Updated: Nov 28, 2019
When it comes to how much sex belongs in a given story, opinions vary.
My mother would say zero, period, as anything beyond hand-holding belongs solely in the sacred confines of real-life marriage.
My creative writing professor in college was slightly less prude on the topic, but insisted that sex scenes are almost always sappy, unmotivated, and unrealistic, and therefore the only worth-while uses of sex in literature are those which delve into the dark and twisted minds of perverted characters. She had a point. In everything from psychological thrillers, to taboo erotica, to true crime nonfiction, the dark side of sex can make for an engaging story.
Finally, there’s your average reader, who—whether they admit it or not—loves a spicy sex scene.
There’s a good reason why romance is the number-one selling genre year after year. Sexy writing sells. And while I’m all for a good ol’ fashioned romantic romp in the freshly-laundered sheets of two young, attractive, witty and lovable characters, I think writers should recognize that there’s WAY more storytelling potential in sex than simply erotic titillation or forbidden thrills.
Sex is so much more than that in life, and can be so much more on the page.
Sex can be magical and romantic. It can be dark and twisted. It can be ‘meh’. It can be funny, scary, or downright boring. It can be emotionally messy and physically messy. It can go wrong, creating humor, tension, conflict, or violence.
And we’re just getting started…
Sex can be passionate, painful, shameful, blissful, bonding, surprising, disgusting, intimidating, euphoric, stirring, sentimental, humiliating, confusing, embarrassing, lonely, friendly, pitiful, or triumphant. In short, it can play on every single human emotion. It can mean and do and look like anything and everything, so think about what it can add to your story!
A well-constructed sex scene, when motivated by plot and character, can propel the story in creative ways while revealing tons about characters and character relationships.
Let’s say your story involves a couple who have been married for fifteen years, and you need the reader to understand the current state of their relationship. You might write a hefty chapter wherein they go out for an anniversary dinner. The scene could be brimming with back-and-forth dialogue about how they met, their good times, their bad times, and their future. There’s nothing wrong with a scene like that, but consider an alternative:
The wife walks into their bedroom and discovers her husband on the bed with his iPhone in one hand and his erection in the other. How does she react? Does she roll her eyes, make a light-hearted joke, shrug, sigh, gasp, cry, or join in? The reactions each of the characters display will reveal a lot about them and their relationship, and all this can be achieved in a single paragraph.
Of course you don’t need to sex it up to accomplish this. For example, you could have the anniversary dinner scene, but instead of pages of dialogue, the husband simply orders for the wife before she has the chance to. Her reaction to this would also tell the reader a lot, but the advantage to using the sexier alternative should be obvious. Like I said before: sex sells.
Having your characterization and relationships revealed through sexual moments pulls double-duty. It gives the reader a titillating/dark/funny/taboo/erotic moment to enjoy, while also pushing the story, themes, and characterization forward.
So, go nuts with your sex scenes!
See what happens to your story if you include sex in an interesting way or an unexpected moment. Play around with character desires, fetishes, and sexual memories. Explore your character relationships with real-world sexual issues. Bodies change over time, libidos change. A couple’s cravings align and misalign. Silliness happens in the bedroom. And sadness. And noises. And all sorts of crazy details that can breathe life into boring prose and leave your reader craving for more.
Edward Apeldoorn's short story 'The Camera-Shy Cock' will be in our Stories About Penises anthology. Release date 28 November 2019. Orders are now available.