Welcome to the Smut Bible, friends! Please leave children, teens, prudes and inhibitions at the door. Video cameras are okay, because we’re kinky like that.
First, this isn’t the real Smut Bible. Writing good sex scenes takes a lot of technique, and the full Smut Bible is a little longer than War and Peace. So today, you’re getting the abridged version.
(Author’s Note: All “wrong” examples are from bad fanfiction, as they should be.)
How to Write Sex Scenes
Look, anybody can write inserting Tab A into Slot B, am I right? But writing it in a way that doesn’t make your reader’s face screw up like they just swigged a lemon slushie takes high level writing skill. As an author, you have a lot of choices to make. First one:
Part I: To Be a Dude, or To Not Be a Dude
Many novels are written dual POV, which begs the question, whose POV do you write the sex from?
There’s a lot of psychology at play here. First, who has the most stakes in this scene? If one of them really needs to hit an emotional turning point and the second is already there, maybe you want to write the scene from the former’s POV. Second, you can do different stuff from male vs. female perspective. If you write from the male POV, you can show some of his protective feelings toward her and the reverent way he sees her. That could really appeal to a female audience.
On the other hand, if you just don’t feel comfortable writing sex without home court advantage, that’s okay! Write all your sex from the female perspective. Better to be comfortable and write hot than to be uncomfortable and write bad sex.
Part II: Kama Sutra
Are you tired of doing it the same old way? Well, you shouldn’t be, because in a book, you should be doing it differently EVERY TIME. In books, you don’t get two hammer vs. machete fight scenes, and you don’t get two doggy-style-in-the-pantry scenes. New setup, every time, period.
With the caveat that unless you’re writing the illustrated edition, any Kama Sutra position that could double as the name of a band is out. Keep your Triple Lotus Loop to yourself.
In sexual positioning, you need to strike the balance between being smooth and quick in your writing and painting a clear picture of what they’re doing. It has to be quick so they aren’t pulled out of the moment by deciphering the description.
Just like a fight scene, you don’t want to slow your pacing. So for choreography think: Clear. Fast.
I grab his hands, pinning them low behind his back. Securing the belt around his wrists, I pull it tight and hook through the metal clasp.
COMMENT: This is quick, and gives you a good visual.
He sets me on the round table and it wobbles—until I scoot back a little to put my weight over the center support. Danny pushes the whiskey bottle and the other glass aside, letting them thump carelessly onto the carpet as he lays me back; the surface cool under my bottom and the hooks at the back of my corset pricking my spine.
COMMENT: This is a little longer description, but it fulfills a lot of goals: you can get a picture of how she’s sitting, as well as some sensory imagery to draw you in (the cool table under her butt, the corset hooks poking her back). You see by his motions that he’s more focused on her than their surroundings, which gives a sense of urgency.
I was moaning uncontrollably as I took hold of hair while he tended to my neck.
COMMENT: What? What the heck is going on?
Without any warning, he flipped us over and pushed my legs back, holding my ankles together.
COMMENT: Um…wait? How? Did something just break?
Take-home message: Just like in a real sex life, you don’t want things to get dull or boring, so add some variety. But not enough variety that your characters need Icy Hot. For choreography, if you can’t be clear and describe it quickly, simplify.
Part III: Purpose
Know WHY you are writing the scene. I’m not talking about erotica here. I’m talking about sex scenes in romance or other fiction.
Sex needs to be purposeful as far as the plot goes, or it should be cut out in favor of something more goal-directed. My goal when writing smut is usually to get the reader a little hot, and to illustrate some turning point in the bond between characters.
Hot tip: If you can cut a sex scene and the book still makes sense, it should already be gone.
Part IV: Tension
A common mistake is to drop all sexual tension when you get to the sex scene—all that longing and near touches that make great sexual tension. So don’t drop it. Keep it that taut and unfulfilled right up to the moment of climax. You can’t just have them grabbing everything they want all at once or it is no fun for the reader.
One example might be a scene where the couple were going to have sex, they had time and private space but you could use bondage-y stuff to limit the kind of touching to draw out the tension and make the reader WANT something to happen. Just like sexual tension in non-sex scenes, it’s all about the near touch. A trailing fingertip is sexier than a full-on grope, you know?
Part V: Mood & Tone
Now we’re getting to the graduate level stuff. If you’re still here, you’re really serious about your craft, and I respect that about you. Now, take note! If you do these techniques right, you can do many many other things wrong and your reader won’t even notice.
First, decide what kind of scene it is. Is it urgent and rushed, more playful and jovial, slow and indulgent, or killer intense?
Are you listening to the Matrix soundtrack or Adele when you write? Okay, now match your language to that mood—both the definition of the words and their sound.
Slide, smooth, and whisper all create a mood. Perform, suckle, and squished also create a mood, albeit not the one you might want.
Hot tip: Match your sentence length and rhythm to the mood of your piece as well. Mirror your character’s state of mind in your sentence structure. As you build to the climax of the scene, your sentences should get shorter. Faster. Smacking onto the page like bullets.
Dave gazed at her attractive body and thought that he wanted to touch it. He stepped forward and lifted his right hand to place it on her left breast and then clasped her nipple between his thumb and forefinger.
COMMENT: So as far as tone, avoid anything clinical or detached like the above. Also avoid too much “left” and “right”.
After a few minutes of lip-locking, Damon pulled her off the bike, allowing her to grip her legs onto his hips, her arms around his neck.
COMMENT: See how the reference to time makes this sound like a to-do list? People having good sex don’t know how much time has passed and you don’t want your reader to think about it, either.
“Tsk tsk . . .” Massimo clicks his tongue, and my eyes fly open when he leans back, his eyes garter-belt black.
COMMENT: Garter-belt black. Need I say more? See how you can tie a prosaic thing (eyes) to a sexy thing to set the mood.
Undoing the button and zipper of his pants wasn’t so much a decision as it was a craving.
COMMENT: See how here we set a tone AND show simply and quickly what’s physically happening?
Also, never forget to take off all the clothes. Toe off shoes as quickly as possible and you can generally skip mentioning socks. Socks is not a sexy word. When I finish a sex scene, I do a search for specific words to make sure I got off both tops and both bottoms.
I did a podcast interview recently where the interviewer said, “I really enjoyed that in your sex scenes, there wasn’t a throbbing member in sight.” Now that is the kind of critical acclaim I can truly appreciate.
Some words are sexy. Some words are not sexy. Don’t use any words that would break the mood in your sex scenes. Katie Golding did a thorough and fantastic job on this topic recently in the post: “Keeping the Hokey Out of Your Pokey — Appropriate Vernacular for Sex Scenes.” I recommend that you do not eat or drink anything while reading this post, as its humor level can create a choking hazard.
VII: Be Responsible, Kiddos
This brings me to two Must-Dos with sex scenes.
First, be responsible in terms of protection. Unless your characters are deliberately being careless with birth control and STD protection to show part of their characterization, always model responsible sexual behavior. Condoms or verbal confirmation that both people have been tested recently for STDs. Some form of birth control unless they’re trying to conceive or you’re showing them being careless.
Next, #ConsentIsSexy. Always model clear and enthusiastic consent in your sex scenes.
Show your partners checking in with each other. We have a big problem with this in our society and romance is one place we can show the world the right way to do things. Keep it quick, keep it sexy, and it absolutely doesn’t have to break the mood.
Same thing with condoms. Keep it quick, do NOT describe every last fumble with the damn wrapper. It breaks the mood in real life and in novels.
Here are some good examples of checking in and keeping consent sexy:
She dropped the box twice trying to get a condom out, and then LJ took it from her, ducking his head to see her eyes.
“Andra, girl, are you sure about this?”
Her hands fisted in the comforter, half-crazed now that she couldn’t rip at the box. “I need you,” she gasped. “God, I didn’t think I’d ever feel like this, and I can’t even think, and I need you right now.”
COMMENT: As far as technique, showing the character’s enthusiasm goes a long way toward keeping check ins about consent sexy. If she said, “No, I’m fine. Really it’s good, just keep going.” Well, that would not have been as convincing. It breaks the mood because it would make it clear the character isn’t really having fun.
She flinched and squeaked and he pulled back. “Bad or good?”
She gripped his shoulders, half-rising off his lap with the tension in her legs. “Good. Good good good. Can you do that again?”
COMMENT: Some of the techniques used to show urgency are the intensity of the words used to describe her: gripped, half-rising, tension. Plus her repetition of the same word to show that she really means it, and also her thinking is very focused on sensation here and not so much on articulation at the level of Shakespeare’s sonnets, if you know what I mean.
Look, smut writing is a matter of taste, so you won’t be able to please everyone who reads it.
The best you can do is not make yourself cringe, do try to make yourself blush, and for the love of kittens don’t use anybody’s throbbing member to knock anybody off the precipice into the abyss while fireworks explode and two become one.
And if you see your critique partners doing this, please stop them.
Remember, kids…FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS WRITE BAD SEX.