Or Aunt Sarah’s Clinic on how to write sex if you absolutely must.
In this case we’ll assume you’re not writing erotica, but sex as part of a larger, non-sex-oriented work. These rules don’t apply to erotica (well, most of them don’t.)
I’ve actually written erotica a dozen times or so, one of them markedly unsuccessful in my view even though it sold. (Yes, yes, yes – moan :-p – I actually will publish these ahem works eventually, probably as their own collection with all sorts of warnings on the cover. Well, the works I can, since most of them were work for hire. Which means I need to beef up (eh) the rest before I can publish a collection. It will happen. It’s just not urgent, so you can stop shouting now, now, now, now!) But erotica is its own thing, and the levels of description you’ll engage in for it are completely different.
First of all, as in real life, before you do something you’ll regret, ask yourself: do you need sex?
I mean do you need it right here, in this story or book?
There are several reasons to write sex into a work, and some are good: sex is expected in this type of genre. For instance Paranormal Romance, and even to an extent urban fantasy; or your publisher wants this book/story to have sex (I’ve been forced to write explicit sex into one book because of this); or, and to me this is the best, and sometimes the only legitimate reason: the book won’t work if there is no sex.
For whatever reason, at whatever level, your character needs sex to come to full character arc. So. You have to include sex.
At this point, and before regret sets in, you should ask yourself: what level of sex do I need.
The first one, which a lot of you worry about and mark your books as adult because of, is not really sex. This is the level of sex in most science fiction books. She takes off her clothes, he takes off his clothes, cut to the afterglow. Or a level beyond that, what Heinlein sometimes did, have a couple of lines of dialogue during sex enough you get what they’re doing.
Then there is a level beyond that, where you hear enough to know darn well what they’re up to, sometimes with details.
So, if you forgive me, an example of this from Soul of Fire:
A louder sigh broke the silence, and Miss Warington‘s voice said, “Why, Lord St…. Peter! I thought you didn‘t eat people.”
“For you, my dear, I will make an exception.”
“Is this how it‘s normally done?” in Miss Warington’s voice.
“I don‘t know. I never… You see, I was afraid I would change and incinerate my lover.“
“Oh, milord, you‘re not that hot.“
A gurgle of laughter from St. Maur. “Shut up, baggage. I‘m trying to romance you.”
This is all from the POV of a listener, and I want to make it clear that in most other genres this doesn’t even count as sex. In fantasy and science fiction, though, it can be enough.
Okay, so you need more than that. (Stop shouting more, more, more, it’s distracting.)
Then you are faced with several problems, like for instance, making sure that your characters need this too. (No, their shouting “give it to me baby” doesn’t count) and that you’ve developed them and their relationship to a point it’s logical to do this, and also that you keep the readers with you all the way (all the way, baby!)
At this point there are several things to keep in mind:
- If your character/relationship is ready and this is necessary for the plot, there are a whole lot of emotional things that need to be there along with the in and out, and out and in. That is, don’t forget you’re doing this for reasons of character development (it’s what she said! Shut up wretch.) and keep that character development going along with the physical actions.
- You know how porn movies (I hear. I’m not visual) airbrush things and shoot things from angles? Yeah. You need to do that too, to make it alluring. Be in the moment, think of what your character is seeing/feeling and see it and feel it through his senses. You might not be into blondes, but he is and he’ll go on about her pale skin with a pink blush or whatever. Be there. Feel and see what he feels and sees.
- Let the tension rise. Make it gradual. Make the reader stay with you till the consummation. In writing as in real life, slam bam thank you ma’am is a bore.
- Use all five senses (that’s what she said! Shut up wretch!) It’s okay to have similes to get this. Stuff like “She felt warm, like warm bread on a cold day” gives you taste without getting too specific.
- Use images. This is the equivalent of focusing on the fireplace while they’re having sex, but done right it works. Let us face it, the act of copulation is unaesthetic and unless you’re involved in it, (and sometimes when you are) its rewards aren’t purely physical. What I mean is, it’s not tab a and slot b, but what the character is feeling, which could very well be pleasant, like she relaxes, or odd, like he feels as though he’s been struck by lightening.
- Naughty words. No, I don’t mean the ones your characters shout, though they can, if that’s what they’re into. I mean the ones you use to describe what’s going on.
In modern romance you’re encouraged to use clinical terms because it’s less silly than “his throbbing lightening rod.” To an extent I’ve found they’re right. The clinical terms are largely invisible. The exception is when writing historical. Clinical terms can seem totally out of place there, but you’ll have to figure out what to do. (In vampire musketeers I settled for “member”.)
Over and done. If your book is not erotica, make sure the sex doesn’t take a disproportionate amount of book time. If you like what you’re writing you might weigh it too heavily. (It’s easy to think it’s interesting to others if it’s interesting to us.) Or if you’re embarrassed by what you’re writing, you might rush your fences and write too short, though the scene is a pivotal one.
The only way to make sure you did it right is to get a trusted second reader. And in this case, no, your mom REALLY isn’t appropriate.
And that’s about all the help I can give you. Remember to write sex in private and wash your hands when you’re done.