Saturday, 24 August 2013

More Sex Please?

After completing my first novel, The Outback, I asked my wife, Katie, what she would like to see in the follow up book, Stealing Asia. Her answer was instant - "more sex!"

And so I sat down to begin the story. At the time I had no idea what the novel was going to be about. I just used Katie's suggestion as my starting point. Two strangers brought together in an exotic location. The narrator talks of his anticipation of what is about to unfold.

She rolled onto her back, adopting a position that was both vulnerable and alluring.

I then had to begin the action.

Smiling mischievously, she made her way along my arm with a series of short, delicate kisses.

It was my first sex scene and I was conscious of spending too much time on the foreplay (ironic?). It was soon time to heat things up.

...she redirected the kisses downwards, across my chest and over my abdomen, before finally taking me in her mouth.

And then...

And then a voice in my head screamed STOP! I had to pull out (figuratively speaking). Nobody wants to read what happens next. They are welcome to think it. The reader's imagination is free to take them wherever it pleases, but they most certainly do not need me talking them through every step of the journey. You see, there is a reason that many authors choose to avoid sex scenes.

The main problem with writing sex scenes is the language that is used. Both slang (cock, knob, dick) and formal (penis, vagina) sound awkward and out of place. They are just not, well, sexy. Any passage laden with these terms is going to induce laughter at best. Such writing is certainly not a turn on. So what do writer's do. They revert to using stock literary terms for the sex organs. A penis becomes a "member" and is usually paired with the adjective "throbbing". Now I am no medical expert, but if one has a "throbbing member" then one should really pay a visit to a pharmacist and get some sort of cream to combat the problem. As for the vagina, I have often seen that rather lazily referred to as simply "sex" - I felt his throbbing member enter my warm sex (really; I actually read that somewhere). Or avoiding that there is the downright bizarre - My inner Goddess was doing the merengue with some salsa moves* (?!?!) Suffice to say, descriptive sex scenes are probably best avoided.

But stories need sex, don't they?

If there is a love arc in a novel, then sex has to come into the picture at some point. This brings me back to Stealing Asia. The lead female character, Asia, is a bit of a nymphomaniac, which made it pretty hard for me to try and avoid the issue of sex. What I decided to do was to focus on the emotional aspect of copulating (Oh God, I really typed that, didn't I? Even a blog post about sex is awkward). In a key scene, the story's hero, Ben, is sharing what I will call an "intimate" moment with Asia, when they unexpectedly discover that they are not alone. In this scene, Ben sees a wild, dangerous side to his new love that he was previously unaware of and he likes it. I do not give a detailed description of what the couple are doing in this scene, but of what they are feeling whilst doing it. If I tell you any more it will be a spoiler.

Now I want you to picture a very different scene altogether. It is Paris, on a clear, moonlit summer's night. A young couple are walking hand in hand along the banks of the Seine. How would a writer approach this?Would they talk us through the mechanics of what the young lovers are doing?

Their hands joined by interlocking their fingers tenderly. They each progressed along the path by raising one foot, bending it at the knee and then pushing it forward, before repeating the action with the other leg.

Of course we do not. The reader knows what holding hands and walking is so they do not need it describing to them. It is much more interesting (and relevant) to know what the characters are thinking and feeling at that time. It is no different to sex. We all know how it works and do not need to be talked through every detail. We only need to know when it happens.

In short, the author needs to know when to turn off the light.

STEALING ASIA is available now in paperback and for Kindle.


(above) On our last day on Koh Samui we had the choice of visiting the country's largest seated Golden Buddha statue or the unimaginatively named Cock Rock. I let Katie make the decision.
*I believe that this quote is from a certain trilogy by E L James. Not that I have read any of those books, by the way.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my three published novels The Outback, Stealing Asia and Diamond Sky. All three are available as ebooks and paperbacks.


  1. A valid point, David, made with great humour. I guess it's about what people are looking for, but I'm with you on this. Sexual tension adds to the dramatic arc but I think implicit is certainly better than explicit.

    1. Exactly. It is all about relevance to the plot. In erotica, descriptive sex scenes are relevant, but in general fiction the only reason I can see an author adding them is for titillation and this has the potential to go horribly wrong. The exceptions are when the way a character makes loves helps to define their personality. I had to have some sex scenes in my latest book to show that the female lead is turned on by danger and how it both concerns and excites her lover.

  2. I agree, better left to the imagination, although I think there are occasions where it can be pulled off (no pun intended). I had to use some fairly graphic details in one of my books, as what happened to the characters was predicated on the reader knowing what was happening to them. However, it was a difficult scene to write; I got through it by paring it back to the bare essentials. Yes, there is some graphic description still in there, but much more is implied rather than described.
    Having said that, I did receive a comment from a reader who wished there had been more description, not less, so maybe the reader demographics (I write horror) have an input on this as well. I fondly remember when I was much younger waiting for the obligatory 2-3 pages of graphic sex in each James Herbert novel.

    1. It sounds like you got the balance just right. It is always best to leave the reader wanting more. Maybe writers could start releasing an equivalent of Director's cuts in movies. A special edition with added sexy bits. Or maybe not.

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