Friday Speak Out!: No Fear of Flying

Friday, July 21, 2017
by Susanne Brent

Write what you know is often advised, but when it’s time to write sex scenes I’m unsure what I know is adequate. My insecurities and inferiorities feel exposed when writing sex scenes. I feel literally naked. My performance on the page always feels lacking and, unlike sex, there is no one to ask, “was that good for you?”

I once shared with a writing friend a chapter of my novel involving sex between my two main characters. Afterwards, my friend said I needed to read more books with sex scenes. Apparently, it wasn’t good for her. I felt as if she had gotten a glimpse into my own sex life and it was not page worthy. If in a critique someone says the dialogue is stilted, or the plot confusing, the comments might sting, but to have someone say my sex scenes were poorly written made me fear attempting to step into the bedroom, the shower, or the back seat of a car, wherever my characters might become intimate, ever again.

Still, I wanted my characters to be fully human. I could avoid having my characters do nothing more than kiss or hug, but then I wouldn’t be challenging myself. Besides, what if my characters wanted sex? That seemed unfair to them.

As my blunt friend suggested, I could search through books for well-written sex scenes, but I remembered I had taken a writing class several years ago specifically on that subject. I dug through my treasure trove of resources, and found a class handout taken from a book by Elizabeth Benedict titled The Joy of Writing Sex.

In her book, Benedict used examples from literature to explore ways to illuminate her premise that writing a sex scene is not writing a sex manual. A sex scene should enhance characterization, tell us about our characters “sensibilities, circumstances and inner lives. Sex needs a purpose in your story. It needs to reveal something about them.”

Your characters should want, and want intensely, and not just for simple release. Bad sex in real life. Bad. Bad sex for your characters. Good. In fact, disappointing and unfulfilling sex can enhance readers understanding of a character especially when it has evoked strong emotions within them.

By this time, we all know the mechanics of sex. What a writer needs to do is recognize sex is the most complex of human exchanges and we are rendered vulnerable in our desire to connect. Strip psychologically naked your characters.

Which might just make you afraid to write about sex. That’s a positive thing. Benedict said what you are most afraid to write about is where the writing energy will reside. And take your cues from your character, allow them to show you the way. That takes some of the pressure off.

Finally, and I liked this suggestion the best -- it’s okay if a writer is aroused by her own writing. Maybe there can be joy in writing sex, after all.

* * *
Born in Chicago, I grew up reading the Chicago Sun Times that my dad brought home every night after work. The newspaper inspired me to become a journalist. I earned a journalism degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver and moved to Arizona to work on a weekly newspaper. I wrote on a freelance basis for a variety of publications including The Arizona Republic. I am hoping to complete my novel this year, and I write a blog. Find me at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

I love this post, Susanne! You've analyzed all angles of the sex scene (or shall I say all positions ;), and you're right, even sex needs a purpose in a novel--every scene does. I hadn't heard of that book by Benedict, but it sounds like one I'd like to read. Whenever I write sex scenes it turns me on. I think that's a good thing! Thanks for the wonderful post!

Margo Dill said...

I liked this post too! It made me smile! Also if a sex scene is poorly written, I think it can actually ruin a book! Or at least the mood!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top