A couple of times, I’ve gotten bad reviews from people who are mad that my romance stories have sex scenes in them. Some readers love explicit scenes, some readers hate them, and that’s fine!
However, editors and beta readers who enjoy steamy romance in general rarely have complaints about the way I write sex scenes, even when they have great constructive criticism for me about other things. That’s why I feel like I can write this post, even though, naturally, people’s preferences with sex scenes can vary wildly.
Here’s my advice, and I would love to hear what other people have to say, too!
Make sure the scene moves the story forward.
If you’re just writing a story with regularly scheduled sex recesses, readers are more likely to find the sex scenes gratuitous or silly. A sex scene may move the external plot forward: now she’s definitely going to refuse the other woman who asked her on a date, or now he’s going to have to resign from his job, because this kind of thing isn’t allowed between a boss and an employee at their company and he has no intention of stopping it.
The scene may also move the internal plot forward. Maybe she’s seen another side of him that makes her trust him after all, or maybe he realizes he’s in love with her, even if he’s not ready to say it yet.
Reveal more of the characters as you reveal more skin.
Sex scenes are a wonderful opportunity to show more character depth. Characters may be more raw and vulnerable, or they may reveal a side of themselves that they don’t often show to others.
A confident man may have a moment of awkwardness or doubt. A shy woman may turn out to have a mischievous side. Revelations like these can make your readers love your characters even more. In a love story, this higher level of honesty brings your two lovers closer together emotionally.
Stay in one person’s head at a time.
“Head-hopping” is frowned upon in fiction in general, and it’s especially jarring in a sex scene. If in one sentence, he’s thinking about how beautiful a part of her body is, and in the next sentence, she’s thinking about how good something feels, your reader will have a hard time getting swept up in the scene.
It’s fine to make one point of view switch in the middle of a sex scene as long as you make it clear that there’s been a shift. Many authors put a space break (without asterisks) to indicate a point of view shift mid-scene.
Concentrate on all five senses.
Describe sensations, physical reactions, sensual visuals, and sounds, scents, and tastes. When you engage more of your reader’s senses, they’ll be more wrapped up in the scene.
Make sure all of the action is believable.
A sex scene may be idealized, particularly in the romance genre, but there are still limits to credibility. Sometimes I’ll be reading an explicit scene and something in it contradicts what I know about the characters’ height, people’s average flexibility, human physiology, or gravity.
Don’t censor yourself in the first draft.
You can always pull back later if you feel something’s too over the top, but in the first draft especially, just go with it. Keep in mind that if you think something is hot, chances are pretty good that some other people out there will, too.
If you don’t feel comfortable reading them, don’t write them.
Writers can get caught up in chatter about “what sells,” and some might get the idea that sexually explicit material is a ticket to immediate riches. Um, if only. It’s really not, and if it’s not for you, don’t let anyone tell you that means you’re a prude or old-fashioned or anything else. If you’re true to yourself, it will make your unique style so much stronger.
In addition to all of these things, there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself about the scenes you write. They are:
Is clear consent important to you as a writer?
In my own writing, I like to make it obvious that both participants are 100% into what’s happening. This is different from many romances written in the 1970s and 1980s, which often featured the hero raping the heroine. Themes of rape and questionable consent have made something of a comeback in the genre. If depicting clear consent is important to you, that may affect some of your choices when you write a scene.
Do you want to handle safe sex and birth control realistically?
The birth control question, of course, only pertains to characters who could conceivably (heh) get pregnant. Personally, I have my characters use condoms if they haven’t had the chance to have The Talk. As a reader, unprotected sex throws me out of the story and gives me a poor opinion of the characters’ judgement. However, not all readers react that way.
Do you have advice or questions about writing sex scenes? Or do you just want to chat about how you write them (or don’t write them)? Let us know in the comments! And if you want to get updates on posts about writing, follow the blog, if you aren’t already — there’s a place you can sign up below. Happy writing!