Sex scenes. They can be funny, embarrassing, or arousing for the reader. As writers, we have to decide which effect we want, though the funny and embarrassing aren’t always intentional. Years ago, I used to skip the sex scenes. I had no interest in how other people did it. Then I realized I was missing out on some of the development characters went through. The sex scenes weren’t there solely to arouse, but to show important emotional or personal development of the characters.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first decision the writer has to make is whether to even include sex scenes. In one of the online writing communities I belong to, there have been a couple of heated debates about sex in fiction. One side says it simply doens’t belong, is never necessary, and some say it’s absolutely wrong. The other says that if it shows character development or advances the plot, it’s entirely necessary.
I used to believe that writers included sex because, let’s face it, sex sells, and that there was no other reason. Now, I know most writers inlcude sex because there’s no other way of showing what they need the reader to see in the character. Or at least no other way that fits the story. If it means the book sells better, then so be it. Of course, there are writers who include sex because it sells. That doesn’t make them worse writers, as more than one argument held. It just means they’ll use all available tools to ensure the story sells.
When I decided I wanted to write romance, I also had to decide whether to fade to black, or to use every tool available to me to tell the story. So, I made the decision. I would use the sex between my characters to show their development, and to advance my plot. Then I had to decide how much and how graphic. Passionate kissing? Heavy petting? The sex act in sort of vague terms? All focused on the emotion? Or completely explicit? I decided, after much deliberation, and a ton of research, to go for completely explicit. I wanted to show the beauty of my couples’ love, their devotion and reverence, as well as things about each character that could only be shown in an explicit scene. All I had to do was learn how to write a sex scene. Should be easy enough.
It wasn’t. Writing a good sex scene isn’t just recounting what the characters do with what body part. What they think and feel has to be included. And the characters have to grow as a result of what they do and feel. It has to be romantic and believable at the same time. It has to fit the story and the characters. A generic sex scene can’t just be plugged in anywhere. I wrote a lot of bad sex scenes before I learned to do it right, and each one I write is better than the last.
When I first started trying to learn to write a sex scene, I was embarrassed. Felt like a dirty old man looking through my characters’ window. Eventually, I got over that, and started to enjoy getting to know my characters at their most vulnerable. Stacia Kane’s Be A Sex Writing Strumpet series helped me a great deal. In it, she explores all the ins and outs of writing good sex scenes.
In the end, every writer has to decide for themselves if they’re going to include sex in their stories, and if they do, how much and how graphic. We have to do what’s right for the best interest of the story, to tell it in the way that will have the most impact on readers. For me, that means including sex when necessary. For some, religious beliefs dictate the decision. For others, it’s embarrassment, shyness, lack of knowledge, or even fear of the relatives finding out. We have to consider all that, and other factors, in our decision.
Do you include sex in your stories? How much? Explicit or not? How did you arrive at your decision?