Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Um...Sex... Yep. Writing about sex...

Oh, it is that subject.  :-)  Well, the title caught your eye, and you are here reading this--which attests to the draw of the subject.  First, let me say that this is not an advice column on the subject. It is simply a short history of my own experience wrangling with writing sex.  Many of my readers are not writers, and thus, have probably never given a thought to what goes into writing about sex...or the process by which we come to it.

Okay, I am smiling as I recall while writing my  first book (still sitting in a file on my computer)  how I dodged the whole issue of sex scenes until I could no longer avoid it.  Did I just write "issue"?  Well, it was an issue.  I had no idea how to do it. And the longer I waited, the more complicated it became.

I was tempted to just leave it out...but, not only would that have turned the story into a veritable treatise on inter-galactic politics and intolerance, but it would have starred a prudish protagonist who may as well have worn a habit...  A habit, I say?  Now there might be a clue.  Writing about sex. I dunno...I was raised Catholic... I can't do that--there must be a special place in hell for people who do that. Sister Mary-slap-my-hands-with-a-ruler would stand beside St Peter and point the way--ruler outstretched, pointing down
So, I bumbled along, at least that is what it felt like, avoiding those parts of the story.  My mom, bless her heart, read the book in sections as I wrote them, while cheering me on.  And I finally wrote my first draft of a scene where the protagonist and her love interest crawl under the covers together.  Let me tell you, it was hot!

And, I reached a conclusion that it is an art writing sex that is something other than funny, because when you write it as you think it--especially if you have an analytical mind, it is sort of...well...you know, funny.

Oy! In retrospect, it was akin to a how-to manual.

Sue, a former supervisor at work, read it as well.  The plot thickened. No, not the plot of the book, but what followed after Sue read my fledgling sex scene--along with the rest of the book.

She commented to me that she saw a lot of me in the protagonist, I was dismayed. I had not written about me, she didn't look like me, she was 30 years younger than me! How could Sue see me in this woman?  The introspection began.

I discovered after much thought, and an objective look at my protagonist, that there were some pretty obvious similarities in philosophy. Well, I forgave myself after the realization. I was new to this, and in truth--for any of you who don't write, every character I write is, in at least some small way--part of me. I can't help it; it is the well from which I draw.  Oh, there are tons of other people I have met along the path of life whom I have infused into my characters.  But still, my fictional creations can't help but occasionally speak with my voice, whether in anger, dismay, or love.

Then it was like a bolt of lightning hit me.  Dread...well, if it is me that readers see in this book, oh my God!  People will think, I mean...they will get an image of me and my husband...oh my God, my mom read this! And someday my children will read it! Oh...my children, I mean, yes, humans are sexual animals...everyone but our parents and our children, that is!

It was a horrific moment for me. What had been a struggle before suddenly became an impasse of humongous proportions. I was not going to write about sex when someone I knew would read it and think, she does that??? Or, wow, gives a person a whole new view on the room-mother who bakes cookies for the class. 

Back  to the drawing board. I tried to go to just alluding to the sex in the book. Sue read it and then told me that I had built up all of this great sexual tension...and then...nothing. <I am laughing as I write this>  The scene just fizzled.

At that time, I was beginning my fledgling attempt to establish a blog,  and found the blogosphere to be a very cool place, a friendly place, and a useful place.   I began to post short essays about my life, what occupied my time, and yes, finally a mention about my travails writing sex scenes.  And then, Eureka!  < --I know, an expression associated with a man running naked down the street--I have come so far in what I am capable of writing>

A blogging friend, Kate Dow,  read the post lamenting my shortcomings on sex scenes--writing them that is.  And she commented back to me that Erotica is writing the physical description.  What I needed to do was to write the emotions associated with the moment, the act, the scene. "Stick to the emotions."

<huge sigh>  What a relief!  This whole writing sex thing...so unavoidable, so complicated...and so much easier after Kate's simple explanation.

So, I can do it now, and I have avoided the dreaded ruler pointing me toward the most direct route to hell-- for writing sinful scenes.  Just kidding about the straight to hell stuff, guys.  I have befriended people who write children's books and people who write erotica. I have great respect for both; each requires its own special niche talent.  I have simply chosen to develop my talent somewhere in between them.

So, there you have it...my experience with learning the ropes about, coming to terms with, and finding my comfort zone when writing sex.

Question... as you finish this...should the title have been, "Writing about writing about sex?"  ;-)

Please. leave me a comment.  I learn so much when others share their thoughts.  If you have never written, have you ever given a thought to what goes into writing a sex scene?  And if you write, how do you approach writing sex into your story?


  1. Well... I seem to be the first to react so... here it goes.

    The trouble about writing sex is twofold: 1. the writer is being held back from writing from (false) feelings of being ashamed of it and 2. the need to let your readers understand what's going on.

    When the writer 'beats around the bush a lot' the reader will loose interest and put the book away, disappointed. When you are to open about things the reader might get offended. It's a thin line the writer has to walk on.

    I would simplify things. If someone does not want to read what you're writing they CAN put the book away. It's like tv... You don't have to read, one can always change channels. Describing 'the act' of sex should be done like describing a piece of art. There's no need for using profane words. Emotions, describe them. And - trust me - the story you want to tell will find it's way to the readers' mind.

    I can even feel you thought about writing this blog entry for a really long time. Words are strong. Just write them as you think.

    On a lighter note: Avoid words like 'love rocket' and 'moist caves'. :)

    // Jan

  2. Hi Jan :-) Yes, you are the first :-) A lot of wisdom in your words. Thanks for sharing them. It has been a pretty funny learning experience for me. At least when I look back on it. I think the biggest thing I had to learn was to just get over myself. And this may be because in the USA we are predisposed toward such sexual inhibitions--especially in public, and the nuns at my Catholic school did a great and thorough job of beating into my mind the connection between sin and sex. :-) I guess that I had to get over them too :-)

  3. Oh Teresa, how far we have come from being little Catholic country bumpkins! I was so amused reading this because I could visualize your telling of this and the process that you had to go through to overcome our "background". I stopped writing years ago because of the "legal" troubles it caused even as a "non-writer". (the letter that was not suppose to be sent) People have often told me I should write a book about my life....and my standard answer is "NOT WHILE MOM AND DAD ARE ALIVE"! Sometimes my well-hidden prudishness surfaces and I have to bury it so I laughed considering your question about my writing an actual sex scene. My kids talked to me about sex,(mostly to shock mom and prove they were adults)but they do not appreciate the shock factor in reverse. (haha) I digress....I will give you a standing ovation for your struggles and accomplishment. Brave little Catholic mom and grandma.....I guess we all have to face the hard fact that none of us were immaculately conceived except for one, depending on your belief system. Kudos, my friend and I just love reading you. (hugs)

  4. My most profound experience here:

    "Git'na truck Woman!"


  5. Hi Marsy, yes, hard to walk away from the Catholic dogma so firmly planted in our minds at such a young age :-) I DO think that you should write a book, but I also understand that the timing of such an adventure has to be when you are comfortable baring your life and your soul. :-) Thank you, dear girl, for the standing ovation--I am humbled :-)

  6. Hello, anonymous...thanks for the read. You know, someday, sometime...in some future book, that expression will find a home... :-) Ha! "Git'na truck Woman!" :-)

  7. Teresa, I never entertained the idea of writing about sex for many reasons. First, I am not a published writer yet as I haven't written a book for now although I am thinking about it. Secondly, I personally will try to avoid it descriptively because the experience of sex is very personal ie What I feel may not be successfully described and exciting enough for the reader to read. I may stick to hinting at a love scene/sex scene and then let the reader conjure up an image/scene as they deem fit.

  8. HI Marjaan :-) It is a hurdle to cross...and when you are in the middle of writing it, it is a puzzle...how much to include? Will it offend? I think it does come down to needing to be treated the same way profanity in writing is treated. Know your audience. Probably easier for established authors. Up and comers (like us) risk turning off readers. Might not be enough for some...and too much for others. Once we find who we are as writers, our own comfort level, I reckon it is important to stay true to your style and voice...at least if you stick with the same genre and the same pen name :-) Thanks for stopping by to read :-)

  9. Loved your post and your blog. Thanks for visiting and commenting and following my blog. Melissa has been great in communicating and I was so excited to read and review her books for that reason. The second will be posted on Friday. I am following here and I shared your blog on My Life. facebook page. Donna

  10. Thanks for this post...wow, did it bring back memories. I also put off that first scene, and when I finally did write it, I think my face was burning red all day! And when I finally gave a copy to my mom and dad, I covered the sexy parts with post-its! (lol).
    Anyway, I identified with your friends comment about the emotions, they have to be there or it's just porn...not that there's anything wrong with that! :)

  11. Oh, Teresa, you are killing me! Some years ago, when I lived in Wellesley, MA, I was in a bookgroup that we kept going for about 20 years (still going on!). My friend, Barbara Delinsky, was and is a member of the group, and I used to tease her about being the Goddess of Love because of her hot sex scenes in her early books. We would ask her where she came up with these things! :P Her answer was great: "They're in my imagination." That's the wonderful thing about authors. The creative mind...albeit sometimes roaming in the marshlands of yet untravelled routes, the author is compelled by her story to report the humanity of her characters.
    I'm frankly not at home with explicit sex scenes in novels. But, I enjoy the emotions expressed in historical romance, as well as general fiction. In a world that has corrupted sex and love; I find some sex scenes in books today a huge turn off. It takes a gifted writer to learn what is erotic and what is just gratuitous sex placed to drum up readers wanting light pornography couched in an acceptable cover.
    My hub is a writer and he can come up with some sex scenes in his books! Whew! But, I like that he knows how to leave alot to the imagination...

    Great blog entry, T.


  12. Wow...I'm catching up on your blog and have to smile at this one! I remember writing my first "sex" scene very well. I don't know what this says about me, but I found it to be perhaps one of the easiest subjects to write about. I wrote "outside" of myself. I didn't censor the words as I typed or allow my own feelings to emerge, but simply focused on the couple and the deep soul level connection and binding love they shared. It was such a deep soul moment that the writing ended with a tear sliding down the man's face. To this day, it is perhaps some of my best writing and I'm very proud of it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Great post, Teresa!

  13. I am so ashamed that these commets got past me without a response!

    Donna, thank you so much for the read, the share, and the follow. I loved Melissa's book!

    Deborah, "It takes a gifted writer to learn what is erotic and what is just gratuitous sex placed to drum up readers wanting light pornography couched in an acceptable cover." So true... it is a fine line in many cases. I love that your hubby can write "Whew!" scenes...imagination is a wonderful thing :-)Thanks for taking the time to read, and apologies for taking so long to respond.

    Dianna, your first sex scene--was this in a story or a book? It sounds amazing. To have the characters reach such a deeply emotional level has to have had readers reaching the same level. Perfection in writing... :-) Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

  14. Hi Teresa...it was a scene in Chapter 4 of the book I started many years ago entitled "Dragons at Dawn" about a woman fighting her emotional dragons.

    It is an unfinished work and here is why. The man in the book was my imagined "guy of my dreams" kind of man. Within a year of beginning the book...I met the man of MY dreams. One day I went back to writing the book and started reading from the beginning. Much to my surprise...my imagined man literally turned out to be my real life man! Down to the very smallest detail!

    What I wrote literally came to be (in that instance). TOTALLY unsure of how to finish writing that book now. lol

  15. Diana, Very neat story...lol, and yes, how do you finish writing that book now?

    It is incredible revisiting a book I have not read in quite some time. I have read that it is quite effective as a tool for editing--to leave a manuscript be for a while. :-)

    I do hope that you get back to it, sometime... :-)

  16. JT, too funny! I never gave a thought to just editing out the sex before I gave it to my mom to read. Lol...or I could have used Post-its, like you did! Amazing how practice makes us so much better at what we do, whether it is doing aseptic work in a lab, gardening, or writing--just for examples. And writing sex--figuring out our comfort zones, come with practice as well :-) Did your parents comment on it?? :-)