The Joy of Writing Sex is intended to help writers craft better sex scenes.
Sex in fiction is so difficult to write
Writing fiction about sex in our culture has always been tricky—and still is, even with all the freedom of expression we now have. By and large, we are afflicted with a multiple personality disorders: We are sex-crazed Puritans, scandalized by President Clinton’s indiscretions but eager to read, while waiting on the supermarket checkout line, the women’s magazine article entitled ‘Twelve Dirty Words That’ll Drive Your Man Wild’
Sexual explicitness in fiction these days is so much a part of the literary landscape that there is even a Bad Sex Award given every year in England by Auberon Waugh’s magazine, The Literary Review. Intended to shame serious writers, not pornographers, into improving their sex scenes, the prize money is given not to the writer but to the reader who located the offending passage. The ‘winning’ writer receives an embarrassing sculpture and the obligation to give an acceptance speech at the awards ceremony.
A sex scene is not a a sex manual
A well-written sex scene engages us on many levels: erotic, aesthetic, psychological, metaphorical, even philosophical.
Edmund White: ‘Sex is the most intense dialogue that could possibly go on between two people in which you’re never sure what the other person is thinking.’
Ten general principles to help guide you as you slip between the sheets
1. A sex scene is not a sex manual.2. A good sex scene does not have to be about good sex.3. It’s okay—really!—to be sexually aroused by your own writing.4. Your fear is your best friend.5. Sex is nice, but character is destiny.6. Only your characters know for sure (what to call it).7. Take your cues from your characters.8. Your characters must want and want intensely.9. A good sex scene is always about sex and something else.10. Who your characters are to each other is key.
When writing about these few intimate moments, which are not generally characterized by conflict, you must nevertheless create some kind of conflict, tension, or surprise, whether it is in the language, the relationship between the characters, the relationship between a pair of lovers and the hostile outside world, or between a narrator and the lovers whose story you are telling, as happens in James Salter’s highly erotic novel, A Sport and a Pastime: A Novel
“You can have good sex on your honeymoon and still suspect that there’s something fishy going on.”– The Feast of Love: A Novel, Charles Baxter.
But with or without children, your married characters have a sexual routine. When you lead them into bed together, don’t forget that as predictable as their moved might be to each other, they also have secrets, fantasies, desires, fears, and other distractions that they keep to themselves—and that you are in a unique position to let us in on.