Posted On January 14, 2013 by Print This Post

How To Write Sex Scenes When You’re a Prude with Misha Crews

Okay – I chuckled when I received Misha’s title – I’m no prude (if you’ve read my books you know that already) – but I’m always looking to find new ways to improve the craft of writing an aspect of romance novels which is so important. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference.

How to Write Sex Scenes If You’re a Prude Like Me

Okay, “prude” is definitely too strong a word. That title should probably read:AuthorPhoto1a How to Write Sex Scenes if You’re Somebody Who Doesn’t Want Anyone to Know that You Even Think About Sex Much Less Enjoy It. Or maybe: How to Write Sex Scenes If Your Mom Reads Your Books and It Grosses You Out to Know That She’s Reading Your Descriptions of Hot Naked Sweaty Cavorting.

Most healthy human beings love good sex, and these days, books featuring hot sex are more in demand than ever. If you’re a sultry, seductive, Kathleen-Turner-in-Body-Heat type, maybe it feels natural to dash off a few thousand words about thrusting, heaving and quivering. But what if you’re a shy, nerdy, Ally-Sheedy-in-Breakfast-Club type, and writing about naughty bits makes you all awkward and uncomfortable (even more so than usual, I mean)? Being the latter, I’ve had my share of challenges when it comes to writing intimate moments. Finally I just decided to play to my strengths, and to approach sexy writing in the nerdiest, least sexy way possible: I broke it down into a series of mathematical equations.

Naughty-Fun Body Parts = Sex
Naughty-Fun Body Parts + Purpose = Sex Scene
Naughty-Fun Body Parts + Romantic Emotional Purpose = Love Scene

Now, this is obviously a very stripped-down, simplified perspective. But it’s as good a place to start as any. So taking these elements, here are a few things to think about (dare I say “chew on”?) when you’re getting ready to write a sex scene:

Sex vs. the Sex Scene – The biggest breakthrough I had in writing sex scenes was when someone dropped this knowledge on me: it’s not about the sex. The sex is a trapping, a device (sometimes literally), a method that the characters use for expressing themselves or forwarding their purpose, whether good or bad.

In fiction, every scene should serve a purpose. A sex scene is no different: it needs to have a purpose within the universe you’ve created as a writer, and should contain some element that connects it to the larger plot line. Sex scenes aren’t just about the naughty-fun body parts. There’s always something else going on.

Emotion vs. Romantic Emotion – Romance novels are all about the beauty of emotion. What do the characters feel for each other, and what kind of inward/outward journeys do they take to find their happily-ever-after?

The first sex scene I ever wrote was for my debut novel, Homesong. The story centers around childhood sweethearts who, as teens, are separated just as they’re about to consummate their innocent young romance. Years later they meet unexpectedly, and guess what? They fall in love all over again. Their first sexual encounter is a very complicated thing. There’s a lot of hurt between them, a lot of secrets, and a lot of guilt. There’s also the very simple, straightforward desire to enjoy each other’s bodies in a way that they were denied two decades earlier. And – most importantly, from my perspective – there’s the fact that they’re still in love with each other, although neither of them is ready to admit it yet.

So you’ve got romantic feelings in sex scenes. But of course, the emotional spectrum is broad and varied. Anger, blame, curiosity, ambition – there are all sorts of fascinating things your characters can feel when they’re having sex. In fact, in Karleen Koen’s wonderful Through a Glass Darkly, none of the scenes that depict sex are romantic. Most of them are political: the two (or three) people who are sharing a bed are also usually sharing some conspiracy. The sex in that book is detailed and exciting, but it’s not about love. It’s about a connection being made, a purpose being forwarded, a deception being perpetrated.

If you’re writing a love scene, imbue it with romantic emotion. If you’re writing a sex scene, have some fun with it and see what other emotions and motivations your characters might be experiencing.

Naughty-Fun Body Parts – Whether we’re talking about the twig and berries or some highfalutin’ hooters, our wonderful language has many names (and nicknames) for our fabulous fun parts. So how do shy writers like us discuss the naughty bits? Well, this might seem like a cop-out answer, but it really depends on what kind of book you’re writing.

Language in sex scenes tends to be genre-specific. At the erotica/romantica end of the spectrum, you have a variety of fun slang and four-letter words to choose from. And whether you’re shy or not, you should use the terms that are appropriate for your book. You’re writing for an audience that expects and enjoys it, and one thing you never want to do is disappoint your audience. So be as explicit as you like, and have fun with it!

At the other end of the language spectrum (the end at which I tend to dwell), you’ve got euphemism, metaphor and simile. For example:

Euphemism – When they danced, his attraction was made plain by the rigidity that pressed against her.

Metaphor – When they danced, his attraction was an unyielding baton that beat a tempo of lust against her tender flesh.

Simile – When they danced, his attraction was as unmistakable as a volcano rising mightily out of the sea.

Okay, those might not be particularly imaginative examples (and at least one of them is downright silly), but hopefully they get the point across. Using euphemisms, metaphors and similes, you can communicate a wide variety of images, sexy and otherwise, and still maintain your shy-writer mystique.

So even if you’re a bashful nerd instead of a lusty bombshell, write as much sex as you want, and enjoy it! Whether you let your mom read your books or not is up to you.

***

So – do you love writing sex scenes or do they make you shudder? Do you have any tips to add to Misha’s awesome idea?

On Wednesday, Shelly Ellis talks about what does and doesn’t fly in multicultural romance.

***

Bio:

HomesongCover3MBI was born in the beautiful city of Charlottesville, Virginia and I’ve lived in the DC area all my life. Everyone in my family is an avid reader, and when I was little my mother “encouraged” me to read by offering to pay me two cents per page of Hop on Pop! It was an unusual strategy, but it worked: before long I was a bona fide book junkie (thanks Mom!).

My first novel, Homesong, a multi-generational family story, was first published in 2008, and was a finalist for the Bronte Prize for Romantic Fiction. It was followed in 2010 by Still Waters, a 1950s romantic suspense. And my first contemporary romantic suspense, Her Secret Bodyguard, went to the top of Amazon’s Hot New Releases in 2011.

I still live in northern Virginia, with my wonderful husband, my bossy college-student sister, and my even bossier cat. I would love to hear from you! I hope you’ll use the form below to get in touch.

Misha’s website:  http://mishacrews.com/

 

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Discussion

52 Responses to “How To Write Sex Scenes When You’re a Prude with Misha Crews”

  1. Writing great loves scenes is a delicate business. I like your breakdown of sex, sex scene and love scene, Misha. I’m writing two books in a single series and the scenes are pretty intense in each, but the personality of one character is much edgier than the other. Therefore, the level of heat in the love scenes reflects that.

    My question: Do you have a go-to list of terms you typically use to describe the naughty-fun bits?

    Posted by Reese Ryan | January 14, 2013, 7:56 am
    • Hi Reese! No, I don’t really have a list of go-to terms, I just try to write whatever feels/sounds right within the context of the scene, and hopefully it comes out right. :-)

      Congratulations on writing your books! The edgy/not-so-edgy pairing sound like they’ll make for some excellent conflict and exciting reading.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 9:35 am
  2. These are all great examples, but how do you determine how long a sex scene should be? I know some authors where the scene can go on for pages and pages — others bip-bam-boom — its done in a few paragraphs. Though there’s no such thing in the real world (LOL), is it possible for a sex scene to drag on for waaaaay too long?

    Posted by Shelly | January 14, 2013, 8:09 am
    • Good morning Shelly! You’re right, the length of sex scenes varies a LOT from writer to writer and book to book. I just read a Twitter post by a writer who said something like, “Writing a sex scene and it just won’t end. Die, scene, die!” LOL.

      The best sex scenes do more than just turn on the reader, they serve a purpose within the story and for the evolution of the characters. So say to yourself, “What’s happening here besides sex?” then make sure you’ve written that into the arch of your scene. However many paragraphs or pages that takes is how long the scene should be. (At least, in my opinion, lol.)

      Thanks for commenting! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 9:48 am
  3. Morning Misha!

    I giggled when I read your title. I’m not a prude really, but maybe conservative is a better word. And the part about my mom reading it? Oh yeah, she so would and yes, I’d hide my head for a year. =)

    I do remember two authors who did an interview – sorry, do NOT remember their names! – and they wrote together under one name. They said they’d write the novel, skipping the naughty bits. Then they’d go buy a bottle of wine or two, and fill those in at the end. =) That always seemed like a cunning plan to me!

    Thanks for a fun lecture, I enjoyed it!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 14, 2013, 9:02 am
  4. Excellent advice. I’m more of the shy nerd variety–and I always think my “sex scenes” are so lame-o. And I have a version of the Mom excuse, but it’s more “People who know me will only have it confirmed I’m a pervert.” Family members…well, I plan to write under an assumed name and not tell them.

    Posted by Hellion | January 14, 2013, 9:05 am
    • Hi Hellion! Yes, writing under a pen name is always a good option, lol. But whatever name you use, make sure you keep writing! (And I’m sure your scenes aren’t lame, lol.)

      Glad you liked the post. Thanks for your comment! :)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 9:58 am
  5. LOVED the language spectrum, Misha. Great post. :)

    Rose

    Posted by Rose Anderson | January 14, 2013, 9:40 am
  6. Loved the way you broke that down. I am a new romance writer. I have read thousands of romances. When there is no purpose or character connection the sex is “empty” and quite frankly annoying to me. A good book has character development and you can’t have good sex with a good Pre story behind it or ” purpose” as you called it.

    Posted by Pamela | January 14, 2013, 9:43 am
    • Good morning Pamela! How exciting that you’re starting to write romance! It’s a wonderful genre with a broad spectrum of possible story lines, and lots of room for new writers.

      I like your term “pre-story.” That’s an excellent way of putting it! Good luck with your writing. It gets hard sometimes, but just keep at it! :-)

      Very glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting!

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 10:06 am
  7. Hi Misha,

    My aunt read my book, All Hours Trading, and I haven’t heard the end of it. “Very inappropriate,” was her nicest comment. Obviously, I did a good job. Sex scenes need a vivid imagination and a sense of humor.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 14, 2013, 9:46 am
    • Hi Mary Jo! Oh my gosh. I’m adding “Very inappropriate” to the list of Best Compliments Ever. Good on ya for earning that one!

      You’re so right about the sense of humor being essential for sex scenes (and for sex too, lol).

      Congratulations on your book, and thanks so much for commenting! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 10:09 am
  8. I love this! When I first attempted to write fiction – specifically, romance – I was in my fifties. I had two big concerns in addition to the biggie (can I write??): 1) Since I got married young, the last time I dated was in high school. Could I write about single life believably? And 2) Could I write hot scenes without blushing?

    When a scene from my first story came in second in a national contest for “sizzling scenes” I began to feel somewhat more confident. But I had to laugh when my critique partners kept pushing me to let myself go. (I thought I WAS letting go!) ;-)

    Thanks for this post – I needed it!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 14, 2013, 10:04 am
    • Good morning Becke! Wow, sizzling scenes?! Congratulations on that!! I’m sure I could take a lesson from you! :-)

      Confession: I still blush when I write sex scenes, and even more when I think about people reading them, lol! But life’s too short NOT to engage in blush-worthy activities, so bring it on, right?

      So glad you liked the post. Thanks for commenting! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 10:16 am
  9. I’m not a prude, but I do have a strong penchant for realistic writing. Makes it challenging in the romance genre. Of course, romance is synonymous with fantasy, escapism, and fun — but there’s no reason to not make it true too.

    In the romances I’ve read (only a couple dozen, so admittedly a small sample) I’ve been struck by the unreality of the sex scenes. Women never have actual sexual parts; instead they have a “molten core” or some such nonsense. They come to orgasm immediately, without a clitoris involved. Feh. Don’t try that at home, girls.

    I think it would be a public service to women to write romances that were a tad more physiologically accurate. And no biting nipples, ever! Ouch, no fun!

    Posted by Mary DeEditor | January 14, 2013, 11:09 am
    • Hi Mary! You make an excellent point about realism. Even the most fantastic of fantasies needs to have realistic elements to increase enjoyment for the reader (and I see you’re an editor, so I apologize for my run-on sentences, lol). The combination of escapism and realism makes for wonderful writing AND reading.

      Thanks for your comment! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 11:49 am
  10. I got hooked on the title of this, Misha! I’m 70, kind of conservative in my writing – well, okay, let’s be honest – I’m very overwhelmingly restrained, ummm, prudish!! Sigh. Your simple breakdown of sex scenes, and reminding us that a scene needs to have a purpose, an arch, that shows up – very helpful. Try, try again! Cheers – and thanks for posting this very helpful point!

    Posted by Celia Lewis | January 14, 2013, 11:24 am
    • Hi Celia! Well, seems like we operate at the same end of the spectrum, lol. I’m so glad my post was helpful. And yes, try, try again! (And if that doesn’t work, try some more, lol). Keep writing!

      Thanks for commenting! :)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 11:54 am
  11. Loved the post. Since I’ve read both ends of the spectrum from we-won’t-discuss-the-fact-people-must-do-more-than-kiss-to-make-a-baby to my-monitor-is-now-singed,-I-smell-smoke,-and-it-will-never-recover, I find both out of my own comfort range. Guess that means I fall in the middle. I let my characters determine the “heat” of each book. I try to push the emotion rather than the act. Besides, we all know where the parts go. But read it aloud to a mixed group? I’d turn crimson from my toes to the top of my head, and my tongue would tangle and trip over itself. No way could I do it! I think that makes me a prude.

    Posted by E. Ayers | January 14, 2013, 11:26 am
  12. Good post. My background is in writing for children, so now that I’m writing romantic suspense, writing sex scenes has been a challenge, especially since I often find sex scenes in books and boring (if there’s no purpose moving the story forward) or silly (if too many euphemisms).

    One thing I’ve been trying is narrating my real-life sex scenes. (In my head, not out loud! Though I wonder how my husband would react…) I figure I narrate much of the rest of my life (I’m not the only one who does that, right?) so why not the sex? “Writing it” in my head while it’s happening is practice for putting it on the page. It helps me focus on the little details of pleasure, and hopefully be more realistic too.

    Posted by Kris Bock | January 14, 2013, 11:35 am
    • Hi Kris! You know, that’s a great idea to narrate real-life sex scenes. Super-shy writers like me could even start with movie scenes for the pure “mechanics” of it, lol. And just between us (and anyone who reads this, lol) I don’t think your husband would mind your narration a bit! ;-)

      Thanks for your comment! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 12:03 pm
  13. Great post! I usually keep it a bit on the tame side simply because I don’t want my grandkids reading it and being traumatized forever at the stuff grandma knows. But the inner vixen is crying to break free one day and really embarrass them.

    Posted by Lynn | January 14, 2013, 11:47 am
    • LOL, Lynn! I say let that vixen out! As an artist, it’s always a great idea to push your comfort envelope. I don’t think E.L. James’ grandkids will have a thing to complain about, so why should yours? ;-)

      So glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your comment! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 12:07 pm
  14. Misha – Thanks for being with us today with this great post! I LOVE writing sex scenes because I feel like I can show so much character growth through them. So. Much. Fun.

    And, I’m using “hifalutin hooters” one day!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 14, 2013, 12:03 pm
  15. Hi Misha!

    The hardest part about writing love scenes is tracking the body parts. Where is his arm? Where is his other arm? What happened to her leg that was under his? :)

    Injecting a bit of humor helps at least during the first go-around. Funny moments ease the tension.

    Thanks for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 14, 2013, 1:05 pm
  16. Love this discussion, Misha. I agree that emotion trumps body parts and it’s all about how it makes you feel inside and outside the lovemaking. I found the discussion so useful.

    Posted by Deborah Barnhart | January 14, 2013, 2:47 pm
  17. Thanks for the super post and comments! Just one thing I’d like to raise, as an erotic writer and editor: You write that sex scenes aren’t about the sex because…

    “The sex is a trapping, a device (sometimes literally), a method that the characters use for expressing themselves or forwarding their purpose, whether good or bad.”

    But what you describe above often *is* sex, methinks. Sex often *is* about expressing ourselves. It often *is* a way of forwarding our purpose in life. Sex isn’t “just” anything. It’s so, so much. I never think of sex in a scene as being a device. I think of it as intimacy, as emotional risk, as intense bodily and emotional pleasure…but not a device.

    Thanks again! Terrific points and discussion.

    Posted by Go Deeper Press | January 14, 2013, 5:55 pm
    • Hi Go Deeper! Thank you so much for bringing up this important point. You are so right, sex isn’t “just” a device. It’s an important step in the evolution of the characters’ relationship, just as it is in real life. Through the intimate scene, we see how the characters are growing and opening up to life.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for your comment! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 8:40 pm
  18. Misha, I have Homesong in my Kindle in my TBR list. Darn, I have a long list. It took me awhile to be able to use certain words/scenes when writing sex scenes, then I started writing erotic romance, and the words came easier with time. It depends on the mindset. I must admit, no one has seen those words except my editor, so who knows, maybe it will change by time I get it back and recall what I wrote. I still prefer to write sensual, and leave something to the imagination. None of it happened overnight though.

    You can find a go-to list by typing in sensual dictionary or something like that, into Google.

    Posted by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel | January 14, 2013, 8:09 pm
    • Hi there Mary! Thanks very much for downloading Homesong. I hope you enjoy it. And oh yes, I know just what you mean about the TBR list, lol. If only there were enough hours in the day to read all that we want! :-)

      That’s a great tip about Googling sensual dictionary! I’m definitely making a note of that.

      Thanks so much for your comment! :-)

      Posted by Misha Crews | January 14, 2013, 8:48 pm
  19. Misha, I loved this “lecture”! Your title really hooked me! You speak of your mom reading it; I restrain myself because my kids (and grands) — and dare I say sister? — might read mine!

    It’s one thing to read the hot sex scenes and enjoy them; it’s another to write them. So here’s an exercise I’m thinking of: hand write the lusty scenes on notebook paper, and keep open the option to quickly toss them in the wood stove before anyone else gets to read them!

    Keep up the GREAT work!

    Posted by Helen Collins | January 15, 2013, 11:29 am
  20. Great post, Misha! Loved your point about the difference between sex scenes and love scenes. And oh, my gosh, you have a terrific sense of humor–I look forward to checking out Homesong! And I’m hoping that someday I can approach writing my sex/love scenes with as much enthusiasm as Robin apparently does… :-)

    Posted by Kathy Altman | January 15, 2013, 4:06 pm
  21. I haven’t written one yet, but it’s on my to-do-list. You have given me a healthy perspective of this topic. I will definitely keep your advice in my back pocket. I’ve always wanted to create an intense, emotional, powerful sex scene.

    Posted by Brian B. King | January 15, 2013, 5:24 pm
  22. Great article. I’ll have to check out your book. Thanks.

    Posted by Robert Lyon | January 17, 2013, 8:40 am
  23. Misha–
    THANK YOU!

    Posted by Carlene Love Flores | January 17, 2013, 1:33 pm
  24. Loved the post! I’m not a prude but some of my readers are and it pays to tread carefully, LOL.

    Posted by Dana Pratola | February 9, 2013, 7:07 pm
  25. Hi there, I enjoy reading through your article post. I like to write
    a little comment to support you.

    Posted by get a girl friend | February 14, 2014, 12:33 am

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