Contrary to what some people think, sex isn’t good or bad, it just is. Sex can be used negatively (rape), or it can be used positively (procreation), or it can be used for fun and entertainment. I prefer to write sex as fun and entertainment.
Sex can be written in any genre—but does it need to be there? The answer to the question depends on the story and how much focus the sexual act is to have.
I’ve written short stories and novels with varying heat levels. I wrote my first novel at the age of ten and wrote my first “love scene” when I was still too young to see it as “sex.”I was already reading Barbara Cartland, Harlequin, and Silhouette Romances. Granted, those early books were not as explicit then as the romance books of today, but they helped open the door to my sexual education.
Little did I know back then that by copying the “love scenes” from my favorite Silhouette Desire romances into my own (yes, I’m admitting to childhood plagiarism) were an education in itself.
It helped me deconstruct what was happening with regard to action and language. I may not have known entirely what was going on, but I was having fun trying to figure it out!
As I got older, I read more erotic tales, like Story of O, The Pearl, and others. I discovered that writing sex doesn’t have to be explicit in order to convey sexual intimacy or tension.
In short, sex doesn’t have to be graphic to be erotic, but it does need to be sensual. Bonus points if you can make it sensuous too.
For example, I think The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice is erotic and the writing is very sensuous, especially considering the way sexual penetration is conveyed—through the bite on the neck. Whereas stories by Anais Nin portray sex in a more sensual take on “insert tab A into slot B,” albeit with more flair.
In my novel, All About Eva, my protagonist is a woman in her mid-thirties who is sexually repressed despite her strong sexual desire. Throughout the novel, Eva comes out of her sexual shell in different ways, and the story calls for various levels of detail to show this. For example, here’s a snip from the first chapter where Eva admits to a penchant of hers:
But there’s something thrilling about sitting in a dark room with other people all facing the same direction with our eyes, supposedly, focused on the screen. The darkness allows fingers to fumble with buttons, zippers, and other obstacles that prevent flesh-on-flesh contact. Darkness allows nimble digits to circle around a man’s swollen pride or spread apart the vertical lips of a woman’s secret. Suddenly, the room brightens because of a scene change and, depending on level of nerve, fingers recoil to their proper, prayer-clasped position on your lap or they probe deeper, squeeze harder . . . get wetter.
While not graphic, I’ll give you three guesses as to what she’s describing. Later on in the novel, I’m less subtle when showing the action between Eva and her man Joshua because, at this moment, they are in heat:
His loins slap my thighs as every ounce of his power goes into each thrust. He ploughs into me, making the bed springs quake, and we ride them for all they’re worth [. . .] I spread my legs wide to accommodate him and he hooks his arms under my knees, anchoring me in place.
Pretty obvious as to what’s going on . . . but what about here?
It is slow going but worth it. I am in sweet agony feeling a combination of being ripped open and stuffed simultaneously. Some moments later, Joshua gives a sudden thrust and we both cry out. He is completely lodged and I constrict around him. He embraces me and we lie still, both of us trembling.
It’s not blow-by-blow like the previous passage, but it is evocative just the same. The “heat” is still there and what you have here is a couple who now trust each other enough to expand their sexual experiences.
When it comes to sex in a story, it is my characters who are in control of the situation rather than vice versa. Personally, I enjoy the challenge in writing sex scenes that do not rely upon being explicit but are still vivid enough to serve their purpose.