Monday, August 26, 2013

16 Questions I Ask Myself While Writing Sex Scenes

So unlike a lot of romance author's I've spoken with I really love writing sex scenes. Not only that I also really love reading a well crafted sex scene.

However in my personal opinion nothing kills a story faster than a bad or boring sex scene. It turns out that sex is actually rather hard to write.

So I've come up with a series of questions I ask myself and some tips I keep in mind, which I hope helps to keep things interesting and fresh.

Does this story need a sex scene? 

Sex scenes are great. They are fun to read and can tell us a lot about a character's pass experiences, their relationship with their body, their sexuality, and themselves in general. A good sex scene can make it feel like the relationship between the main characters has really deepened and/or it can help drive the plot forward.

However to write a good romance sometimes you don't need a sex scene. No one should ever write a sex scene as filler or because they feel obligated to do so just because they are writing romance. If the story doesn't need it and you are not into it, or are not sure what you're doing, don't write it.

Before I start I always ask myself does this story need a sex scene? What work does this sex scene do for the over all characterization and plot?

What is my character's relationship with sex? 

People have all different relationships with sex and different sexual acts and their bodies. Knowing how my characters feel about sex, what they consider to be sex, what they like, what they don't like, and how they think of themselves as sexual beings or don't is important. I need to have a good handle on all of this before writing a sex scene. 

I try not to be afraid to make my characters have some sexual hang ups or unusual desires. It's okay to have a character who is body conscious and doesn't feel comfortable taking their shirt off during sex or gets triggered by fingering. It's okay to have a character who gets off on fantasizing about licking sweat out of his partners arm pits, or has a Daddy kink or who isn't interested in sex at all but just really wants to kiss and cuddle. I just try to rock it all.

Have my characters talked about this? 

Talking and negotiating a huge part of healthy and consensual sex. Nothing makes me, as a writer and a human being, feel better than knowing I've done my best to make healthy and consensual sex sexy. It can be easy to just cut the talking and get to the fucking but I try and remember not to be afraid to have my characters talk about the sex they are going to have or talk about the sex they want to have. I try to remember whenever possible to have my characters talk about what they like sexually and what they are afraid of.

As writers we know showing is always better than telling. So I try hard not to just tell my readers that my characters are in a healthy, loving sexual relationship but actually show them that they are, and communication is a vital part of that.

What about protection and consent? 

Consensual sex should always be the goal when writing sex scenes between two people who care about each other. No always means no both in fiction and real life unless safe words are being used and saying no without stopping is an agreed upon part of the scene. There is nothing sexy about a character saying stop and meaning stop and being forced to have sex anyway, no matter how "turned on" their body might be. I always try to be aware of consent. How do my characters know the other is consenting? Also related to this yes also means yes. My characters need to trust each other. When one says "I want this" after they've talked and negotiated the other character needs to trust that they do want it or will be able to say stop if they stop wanting it. Taking a "I know what is best for you" attitude when your partner has clearly stated their limits and desires is not healthy. If I am portraying a healthy relationship I need to show and not tell and these little details matter.

Safe sex is incredibly important especially if you are working with a contemporary setting. As a sex geek I am constantly educating myself about different sexual practices and how to do them in safe sane and healthy ways. This means communication, but also taking precautions against disease and injury. As far as I'm concerned you can never over use safe sex supplies in a sex scene, condoms, dental dams, and latex gloves should all be a part of a scene especially if your characters are not fluid bonded. Once again I say, research, research, research I always try to know what is out there, how to use it and what to use it for as far as safer sex supplies go.

Lube is also incredibly important to help keep the sex free of injury and unwanted pain. I try to research different lubes what they are used for how common they are or easy to get. When I write non-contemporary settings I research what the best lube alternatives are for my given setting. Usually there are lots of options to choose from because let's face it, people have been fucking for a long time. 

Does it make sense for both parties to be on board with that? 

Not everyone likes the same things sexually and that is okay. Something that might feel fantastic for one person feels uncomfortable or painful for another and that is okay. One person's ultimate favorite kink might be another person's trigger, and both of these people have the right to feel the way they do about it.

Both of my characters do not need to be on the same page about every sexual act. It is completely fine if one character is totally turned on by something that the another character is either unsure of or down right squicked by. In fact this can add real texture and depth to a story. I know as a reader I always sit up and take notice of authors who actually go there and add these kinds of details to their sex scenes.

When these situations arise the characters should talk about it and either negotiate a way where they both can enjoy the act, or figure out a slightly different act that they both can enjoy and will be comfortable with or discuss the act but realize it is not going to work for them and set it aside completely.

Have I done my research? 

I am a sexually active adult but there are hundreds and thousands of sexual acts, kinks and experiences I haven't had. On top of that my body and my physical needs are often not like those of my characters. Therefore research is vital, I need to know the nitty gritty of how to do an act, I need to read accounts from people who have done it about what does and doesn't work and how it feels. I need to know how to do it safely, what supplies are involved, and also if there is prep and what kind.

If my character has certain physical need, I research it. If my character's body is different from my own I research what sex is life for someone with that body type (an especially good idea if you are writing trans* characters or characters with a disability) If my character has a kink or fetish I research that, if I am writing about a toy I've never used I research it, a positions I've never tried? I slap some research on that too.

You can never be too informed about something I say.  

How old are my characters, do either of them have any physical limitations or differences I need to be aware of? 

Kane (who I have mentioned before) is partly paralyzed which means that certain sexual positions need to be modified but also that he can not get erect without being touched and that keeping an erection while penetrating his partner is difficult.  He is also in his fifties which means that muscles and joints can get stiff faster than when he was younger and he will probably won't be up for seconds (if that involves erection and ejaculation) any time soon.

These are all things I need to be aware of while writing sex scenes involving this character. Also I need to do my research about what is and is not possible for Kane due to his disability and what, if any technology or toys exist to help him out. For instance some people with mobility based disabilities like using sex swings to help hold themselves up during sex. Since Kane is a gay man it is also important to find information which does not general but addresses the needs of gay men with his disability.

Likewise Vasilios and Lui Yi are both fully castrated eunuchs so what they can and can not do sexually and how they do or do not experience pleasure need to be taken into account when writing sex scenes with them in it. They can both feel pleasure for instance but not nessisarily in the same way a non-castrated man would and they also won't peak or orgasm in the same way either, if at all. Again for me doing the research was key.

Does this scene/story really need penetration? 

I love anal penetration. I like reading about it and watching it in porn, writing it and taking part in it. Penetration though as a sexual act is over represented in our culture and in gay and straight romance and erotica. The fact of the matter is even for me it gets boring and their are thousands and thousands of other sexual acts these characters could be taking part in.

Some people don't like penetration, some people aren't physically or psychologically capable of it.

So I try and really think about first what my characters relationship to penetration is? Do they like it? Do they hate it? Does it bring up baggage?

In Like Fire Through Bone Markos dislikes penetration as a sexual act and Vasilios has serious issues with it due to the abuse he's suffered. So when I sat down to write the sex scenes with them in it penetration wasn't even an option, although they do talk about it several times.

Finally I ask myself does the story need it? would it be just as hot if I used some other kind of sexual act?

Sometimes nothing but penetration feels right for those characters at that moment but of I don't need it, than I don't put it in.

There is no such thing as one right or true way to have sex. 

This is not a question but it is something that I try to keep in mind. Anything can be sex, anything. If the people involved feel like they are having sex than they are having sex. End of story.

Penetration is not any more "real sex" than anything else. A character who does not like or participate in penetration is not missing out on "real sex" and may not need to be 'cured' of their aversion to the 'best' kind of sex.

Fingering can be real sex
Frottage can be real sex
jerking someone off with your hands or feet can be real sex
masterbating for show can be real sex
being caned can be real sex
kissing can be real sex

The idea that there is one true way of having sex and everything else is foreplay or not "real" or that penetration = sex and nothing else does are truly damaging stereotypes floating around our society. Thus I am ever weary that I don't reenforce them when I write about sex.

 I am I afraid of imperfection and awkwardness in this sex scene? 

Usually the point of writing a sex scene in romance and erotica is to have it be hot and fun to read. That being said sex is sometimes imperfect and awkward. Sex is like everything else it take practice, it takes messing up and lots of time and research to get right. Even amazing sexy sex has it's awkward moments where people fumble, get into weird, uncomfortable positions or try something that doesn't quite work out.

I try and ask myself, I am afraid of showing those moments and embracing them? Can I let my characters have an awkward moment or two without ruining my readers enjoyment of the scene? It is a hard line to walk, to be sure, but it is something I strive for because it add that little bit of flavor and realness to a scene and sets it aside from the thousands of other sex scenes out there. 

What are my options as far as toys and other equipment?

The sex toy industry is huge these days and statistics show that in the United States a large portion of the population, both male and female, use sex toys. Also although they tend to be associated with masturbation the vast majority of reviews I've seen for everything from vibrators, to wedges, to butt plugs, to penis cages have been written by people who use these toys with a partner.

Yet the use of toys during sex scenes in romance is something I don't come across often and that's a shame. Usually when I sit down to write a sex scene I think about the character's relationship to sex, their sexual preferences, kinks, dislikes and then I come up with a list of toys they would likely enjoy. If they seem like the kind of people to whip out a toy during the heat of it, I write it into the scene. If it's a toy I've never used before usually I do quite a bit of research reading reviews and testimonial from people who have so I can describe it correctly.

Now a fair amount of what I write is fantasy with historically inspired settings but really that shouldn't stop you. Dildos have been found in many ancient civilizations, as have butt plugs, ben wa balls and cock rings. In the modern area butt plugs came back into use in the West in 1890 with vibrators being a little earlier than that. Further throwing in an element of fantasy or steampunk can open up all sorts of possibilities for coming up with toys of your own invention.

Do I need to slow it down? 

Sometimes sex is tearing each others' clothes off and bam. bam. bam. done. In my experience though there is often a lot of starts and stops in sex. Taking clothes off, moving to another room, talking about what is going to happen, getting out any toys that are needed, remembering you left the lube in the bathroom, or office, or kitchen, having to stop and regroup because something doesn't work, getting totally distracted by kissing and you both forget what your hands are doing.

When I write I remind myself that this isn't a bad thing. Often as a writer my inclination is to push through the scene (I'm like that about every scene) as quickly as possible but it's okay to slow the sex scene down, stop the action for a little bit, address something else, have them touch in ways meant to comfort or relax rather than arouse and move on. This is particularly important if the characters don't know each other's bodies well yet, or are in the mood for something slower, or if they are with a partner who has physical or psychological needs they might not be completely sure about how to handle yet.

I remind myself constantly that the sex scenes in a book are not just filler, they are not just an obligation that needs to be fulfilled when one writes romance. They are there to deepen the relationship between the two characters but also for characterization. What comes out in sex can tell us a lot about who this character is and that's important too. So often it's appropriate to slow the action down and take my time.

What about laughter, or crying?

I once read a review of an amazing indie queer porn site where the reviewer talked about her favorite part of the one shoot was that one of the actresses couldn't stop laughing. Going and watching that particular scene I found the reviewer was right, every few minutes the actress would break out into a fit of giggles. At which point her partners would grin, kiss and cuddle her. The scene was nothing unusual, nothing I hadn't seen before but the laughter and the fact that everyone seemed to be having so much funny, really stuck with me.

Sex can be hilarious, when it goes wrong, or when it goes right. Laughter can break up an awkward moment or making room for some affectionate cuddling. Sometimes we laugh when we are happy, when we feel safe, relaxed, when things feel good. I try to keep in mind that serious sex doesn't necessarily equal good sex and breaking out in a fit of the giggles does not mean something has necessarily gone wrong.

Likewise crying doesn't mean the sex was bad, or the person involved is weak or lesser. We have some negative stereotypes of people who cry during or after sex but there can be lots of reasons for doing so. A character can cry if they are happy, if they are overstimulated, if the entire scene brings up a lot of emotions due to passed experiences.

I try not to be afraid to put either laughter or tears into my sex scenes if that is what is needed.

What about dirty talk? 

Dirty talk is one of those things I feel like I'm really bad at but want to get better at writing. I think it can be incredibly hot when done write and a good way for partners to communicate what feels good and what they want during sex.

Mostly I try to keep my characters talking during the scene even if it's just "Oh God, that feels good."  Again I feel like it's the showing not telling thing.

Do the characters need to come for it to be a good sex scene? 

This is in interesting one. I've seen not coming and it still being good sex addressed in lesbian erotica and porn but not so much in gay stuff where most of the emphasis seems to be on the money shot.

Still it is worth noting that depending on your character the sex scene can be hot, good and fulfilling without both or either parties reaching orgasm. People can still feel pleasure and still feel loved without physically reaching orgasm, it depends on the person and situation. Some people might actually prefer not to physically orgasm as part of sex, and there are many perfectly good reasons for this.

There are also several situations within m/m romance where you might want to considered writing a sex scene in which both characters feel fulfilled without technically reaching orgasm or ejaculation. If you are writing about a character with erectile dysfunction, psychological issues or a past sexual trauma, who has already ejaculated recently, or who has been castrated you might want to think a lot about whether orgasm in nessisarily the "end point" or the point at all of the sex scene.

Have I written this sex scene before in this story? 

As far as I am concerned this is vital. I'm not big into saying you should never do something writing wise because there are always lots of great examples of people who have done that thing and been amazing at it. If I am going to say never do something though it would be this: never write the same sex scene twice in a story. Don't do it! Just don't! It kills a romance or erotica story. Kills it dead. You've already written a scene where one character sucked the other character and then there was anal penetration with cuddling afterwards. No other sex scene in the story should have a blow job followed by anal followed by sweaty cuddles. Don't do it! In fact I'd think long and hard before I'd write either blow jobs or anal again in that story at all. Sure people like to repeat what feels sexy for them but these super common sex acts in romance and erotica can get pretty boring to read pretty quick. Go with frottage, or hand jobs, or intercrural sex or have one character masturbate on the kitchen counter while the other one watches.Write pony play, write Japanese rope bondage, or write fingering in a sex swing, write a really intense cuddle/make out session.

If I am stuck and can't think of anything beyond what I've already written I stop writing and go read some erotic, or watch some porn, or look at dirty artwork on Tumblr, until I come up with something.

Most importantly I try to be creative and have fun. There are thousands of sexual acts, kinks, toys, positions, so many ways of having sex. 


  1. You can never be too informed about something I say.

    Agreed x infinity!

    And I found the sex scene in "Like Fire Through Bone" tremendously well written. It was refreshing to read a sex scene that was about mutual passion and desire that didn't need to involve penetration to express and experience those things. So well done.

    And I have to say, the cover art for the book is *stunning*. Brooke did a beautiful job. :)

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked the sex scenes in Like Fire Through Bone and I love the cover as well, it turned out amazing I think.

      I am a huge fan of researching ... just about everything, but doing my due diligence for sex scenes in particular.

  2. That's one of the things I enjoy, and can rely on, in your stories - the sex scenes are always different, and exploring a different aspect of sexuality, while delivering writing that conveys desire and passion.

    I agree that scenes within a novel should definitely be different but that also makes me check myself and wonder if I take care to do the same, as far as a linear sequence is concerned! To me, all sex scenes are fundamentally different and I approach writing them as such. There's character and relationship to be considered, and what those two individual people would do in that situation, whether they're feeling giggly and goofy or urgent and sexy, that sort of thing.

    And I very much agree on the fact that not all story needs a sex scene. Sometimes it simply doesn't call for one. Or, even, sometimes the sex scene doesn't necessarily have to be explicit - I remember getting a comment or two that the sex in Fireborn was "very young adult," in that it wasn't raunchy with full-on description of the ol' in-and-out, and that comment kind of blindsided me. The scene, the story style, just didn't call for a really explicit scene. So I think that's a consideration, as well - what kind of sex scene? Does it have to be 2-3k of sex, or can a paragraph serve to effectively convey the same thing?

    Great topic. I'm really looking forward to Like Fire Through Bone. :)

    1. see, the thing I love best about your comment is it actually made me go back and re-read some of my stories to see how explicit my sex scenes tend to be. While I seem to either write very explicit sex scenes or not at all, I completely agree with you. I think it totally has to do with the story and the characters how explicit it needs to be. Same with language, I definitely change my language or tone depending on what kind of sex scene it is and what kind of book I'm writing.

      I also totally don't get the whole "young adult" when it comes to sex scenes, or in general but than that's a rant for another day.

      I check myself a lot as far as being repetitive in my sex scenes go. It's such a trope in the genre to write blow job, anal, blow job, anal. It can be really hard to break away from that. Even if the tone of the scenes are different though, even if emotionally it feels different. I've still read about a thousand or descriptions of anal penetration in m/m romance and so at this point as a reader, it had to be pretty damn special for my eyes glaze over when I read yet another sex scene that starts off with a blow job and ends with someone sticking their dick into someone else's ass.

      I figure if I feel like that there are other readers who do as well, so I try to mix it up a little.

      That being said, I've totally written blow jobs and anal penetration. I just try to be cautious not to do it all the time and to try and do it in a none-stereotypical way, if that makes any sense.