Writing the Love Scene: Sex or No Sex

Vintage SexMy first foray into writing led me to an uncomfortable place: writing the love scene— and so I decided to do a little research before I made a total fool of myself. Since it was a YA novel, it was tame compared to what I’ve currently written, but I quickly understood that the elements are the same, sex or no sex.

I’ve been seriously in love more than once and figured this was something that would fall into the “write what you know” category. I soon learned how wrong that was. My Internet search revealed something quite startling. I gleaned it from a website written by an anthropologist who listed the reasons why we are attracted to a mate. I hadn’t planned on getting quite so scientific in my writing, scientist that I am, but the reason at the top of her list sent me reeling back onto my heels. It explained the success of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and endless other romantic stories.

I’ll give you three guesses. I’m timing you. Tick tock. Time’s up. Nope. You’re wrong. Okay, wait for it … it’s protection! We fall helplessly in love with the guy who rides in on the white horse and sweeps us onto the saddle a second before our imminent death. Who knew? Are we here at the hero model again? Maybe.

Recently, Jenn tackled the difficult task of writing sex and since I’ve finished my first erotic romance novel, I’ve got quite a bit of experience at confronting some demanding scenes. It’s often said that writing a sex scene is like writing a fight scene. It’s tough to orchestrate—keeping track of moving body parts, infusing intense emotions in a close setting, describing body language, and crafting meaningful yet succinct lines of dialogue.

The feminist movement encouraged us to save ourselves because waiting for a guy to rescue us in the nick of time would be just plain stupid. No one can argue with that logic. However we still fall head-over-heels for that guy who saves the day: Superman, Batman… you know who they are. Think back to the romantic tales that get your pulse racing, they all involve protection of sorts. When a strange man offers to share his umbrella in a rainstorm, or pulls you back as you were about to step into the crosswalk as an unsuspecting danger approaches (Yeah, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel) triggers something that unfortunately is hard wired from caveman days when we really needed a man to protect us from the dangers that lurked behind every boulder.

Sadly, much of why we fall in love is beyond our control, relegated to the primitive regions of our brains and not very different from the rest of the animal world. In hindsight I made some poor choices in love, but I just couldn’t control myself. Even when someone else pointed it out to me.

Here are some other factors you might want to consider when orchestrating a love affair between characters. I’m citing things that have been documented by the scientific community: anthropologists, psychologists and animal behaviorists.

  • Woo slowly. Caution in courtship is found even among primitive animal species. Did you know that the male wolf spider must enter the long darker entrance of a female’s lair in order to copulate? He does this slowly. If he’s overeager she gobbles him up. Court your characters slowly, the longer you keep them apart the bigger the payoff for your reader once they get together. *
  • Use His/Her Name. When two people meet, using the other’s name during conversation scores big time. During the early days of dating my husband, he actually said, “I love when you say my name.” I thought it odd at the time, but now, I totally get it. *
  • Meeting in a dangerous situation is a perfect setting for falling in love. Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher says “Any kind of novelty, particularly something dangerous drives up dopamine levels in the brain. Intense romantic love is linked with elevated dopamine activity. That’s why vacations can be so romantic; novelty triggers the dopamine system and partners feel some of that early glow of intense romance.”
  • Love maps. Sexologist John Money says, “Long before you fixate on anyone in particular you’ve developed a mental map that determines what arouses you sexually. These love maps vary from one individual to the next. Some people get turned on by a business suit or a doctor’s uniform, by big breasts, small feet, or a vivacious laugh.”
  • Money Buys Love. I know this sounds awful, but come on! A handsome billionaire would be at the top of anyone’s list. Since the dawn of time women are drawn to men with property or money.
  • Love At First Sight. Do we really believe this? I’m not sure, but it certainly works in a novel. In fact, according to anthropologists love at first sight may have a critical adaptive function among animals. During the mating season the female of any species needs to breed. And it’s always her choice. Once she decides, she’s in a hurry. If he looks suitable, she grabs him! *
  • Love Makes Us Stupid. Yeah, we’ve all been there. Seems your good judgment goes right out the window when you fall in love. Dr. Helen Fisher again, “Yes, neuroscientists have found that some of the thinking and decision-making regions in the prefrontal cortex can deactivate when you’re in love. And with less blood rushing to this region, social judgment can be suppressed.”
  • Looks Count. Beauty is a bit subjective. When the Beatles first arrived on our shores there was serious debate as to who was cuter. Obviously, there was no answer to that question. But the DaVinci Proportion is often cited as a mathematical calculation of what is pleasing to the eye. You can calculate your “beauty” quotient here.
  • Body language. Psychologists generally agree that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal and much of it is sexual. Dominant creatures puff up. Codfish bulge their heads and thrust their pelvic fins. Cats bristle. Pigeons swell. Gorillas pound their chests. Men thrust out their chests.* Who can resist a guy with great pecs?Passion
  • Chivalry (It Isn’t Dead). Make your man a gentleman. Even if he’s an alpha male mowing down every guy who annoys him, when it comes to his woman, make him gallant and tender. The sex could be rough, but there needs to be a caring, kind man underneath the covers.*
  • Opposites attract. Truthfully, people tend to be more attracted to those resembling themselves. According to research, this old adage is not indicative of a good match. It makes for writing joy however, setting up countless opportunities for conflict between your lovers.*
  • The Copulatory Gaze is probably the most striking human courting gesture. That unsettling stare of a handsome man who walks by you in the airport. Your lover’s eyes say many things, so be creative and intense with eye language.*

I’ve decided there are tons more tips I’ve collected on this topic so I’m going to give Part II next week. Meanwhile, in the event that you’re not actually writing a love scene, consider this information vital as you date that new guy. Go find somebody and fall in love, or fall in love all over again with the one sleeping next to you! LOL

*The Biology of Attraction (PSYCHOLOGY TODAY online)

Up Next from Caryn: Writing the Love Scene Part II




Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

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