Let’s Talk About (Writing) Sex, Baby

bodice-ripper2-300x240People often get women’s fiction, the genre in which I write, confused with romance. I could go on and on about the difference between a romance novel and women’s fiction. For example, in the former, the focus is on the love relationship, whereas in the latter, the focus is on a woman’s inner journey.

But, when it comes down to it, the difference is in the sex scenes. In romance, sex scenes are mandatory. In women’s fiction, they are optional, but highly encouraged. And they can’t be too explicit. The mood and emotions–tenderness, humor, or frustration–are more important than the play-by-play. And wit is more important than muscles. Think rom-com. PG-13 or maybe R, but definitely not X.

I used to resist writing sex scenes. I would describe them entirely off the page, as a point of passing in the narrative. But I soon learned I couldn’t get away with that. After all, I wanted to write realistic stories about women’s lives and relationships. Not an episode of Leave It to Beaver (ha, ha, I said “beaver”).

I don’t have any sage craft advice for writing the perfect love scene. Sex is one of those things that’s so intensely personal that what works in my own writing might not work for yours. But I will say this: relax, pour yourself a glass of wine, and don’t take it too seriously. And, if you’re a virgin to writing sex scenes and need a laugh, read Delilah S. Dawson’s 25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene. I promise it won’t hurt.

Image credit: from cover for A Love for All Seasons by Denise Domning

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Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About (Writing) Sex, Baby

  1. That’s a funny link. I confess I skimmed (in my experience, Internet lists of 25 things would mostly all benefit from being boiled down to 12-14 things — this is why magazines have editors), but extra credit for mentioning Mallrats. 🙂

    Unless I missed something in my skimming, though, it did seem to assume that the sex scene in question would include one man and one woman. Some do and some don’t, obviously.

    For those scenes which do include one of each, I did appreciate #7 (the “Jimmy hat” point). If your scene is set in the modern world (another assumption, as I think of it), then set it in that world for real. In my third novel (“the one with all the sex,” as I generally think of it), this is definitely a factor.

  2. Is that a young Fabio on the cover? He was everywhere for awhile!

    I’m glad to know the definition of women’s fiction — I’ve always wondered. 🙂

  3. I didn’t realize they were highly encouraged. I guess I barely squeaked by with my one sex scene in Chasing the Sun!

    I agree with you that it’s more about the emotions than the play by play. I think it’s also about what that sex then sets into motion between the two characters to keep the story moving.

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