Sex scenes are a hallmark of the romance genre. They earn us eyerolls from misogynists and, if we’re lucky, a gasp or two from our readers. They come in all different sizes and shapes, from fade to black to explicit odes to the horizontal mambo, but no matter the style, writing physical intimacy can be stressful. Besides worrying about your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors getting their hands on fantasies penned in your hand, you have to worry about the logistics of sex, just like in real life. Who’s bringing the condoms? Can her legs really bend that far back? What exactly does he call his partner’s…downstairs?
A plotter to the core, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of breaking down challenges into neat, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’ve developed a set of questions to help you navigate the oft-overlooked technicalities of writing sex scenes, so that in addition to being hot as hell, you can write a sex scene that will be realistic, inclusive, and a healthy example of intimacy.
6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Sex Scene
The list below is in no-way exhaustive, but it covers 6 areas of copulation consideration that will hopefully get you thinking in new ways.
Do your characters express consent?
What type of protection are your characters using?
How does your characters’ neurodiversity or body diversity impact the way they interact sexually?
What are your characters’ kinks?
What are your characters’ private part aesthetics?
Does your character’s sexuality influence the ways they establish physical intimacy?
Ready to write a sex scene? Let’s take a closer look at these questions!
1. Do your characters express consent?
If you’ve spent any time in Romancelandia recently, you know consent is a major topic of discussion. Whether you’re writing closed-door coupling, BDSM, or consensual non-consent, all parties involved need to be able to vocalize their enthusiastic participation.
To establish consent between your characters, consider these methods. You don’t want every sex scene you write to feel templatized, so I highly encourage you to get creative adapting these techniques to meet the needs of your specific story and characters to maintain variety.
- Asking. This is the most straightforward way to establish consent between your characters, if they haven’t both already expressed consent through your dialogue.
- Example: “What do you want?” “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
- Telling. This style of establishing consent allows for Alpha characters to maintain that confidence we all love while still checking in with their partner(s). Even though the language is commanding, it’s still giving the respondent the opportunity to voice their desire or refuse.
- Example: “Tell me you want this.” “Tell me how to make you feel good.”
- Or, you can have both protagonists ‘tell’ their desire individually, without prompting from their partner, i.e.: “I’ve waited for this for so long.” “If you don’t touch me right now I might die.”
- Body language: Sometimes characters can show their consent without words.
- Example: Characters removing their own clothing. Characters smiling and nodding as things get intense.
Another essential aspect of writing consensual intimacy is making sure your characters aren’t experiencing any barriers to consent. Too often, writers looking to increase conflict in their characters relationships will blur these lines. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the below questions when plotting or reviewing your sex scenes, please take another look at the story you’re sharing.
- Are any of the participants under the influence of alcohol or other drugs in such a way that impedes their ability to consent?
- Example: Both characters have been drinking heavily for hours at a frat party and then decide to find a place to hook up.
- Is there anyone (including their partner) using physical force to make one or more of your characters engage in sexual intimacy?
- Example: A roguish highwayman is holding the couple at gunpoint, demanding they have sex for his pleasure (note: as written this is Bad, but as established role play…).
- Are any characters being coerced into having sex?
- Example: A heroine wants to get engaged and her partner strongly implies that he’ll only get down on one knee if they have more intercourse.
- Are any of your characters using deception to get their partner to have sex with them?
- Example: A hero poses as his twin brother in order to seduce his brother’s husband who he’s loved for years.
Understanding consent and establishing it in your writing will not only make things better for your characters, it shields your readers from triggering content.
2. What type of protection are your characters using?
There are two major types of protection to consider: contraception and STD/STI prevention.
Incorporation and acknowledgement of these risks doesn’t need to be heavy-handed or belabored but you as a writer should acknowledge them. Readers will be pulled out of a story where they’re obviously ignored.
- What type of protection are they employing against procreation?
- Example: Condoms, IUDs, the pill
- If there are health risks associated with their intercourse, are they discussing them before they get physically intimate?
- Example: Do they mention being tested recently?
The way your characters think about and discuss these issues should suit their lifestyle, time period, and the specific setting of your scene.
3. How does your characters’ neurodiversity or body diversity impact the way they interact sexually?
An essential part of striving to write more inclusive romance is educating ourselves about the ways neuro- and body-diverse characters get intimate. There is a huge array of neurodiversity (such as characters on the Autism spectrum) and body diversity (everything from characters with larger bodies, to those who are hearing-impaired and sight-impaired, to those in wheelchairs or with conditions like vaginismus) that you might choose to feature in your stories.
- Is there anything that would physically or mentally affect the way your characters interact sexually?
- Example: Specific types of stimulation that are overwhelming and/or painful, positions that are prohibitive
- How do they accommodate these specific needs?
- Example: Lube, toys, or avoiding specific types of contact with certain body parts
Understanding how the nuances of these experiences translate to sexual intimacy will allow you to pen a more accurate and sensitive portrayal without sacrificing any heat.
4. What are your characters’ kinks?
Just like people in real life, characters can and should have individual sexual preferences that are influenced by their biology and experiences.
- What would your characters search words be on the erotic/porn platform of their choice?
- Example: Praise kink
- What about their partner specifically turns them on?
- Example: Which body parts on the other person have they spent pages admiring and longing to get their hands/mouth on?
To take your sex scenes to the next level, don’t be afraid to get specific and think outside the box.
5. What are your characters’ private part aesthetics?
You certainly don’t always have to go into detail describing your characters genitals, but sometimes pants are hiding something extra special that can provoke a reaction (in their partner and readers).
- Do your characters have any specific piercings or hair styling (or lack thereof) worth mentioning?
Visual cues are often primary catalysts for desire. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s something your character would notice and enjoy in the heat of the moment, it’s likely readers will enjoy it too.
6. Does your character’s sexuality influence the ways they establish physical intimacy?
Sexuality is complex and not exclusive to those who conform to the gender binary. Some people falsely assume that asexuality is synonymous with celibacy, however, ace and aro individuals can and do participate in sexual activities. By educating yourself about LGBTQIA definitions, your sex scenes can accommodate the full spectrum of sexual identities including the asexual spectrum.
What are your characters’ sexual identities and how do they manifest in their sexual responses and behaviors? Ex. Asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily don’t participate in sexual activities. There are many reasons they might. There’s also demisexual people who are on the ace spectrum but need an emotional connection before experiencing sexual attraction.
Hot Tip: If you want to learn more about gender and sexual identities, GLAAD.org is a good place to start.
Go forth and Write a Sex Scene
I hope you find these questions provocative (pun intended) and empowering rather than restrictive. You can use this resource to plot or to revise, depending on your writing style, and remember there are almost infinite variables that will make your sex scenes unique.
As a community and as a genre, I hope we continue to write happy endings (more puns, sorry, almost done) for all, because at the end of the day, one of the reasons we write sex scenes is so that all types of people can see their desires and/or experiences represented in romance. Sometimes that means that as writers we have to work a bit harder, but in writing, just like in sex, the more you know, the better it gets.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my debut romantic comedy, NEVER HAVE I EVER, coming fall 2020 from Berkley romance. It’s the story of how a socially-awkward socialite and a cinnamon roll adult film star create a steamy sex ed start-up with the goal of promoting equal opportunity orgasms at scale. You can add it on Goodreads here or follow me on social media for updates and more writing resources.