I recently participated in the second SexScenes reading event of the season. For those who don’t know what SexScenes is, it’s five other authors and me reading—duh—sex scenes from our novels. In public. To people we don’t know.
On Friday, we played to a throng of 15 at The Tool Shed, a sex toy store in Milwaukee, and afterward Mary Jo noted that no matter who’s in a scene, “man/woman, woman/woman, man/man, characters always end up leaving trails of kisses.”
And doing other things that I won’t mention here.
A challenge for anyone writing sex scenes in any genre is how to do it without making sex sound boring. Or silly, lame, icky, clinical, physically impossible, gross, sophomoric, moronic, repetitive, unimaginative, out-of-place or pornographic instead of erotic.
Hell, there are as many euphemisms for screwing up a sex scene as there are for the words you might not want to use when writing one.
“Dick,” for example. If you’re a woman, you might not immediately grasp the significance of that word to most men. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man use the word “cock.” That’s definitely a chick word. Meanwhile, I suspect that when I’ve heard men use the word “dick,” 99% of the time it’s a comedian on TV or one guy insulting another at a football game, usually by likening him to said body part or inviting him to perform fellatio.
“Penis” is another word you might want to avoid if you’re trying to set a mood. An author friend recently posted on Facebook that "penis" is a horrible word, and every man should be embarrassed for having one. Not that her heroines object to her heroes having them. Just sayin’.
But if “penis” is a particularly unattractive word, it at least has a soul mate in “vagina.” Oddly, as integral as these organs are to the love act, you don’t find them in a lot of love scenes.
Odder still is that “penis” and “vagina” sound like lovely names. I mean, don’t they? As in, an envelope arrives in the mail bringing news that Mr. Penis and Mrs. Vagina Intercourse invite you to the wedding of their daughter, Vulva, to Mr. Dick Glans. Now that's what I call a happily-ever-after.
“Vulva” is another word often not seen in sex scenes, along with its twin, “pudendum.” You never see the “c” word, though “pussy” seems to have achieved a level of acceptance. Ironic, I suppose, since your typical well-waxed 21st century fox apparently leaves no hint as to why her “down there parts” would bear any resemblance to any furry woodland creature. Does anyone under thirty even understand the sixth-grade-level joke about eating “fur burger with an order of thighs”?
BTW—fur burger with an order of thighs…not a phrase you’d want to insert into a sex scene.
Many euphemisms that are acceptable aren’t all that great, either. Like “boobs.” I don’t get that one at all. “Boobs” sounds clownish. Or rather, buffoonish. And it connotes heft. What if your heroine lacks heft? “Tits” is no longer one of the seven words George Carlin said you can’t say on TV, but it still doesn’t seem like the locution solution for making a reader moist. On the other hand, romance heroines these days seem to gush like firehoses.
And take using the word “sex” to refer to female genitalia. Please. I’m sorry, but that’s not a "sex" down there. It’s a…hell, I don’t know. I’ve never heard a man say, “I’m gonna get me some sex tonight.” Oh, wait. I have heard men say that. The point is, we have a thousand names for sex things, but only a handful of them sound sexy.
So what do we do? We write about a woman “taking him into her.” We have a man “teasing her folds.”
“Moist nests…rivers of desire—and hey, what about when she opens her honey pot?—all sound yummier than a tight hole or clit at attention,” author Taryn Rose says in her Goodreads blog. “One thing I’ve learned to keep in mind during a sex scene is that sensuality reigns. In romance writing, sex is rarely about the sex. It's usually about two people heightening a connection they have discovered by bringing it to an intensely physical level.”
She also says that if being silly, lame, icky, clinical, physically impossible, gross, sophomoric, moronic, repetitive, unimaginative, out-of-place or pornographic instead of erotic works in context of the novel, “go for it.”
That’s easier in some genres. For example, no one bats an eyelash when Robyn Peterman Zahn pulls out the “pork swords” in her comedic pirate vampire novels. But if you’re going for moans instead of groans, you’re gonna stick with trails of kisses.