Confessions of a Sex-Scenes-Challenged Author

dark-n-sexyRecently, a dear friend asked me to read and provide feedback on her novella. In her email containing the file, she hemmed and hawed a bit before admitting something to the effect of, “It has some sex scenes. Feel free to skip as needed. And wow, are those hard to write.”

I slouched in my computer seat, shocked and immeasurably grateful. Sex scenes, hard to write? Darn tootin’! For the most part, they’re an exercise in pain and embarrassment. And after years of sucking it up, I could finally rest a little easier, knowing I’m not the only one.

My name is Elle, and I hate writing sex scenes.

Truth told, come time to pen sex scenes, I wish I could put brackets in the story that say “And sex ensued, and it was good.” Okay, well, maybe I’d add something like, “And it was mutually satisfying sex that involved orgasms for all involved partners but without involving overdone literary devices like simultaneous orgasms and overly colorful and euphemistic descriptions of orgasms as kaleidoscopes. Oh, and not just missionary. With lots of foreplay. And emotional validation. Use your imagination.” Somehow, though, I think Romance Writers of America would revoke my membership – provided I had one.

I’m not sure why it’s so painful. Perhaps it’s the tension that comes from trying to realistically portray mutually satisfying sex without turning it into a sexual blueprint (“Item A should connect with a snap into item B. Then, holding it at a 24-degree angle, place item C alongside item D until item E comes into play.”). Add in our sexually repressive culture that leads to the fetishization of, well, everything, and even talking about sex means shouldering a heavy cultural burden. Just within the story, sex is supposed to move my protagonists’ relationship to a new romantic level, provide a space for exploring the dynamics of their interactions, straddle the line between tenderness and empowerment, and introduce my characters to tons of pleasure, or at least meaning. No pressure!


An example of my inexplicable obsession.

Gender inequalities, increasing questions about the boundaries of heterosexuality, living in a culture only a few generations from the Victorian era’s guilty, conflicted prurience: writing about sex lands me smack dab in the middle of a cultural quagmire.

I know many authors don’t share my shyness of sex scenes. For the few out there who do, though, I wanted to offer a literary fist bump. Authors who tremble at the thought of writing sex scenes, unite!

About Elle Hill

I'm a not-so-mild-mannered college instructor by day and writer by night. I'm an ex-animal rescuer and a forever animal lover. Finally, I'm a progressive, portly, political, powerful, pale-faced, passionate purveyor of poetry and prose.
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16 Responses to Confessions of a Sex-Scenes-Challenged Author

  1. bevirwin says:

    Hi Elle
    I’m with you. I always think, what if my mother read this. But i have had to step out of my comfort zone but I’ll never be doing the ‘grey’ thing.
    Bev Irwin / Kendra James

    • Lauri J Owen says:

      Oh yes. They’re the hardest to read and write for me!

      • Elle Hill says:

        Word. Hippy-dippy I am, I admit that I have a tendency to skip reading war/battle and sex scenes. I respect them both, but I’d be just as happy with “[and battle ensued].”

    • Elle Hill says:

      Dear Bev:
      This made me giggle. It reminds me of what I tell my (college) students when the subject of my writing comes up: “Please don’t buy my books. It’s too creepy for all of us to know that I know that sex exists.” 😉
      Thanks for the commiseration.

  2. Hi Elle,
    I’m one of those authors who has no problem writing an erotic scene, but I understand how one might feel timid about doing so. I know a very successful author who writes contemporary romantic comedies and never writes a single sex scene. If you feel they are necessary to your work, I suggest you forge on. Practice makes perfect.

    • Elle Hill says:

      Thanks for the advice, Gerri. I do think they’re essential, and I always think the characters benefit from it. Actually writing, though… hooo, boy. 🙂

  3. Sex scenes, not my favorite part of writing (or reading.) My critique partner commented on one of my sex scenes: Ooh, tell us more. No, really, it’s okay. You can tell us more. lol

    • Elle Hill says:

      Again, I blame my Pentecostal upbringing, but when editors or others comment on my sex scenes, I usually smile and node and wither inside. 😉

  4. kathybryson says:

    Hi Elle,
    Brilliant observations! They are tough to write to begin with and then you have to make them fit in with the tone and theme of the story too! Sexual empowerment and achieving a perfect emotional union when the couple is facing down everything from demons to terrorists – uh, huh. Let me just go get another cup of coffee.

  5. Love this post and I agree with you completely!
    Hazy references and hope the reader has then imagination to fill in the blanks and I am done-thank you very much!!

    • Elle Hill says:

      Amen, Anna. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to let myself off the hook. I’ll try to keep muddling through. But kudos to you for solving this dilemma in a very logical way. 🙂

      • Well I am not sure it was logical! More head in the sand, I am just lucky that because I write Contemporary Rom coms I get an easy escape! It’s funnier to make reference then it is to describe… And thank goodness for that! Well done you for being so brave though and dealing with all the sqidgy stuff!

      • Elle Hill says:

        Hugs to you, Anna. 🙂

  6. Jamie Brazil says:

    LOL, Elle. I’m challenged, too.

  7. Beth Carter says:

    I can relate and this could be why I prefer writing women’s fiction! I do have some steamy scenes but not full-out sex. Not yet, anyway, but I’m working up to it. Lots of chemistry and tingling but I’m okay writing that. I, too, wonder what relatives will think! I bet your students can’t download your books on their Kindles fast enough. You KNOW they’re curious. Lol. Fun post!

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