A Writing Problem

I happen to think that I’m a very good writer*; I can write fiction and nonfiction, short stories, novels, essays, letters, dialogues, diatribes, speeches, scripts, theses, memoranda, comic books, you name it. But in spite of my prowess (which I hope is at least somewhat evident to the regular readers of this blog), there is one thing which I absolutely cannot write to save my life: Sex scenes.

Now, understand, it’s not that I’m a prude. Far from it; I have no problem with anyone getting their rocks off in whatever way they and their consenting, adult partners are comfortable. I can, without difficulty, understand the idea of sexual urges. The problem, however, is that I do not personally feel them. As such, when writing these scenes (which tend to come up rather inevitably in stories) I feel a lot like a person without a sense of taste who is trying to write a restaurant review. I have no way of knowing whether or not the scene is “good,” because it’s not going to have any effect on me either way (when I personally encounter these scenes in literature, I generally just find them boring). Indeed, I’m actually not even sure what most authors are aiming for with these scenes: I assume that, even in mainstream literature, they are intended (at least to some extent) to titillate the reader, otherwise I don’t understand why they would go into so much detail. But what is titillating? If I’m writing from the perspective of an omniscient, third-person narrator, should I use the actual names of various body parts, or are vernacular terms somehow ‘hotter?’

Apparently, these scenes are generally fairly formulaic. Perhaps I should just get a sexual person to council me in writing a scene to a preset level of hotness, and then recycle it as necessary in subsequent works.


*Though my poetry is a tad amateurish



About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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10 Responses to A Writing Problem

  1. As a very sexual person, I have to confess that I find such scenes to be mind-numbingly boring. They are all exactly the same and equally stupid. So I don’t think this is necessarily about feeling the urges or not. It’s just that this kind of scenes does not lend itself to good literary portrayal.

    Statistically, people never watch porn films past the 6th minute. That probably happens because nobody is that eager to see how the plot will develop. 🙂 🙂

    “If I’m writing from the perspective of an omniscient, third-person narrator, should I use the actual names of various body parts, or are vernacular terms somehow ‘hotter'”

    – My favorite term is “the mound of pleasure.” I just had to translate a scene where it was mentioned obsessively. It put me off any sexual thoughts for days. 🙂

    • In that case, I suspect that such scenes are frequently written because the author personally gets off on them. Now of course, sex is something that characters in stories are inevitably going to do, but I don’t really see why it’s necessary to dwell on it any longer than one dwells on (for example) a description of a meal. I mean, I like eating as much as the next person, but I’d get very frustrated indeed if the plot of a novel kept coming to a screeching halt in order to give rambling, five-page long accounts of the hero eating a steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes.

  2. K. C. Mead says:

    I would say, don’t feel bad! I’ve actually been curious about the how-tos of writing such scenes myself. But when I did research over them (aka, buying sex-themed anthologies), I found that most of them were either boring, excruciatingly poor, or terribly upsetting.

    My recommendation? Read some of the soft-core stuff such as Nora Roberts — she’s been selling pretty well-written sex scenes for years!

  3. alicebrook1502 says:

    I agree, it’s tricky to write a sex scene without making it either boring or vulgar. I am yet to experiment with it, but maybe if you described it using senses or concentrated on inner monologue and thoughts, maybe then it would be interesting, that way it can even have a comical tone… I really have no idea

  4. Lindsay says:

    Sex scenes are a problem for a lot of people! Even some writers I think are otherwise good can write howlingly bad sex scenes.

    John Updike’s are positively gross, for one example.

    I end up finding most of them boring — “not gross” is probably a good thing to shoot for. Not gross, and maybe using it to convey some new information about a character, or change the reader’s impression of that character. Like, I know the scene in question is still pretty ethically questionable, but I liked the wedding-night scene between Daenarys and Khal Drogo in A Game of Thrones. I liked it because it showed two things about Drogo that made him more than just a broken-English Conan the Barbarian knockoff: he’s got some modicum of empathy, and he is resourceful in his use of language. (What he does, he notices that Daenerys is crying, and so he backs off, trying to determine what she is comfortable with him doing. He only knows one English word, “no,” which he uses as a question to find out what she wants.) But short is good, not gross is good, and focusing on character development, inter-character dynamics, and what’s going on in characters’ minds is good, too.

  5. greenkcab says:

    I don’t know if those books are available in english, or if the translations are any good, but in french “Histoire d’O” by Pauline Réage, “Emmanuelle L’Anti-vierge” by Emmanuelle Arsan or “La Vie sexuelle de Catherine M.” by Catherine Millet contain several well written sex scenes.

  6. “The Story of O” (as it is called in English) is something of a classic (or at least it was considered rather infamous when it came out). I’ve not heard of the others, but Catherine M.’s work appears to have an English translation.

  7. Do you have to write sex scenes? There must be heaps of good books without any. I have the same issue, a bit – I don’t like crudity – so I sort of skim over things in my own way, seems to work!

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