The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Write the Steamiest Sex Scenes Ever: Guaranteed

Write the Steamiest Sex Scenes Ever: Guaranteed

By Larry Kahaner

When writers ask me how to write sex scenes, I always give them an answer that they hate.

Don’t do it.

Why?

It rarely works and makes you look like an idiot.

Men's Health UK

It’s what you don’t see that’s sexiest (Men’s Health UK)

I’m not sure why, but most authors, even famous and popular ones, can’t write a sex scene to save their lives. I have my theories as to why this is true but it doesn’t matter. No matter whom the author, their sex scenes often come out ludicrous or mechanical. Thriller writers are the worst offenders as are those transitioning from non-fiction to fiction.

Oddly enough, this even holds true for erotica writers. Each time they try to describe the sex act in a new and novel way, with the aim of titillating their readers with something different (and I applaud them for their effort), the result is often farcical.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t strong sex scene writers out there. There are, but they are rare.

This dearth of bad sex scene writing even has its own award given by the Literary Review. Among the short list finalists his year were two Booker-winning novelists and one from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

A Guardian article noted: “The Literary Review sets out to find ‘the most egregious passage of sexual description in a work of fiction,’ and describes it as ‘Britain’s most dreaded literary prize.’ Established by Auberon Waugh in 1993, its purpose is to draw attention to ‘perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them,’ with former winners including Sebastian Faulks, A.A. Gill and Melvyn Bragg.”

Here’s some good (bad) news. “I think this is one of the strongest shortlists in recent years, containing some real literary heavyweights,” said Literary Review’s Jonathan Beckman.

Here’s an article about the winner, Ben Okri for the passage in his book The Age of Magic. This is Okri’s 10th book. He won the Booker in 1991 for The Famished Road and has received, among other prizes, the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction prize. He’s no slouch but look what he wrote:

“When his hand brushed her nipple it tripped a switch and she came alight. He touched her belly and his hand seemed to burn through her. He lavished on her body indirect touches and bitter-sweet sensations flooded her brain. She became aware of places in her that could only have been concealed there by a god with a sense of humour.

“Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her. He loved her with gentleness and strength, stroking her neck, praising her face with his hands, till she was broken up and began a low rhythmic wail … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.”

Okri’s response to winning: “A writer writes what they write and that’s all there is to it.”

So, what to do about your sex scene?

Leave it largely to your readers’ imagination. Start with this: “She took his hand and they walked into the bedroom. Darkness fell.” Spiff it up a bit, talk about clothing, smells and lighting but NOT too much. Your readers will fill in the blanks with their own imaginations, and I can bet that it will be a million times sexier than what you could describe.

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6 thoughts on “Write the Steamiest Sex Scenes Ever: Guaranteed

  1. Robin Latham on said:

    As a former romance writer, I more than agree with this. I used to DREAD having to write sex scenes for the spicy romances I used to write for Silhouette (which was then part of Random House). They actually had a list of words you could and could not use and oral sex was NEVER allowed. But the worst part was — you had to have the sex scenes, you couldn’t pass them over neatly. And so I ended up using all the old hoary cliches, like “she opened like a blooming rosebud to his manly spear,” or other even more god-awful stuff. It was mortifying. I would avoid them as long as I could and when I couldn’t ignore them any longer, I would use self-loathing to propel the writing. Unless you’re Anais Nin (some of the time) or John Updike (most of the time) the sex scene is like a writer’s Rubicon — venture in at your own risk.

  2. In the final draft of my first novel, Time After Time, I had a two page sex scene. I turned it in to my editor and it came back to me for rewrites and corrections. In the margin, next to the sex scene was a single word: no. How right they were.

    • Great comment, Allen. For those who don’t know, Allen Appel writes the excellent blog, The Thriller Guy at thethrillerguy.blogspot.com where he offers reviews, writing advice and commentary.

  3. This is very true. And I must thank you for the endless laughs from the excerpt the Literary Review provided for the most recent winner of the award. Oh, my, my, my — if that won’t keep you from writing explicit sex scenes, I don’t know what will.

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