Twitter Q&A Bonus: Writing Sex Scenes
On February 26, I did a Q&A on Twitter, answering questions about writing and romance for National Arts Month. I received one question as a direct message, and it was a good question! We had a little discussion in my DMs about this and with the sender’s permission I’m posting a version of the question and my answer.
First of all, if you’re an author who isn’t yet comfortable writing sex scenes: Please know that you don’t have to! There is absolutely an audience for entire romance books featuring adult characters who do not have sex within the story. If this is your writing preference, know that there are readers who prefer this! We don’t even need to make assumptions about these readers. They exist! They want these books. Their reasons vary and are valid. We developed a definition of heat levels in #RomanceClass so we’re clear when writing about the sex content on the page, and the reader knows it too and can make reading or buying choices accordingly. An author can write at a “lower” heat level their entire career and there will be readers who want exactly that.
OK, now that I’ve said that: On to writing sex scenes. I love that the person mentioned fanfic, because as I thought about how to respond, it clicked for me that methods I picked up from reading and writing fanfic (yes I did that) would form my main advice for writing sex scenes.
Mainly that when I develop my main characters, part of what I think about is their sexual history. What they find hot, what they’re attracted to, what they desire, what they’ve done, what they want to do, what they haven’t done yet, what will be different when they’re having sex with this person who will be their HEA. It’s an exercise that’s strengthened by writing fanfic or being familiar with the concept, because we’re used to speculating about the unsaid, unseen parts of an established character’s lives. Like that, but for characters I made.
The person who sent the question referenced Kiss and Cry, and I’m glad I could use that as an example because I really did put a lot of thought into establishing how Cal and Ram would have sex. Part of the character histories for example was that Calinda was not allowed to date (and consequently did not have sex) in her early twenties. When she finally did, it was a situation she made sure she had control over. Ramirez never stayed very long in Manila, and actually had a friend he was casually seeing and hooking up with when in town. Cal and Ram consider each other “the one who got away” so that was the set-up for how “different” their moments would be together. From there, I decided that together they would be adventurous, playful, somewhat intense, maybe because they’re motivated by regret and not wanting to waste a second chance. The sex scenes would come from knowing that this is how the characters will act. Other characters of mine aren’t motivated this way, so their scenes will be different.
That said, I consider every intimate moment part of this arc, and not just sex scenes. I think someone who isn’t yet comfortable writing on-page sex but would like to eventually get there can write a whole range of intense or quiet or emotional moments that are just as intimate. I love writing the scenes right before characters have sex, and also the ones immediately after. I still love writing those and consider them love scenes too.
I love crafting those scenes and I’m proud of getting through it but I still completely freeze when those scenes are read out loud in front of an audience, so know that some level of discomfort is probably always going to be there, maybe because society tells me to feel that or it’s a natural reaction to a private thing being shared to people. I think those are feelings we can sit with, maybe take time to figure out. Writing this has to be our choice. It’s better when we write it knowing what we need the scene to say.
Some authors I know are probably ready and willing, but are worried about what people in their life will think or say. If it’s that, then that’s when we find writing communities we trust, and maybe publish with pen names. Personally I’ve gotten over this, and just make sure I include a heat level definition at the beginning of my book. My titas who still buy my books and read past that page? They know what they’re getting, and maybe that’s what they wanted all along.