On Writing – S is for S-E-X

I have a confession to make. I hate it. I hate doing it.. I hate it when I start… I hate the tedious part in the middle… and I hate the disappointing anti-climax at the end. When I’m doing it, it makes me feel uncomfortable and stressed. I find myself fumbling around in the dark, trying to do the right thing without much success, and in a matter of moments everything looks flaccid and limp and I break down in a fit of despair-induced giggles wondering what all the fuss was about.

I’m talking about writing about sex…  of course…or as I like to call it … the writing sex act..

There are reasons why writers may wish to include sex scenes in their stories, from a genuine interest in sex through to narrative considerations and /or commercial motives. And I know a writer should not flinch from any aspect of the human condition,  but when it comes to sex in fiction, it just doesn’t tickle my fancy or float my boat.

I think there are 3 ways writers try to grapple with  sex in their work. The first is to go for it with full on erotica or bare to the knuckle porn.  In some ways, that might be okay because there is a clear and pretty straightforward reason to write that sort of stuff down. The best of it hammers the nail right on (or through ) the head, but the worst is just daft. (or exploitative, vicious or yukky)

The second approach is to incorporate humour into a sex scene, and let’s face it, sex is probably one of the funniest things one person can do to another…apart from tickling.. or voting for them at the next general election. I don’t mind   humorous sex scenes in books, but unless that particular style fits the story, then there are seriously limitations to its use.

The third, and most complex method is to use sex as a narrative device,  where sexual interaction in the story moves beyond arousal of bone or funny bone to help develop character explore relationships, explain some deep-rooted desires or hidden psychological traits, or shock the reader with a gymnastic twist in the tale.

The problem I have with the third way is that it is very difficult to pull it off  (so to speak). A sex scene, by its nature has a tendency to stick out like a …sore thumb, and  the flow of the narrative usually grinds to a halt whilst our key players writhe around panting on the carpet. So often sex in fiction comes across as earnestly adolescent, pompously poetic or ridiculously mechanical. But more than anything else, it is just so badly written. When I’m reading a book and I stumble into a room full of writhing limbs, I feel like a teenager who accidentally finds himself watching an explicit movie with his parents. I can’t help but continue to watch, but will probably end up scarred for life.

So sex can be fun, deep, meaningful, joyous, hilarious and lovely. But for me, writing about sex is like ruining a decent bottle of Bollinger by mixing it with a crate load of Babysham.

Oh and just in case you’re wondering…. Painting by Numbers is absolutely filthy..


FINALIST – THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE - PAINTING BY NUMBERS – Tom Gillespie’s critically acclaimed, surreal thriller is available in digital and printed formats from    Amazon UK/Amazon US and all good online stores.

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7 Responses to On Writing – S is for S-E-X

  1. Fran says:

    Saw this on StooshPR and also doing A-Z Cahllenge. I actually enjoy writing sex scenes – strange as that may seem. In my writing group the other week others were saying how difficult/weird/uncomfortable they found it. I said nothing – just in case they asked me to read one of mine out. That’s the bit that freaks me out!

  2. Andrew Peters says:

    You don’t need to write one, just cut and paste one from any book of your choice, they’re all the same.
    And of course it’s always the best sex in the history of the world between the two hottest most beautiful people ever.
    PS….if you’re going to write sex scenes, don’t put an author photo on the back….or THAT’S who we’ll all be imagining. Eeeeeeeeeeeuwww!

  3. Someone commented that a particular scene I had written in one of my romances was an erotic scene. When I read that I was amazed since I didn’t consider it such; having read material given to me by other authors that is much, much more graphic than what I’d written. There are now so many ‘degrees’ of sexual scenes in recent works that I wonder where a scene stops being sensuous, and becomes more ‘whatever they want to call it’ before it becomes erotica.
    (ps I didn’t do S is for Sex, Tom, since I’m writing about Romans and Celts and we all know what they got up to!! :-) )

  4. You had me in fits of the giggles there Tom because as you know, under another name I write gay sex. And I have absolutely no problems doing that. When I had to write hetero sex in another genre (yes, had to, my editor said it needed more explicit stuff) I just went to pieces. I sat at the computer blushing and sniggering like an adolescent. In the end I had to write from the man’s point of view because it was the only way I could cope. Funny innit?

  5. Helen Howell says:

    Ah yes, can be difficult but when handle right can enhance one’s story.

  6. John Wiswell says:

    I positively loathe when sex exists just to bond two characters. It’s one of the most trite things in adult stories, and is highly artificial. The first person to think sex magically bonded people together was probably cute; the millions of people who’ve mindlessly copied this as though unaware that’s not how it works are preposterous.

    It’s great for humor, though. Never ceases to be funny. James Clavell was great at getting to that side of sexy prose.

  7. Tom you made me laugh – you really did.
    and beyond that I have no comment… :D

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