In Defense of Bad Sex

by | May 11, 2014 | General | 11 comments

By Corvidae (Guest Blogger)

A few months ago I attended a local
science fiction and fantasy writing conference, FOGcon, held here in
the Bay Area on the first weekend of March. Although it is a
conference primarily about

speculative fiction, all sorts of
avenues within that genre come up, including erotica. I was attending
a panel whose discussion drifted toward themes in erotic writing when
someone made an interesting


Why isn’t there more bad sex in

Some people chuckled, of course, but
the speaker was serious. Her argument came primarily from a
sex-positive standpoint: she pointed out how many people build
expectations of normal sexual behavior on the erotic material they
consume, so for the sake of healthy development, it would be fair for
erotica to include “bad sex” sometimes.

But no one wants to have bad sex, the
audience murmured, so who would want to read about bad sex?

The conversation moved on, but that
question has stuck with me. The more I’ve thought about it, the
more I’ve come around to an intriguing idea: not only could bad sex
be abstractly beneficial, but it might actively improve the story.

How? Well consider the following.

Take, for example, the science fiction
and fantasy genres. We enjoy these stories for their hero/ines
overcoming larger-than-life challenges in worlds beyond our
imagination; in other words, achievements we yearn for. But how many
of these stories have everything happening magically-perfect all the
time? Where every battle is fought with top-score perfection and
every villain brought immediately to their knees?

You can write such a story, sure, but
odds are the reader won’t be as engaged as you’d like them to be.
The reason for that is so simple it’s stressed in every book on
writing-theory: Conflict = Plot. Without any conflict or build-up of
tension, there isn’t really a plot.

I just learned recently (better late
than never, really) about the old writers’ trick of adding conflict
by Making Things Go Wrong. Don’t just have your characters jump
from Point A to Point B, give them progressively larger obstacles to
overcome along the way. A fun practice technique is to take a
character and make her situation progressively worse and worse and
see how she deals with things to keep moving forward. These obstacles
make the story interesting, but they also help define your
characters, in that your reader will get a deeper sense of who the
character is based on how she deals with the challenge presented to

How does this apply to erotica? Well,
quite simply, “bad sex” could be an interesting tool to Make
Things Go Wrong. Don’t just have your characters jump straight to
putting Tab A in Slot B. Instead, try incorporating unusual
occurrences–physical challenges, emotional blocks, sudden
introspection, maybe even things as prosaic people barging into fix
the cable–and see how that affects not only the details of the
sexual encounter, but the internal facets of the characters

For example: the other day I was
reading a story by a friend of mine, Reyna Todd. Her upcoming
novella, Ghuulden Girls, is an erotic fantasy novella that plays
around with issues of gender identification in a few scenes. Though
it is an erotic story, one of the highlights for me was a scene where
two of the characters were engaged in much-lusted-for sex but decided
halfway through that it just…wasn’t…working. The aftermath of
this “bad sex” scene was some deeper introspection that led to
them both evolving as characters, as well as playing a major role in
advancing the overall plot.

Now, one could argue that these
characters could have gotten hot and heavy in that scene and also
developed through other, clothes-on methods. There’s nothing wrong
with that approach in and of itself, but I argue that, as erotica
writers, we can do better. Erotica already shows the scenes other
stories don’t, so why not take things even further and show how
those scenes–good, bad, and yes even

ugly–are inexorably tied up in the
stories of normal human lives?


About the Author

Corvidae is a biologist, a writer, and
a near-lifelong fan of scandalous storytelling. She is an active
proponent of sex-positivity, polyamory, and BDSM, both in her work
and in real life. When not writing, what spare time she has is
usually filled with yoga, dancing, and table-top gaming. Her first
published work can be found in the Big Book of Submission  coming out this July from Cleis Press.

Visit her blog at

She tweets at @CorvidaeDream

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    This is a great post, Corvidae, and a point well worth making. How can we write characters who feel real if their sex lives are perfect?

    Thanks for being our guest!

    • Corvidae

      Thank you so much for inviting me! I am honored to be asked 🙂

  2. Amanda Earl

    Corvidae, this is an excellent post & also inspiring. i like to depict imperfect sex when warranted. it's part of using every aspect of the story to reveal something about the characters & provides opportunities for tension & conflict. ps- i know i've been away from ERWA for some time now, immersed in various duties relating to poetry & publishing, but i shall return 🙂

    • Corvidae

      Indeed! It's definitely a challenge, I've been trying to wrap my mind around it since I thought of it, but I think it has rich promise overall. 😉 And yay, we miss you and eagerly await your glorious return!

    • Amanda Earl

      thanks 🙂

  3. ians2005

    Interesting points, Corvidae. It's all too easy to get carried away thinking of mind-blowing sex scenes when sometimes the exact opposite makes the story better,

    • Corvidae

      Yes, I think it's hard because–probably more-so than other genres–erotica is born of fantasy and our fantasies are often overly perfected, but *stories* are facets of life and life is never so. There is nothing wrong with erotic fantasies, but I am intrigued with the opportunities of storytelling as well.

  4. Big Ed Magusson

    I actually find "bad sex" to be a lot of fun to write. I've written several explicit scenes for plot or character purposes that I didn't want arousing. How else to capture the ambivalence that often accompanies sex?

  5. sybil rush

    If I want to read about bad sex, I read mainstream, or literary fiction, or well, any genre except erotica. Any level of explicitness seems to be acceptable, as long as the sex is unpleasant and the characters get punished for doing it. I feel like erotica is the only genre in which the author is 'allowed' to write sex that the characters enjoy. To me, the challenge is to write a good story AND good sex. Am I nuts?

  6. sentaholland

    I agree! Not only is 'good sex' somehow seen as not quite worthy of literature/mainstream fiction (although it may well be part of all sorts of stories), there is something puritanical about it. Seen as different from everything else in a story or a life. And over and above all this, mainstream/literature has all sorts of sex scenes, in great detail and at length, that are completely forbidden in 'erotica'. Which shows you how erotica is seen as a genre. In mainstream, 'anything goes' as long as it is a bad experience.

  7. Senta Holland

    And: in a story about an intimate relationship, the sexual encounters are part of that story. Of course there would be all kinds of different experiences along the way. And there is so much between 'fantastic' and 'it just doesn't work'. In fact I would argue that the majority of sexual experiences are somewhere in between. Sex, in my opinion, is just like everything else. thanks so much for this article and starting the discussion. I want to support you in this!

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