William Nicholson, author of Motherland, has an interesting article on the Huffington Post today about the tricky task of writing sex scenes. Having written a sex scene or two in my lifetime I do agree that it can be unsettling, especially if you let your own predilections get in the way. As a writer, you have to realize, the sex in your novels has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with your characters.
You’re nothing more than the creepy guy in the shadows taking notes. Your responsibility is to record action, dialogue, sounds, facial expressions, signs of pain and pleasure, etc. Even if you’re writing in the first person, you have to resist the temptation of putting yourself in the scene. It’s a tough thing to do because sex is one of those things you’d much rather participate in than watch, even imaginary sex, but that’s not your job as a writer.
It’s also not your job to worry about the reader when writing sex scenes. Nicholson wrote a great article save one irritating sentence. When I read this, I groaned the tiniest bit.
“At what point does it become distasteful?”
That tells me that he’s worried about the reader. Writers should never worry about the reader. Honest stories don’t get told by worrying about the reader. What is true for writers is also true for your readers, they should never be part of your sex scene. If you’re worried about how readers will perceive a sex scene, then you’re having the sex scene performed for the reader, and that makes them a participant, and frankly, that approach will probably leave them woefully dissatisfied with what you’ve written.
Sex, when it’s done right, is a brilliant mix of tangled emotions that become so intertwined they are impossible to sort out into definable terms. Getting lost in that mix leads you to be totally present in that moment. There is no past, and there is no future. You’re actions are largely reactions. It’s one of those rare moments in life where you’re so wholly focused you know your purpose. It is so intense it has to be fleeting, and as a result, there’s an ever-present frantic sense of loss. It will all be over far too soon.
Capturing that sense of “everything” is truly all the writer has to do when crafting a sex scene. You know your characters. You know how they approach everything in their fictional lives, including sex. They aren’t having sex for your readers so don’t write like they are. And please, for the love God, don’t write like you’re the one having sex. No one wants to read about that.