sex scenes

What I’ve Been Reading, or Sex in Context

Hild

Much has been said here about how “erotica” and “literary fiction” are often closer than is usually acknowledged. Apparently the way to prevent your sexually-explicit story or novel from being put in the “dungeon” (where no one can see it unless they search for it by title) on Amazon is to label it something other than “erotica.”

More often than not, there is a sex scene or two in any current work of “fiction.” This doesn’t mean that writers in various genres are hypocrites who really write erotica without admitting it. It means that writers who set forth to write a plot that isn’t primarily about sex or even the development of a sexual relationship must find ways to integrate the sex into descriptions of other things.

The sex scenes can’t look as if they were copied-and-pasted in from some other imaginary world. If there is some dialogue in a sex scene, it has to be consistent with the speech patterns those characters have already established. The sex can’t be described in a different style from other activities in the same narrative, and terms such as “dick,” “pussy,” etc., can’t be used if they are never used in the culture in which the plot is set.

Issues of social class and culture don’t disappear in sex scenes. Even in extreme ecstasy, characters can’t afford to forget where they are, and how they are expected to interact in more public settings, and what might happen if their secret tryst becomes public knowledge.

Even if the narrative viewpoint is third-person omniscient, the descriptions have to be consistent with the central character’s consciousness. If modern English is used to represent other languages (including archaic forms of English, and Celtic dialects), the implication that the whole thing has been translated has to be consistent throughout the work.

Recently, I finished reading Hild, a 530-page novel set in seventh-century Britain. [The author, Nicola Griffith, is an English expatriate living in the rainy northwest of the U.S.] The central character, who came to be known as St. Hilda of Whitby, was born in about 614 AD in a culture in which small kingdoms were almost constantly at war, and in which the Christian church was making inroads into the traditional worship of Woden.

Hild’s mother, Breguswith (widow of a minor king who died by poison) is both a traditional healer and a shrewd observer of local politics. When she notices that her teenage daughter is growing restless, she advises her to have a sexual relationship with someone who doesn’t “matter,” someone below her in rank. (Hild is the the local king’s niece as well as his “seer,” who can presumably foretell the future.) This liaison would attract the least amount of notice in a culture in which privacy is scarce, and in which Hild could be expected to enter a diplomatic marriage in the near future. Needless to say, she can’t afford to become pregnant yet.

As it happens, Hild has a beautiful, sexually-experienced female slave, a captive of war that Hild bought on impulse because she wanted a companion who couldn’t leave her. Gwladus (Oo-lad-oos) was naked when offered to the highest bidder, and she was openly advertised for sexual purposes. She was clearly relieved when Hild bought her, and she has been Hild’s “bodywoman” (servant) ever since. Hild came to realize that as a property-owner, she had a right to protect her woman from the local warriors, so she stopped one of them from grabbing Gwladus, who is grateful.

Probably on the advice of Breguswith, Gwladus finds Hild in the dairy, and tells her that she needs to “lie down” in the afternoon, in their private room. With surprising confidence, she tells Hild to undress. Here is the following scene:
—————

Her [Gwladus’] lips were soft. Like plums, like rain.

Gwladus put her hand on Hild’s thigh and stoked as though Hild were a restive horse: gently, firmly. Down the big muscles, up the long tight muscle on the inside. Not soothing but. . . she didn’t know what it was.

Stroking, stroking, down along the big muscle on the outside, up along the soft skin inside. Down. Up. Up more. “There,” Gwladus said, “there now.” And Hild wondering if this was how Cygnet [Hild’s horse] felt to be encouraged for the jump. Her heart felt as big as a horse’s, her nostrils wide, her neck straining, but not quite wild, not quite yet. “there,” said Gwladus again, and ran her palm over Hild’s wiry hair to her belly. “Yes,” she said, and rested there, cupping the soft, rounded belly, and then moved down a little, and a little more, and her hand became the centre of Hild’s world. “Oh, yes, my dear.” She kissed Hild again, and Hild opened her legs.

It was nothing like when she did it for herself. It built like James’ [Christian priest’s] music, like the thunder of a running herd, then burst out, like the sudden slide of cream, like a sleeve pulled aside out, and she wanted to laugh and shout and weep, but instead clutched at Gwladus as she juddered and shuddered and clenched.

————-

On a later occasion, Hild tries to return the favour, but Gwladus tells her, “No, lady.” The nuances of the relationship seem somewhat unclear even to Hild. Is seduction the act of a servant, and would giving her pleasure make her even more vulnerable than she already is? Later, Hild is taunted by Cian, the young man with whom she was raised, who tells her that at least he doesn’t have to buy his bed-mates.

Without taking any firm philosophical stand on slavery in general, Hild has Gwladus’ metal collar removed, and she offers to let her former servant return to her home territory. Another close companion has to point out to Hild that Gwladus isn’t showing any desire to leave, so the relationship resumes, more or less as it has been from the beginning.

The author wisely avoids mentioning the ages of Hild or of Gwladus. Considering the cultural distance between modern industrial society and the tribal world of the seventh century, “underage sex”—even girl-to-girl—is probably the least shocking event in the novel. Warfare involving swords and spears is described in gory detail.

Novels like this show that fiction can tackle both sex and violence without being stigmatized for either of these elements, especially if the surrounding culture is scrupulously researched and described in detail.

For those who are interested, Hild is only the first volume of a projected trilogy titled “The Light of the World.” The second volume, Menewood, seems to be complete but not yet published. In the meanwhile, the author has written a shorter novel, Spear, set in the world of King Arthur.

Keeping ‘Em Coming

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

Here at the ERWA blog, we discuss a wide range of issues related to the business and craft of writing. In the past few months, we’ve had great articles on research, writer’s block, creating covers that sell, revision strategies, online marketing, and pruning to reduce word count. Today, I want to cut to the chase, take the bull by the horns, and talk about what distinguishes our genre from writing mysteries, or scifi, or political thrillers. Yes, I want to talk about writing sex scenes. More specifically, I want to offer a few suggestions on how to make your sex scenes more effective: more engaging, more interesting and more arousing.

Who am I to give you advice? Not the best seller I’d like to be, certainly. Still I’ve been writing and publishing erotic for more than two decades, and most of my fans think my stuff is pretty steamy. Plus, I’ve read an enormous number of sexy stories, for editing, reviews and of course my own pleasure. I think I know what works – or at least, what works for me. As always, your mileage may vary. Feel free to take what you find useful from this post and toss the rest in the trash.

There’s a misconception that writing sex is easy. After all, almost everyone has had some personal experience. In addition, when it comes to sex we have a vast cultural repository of tropes, kinks, and classic scenarios to call upon for inspiration. Getting your characters together to do the nasty seems like it should be straightforward. In my experience, though, it’s anything but.

When I can make the time to write, I’m pretty fast at turning out decent prose. Sex scenes, though, take me much longer than any other part of my books. I can write a page of dialogue in ten or fifteen minutes. Sexual encounters may require hours before I’m happy with them. (I’m not including time off to go relieve the tension, either!) I’m not sure why this is true. Maybe I’m nervous, too aware how critical the sex scenes are to the book’s success. More likely, I’m working really hard to capture aspects of experience – smells, tastes, textures, weight, pressure, levels of force, and so on – that are fundamentally beyond words. Despite all the books that have been written, despite all the poems and songs, conveying the true excitement of sex using language is close to impossible.

Still, we intrepid erotica authors have set ourselves this impossible task (cue music from Man of La Mancha), and we can’t seem to stop tilting at our carnal windmills.

My suggestions here won’t necessarily make things any easier. However, they might improve the ultimate outcome.

Less is More

How long should your sex scenes be? One page? Five pages? An entire chapter? The answer depends to some extent on your sub-genre and audience. However, as a reader I find it hard to maintain interest in a really long sex scene, unless it’s exquisitely written. Indeed, I admit I’ve skimmed through plenty of sex scenes, especially when the activities were commonplace and the outcomes were predictable.

A long time ago I read a wonderful article in which a gay erotica author (maybe Lawrence Schimel) compared erotic scenes to a radio drama. People used to sit around their radios for hours, listening to conversations and sound effects and weaving together the stories in their minds. The bandwidth of an audio-only presentation was pretty low. Hence, each listener brought a great deal of her own self to the story. The work itself sketched out the skeleton of the narration; it was the listener who put the flesh on those bones, using imagination and desire to fill in the gaps deliberately left by the author.

Erotica, I believe, is the same, at least partly because sexual experience is so difficult to describe. Oh, you can offer up a million details about bodies, cocks, clits, assholes, breasts, thighs, tongues and so on. But that’s not enough to bring a sex scene to life. Erotica arouses us when it evokes an answer from within us, when it kindles a memory, triggers a fantasy, or tickles a deeply buried fear.

When I’m writing sex, I’m very conscious that less is more. Sometimes I can bring my readers more fully into the scene by leaving out some of the nitty-gritty details, even by cutting off the action before the supposedly inevitable climax. A page or two may be enough to accomplish my task, leaving the reader breathless and wanting.

Variety is the Spice

A few months ago, a Storytime member, in posting an intense BDSM-flavored tale, apologized because her characters had anal sex as their first sexual interaction, instead of what she thought of as the “standard” progression of oral → vaginal → anal. I cringed a bit – and applauded her willingness to break what she saw as the rules. The way I see it, the more variety there is in a story’s sex, the more it shatters the stereotypes and pushes the reader into new territory, the better. Let your sex scenes surprise and delight the reader.

Maybe the sex isn’t reciprocal. There’s a belief that all participants must always have climaxes, but that’s not realistic, and it gets boring. Doing can be as erotic as being done to.

Maybe the sex acts are limited, by the environment or by design, so that there’s no penetration, for instance. That just ramps up the tension for your next scene. On the other hand, perhaps things get really wild and crazy, with mermaid-bound women on crutches, yogurt-filled strap-ons, nuns tumbling down on parachutes, a whole horny rugby team descending on a pre-wedding party…

And of course, there’s always room for toys, kinks, taboos, gender-bending, practices your characters might have dreamed about but never dared to try.

One of my pet peeves in erotic novels involves a series of sex scenes that are more or less the same. They all include foreplay, penetrative sex and mutually satisfying orgasms. Of course there’s nothing wrong with any of this – but if you’ve done it once or twice, why not try something else?

Don’t Hesitate to Escalate

Especially in longer works, you might want to think about your sex scenes not as isolated invitations to wank, but as a progression of increasingly intense experiences for your reader. I discussed the concept of escalation in a post last year. I don’t want to repeat myself here, but I recommend that you consider the role each sex scene plays in the story you’re building. Don’t shoot your whole wad right away. (So to speak!) You might want to hold back earlier in your tale, teasing the reader with less complete, intimate or transgressive scenes, then gradually work up to full-out fuck-fests that will curl your readers’ hair.

It’s All Sex

Freud was right. In compelling, arousing erotica, the sex doesn’t start when one character kisses or touches another. The build-up to your sex scene counts just as much as the physical contact. Mutual glances, shy or heated – flirting or innuendo – an unexpected exposure to strangers engaged in sexual activity – reading a sexy story or watching a movie – you might think of these aspects of your story as separate from your sex scene, but I believe this is a mistaken perspective. The non-explicit parts of your tale increase the reader’s excitement, sexual tension, and anticipation. They’re essential for raising the temperature, so that by the time your characters interact physically, they’re ready to burst into flames – as is your reader.

As I mentioned earlier, my work is generally considered pretty hot. Yet if you looked closely, you might be surprised by the relatively modest amount of time I spend on the “actual sex”. I probably spend twice as long, on average, building up to the official sex acts in the scene.

Beyond Meatspace

Some people consider sex to be an essentially physical instinct, a simple itch to be scratched, a hormone-governed compulsion to rut that highlights our fundamental animal nature. I’m not going to deny the biological imperative of sex. However, society, culture, personal experience and individual personality layer multiple levels of meaning on the act of intercourse. This supposedly simple physical act has become embedded in a complex web of belief, morality, fantasy and emotion. Our sexuality is inextricably entwined with our identity. We are likely the only animals who spend less time engaging in sex than thinking about it. The infamous Rule 34 (if it exists, someone’s kinky for it) highlights the uniquely human predilection to imbue inherently non-sexual actions or objects with an erotic charge.

When you’re writing a sex scene, you can (and in my opinion, should) take advantage of the emotions that accompany (or perhaps even drive) the sex. Show your readers what a particular sexual act means to your character. How does it affect his or her feelings? What desires does it trigger? Does the character feel a psychological connection to her partner(s)? Is she frightened of her own lust? Embarrassed? Jubilant? Powerful? Does the situation remind her of past lovers or long-cherished but forbidden fantasies?

A sex scene that pulls your reader into the head of the protagonist has a lot better chance of arousing her than one which lingers on the surface, dwelling solely on wet cunts and hard cocks. After all, your readers have to imagine the physical part (unless they’re masturbating while they read, and even then, there’s limited verisimilitude). Getting them to identify with your character emotionally is the key to getting them off.

Examples

I had planned to include one of my own sex scenes as an illustration of my points, but this post is already far too long. If you’re interested, you can read some of the scenes I’ve posted on my blog and judge for yourself whether these suggestions are effective.

https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2019/05/sizzling-sunday-gazillionaire-and.html

https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2018/08/sizzling-sunday-velvet-lesbian.html

https://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2018/07/sizzling-sunday-exclusive-excerpt-and.html

Thanks for reading!

 

Writing Great Sex

What makes a really great sex scene?

Many authors will tell you it’s description—all the senses, touch, taste, feel, smell, sight, hearing. But it isn’t. The secret to great sex writing—are you ready? Wait for it… the secret to great sex writing is…

Emotion.

That’s it. Make your reader feel. That’s all you need to do.

How, you ask? Here are a few guidelines. 

THEY’RE ALIVE!

Your characters are alive and they are not the sum of their parts. They aren’t measurements or hair color or penis size. I’ve done sex scenes without mentioning any of the above. Don’t ask, “What would my character do in this situation?” Let them act. Let them decide. Let them speak. Let them feel. Especially let them feel.

GET TURNED ON

If you’re bored writing a sex scene, your readers will be bored. If you’re turned on, your reader will be turned on. The emotion you are feeling will be conveyed on paper. It’s a natural law of the writer universe. (This applies to any scene, not just sex ones, by the way. If it moves you to tears, it will move the reader as well).

DON’T STOP

If you’re turned on during a sex scene, really getting into it, your fingers flying over the keyboard, unless the house is on fire or we’re under nuclear attack, DON’T STOP. Never, ever stop in the middle of a sex scene. (This rule also applies well to actual sex). You will lose your momentum, and it won’t be the same when you come back to it. Your mood will have shifted, and the reader will feel it.

LUST

Human beings want. Our entire culture and economy is based on desire. We lust after the things we want. We dream about them. We fantasize about them. We want. And we want. And we want some more. Our bodies and our brains are hardwired for desire. We don’t just eat once and then we’re done. We don’t just have one orgasm and then it’s all over. We continue to crave what we want. Our emotions rule us, especially when it comes to sex. They’re naturally going to rule your sex scene, too. We don’t insert tab A into slot B because we’re following a blueprint manual. There’s a reason behind our physical responses, and that reason is always, always tied to emotion. Remember that. Use it.

Desire is what makes the sex hot. Make your readers wait for it. Foreplay begins with seduction, not with sex acts. It begins with eye contact. Flirting. Innuendo. It progresses, but slowly. Tease your readers. Tease yourself. Draw it out. Make it a long, slow burn. The best orgasms are the ones we wait a long time for. It’s no different when writing sex than it is doing it, really.

DON’T BE AFRAID

Don’t be afraid of the sex. Don’t be afraid of the fluids, the flesh, the human expression of our bodies. It is what it is. Some writers will tell you not to ever speak of bodily fluids. They’re above all that messy stuff. Thankfully, erotica and erotic romance have come a long way, baby. We can use the words cock and pussy now, and I would encourage you to do so. I wouldn’t suggest using the medical terms, however (i.e. penis and vagina) or euphemisms like “member” or “sheath.” Cock and Pussy are good. Think of them like peas and carrots. They go together. A few (and I mean a FEW) other words can work for a little variety. Prick or dick for example. Or cunt. No, don’t be afraid of the words we use during sex. It’s okay to talk dirty. “Please,” or “Now,” or “Suck me,” or “Lick me,” or “Harder. There. More.” These are words we’ve all spoken (I hope!) They naturally arouse. That’s a good thing. I’m not afraid of cum – I’m not even afraid of spelling it “wrong.” You shouldn’t be either.

THE GRAND FINALE

Once you reach the point of no return, you’ve built up to the sex, you’ve teased your readers (and your poor characters) enough, now it’s time to give them what they want. This is not the time to skimp. You can’t gloss over the orgasm. (Or orgasmS). We all (hopefully!) know what an orgasm feels like. Description doesn’t have to be technical here. There are spasms and contractions, there is throbbing and trembling, gasps, moans—the combinations are endless. You can and should include those, but don’t be afraid to move into the realm of metaphor. Sex can be like flying. It can be like falling. It can be like dying. This is the culmination of everything, the point you’ve been waiting for, working toward. Let your imagination go as wild as you would during an actual orgasm. Let yourself free.

DEFYING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND OTHER MISHAPS

On a practical note – your characters shouldn’t defy the laws of physics. Women cannot take twelve inches of hot man meat down their throats. An average vagina is only eight inches deep. 44DD breasts cannot defy gravity. And if you’re using any of the above descriptions in your sex scenes, you need a basic writing course, not a primer on sex scenes. Also, don’t let your character’s clothes go missing. She can’t be wearing pantyhose one second and be taking it from behind the next. The clothes have to come off and be accounted for somehow. Trust me, your readers will notice if they aren’t.




Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget
www.selenakitt.com
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