Do you want to write a sex scene? Or perhaps an entire steamy story? For many people, writing about sex is a pretty scary idea – not just because it can be so personal, but also because it’s terribly easy do it very poorly. I know my first sex scenes were embarrassing rather than sexy, at least…
But some nervousness shouldn’t be holding you back. If a sex scene makes sense within your story, or if it’s even essential to have a one, it’s time to make the leap and learn to write the steamy stuff! And the good news is, you can learn to write good (or even excellent) sex scenes. Just keep these 12 tips to write about sex in mind!
1. Ask yourself: is it necessary?
Huh? This is supposed to be a list of advice on writing sex scenes – so why is the first tip to reconsider writing the scene at all?
Here’s the thing. So, so many steamy stories I read throw in sex whenever the protagonists have five minutes to themselves, no matter the state of the story at that point. It is as if the author came up with a plot first, then inserted some good ol’ lovemaking at random places. (“Ah, they haven’t seen each other naked for two chapters! Time to insert a useless bathing scene!”)
This is annoying. Yes, sex sells, but unnecessary sex often turns out to be boring sex. (See points 2 and 4 below.) And boring sex is a very quick way to anger your readers.
So make sure your sex scene has a reason to be there. It may make your protagonists realise that there are feelings involved in what they expected to be something purely physical. It may introduce a misunderstanding. It may break with some rule a character has set for themselves, and thereby change their perspective on life. It may resolve a fight, or start one. It may raise the stakes, or create an external problem (for example, when the lovers are caught by someone not suppose to catch them).
The reason doesn’t have to be something enourmous. But make sure your story would change if you left our the sex.
2. Put in some emotional conflict
Scenes are nothing without conflict. There needs to be some disagreement, some uncertainty, some change, in order to make a scene worth reading (and writing). Just because you’re writing about sex doesn’t mean you can abandon that rule!
When you write sex scenes, you still need some kind of conflict. That doesn’t mean one character is opposed to having sex (it shouldn’t, I’d say, unless you’re writing dubious consent; see point 3). But there should be something to keep the dynamic between your protagonists interesting. For example:
- One character is hesitant about having sex, and needs some convincing from the other party. For example, the reluctant character has clashing loyalties, or believes they aren’t good enough for the other person.
- One character is keeping a secret, and the other is trying to pry it out.
- One character is insecure about their skills in bed, or is trying to hide a lack of experience.
- The characters are nervous about the consequences their sexual encounter may have, for example when others find out.
If you need some inspiration or examples, you can also take a look at my blog with erotic writing prompts.
I will say there is perhaps one situation where the conflict isn’t strictly necessary: when you’re writing the last scene of your story, and the sex is mainly a way to show the resolution / HEA between your characters. But anywhere else, please make sure something’s happening.
3. Be clear about consent
Twenty years ago romance novels could still get away with heroines being ambushed by “heroes”, only to fall in love with those same men afterwards. However, times have changed. Thankfully, consent is becoming more and more a part of the conversation about sexual norms – and that needs to be shown in cultural content as well.
This means that, as a romance writer, you should be mindful about consent. Don’t try to pass off rape as “romantic”. Many, many of your readers will be unhappy about it.
Does that mean you can never write in the grey areas? Especially, for example, with those dominant alpha males many romance readers drool for? I personally think the grey areas can be fine, as long as there is communcation about them. Are you writing BDSM, make sure your characters discuss boundaries at some point. Is one character reluctant to go along with the other’s sexual plans? Make clear that they want to have sex, but that there are other, external issues keeping them back.
Just, for the love of whatever deity you believe in, don’t do the “he raped her, but he did it out of love, so she can still love him!” trope.
Even if you have a good emotional conflict, your sex scene may end up being a bit boring. To prevent this, you should consider what aspects of the scene you can exaggerate.
What do I mean by this? In short: make sure that at least one aspect of your sex scene is different – more interesting, more spectacular, more surprising than average. Don’t put the hero and the heroine in their familiar bed doing the missonary. Find something that makes it different from most sex scenes, and then amplify that aspect as much as you can. After all, this is what makes your scene stand out. Make it easier for readers to remember it!
- Is your scene taking place at an unusual location? Can you make it more unusual?
- Is there any kinky stuff going on? Can you make it more surprising?
- Are they using some interesting attributes? Can you give them a more important role?
- Is there a danger (thin walls and nosy neighbours, nearby family members…)? Can you create more tension around that point?
Just take a good look at all aspects of your scene and ask yourself: how could this stand out more?
5. Be clear about your viewpoint character
Most readers want to immerse themselves completely in your story – and this is definitely true for your steamy parts. After all, what’s the fun in reading about sexy stuff if you can’t put yourself in the heroes’ shoes? 😉
To make it easier for readers to lose themselves in your writing, you should know exactly who your viewpoint character is – and stick to that character! So if you’re writing from your heroines PoV, don’t suddenly describe what the hero feels, or thinks, or wants. All you can say about the hero is what the heroine sees, hears and feels from him. A steady PoV is always important, but when you write sex it’s absolutely essential.
6. Establish the location early
Once the sexy times are fully on, you don’t want to pause to spend several paragraphs describing the setting in which your characters are getting it on. In most cases, that will ruin the mood faster than dirty socks.
On the other hand, it’s important that your readers have some sense of where the scene is taking place. You don’t want to have to bodies making love in a vacuum. Again, readers need to be able to immerse themselves into the scene, and that’s not going to work if they have no idea what the place looks like.
So: make sure to give some solid idea of the setting before your characters are getting out of their clothes. There’s no need to describe the location in painful detail: you can perfectly well say there is a bed, and mention the colour of the blankets only when the heroine is thrown into them. But all relevant objects need to be there – nothing is more annoying than a hero putting a rope out of nowhere halfway the scene. And it’s also good to establish an impression of the atmosphere: is it warm, cold, cosy, grim, luxurious? This will help your readers to visualise the scene.
7. Establish the sexy vibe long before the sex starts
Alright, on to writing the sex itself! The first rule of writing sex is, in my opinion: don’t make it come out of nowhere. If your characters are, I don’t know, standing in an elevator and suddenly start humping each other without any build-up or introduction, I’m more likely to say “what the hell?” than to get excited.
In order to get your readers in the right mood to enjoy your writing, you should start hinting at the steaminess well in time. There are tons of ways to do so. Some examples are:
- Make your viewpoint character think about how handsome / sexy / beautiful the other protagonist looks. (Show, don’t tell, please: the reader should also be drooling at the image you’re painting).
- Make your viewpoint character think about all the sexy stuff they’d like to do with the other protagonist.
- Give your characters some sexy dialogue before they get into the bed (or the couch, or the shower, or whatever).
- Start with innocent touches, but pay more attention that usual to how they make the viewpoint character feel – in other words, make clear that they are reacting to the touches, and then escalate the scene from that point.
You don’t need to put in glaring red signs screaming “there’ll be sex soon!”. But a few subtle hints will go a long way to create the right sexy atmosphere.
8. Write emotions, thoughts, reactions
Yes, I know, sex is (partly) a physical business. But most readers don’t read steamy books because they want to read about part A fitting into slot B. They read because they want to experience the excitement your characters are experiencing. And that experience isn’t (or shouldn’t be!) physical alone: the emotions your characters are feeling, their thoughts and fears and reactions, are just as important to craft a fully imersive sex scene.
In general, nothing should happen without a reaction from the characters. That doesn’t mean every sentence with physical action should be followed by some deep introspection, of course. But if you say “He entered her”, don’t forget to mention how he fills her entirely, or how soft she feels (depending on your PoV). If you spend a paragraph describing how he’s eating her out, make sure she feels someting in return – she may be surprised at his skill or loosing her mind from pleasure, for all I care she’s rather bored, but you should pay attention to her internal experiences as much as the physical events.
By paying attention to the inner life of your PoV character, you can keep the emotional conflict going even during sex. It will also help you to stay in character (see point 12), and it prevents the scene from veering into pornographic territory. You shouldn’t be writing about objective, sterile movements; you should be writing about people.
Not sure how to infuse your romance with feelings? Take a look at my blog on writing about love.
9. Pay attention to all senses
When describing a sex scene, it’s easy to write a lot about touch and vision. After all, what the characters feel and see is usually the most obvious aspect of the scene you’re imagining.
However, sex involves all senses. In order to draw your reader into your writing, you should make sure you also describe how the act sounds, tastes and smells. Of course, there’s no need to check off all five for every moment in the scene. But some regular subtle nudges of all senses will make your sex scene so much more immersive! For example:
- Vision: what does he look like? What does she look like? What are their bodies doing? This is the one sense that most people describe (abundantly) in sex scenes.
- Touch: how does his fingertip feel against her skin? His tongue? How does his erection feel in her hand? How does it feel to penetrate her? This list by Laurel Clarke is an amazing resource (don’t forget to check out Part 1 and 2 as well!)
- Sound: what are they saying? Are they moaning, groaning, cursing? Is the bed creaking?
- Taste: what do their bodies taste like? Their kisses? Or their more intimate parts?
- Smell: again, what do their bodies smell like? Is there a general scent of sweat and other bodily fluids? Do they wear perfume?
And did you know our bodies actually have more than five senses? In this blog on sensory details you also read about balance, pain and tension, and how to use them in writing.
As with the emotions in point 8, mentioning all senses is an excellent way to get away from the “part A into slot B” type of sex scenes.
10. Keep track of limbs and other body parts
No, you don’t need to tell us at every moment where everybody’s hands are. But it’s good to have an idea of positions and movements, to make sure your descriptions are not getting implausible.
This can be harder than it seems – I know I’m definitely guilty of some strangely flexible body parts. Somehow my heroine’s legs were able to curl around the heroes torso while he had his face between her legs… (Thankfully my editor picked up on that one.) I also remember an instance where my heroine suddenly had two left hands. Or a scene where my hero somehow managed to admire the heroine’s beauty despite having closed his eyes sentences ago.
It may be helpful to reread your sex scene just to check for wandering body parts. If you focus specifically on mentions of hands, legs, breasts and mouths, you’ll pick up on inconsistencies much easier.
11. Don’t go overboard with euphemisms
Look, I get it. Penis isn’t a sexy word, and neither is vagina. And yes, alternatives such as dick and cock, or cunt and slit, are rather vulgar to many people. But please, that’s no reason to litter your sex scenes with poetic euphemisms!
Don’t call a dick a spear more than once in a scene. Idem for rod, arrow and more of such. And please, please don’t go for…
- Turgid shaft
- Love’s masculine arrow
- Swollen extension
- Love dart
- Best of three legs
… yes, I’ve seen all of these in use.
For the lady parts the same is true. Core, wetness, entrance, sheath, tightness: all fine for occasional use. Not so fine are constructions like:
- Passion-moistened dephts
- Portals of her womanhood
- Molten core
- Fiery furnace
… well, you get the point. My rule is: one instance of purple prose per scene at most. Preferably nothing at all.
So if you don’t want to use dick and cunt all the time, I’d suggest: go with the more common euphemisms like shaft, erection, sheath, core, etc. For some more inspiration, take a look at my list of other words for the penis and the blog with other words for the vagina.
Moreover, surprisingly often you don’t need to name these body parts at all. “He thrust into her” – no need to explain it’s a penis going into a vagina, right? “She reached for him” – I’m not assuming she wants to hold his hand. So be clever about where you need to be explicit, and you might find out you won’t need any euphemisms in the first place.
12. Stay in character
We’ve all read the books where a fearless, confident warrior woman suddenly goes all timid and giggly when it comes to sex. At least I’ve read far too many of them. And I’m pretty sick of them, too.
If your characters speaks, fights, jokes, eats and grieves like herself, please just let her have sex as herself too. If she’s always timid and giggly, go ahead. But if she’s been making racy jokes with her friends for years, if she’s fine bathing naked around men, if she always knows what she wants and how to get it… Why change that just because there’s some dick involved now?
Of course, it is possible that you’re writing sex scenes exactly to show some hidden depth in your character – something that reveals they’re not exactly the person they always show to the world. In that case, it’s fine to make them behave in unexpected ways. But, very importantly: then you should make the characters reflect on the change! Make the character realise they’re opening up in unexpected ways. Make their partner wonder about this sudden change in them.
This is what I do in Velvet, for example, where the hero is unexpectedly gentle when they end up in bed for the first time:
Viviette closed her eyes. She hadn’t expected such tenderness, not from a man like him. She had expected he’d just claim his loot and be done with the matter – wasn’t that what soldiers were supposed to do? But his fingers awakened her skin in ways she had not known skin could awake…
And of course, that first glimpse of something surprising in the character should be explained in a satisfactory way in the rest of the story!
Bonus tip: Write in one sitting
Alright, I’ll give you one more piece of advice that has served me well over the years. If you write a sex scene, write it all at once. Get yourself into the mood, drink a glass of wine, put on some sexy music, and let it pour out of your fingers. Don’t get up to do the dishes or take a shower or whatever in the meantime – just write in the flow until you’re done.
Why? Because in my experience, as soon as you stop, your inner editor will show up.
You’ll start looking at your writing with a critical eye and wonder: is this part actually as sexy as I thought it was? What will my readers think about this? What would my mother say if she knew…
Well, perhaps not that last part. But you get my point.
The inner editor ruins your mood. And to write sex scenes, it’s really, really helpful to get into that mood a bit. The scene will be much more convincing if you can feel it yourself – after all, if it doesn’t get you excited, why would your readers react with more passion?
So write at once. Then go do something else – do the dishes, take that shower, or pull your partner into bed if you feel like it. Come back to the scene when you’re sober and clean-headed again, and fix the viewpoint issues, the wandering limbs and the missing emotional reactions. But don’t try to make it perfect during that first session!
How do you write a sex scene?
So, these were my 12 + 1 tips to write sex scenes! I hope they were helpful for you 😊 Do you have any more good advice to share? Just let us know in the comments!
One thought on “How to write a sex scene: 12 essential tips!”
hahah! “Love dart” may be my new favorite phrase! Thanks for that.
The last time I wrote a sex scene, I did the whole “in one sitting thing.” I totally agree with that btw. And unfortunately sex scenes can take me a long time to get through, which meant I was in the mood for nearly 5 hours. Gave myself a headache, lol.