere, the pressures of war, the coyness of the bride, and the naiveté that comes with innocence and inexperience. I envisioned the sweet,traditional swooping up of the bride and the groom tossing her upon a huge bed, but no, not any bed. I invented a huge, circular bed and had my newlyweds pretend it was a clock, as the made love every single hour. Well, almost every hour. The fact that they'd eloped and lied to their parents helped raise the ante of excitement. Basically, I tried to stay true to the characters’ personalities. But mostly, in order to get through the writing and the sensuousness of the scenes, I had to completely detach. 

Here’s Some Basics I heard at an AWP conference in NYC with regards to writing about sex, not in the city but the literary:

1. Make your own rules

2. Don’t be afraid

3. Don’t tease the reader

4. No fish-net stockings.

5. If it hurts then have them say so.

6. Show that sex is messy

7. Be a little reckless

8. Make it hot!

9. Full steam ahead

10. It’s definitely okay to blush (I added this one!)

The Sweetness, inspired by true events, is to be published Sept. 23, ’14 by She Writes Press

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