Write It, Work It, Publish It™

A few readers, who have read my novel Whisper of Lies, asked me, “Where did you learn all those moves?” The question relates to the sex scenes in the book, and I have quite a few. I find this enquiry amusing.

Writers do not need to know the Kama Sutra to write sex scenes. However, depending on what a writer wishes to convey about the characters, she will research like she would any other subject. And, of course, she can use her imagination.

Sex scenes, like any other scene in your book should serve a purpose. It’s not only about the sexual act. This form of writing requires a different level of writing, however. Below is an article, My Favorite Sex Scene, written by fiction author Jessica Barksdale Inclán, who teaches how to craft a relatable—and memorable—sex scene:

I spent yesterday on the UCLA campus in the Public Affairs Building (aptly named, I think) to teach sex scene writing. Three or four times a year, I sojourn down to Westwood and teach amazing students things that I imagine they might want to know about it. Sex scene writing is definitely a skill all writers should master because sex is a wonderful way to convey character, plot, and theme. No doubt about it, how we do it says a lot about who we are, the state of our relationships, and what we want.

Sex shows the connection between the characters–or the lack of one. Sex allows their neuroses and flaws and issues to bubble to the surface, raw and real. Sex shows how good things are and how bad they will get. We need to praise D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller and Anais Nin and dear E.M. Forster for trying to put these ideas forth to the world, giving us the opportunity to write characters in full life.

In the course of the class, I showed a few clips from films because film can really “do” a sex scene. The lucky film makers don’t have to worry about euphemisms for body parts (please strike sword, sheath, and shaft from your lexicon immediately). At least, when the director is thinking about character, plot, or theme. When the director is just thinking, “Damn, we need some skin in this flick,” the sex scene isn’t useful to us except in that prurient way sex scenes can be useful. We watch the body doubles and the body parts, and say, “Well, my word.”

One of my favorite sex scenes isn’t really “sex,” but a physical connection between two characters. This scene isn’t from writing but from a film, “Persuasion.” Here it is. Our dear, bedraggled Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) and Wentworth (Ciran Hinds) are walking in the countryside. It has been a long walk, and Wentworth is pretending not to notice that Anne is flagging. But when a carriage approaches, and it is discerned there is room for one person, Wentworth persuades Anne to get in. She can’t believe he’s actually paying attention to her, as he’s been flirting with and acting charming toward all others but her the entire day. And then he helps her into the carriage and grabs her gently at the waist and helps lift her to her seat.

Oh! My! God! You can feel that touch through the screen into your heart. By that touch alone, damn, you know he loves her. Eight years of separation and longing and anger and resentment and need all in one touch. This one touch changes the plot. This one touch begins to change Anne and Wentworth. The story moves on from that moment.

You are probably a little disappointed in me, I know. Maybe you wanted me to pick Diane Lane’s scene in “Unfaithful” or something from “Body Heat.” But no, it was wither this scene or that flipping amazing kiss in “Witness” between Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. And maybe it’s not even the kiss in “Witness” that changes everything but the view Harrison gets of Kelly as she’s bathing, the light warm, her desire and acceptance of his gaze obvious.


After we watched examples and then read some sex scenes aloud, I gave my class the exercise of pairing up couples from their work. Thinking about their story or stories, put together the people who are or will or could or might or who should not have sex. Think about the idea of what they would learn from the sex they would have with this other character, despite and because of their relationships with each other.
And then write that scene, using all the good ideas we talked about, many from “The Joy of Writing Sex” by Elizabeth Benedict. This includes being specific, detailed, and clear. No exaggeration, no euphemisms that make us laugh our guts out. No clichés. No pulsing or heaving or breasts “growing.” (I am still unclear on how breasts grow or get heavy during sex. Please advise). No “It was the most amazing…” anything. No “He had never experienced anything like this . . .” ever.

Of course, the sex scene can be “bad sex.” Yes, characters have bad sex like the rest of us now and again, and that also tells us something about character, plot, and theme.

As they wrote, so did I, realizing that in editing, I’d managed to take out the one sex scene that all my readers had likely been waiting for.
So if you are at home and have no good sex scenes to watch, give this exercise a go. Guaranteed to interest!

Write It, Work It, Publish it!


© 2012 Cherry-Ann Carew
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Cherry-Ann Carew, aka The Power Writing Coach, Editor, Best-selling author and Founder of Writetastic Solutions is passionate about helping aspiring fiction and non-fiction writers bring out their creative expression to write their books. Learn how her coaching and editing services can help you at http://www.writetasticsolutions.com.

Comments on: "You Don’t Need To Know The Kama Sutra To Write Sex Scenes" (3)

  1. […] You Don’t Need To Know The Kama Sutra To Write Sex Scenes […]

  2. Constance said:

    I liked this article. I’m glad I came across it, as it will make me think about my own characters a bit more than usual. Which is probably a bad thing, since I get so emotionally involved.

    I’m personally sick of sex scenes though, if you read fan-fiction ‘lemons’ then you’ll know why, and how, I lost so many brain cells, and why there is a dent in my desk.

    I’m trying to write realistic scenes now, unlike my thirteen-year-old self, since pointless sex just irritates me now… Especially when it doesn’t belong there, or makes no sense to the plot, theme or mood.

    • Hi Constance

      Thanks. I don’t think it’s bad to get emotionally involved with your characters. I think that the emotion will reflect in the writing, and that’s a good thing.

      Ah, sex scenes. Like any of the other writing elements, it certainly has to have its place, if not, it won’t do the story any justice.

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