Let’s talk about sex…

Sex scenes, that is. I cannot be the only writer who finds them torturous.

Please tell me I’m not.

I’ve just finished – bar the tweaking – the one and only sex scene in my book. It was a difficult process. I cannot describe body parts. I cannot move, on the page, through the bumps and grinds of the physical act itself. I just cannot write these things.

Fortunately I’m well-acquainted with the glorious twins Obtuseness and Metaphor, whose help I have called upon (in spades!) over the last 36 hours. Thank you, girls, you’ve saved my blushes.

I can’t work out whether the reluctance to write sex scenes is solely down to a fear of the reader’s perception and judgement (she must do it like this!) or whether it’s a general dislike of sexual acts written out as processes – or, perhaps, the combination of both.

But there’s no guarantee Obtuseness and Metaphor get it right either. In fact I think I may have been irrevocably damaged by Ian McEwan’s fantasy-killing Sex in the Library scene in Atonement, wherein he extended a mountaineering metaphor well beyond its natural boundaries and made me cringe and shake my head at the very point I probably should have been hyperventilating.

It. Was. Not. Good.

There is no easy route. And yet we persist. What exactly are we trying to capture? What exactly are we trying to conjure in our readers’ minds? These are the questions I asked myself and, in answering them, my scene revealed itself as one (thankfully) requiring those Glorious Twins – and not a biology lesson or an attempt at textual wank-fodder.

I recently saw a Facebook writer friend post the distinction between erotica and porn. It went something like tickle with a feather, it’s erotica – use the whole chicken, it’s porn (though I have to say much of the erotica I’ve read on Authonomy does seem to cluck).

I reckon we need another definition, for a sex scene in reluctant hands – wherein we allude to the feather and its usage, esp. the areas it may touch, with the help of those Glorious Twins.

I’m not going to do it… I’ve worked Obtuseness and Metaphor enough today. But the best suggestion posted below will win a (virtual) prize… go on, you know you want it.


5 Replies to “Let’s talk about sex…”

  1. I think that what you want to convey varries as much as how anatomical you want to get. If you are describing an emotional connection then you can be completely abstract.If it is the physicality of the relationship, if instinctive needs are being fullfilled then a certain amount of sweat and moaining is called for.If it is someone using another then I think you have to get anatomical, because that way a writer can make it clear the relationship through objectification.

  2. Yes, I think you make a very valid point John.Who can forget the immortal lines from Thea Gilmore's 'See If They Applaud':"you tattoed my image on the lips of all your friends as some tight cunt to fuck and leave and fuck again"A line which clearly would NOT have worked had Obtuseness and Metaphor been allowed to write it.(I included that quote especially for you… and because, with great serendipity, it keeps us firmly on the feather/chicken theme..!)

  3. The only real one I ever wrote was a rape scene, whose intentions weren't the same at all. A sex scene is presumably to delight, stimulate, arouse, titillate or otherwise disturb the reader's equilibrium. My rape scene wasn't gratuitous (the Sunday Telegraph reviewer was kind enough to say so, too) but essential to the resolution of the plot. The stress was on the violence and I don't think either of your twins was involved.As an aside I should add that I asked my wife to check the scene over and she made some anatomical suggestions that would never have occurred to me.And the feather/chicken quote was mine (albeit stolen from someone else).

  4. There are two pitfalls in writing sex scenes: the cliché of Mills & Boon thrusting members, or the almost clinical anatomical approach you get in a lot of erotica. Both leave the reader cold. Your sex scene was tender and meaningful. In fact, it didn't feel like a sex scene in some ways. It was more an emotional melting. The sex was an extension of the characters development, rather than an end in itself (no pun intended.) Perhaps as Erotica comes from Eros, we need to turn to his partner Psyche for a better word. But then you end up with Psycotica!

  5. Hi Sandie. Maybe I'm too late. I don't know where you live, but the Book Club Boutique in london (see my Facebook profile for the group) has quite a few nights that focus on erotica. Sulci (Marc), Roland [Beach Beneath the Pavement] and I were at one last Monday. There were some really talented guys there and we learnt a lot. I love writing sex scenes. Wouldn't occur to get anatomical, though – that's so unsexy.If you're on twitter you should hang out with @Alice__Gray (our Alice from Autho) @RemittanceGirl @BunnyReview @TripleCherry @OceanLibra and the rest of the smut, I mean erotica crowd. They know their stuff

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