This blog was first published on Lighthouse Writers "Top Secret Blog."
Like action and dialogue, writing sex scenes can be extremely intimidating. And rightly so—it’s tricky to do and especially to do well. Add to the intricacies of craft, all of our cultural taboos, repressions, baggage, and general weirdness around talking about (little the less depicting) sex, sexuality and sexual encounters—and many authors take the easy road and avoid the subject altogether.
But you’re not an easy-road writer, are you?
In this fervor of avoidance, we’ve been left with loads of literature completely bereft of a hugely important component of human connection and complexity (hmm, a little bit like our general culture). So we’re going to grab the bull by the proverbial horns and remedy this vacuum through talking, reading, and writing sex, straight up and head on.
Just as in life, sex in literature is always more than just sex. We’ll deconstruct how sex scenes can enhance our understanding of characters and the power dynamics between them, and look at ways to deepen character development through exploring their sexuality. Even if your story doesn’t call for sex scenes specifically, writing one can be an incredibly useful exercise for getting to know your characters!
Similarly to dialogue, a good sex scene should be doing work on multiple levels: examining and elucidating relationships and relational dynamics, revealing character qualities and quirks, creating/resolving conflict, adding/dissipating tension, and/or moving plot forward.
Writing sex, with all its nuances and messiness, is not only an important skill to have as an author—it’s also a crucial role we play as artists and harbingers (or at least chroniclers) of social change and evolution. If we can’t write about sex in our work, how can we expect any growth in cultural consciousness, any awareness and maturity around sexuality, gender, sexual orientation, consent and pleasure in our workplaces, our schools, our (ahem) politics?
In a moment of #MeToo and consent education, what role do you as an artist want to play in examining and taking to task abuse? In what ways do you want to examine or push binary boundaries around gender and sexual orientation? What about envisioning and portraying healthy, consensual pleasure?
Am I saying that you have a public duty as an author to deeply consider how you’re using sex in your work—and to get very practiced at writing it well? Why, yes, yes I am.
In my Lit Fest craft seminar, Writing Sex: The Craft of Erotic Encounters, we’ll look at examples of good (and terrible) sex scenes, and play with exercises to try out our own. We’ll also sort through some of the above questions to come to personal conclusions on how you want to use and portray sex in your own work.