Confessions of a Sex-Scenes-Challenged Author


Recently, a dear friend asked me to read and provide feedback on her novella. In her email containing the file, she hemmed and hawed a bit before admitting something to the effect of, “It has some sex scenes. Feel free to skip as needed. And wow, are those hard to write.”

I slouched in my computer seat, shocked and immeasurably grateful. Sex scenes, hard to write? Darn tootin’! For the most part, they’re an exercise in pain and embarrassment. And after years of sucking it up, I could finally rest a little easier, knowing I’m not the only one.

My name is Elle, and I hate writing sex scenes.

Truth told, come time to pen sex scenes, I wish I could put brackets in the story that say “And sex ensued, and it was good.” Okay, well, maybe I’d add something like, “And it was mutually satisfying sex that involved orgasms for all involved partners but without involving overdone literary devices like simultaneous orgasms and overly colorful and euphemistic descriptions of orgasms as kaleidoscopes. Oh, and not just missionary. With lots of foreplay. And emotional validation. Use your imagination.” Somehow, though, I think Romance Writers of America would revoke my membership – provided I had one.

I’m not sure why it’s so painful. Perhaps it’s the tension that comes from trying to realistically portray mutually satisfying sex without turning it into a sexual blueprint (“Item A should connect with a snap into item B. Then, holding it at a 24-degree angle, place item C alongside item D until item E comes into play.”). Add in our sexually repressive culture that leads to the fetishization of, well, everything, and even talking about sex means shouldering a heavy cultural burden. Just within the story, sex is supposed to move my protagonists’ relationship to a new romantic level, provide a space for exploring the dynamics of their interactions, straddle the line between tenderness and empowerment, and introduce my characters to tons of pleasure, or at least meaning. No pressure!

Gender inequalities, increasing questions about the boundaries of heterosexuality, living in a culture only a few generations from the Victorian era’s guilty, conflicted prurience: writing about sex lands me smack dab in the middle of a cultural quagmire.

An example of my inexplicable obsession.
Or maybe it’s my Pentecostal upbringing and my childhood obsession with, well, Victorian literature. I like to imagine myself a world-wise sociologist, feminist, and author, but let’s be honest: my favorite movie is still Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and my favorite book Little Women. Heck, my favorite pastime is clicking through those Cheezburger cats.

I know many authors don’t share my shyness of sex scenes. For the few out there who do, though, I wanted to offer a literary fist bump. Authors who tremble at the thought of writing sex scenes, unite!

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