How to Write THAT Sex Scene
Written by
She Writes
November 2018
Written by
She Writes
November 2018

This guest post was provided by Bella LaVey, author of Fetish Girl: A Memoir of Sex, Domination and Motherhood.

You’re at your desk, and you’re perched on the edge of writing that intimate scene that breaks the story open, the moment that defines and reveals so much. It’s an essential aspect of what you’re writing but there are just so many pitfalls when it comes to creating a compelling sex scene.

How do we approach this steamy, rich, awkward, lovely, beyond-language layer of narrative in new, engaging, and even elegant ways?

This is a question I asked myself over and over again as I was working on my memoir – from the title, Fetish Girl: A Memoir of Sex, Domination and Motherhood, you can guess that the task of writing sex scenes was consistent. The book is about so many things, but a key thread is the work I did in the world as a sex worker, helping others live out their fantasies and to become their truest selves. I had to write about learning the moves a stripper needs to entice a client, along with the ways to flip a fellow erotic wrestler so I wouldn’t hurt her or myself; I had to find language to describe how the trail of my fingers down a man’s back brought him to the brink of pleasure. In other words, I had to occupy the page with authority, with just-the-right sensory details, and with deep attention.

When we’re writing sex scenes in a story that isn’t just about the sex, we need to strike the balance between the forward momentum of the narrative, the themes that are shaping the bigger picture, and the details that create a vivid experience for our readers. Writing sex scenes is a lot like writing any scene – we need to invite readers into the world of our work AND give a sense of the larger forces at play in our narrator/character’s life. We need to be able to communicate the particular and the general, and if we can do this with a little bit of flair, that doesn’t hurt either.

What is this scene about?

The first question we have to ask ourselves is: what is this scene about? Of course, sex is central to the writing, but it’s only part of what’s informing the story. For example, is this the moment where a character is trying, for the first time, to reveal a fantasy to a lover? Is she voicing something she hasn’t dared share with anyone before? If yes, this is really about character development, and that should be the purpose of the physical details we use. Focus the writing on the building intensity of what it feels like to voice one’s true self—that’s the goal: to render how this becomes a pivotal opportunity for her.

Drafting a Scene

The second step is to draft a scene: Once we know the scene point and focus, we can dive into creating a rough draft which goes overboard in the physical descriptions – evoke all five senses; have a great time rollicking in the fully-detailed moment that his tongue moves from her neck to the hollow at the base of her throat. Describe the overhead fan turning lazily, the perfume bottles catching the afternoon light, the hum of the air conditioning adding to the hum in her body as she makes love to a new partner for the first time.

Making the Scene New

Thirdly, once you’ve gotten the scene down in rough form, look for phrases you’ve read before and make them new. If you feel like you’ve read a line somewhere else, you probably have. How can you make them fresh and compelling? It might help to remember that less is more when it comes to sex scenes. If we have supplied the right concrete details, we have created enough specificity so that readers can imagine the scene, and then their own minds can take over. Paint with vivid elements: show the chains hanging from the ceiling, or the riding crop in the corner, or the way the leather skirt rides up her thighs when she walks—those brushstrokes offer just the right touch so that readers can fall into the world of your writing with clarity.

Finding Your Comfort Level

Finally, it’s important to consider your comfort level when writing sex. Finding language for our physical selves is deeply challenging and we need to respect our own boundaries. It might be that you love all those glorious, bodice-ripping descriptions, or it might be you’re a quieter author, one who wants to suggest rather the direct the sexual imagination. Play with it and see what emerges. If you write to your own edge, the work will read as authentic and engaging.

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