Guest Post: Breaking the Formula: 6 Tips for Writing Great Sex Scenes

Today the Writeonsisters welcome guest blogger Jan Saenz. Jan found us on Twitter when Sharon’s post (Writing Groups: On the Other Hand…) caught her attention. After perusing through the site, she discovered we have guest bloggers on Sundays and pitched us an idea. And voila! Take it away Jan…

feet-in-bedI have a confession to make: growing up, I used to make my Barbie and Ken dolls have sex.  And if you were just as fascinated (and confused) by the mystery of lovemaking as seen on General Hospital, I bet you did too.  And that makes us best friends.  Every afternoon, I would spy on my mother’s beloved soap operas, taking mental notes of the love scene formula.  Some talking.  Some kissing.  They lie down and then…a cutaway.  Two minutes later, they’d resurface under a strategically-placed bed sheet (boobies covered, man chest uncovered).  So, naturally, this was what I thought sex was. I’d skitter off to my room and set up Barbie’s bedroom on the floor of my closet, playing out the imaginary dialogue in my head. I’d press Ken’s hard plastic lips against Barbie’s frozen smile, placing his arms out towards her on either side.  Like Superman flying. I’d then strip them naked, lay them down (side-by-side), pull the covers over their heads, and leave to go make a sandwich. When I’d come back, I’d place the blanket accordingly-covering her tiny plastic mountain boobies and Ken’s mons pubis.  Simple!  Sex is easy, I thought.

Oh, if I only knew.

Lovemaking is a fascinating subject, but it still remains to be something we don’t necessarily talk about (not in public, at least).  Instead, we communicate it through movies, television, advertising, art, and literature.  And while it’s great that we utilize these medias for such purposes, somehow we still get stuck on formulas.  Bed + two naked bodies + simultaneous orgasms = good sex.  As artists, it’s our job to question what people consider “good,” and to challenge opinions of what is stimulating.  And in this case, what is sexy. Here are six suggestions on how to keep your love scenes interesting, well-written, and best of all, fun:

1. It’s all about choices.
One of my favorite theatre professors in college used to say, “It’s all about choices.”  In acting, what separates great actors from mediocre actors?  Their choices!  The projects they pursue.  The creative risks they take. The way they deliver a line. The same goes for writing. So unless we have a damn good reason to pen a sex scene with the usual suspects, we should first consider more original alternatives.  If readers wanted “normal” sex, they’d write it themselves. It ain’t hard. (Aw man, I just punned all over myself.)  So, next time you’re writing a scene where a married couple is trying to make love quietly in their bedroom so not to wake their children, have them go to the kitchen to avoid interruptions.  That way when the story calls for the kids to walk in, there are NO BLANKETS to hide under.  Ta-da!  You’ve just added a whole new layer of comedy just by changing ONE choice.  Magic.

2. Sex is not perfect.
I know it’s trendy for “book boyfriends” to be comparable to extraterrestrial sex gods, but let’s not disregard reality completely. After all, less than 30% of women ALWAYS achieve orgasm during intercourse.  Don’t get me wrong. I get that it’s fiction, but come on!  Sex isn’t perfect every time.  And that’s fantastic!  People want to relate to what they’re reading.  They want to believe that the characters are no different than themselves.  Try plugging in some humor. Laughter. Interruptions. Distractions. Embarrassing sounds. Leg cramps.  Voyeuristic house cats. This doesn’t mean we can’t include one scene that is perfect, but let’s give our readers something to compare it to.  It’ll make that one perfect simultaneous orgasm at the end so much more meaningful.

3. Trust your reader’s imagination.
Don’t tell us everything.  Be brave enough to save room for the reader’s imagination.  After all, that is what’s great about reading!  We get to utilize our subconscious mind, allowing it drive us through the story.  The words are merely a guide.  So maybe don’t include the color of the sheets or whether the bra clasp is in the front or the back.  If you leave some wiggle room for your reader to customize certain details to their liking, it will feel more personal to them.  It will strengthen their connection to the scene. Trust is a powerful thing. Use it.

4. Flirting as foreplay trumps actual foreplay.

Spying on mom’s soap operas was not the end of my curiosity toward sex. Oh no! Cut to junior high, when I chose to closet my curiosities.  Literally!  I stowed all my V.C. Andrews books inside the bottom of my closet. Those gothic romance novels were my treasures, all sporting embarrassing “wrinkles” in the paperback spines. You know which ones I’m talking about. It’s like a public bookmark for “SEX!”  But as my collection grew, I realized something:  It wasn’t the sex that drew me to these romance novels, it was the buildup.  The literary foreplay.  Forbidden flirtations. Unstoppable chemistry. In fact, now when I reread those love scenes, I’m shocked!  They’re so tame–only a few obscure paragraphs. Which proves that what comes before our sex scenes is so much more influential than what comes during.  After all, a romance novel is a sure thing–we know there’s going to be sex eventually.  But how we get there-THAT is what should be making your reader’s toes curl.

5. Practice makes perfect, right?
I’m not talking about on the page; I’m talking about in the bedroom.  If we want our descriptions to really carry some authenticity, well…we gotta do our homework.  Sometimes we assume we know what something feels like, but we don’t take the time to actually analyze it.  Break it down. So one afternoon, pull your hubby or your boyfriend (or girlfriend) into the bedroom to do some research. “I need to accurately describe the sensation of multiple orgasms.  Will you help me?”  Chances are they’ll be dragging you into the bedroom in a fit of excitement.  And hey, if you’re single, you don’t even need to ask someone else. wink, wink How’s that for research?

6. Have fun
It takes guts to write about sex, especially if you’re battling insecurities about what other people will think.  I’m a mother of three, I attend church every Sunday, I can’t write about oral sex!  So we start questioning how much is too much.  This is silly.  In real life, when we’re engaging in lovemaking, we don’t hold back.  So why should writing be any different?  Have fun writing your love scenes.  Be brave. Don’t worry about what your mother is going to think.  Don’t question if a line of dialogue is too dirty.  If your writing is strong, and your characters are enjoyable and fun, your reader will be happy to follow you anywhere you want to go. Let it ride.

And there you have it!

I love women writers, and I applaud those who tackle love scenes in their work.  I commend their bravery in not being ashamed to explore what they and lots of other women want included in their love stories:  Sex.  So with that, I tip my hat to you.  Go for it!  Make those wrinkles in your future paperbacks happen.  You can do it!

HeadShot-Jan Saenz



JAN SAENZ is a writer, blogger, and full-time mom living in Houston, Texas.  For more information, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @jan_saenz.





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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Breaking the Formula: 6 Tips for Writing Great Sex Scenes”

  1. Thanks for a great and helpful blog post. I struggle with writing these scenes. Are my scenes unique enough? Is there enough build-up/sexual tension throughout or is it too sudden? How much do I leave to the imagination? Your post gave me something to think about.

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