Sex isn’t sexy; it took me too long to figure that out.
Desire is sexy, tension is sexy, and foreplay can be arousing, but sex, the mechanics of it all, is not inherently sexy. That’s why it’s so hard to get right, and that’s why it’s a common failing point for writers of all levels of skill. In order to write really sizzling sex scenes you need to consider many things; some of them, like knowing where they are appropriate and how detailed they should be, are not covered here. It has as much to do with genre as the age of your target audience, needless to say. Knowing your characters is key, though, as you’re still operating in the spheres of plausibility and suspension of disbelief that cover all fiction.
There are five things you can do to increase the quality of your sex scenes quickly, though;
- Characterisation first, sex second; you need to know your characters inside and out, and be consistent in their characterisation if the sex is going to be believable, engaging, and sexy. Convey how and why your characters are turned on, and prioritise their feelings rather than making a beeline to the “action”. The hottest sex scenes are organic; they occur when the characters, and thereby the readers, are ready for them.
- Focus on tension, not details; Sensuality is not often given the love that it requires and deserves from writers. If you want a masterclass in sexy you would do well to consider Victorian literature (I know, right?); books like Pride and Prejudice, North and South, and Jane Eyer may not contain sex scenes, but they have inspired squealing fits from legions of fangirls. How? Through tension. Delay the kiss, delay the sex, frustrate your characters by bringing them so close before they are denied; the reader experiences it all with them. The best writers can walk the fine line between tension (i.e. “WHY WONT YOU KISS??”), and frustration (e.g. “Fuck it, I’ll skip ahead). Sex scenes sizzle when they’ve been building for chapters
- Don’t explain too much; Nothing kills sexiness like sterile medical terminology, except maybe porno-comedy terms. Avoid penis and vagina, and dear God don’t… do not… please don’t utter (write) the term man-meat. This is one of three things that will kill your sex scenes. If the tension is right the reader won’t need, or perhaps want, explicit, gory details; paint in broad strokes. Impressionism should be your inspiration when writing sex; let the readers mind fill in the finicky details.
- Use all the senses; This is just another way to say “show, don’t tell”. Think about the smells, the sounds, the taste of each moment and when you want to say “he/she felt” or something to that effect substitute a taste, sound, smell, touch, or sight that elicits such feelings.
- Don’t forget foreplay; This is good advice for real life, too. In the writerly sense, however, this doesn’t just mean blowjobs, massages, and love bites; it means putting in the work to build arousal in your characters, and to make the transition seem organic. Touches, looks, lingering gazes, and half finished sentences are foreplay just as much as necking on the couch like horny teenagers. Make it clear that your characters desire each other before they even hit foreplay; that’s how sizzling sex scenes come to be.
In the end, however, you shouldn’t write sex scenes unless you’re comfortable doing so. If you can’t write it without cringing that will translate into your scenes and have a negative impact. Ease into it, and go easy on yourself because no-one gets it right straight away.
The best advice anyone could give you is to start with what you find sexy; get used to putting pen to paper (so to speak) on the subject, and practice, practice, practice. Read erotica to find examples of good and bad sex scenes.
There are plenty of free archives (NSFW link… don’t worry its not pornhub) to consider, so you don’t have to worry about defiling your kindle and depleting your bank balance. Interestingly enough, fan-fiction websites like Archiveofourown are filled with really good examples of short erotica, and even longer romance novelisations set within well-known universes.