Sex Scenes— Just Do It?

imagesOh, the dreaded sex scene. It’s so tough to write on so many levels — mainly because in the back of your mind, you’re thinking how your mom and dad will be reading it at some point and OH The HUMANITY, but also because they can devolve into soft porn/E.L. James scenes where men have “throbbing members” and women have “love buttons” fairly quickly. Which is why the Literary Review created an actual award for the worst sex scenes written every year.

Here are my three tips for attempting to write non-cringe-inducing sex scenes:

1. Steer clear of euphemisms. It’s one thing if you are a romance or erotica writer (in that case, go forth with your throbbing member). But in general fiction, call body parts what they are.

2. Less is more. Unless vivid details of a sex scene are vitally important to the plot of your novel, focus on the emotions evoked, rather than who is putting what where. Readers get the idea and typically, the emotions are more important anyway.

3. Keep it real. Real sex isn’t always the perfectly choreographed affair Hollywood would have us believe. There are awkward moments, funny moments, cramps and sweating and weird thoughts going through people’s minds. The more real you make your scene, the more believable, the more vulnerable — and less eye-rolling.

Writers — what are your tips for sex scenes? Readers — what makes you cringe in poorly written sex scenes? Tell me in the comments below!



Author: Colleen Oakley

Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at

5 Replies to “Sex Scenes— Just Do It?”

  1. I sometimes do sex scenes, but not often. Sometimes I just put a row of asterisks. 🙂

    Your three points are good, but #3 really caught me. As my mother used to say, you never want to write “movie sex” — with the perfect lighting and gentle music and so on. That always looks so tedious anyway.

    It’s much better with the sweat and small bruises and unexpected noises and rug burns. 🙂

    1. Anthony – as your mother used to say??? There’s some conversations you need not share with us 😛 except like this when it’s a teaching moment, of course!
      I do like your idea of asterisks. Thus far I have only had to imply, not been called upon to write an actual scene yet, but I do have that first issue you mentioned Colleen, running through my head. My parents, and my husband (!), are going to read this!

  2. Ha! I’ve been tempted to use asterisks too! And I definitely agree with Colleen that less is more — at least for my sex scenes.

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