How to Write a Good
Sex Scene


Pretend your parents don’t exist.

This is necessary because: (a) thinking about them potentially reading your scene will censor you and (b) if you fail at this step, images may pop into your mind that you will have to etch away by soaking your brain in lye.

Pretend nobody else exists either.

Nobody is ever going to read this. You are free to get as raunchy as you want.

Seriously, pretend NOBODY exists, not even you.

You are no longer in possession of your body. What’s the one thing you will miss the most about having a body? That’s right. Hot lovin’. You are now in the appropriate space of unbridled yearning from which to write.

Mine your hottest memories.

Also your fantasies — what’s the one nasty thing you wish you had gotten to do before you were unceremoniously yanked out of your body? Focus on sensory detail rather than emotions or clichés. For instance, I once had a lover who told me my juices smelled of cedar. I thought he was just being poetic until one day I was having lunch in a café by myself and I kept catching whiffs of a scent that reminded me of a little wooden flute I played as a kid I loved the smell of. The little flute was a reddish color: it was made of cedar. That made me remember that I had touched myself that morning so I sniffed my fingers and was like, Oh my God, he’s totally right! My muff smells like cedar! That’s the sort of thing you should use in a story, and as a matter of fact — why haven’t I used this yet? Expect it in my next novel.

Use the right, strong words for body parts.

Think about whether your narrative voice would use the word “pussy” or “cunt,” but stay away from “womanhood” or “ladyflower” or whatever. Unless you intend to be hilarious — hilarious is legit in certain instances.

There is nothing wrong with a tasteful fadeout before the sex happens if you can’t deal with naughty words.

It is much less irritating than overly metaphorical language that will make your reader go, Wait, did they actually fuck, or did they swim in a turbulent ocean, or did they go to some cheesy poetry slam, OR WHAT?

Know when to stop.

You don’t need a blow by blow of every move for the entire afternoon your protagonists got it on. End the graphic lovin’ at a place where you still want a little more. Leave the scene at a salient moment that tells you something important about the characters, and let that revelation be the last thing that soaks in.

Now go smoke a cigarette; take a nap; have a sandwich; have some lovey talk with your spouse — anything you do after actual sex is good.

Avoid writing something else directly after. Give the sex some space. Wait as long as possible before you revise, to let the words cool down. That way you can see if they have the intended effect when you’re no longer all feverish.

You’re welcome.


Elena Mauli Shapiro is the author of the novels In The Red and 13 Rue Thérèse.