The Challenge of Writing Sex Scenes

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By Katherine Sharma

Sex sells. Would anyone read Fifty Shades of Grey without the sex? Luckily, I write mysteries rather than romance novels or erotica, so explicit sex is not the centerpiece of my stories. Still, as long as characters are not solitary beings, love and lust will come into play, and sex will have a role. I recently looked at several articles of the “10 Steps to Writing Great Sex Scenes” variety to help guide my creativity. The first step in one article was “Get drunk.” I assume the point was to lose inhibitions without losing coherence. The first step in another was “Decide what you’re comfortable reading and writing.” Agreed: Uncomfortable writing makes uncomfortable reading. The first step in a third was “Consider the genre.” Yep, romance readers demand love scenes. Those were all good pieces of advice. But I realized I needed to step back and start with more fundamental decisions. First, did I really need sex to advance my plot, flesh out characterization, or create a mood or foreshadowing? Tossing in an extraneous sex scene can bog down a novel as surely as padded dialogue and dead-end plot detours. Second, did I need to describe a love scene, a sex scene, or sexual acts? A love scene may include explicit descriptions, but it is first and foremost about emotions and the romantic relationship. In contrast, a sex scene spotlights sensual pleasures; a “What’s love got to do with it?” moment can be a thrilling read. Once you talk about depicting “sexual acts,” you veer into a darker place, with a focus on disappointment, conflict, and emotional and physical sadism (and I don’t mean the kind with a “safe” word). Third, what style — subtle or graphic — fits the purpose of the scene and the characters? By the way, “subtle” doesn’t mean hokey euphemisms (his rod) or hyperbole (the earth moved), and “graphic” doesn’t mean crude slang or anatomical accuracy. My thanks to one writer who helpfully put together a list of words to avoid, such as turgid and purple. For one of the more detailed guides to writing love scenes, check out

About Katherine Sharma

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

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