25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene, By Delilah S. Dawson (Author Of Wicked As She Wants)

Some folks are allowed to post guest blogs here. Even fewer of those folks are allowed to take over the coveted Tuesday “25 Things” spot, but here’s Delilah Dawson anyway, with a post I couldn’t refuse if only because of the word “humpalicious” (AND ALSO SHE HAS A GUN HELP PLEASE HELP SEND HELP CALL SOMEBODY CALL ANYBODY). Delilah has a new book out today: Wicked As She Wants. You can find her at her blog or on The Twitters, and you can check out her book at Amazon or B&N or Indiebound. So without further adieu (CALL 911):

I never set out to be a romance writer. When I was asked to turn a black-out scene into steamy hot sex, at first I panicked. Then I followed these 25 easy steps and panicked some more. And then I got a three-book deal for a paranormal romance series with Simon & Schuster, despite being a somewhat prudish Southern girl who’s been married to her college sweetheart since 2002 and has never actually seen a pair of assless chaps. And you can, too! Here’s how.

1. First of all, get drunk.

See? It starts out with something easy. Pick your favorite liquor—the one that makes you loose and happy, not upchucking into a clothes dryer. Get comfortable. Light a candle. Have two drinks. Slide down in your chair. And then gently place your fingertips on the hot, slick… buttons of your keyboard. If you’ve never written a sex scene before, you’re probably going to be either terrified or embarrassed, and both of those emotions are a lot easier to swallow when mixed with vodka.

2. Pop your cherry in private.

So let’s assume you’re drunk and about to start writing words like “pert nipples”. Trust me on this one: you’re going to want to do it alone, not at Starbucks with some little old granny staring over your shoulder as some baby screeches to Jason Mraz in the background. You also don’t want some well-meaning and curious spouse or roommate butting in to ask if you could take out the trash or, even worse, to see how the pornifying is going.

3. Prepare to have hairy palms, but in your brain.

Writing sex is a lot like masturbating. It’s all in your head— what you like, what you think would be hot, what two ideal people would hypothetically do with a hypothetical saddle. And if you can translate that well enough into words, other people will be titillated and foam at the mouth for your books and stick greasy one-spots in your literary g-string. So really put your back into it.

And that’s another reason to do this alone: it can… affect you. In physical ways that can be embarrassing. Your hands might roam as you contemplate the prose, your mouth might fall open, a small moan of “Ooh, Thorin Oakenshield!” might escape you. Did you masturbate for the first time in a public place? If so… wow. Congratulations on not getting arrested, or at least on having a good lawyer. Do this alone.

4. Do not stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred paddles with a riding crop.

Sometimes, as a writer, it can benefit the story to leave a scene half-written, take a break, and come back to it. Not so with sex. What if someone stood up in the middle of your sweat-laced tomfoolery and went away to reblog gender-reversed Batman comics on tumblr? No, if you want it to read like one smooth, seamless experience, just write the damn thing in one heaving burst. You’ll make changes later, but don’t stop writing until the walls would look horrible under a blacklight.

5. Self editing while writing a sex scene is like apologizing during bad sex.

Just as all first drafts are vomit, and just as you need to get this scene hurled out, don’t go back and reread bits and rethink your word choices and how many times you’ve used the word “wet”. You’re going to use it a lot, if the sex is decent. Do not look back while you’re writing it or think about how wretched it is. Of course it’s wretched. It’s the literary equivalent of virgin sex. Just be glad no one’s mom is going to walk down to the basement and catch you on the pool table with your Hammer pants around your ankles.

6. Do not be a body snatcher. Unless it’s some kind of alien porn.

Some books switch back and forth between points of view, but in general, writing sex is far more fluid– HA HA FLUID– if you limit yourself to one character’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Not only does this help the reader keep track of pronouns and hands, but can you imagine having sex if you had to hear every single thought the other person was having? DEAR GOD, THE GROCERY LISTS. And that should go without saying– no grocery lists, even if you’re out of butter. Like Marlon Brando.

7. Consider the lowly Jimmy hat.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a romance book neglects to take into account that most women (and men!) have very strong feelings about whether or not they wish to end up preggers after a sexual encounter. A simple throwaway line about a condom, how glad she is she took her pill, how he’s always wanted a son, or why he has a big red V tattooed across his balls should do it. You are, however, forbidden from using the phrase “the telltale rip of foil”, as 50 Shades has copywritten it.

8. When in doubt, carefully study porn. I mean, read romance. And porn.

If you need inspiration, go read the sex scenes from your favorite romances– or check out Chuck’s post about it, including oodles of recommendations. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Notice how the author builds to it, what the characters say and don’t say, the words and euphemisms and cliches used. Or– best homework ever– have sex. Or watch porn. It’s not great for emotional value, but it can remind you of the very many bizarre ways bodies can meet. As a serious writer, it’s all too easy to get caught up in word count and plot and no adverbing and OMG, is spanking in this week? But at the base of it, we’re talking about a very primal act, and practice makes perfect for doing it *and* writing it.

9. Remember setting, because no one wants splinters in their pudendum.

Another pet peeve: a virgin’s first experience takes place in Earl Humperdink’s hayloft. Sounds sexy, but have you ever been in a hayloft? Dust, dirt, cobwebs, maggots, scorpions, stray cats, tetanus-laced nails, the scent of dysenteric cows, and possibly an entire barn full of zombies. Not sexy. So if you’re putting your characters in a weird place, trespass on someone else’s property and literally roll in the hay to see how very much it pricks your prick. Try having sex on a counter, or kitchen table, or a hammock. At the very least, simulate some moves in the setting and see if you can stay upright/undiseased/free of porcupine quills. If it’s not realistic, your readers will lose trust in you. And your ability to sex.

10. Let shit get cray.

I have no idea what this means. I wrote this list at 2am while on NyQuil. LET SHIT GET CRAY sounded pretty good at the time.

11. Words to avoid, even if they’re true.

Turgid, swollen, purple, wrinkled, tumescent, pert. Those are on my list. You probably have different ones, although I suggest you add “turgid” to it right now. While some words may accurately describe sex or a sex organ, they are not, themselves, sexy. Like moist. Or penis. I mean, it’s just an awful word, and all of you men should be ashamed of having one. Read several romance books and angrily circle the no-no words to refresh your mammary. I mean, memory.

12. How cray does it get?

Oh, wait! Now I remember why I wrote #10. Your first instinct will probably be to keep things very conservative and not let your freak flag fly at all, lest people see what a truly twisted nympho you are. But “John laid Mary gently on the bed and they did it missionary style and it was nice” does not sell 1/1,000,000th as many copies as “Mr. Gray beat a clumsy teenage girl with a garden hose and then stuck it in her armpit with a scoop of pizza sauce to lubricate.” Just as you have to let things get a little out of hand, you have to know when to rein it in. How far it goes will depend on your audience, and only erotica writers can really get freaky with pizza sauce.

13. Double rainbow? Unrealistic as hell, but almost expected.

Count the number of times you and your partner have had simultaneous orgasms. Unless you’re Sting, I won’t have to wait for the tally. It happens 4000 times more in books than it does in real life. But most readers will feel better if everyone gets their happy ending, even if someone has to be finished off in some other way, or one person uses their lack of confetti cannons as character development or a sign of why this relationship with the undead wereunicorn baron… dum dum duuuuuuum! CANNOT BE.

14. Have a cigarette. But a bubblegum one, so you won’t die of the cancer.

So you’ve just written The Best Sex Scene Ever. Time to end the chapter and move on to the real action, right? Wrong. Your story needs a lull, an afterglow, a reaction to the sex just as honest as people have in real life. It doesn’t have to be all cupcakes and rainbows—maybe he storms off, maybe she runs for the shower, maybe they tell Muppet jokes while he offers her a Clorox wipe. But what happens immediately following the sex can be just as important as the sex. It may seem like a small thing, but falling asleep in a lover’s arms (or not) for the first time can be a big deal. Especially if he’s the kind of guy who has a hook for a hand.

15. Just like in real life, avoid eye contact.

Ever notice how sex often makes things even more awkward? It may scratch one itch, but then it works you over like a hungry ferret and leaves you with hundreds of new trouble spots. After sex, the characters will glance away, avoid eye contact, doubt themselves, doubt each other, maybe rethink their involvement. Chances are, one of them feels more secure than the other. At the very least, even if they’re both happy, something in your story must push them apart, or they would just spend three months in bed, humping like rabbits.

16. Keep writing, motherfucker.

Because the story keeps going. Let the new sexual tension and awkwardness play into the story’s climax, but don’t let the entire point of the book be about sex. Most romance novels have a kissing or make-out scene that surprises both characters early on; one very detailed “first sex” scene somewhere between halfway and three-quarters of the way through; and then at least one other, “Oh, okay, we’re good at this; let’s hump HARDER scene” closer to the end. Your mileage/sexytimes meter may vary. But keep writing until it’s done.

17. Bad news: Hemingwway said you have to edit sober.

My writing process = vomit up an entire first draft, leave it to marinate slone in the dark, edit. Which works for sex scenes, as I need to get some distance away from them to really see them with new eyes and clean them the hell up. At the very least, don’t write the sex scene on Monday night and expect to perfect it on Tuesday morning. Go away for a while and let the fetid, bleach-like funk dissipate and harden. Then bring a chainsaw instead of a mop.

18. Don’t forget the granny.

Remember that granny at Starbucks? You can call this one Delilah’s Rule: The dirtier the scene you’re attempting to edit at Starbucks, the older and sweeter the granny that sits beside you. You can’t avoid it. Just be ready to show your aggressive introversion with headphones and slightly cant your laptop to the side. Because granny’s curious. And she probably misread the word “cant” and already thinks you’re a horrible person.

19. Count hands. Find panties. Provide tissues.

The little details can make or break a sex scene, for a reader. Have a clear idea what the characters are wearing before they start to get undressed. Make sure everything—or at least the obstructions– get removed in a sexy fashion. Make sure he takes off his socks and shoes if he gets totally nekkid, because… have you seen porn? Ew. Make sure there aren’t six hands touching that chick if there’s only one dude involved. When I wrote my first sex scene, the hero accidentally removed the heroine’s corset three times, which made me sound like an idiot with a corset fetish. AS IF.

Oh, and if you have one of those scenes where the guy “leaves his sperm” in “her vagina”, she can’t just stand up and slip on a short skirt and play tennis. If you don’t know why, ask your sex ed teacher. Give the girl a shower or a tissue or SOMETHING.

20. Hello, thesaurus. Goodbye, thesaurus.

The first time you edit your sex scene, you’re going to see these words a thousand times: hand, fingers, lick, taste, tongue, thigh, skin, hot, wet. Because… those are very accurate descriptions of the main tools of sex. You’ll want to vary usage so that it reads seamlessly. Be careful of using the thesaurus too much, though, because some words are too accurate and unsexy to work. “He laved her creamy pillows until his penis turned purple” might be true, but dry heaving should not be a reaction to sex scenes. If something stands out to you, rework it. Put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it.

21. Make it a jackhammer.

Remember in Mallrats, where they were doing the dating show, and the suitors were asked if their kisses were like a soft breeze, a firm handshake, or a jackhammer? Gil answered, “Definitely a jackhammer, I’m in there with some pressure and when I’m done, you’re not the same as before. You’re changed.” And we laughed, because he was a douche. But your sex scene should be like that: it should move the story forward and somehow affect the characters emotionally. Maybe the hero learns to open up, maybe the heroine decides she wants to be more aggressive in her real life, maybe they’re just having what they think is a last fling before a giant orc battle. But it has to mean something, or else it’s just porn.

22. Ask someone else to read it and give you their honest opinion, preferably not a clergyman.

This is possibly the scariest part. With my first sex scene, I blushed and handed it to my husband. His response? “That’s hot.” And then I put down the bottle of wine. What works for you might not work for someone else, and you need an outside source you trust to tell you gently if your menage a trois with a penguin is just too much.

23. Edit again. Really. Did you count the hands?

Polish that rocket with a little extra elbow grease. When your regular book is rejected by agents or editors, it hurts like hell. When they softly and gently critique your sex scene, it’s like being kicked in the ‘nads and being told you’re a horrible lover. Do yourself a favor and really make it gleam, first.

24. Buy yourself some pretty new panties, sport.

I’m a big believer in letting shit go, especially things that have served their purpose. If you’ve written the scene, edited it, shared it, cried, accepted the criticism, edited again, and hit the send button? Forget it. Don’t stay up at night, thinking about how there really were four hands and a rogue penguin flipper on her freckled mound. Just put the entire book, story, WHATEVER, right out of your mind and start writing the next thing. Let those raggedy-ass panties with the stretched-out elastic go and buy some frilly ones, possibly in that exciting new “Tonga” style.

25. If anyone complains, do not fling used condoms at them.

Truth? For some reason, I can read bad reviews and nod along and think, “Yeah, okay, I guess I can see that; my entire book is Buffy/Pirates of the Caribbean cross-over fanfic.” But when a review says the sex isn’t hot, cites parts of the sex scenes negatively, or otherwise critiques that hot, steamy pile of lovin’ I concocted? I cringe. And it’s going to happen, every time. As a writer, you must understand that this says as much about the reviewer and their sexual issues as it does about you and your writing issues, and that you therefore—even more than usual—cannot say anything in response or defend yourself intelligently. Just shrug, watch some porn, watch some more porn, and write harder.

Because you know what? Writing sex makes you feel powerful. It’s like lingerie for your brain. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how you dress, how you feel about your body, or how you can dance: if you can write a sex scene, you can turn people on with nothing but words.

And that’s pretty turgid.

161 comments

  • Fun list, and very informative! I’ve written a teeny bit of erotica–a few vignettes, really–but this list is sort of inspiring me to make an actual narrative out of some of the pieces (or maybe all…?).

    Thanks!

  • Oh, Delilah, This was a delightful post to wake up to this morning. I learned some new words and if I am ever of a mind to start writing romance, I’ll know what to read as research. Looking forward to your YA ‘Servants of the Storm’, though.

    • I think it really depends on the story you’re writing. If it’s for a romance market (especially one of the steamier ones), then yes, glossing isn’t the best idea. But the decision to write it as scene versus summary really depends on what it’s doing: does a blow-by-blow account (I’m so sorry) move the story forward and add to it, or are you just conveying the fact that there was a brief pleasant interlude between this drama and that drama? If the latter, I think a short summary is all you need.

      It’s like any other scene-vs-summary decision: if you can convey everything that needs to be said in five words, use five words. If action and dialogue are changing people’s lives moment by moment, write a scene.

  • Are you absolutely sure you aren’t Chuck in drag? Positive? Really, really sure? Not that it matters, ’cause I’ve already humped on over to your site and added you to my reader. Girlfriend (?) you rock. Goin’ to have to read your books. Never thought there was another person with Chuck’s way special humor and voice. This post is getting printed out and highlighted, fer sure.

  • You know that scene in The Bourne Identity, when the one killer-“asset” who has just been shot by Jason Bourne and is lying in the grass beyond the farmhouse turns to Bourne and says, “Look at what they make us do,”? Well, I feel like that now, fellow scribe assets.

  • I am a writer, I read sex books and I like to write them too. You walk around with red rosy cheeks all the time and a smile! Yes, the words-to.avoid pet peeve. I have a good friend who insists that I use the word ‘moist’ at least once in every book.

  • I also find it very helpful to consider acrobatics. Some people’s bodies just can’t go into certain physical positions even though it may sound damn good on paper (unless you’re double jointed). It helps to “try it out” first to see if it doesn’t defy the laws of physics. There have been a few embarrassing moments of –ahem — “research” but it was worth it in the end. I’ve read a few scenes in other books where I’ve tilted my head, scratched my scalp, and said, “now how does that work, exactly?”.

  • Thank you for including #9. Every once in a while there’s a sex scene in a book or movie that jars me due to either the feasibility of the setting or the lack of reality in the aftermath. Having hours worth of sex on a spotless, unpopulated yet gorgeous beach while the tide is coming in sounds nice, but reality isn’t quite that convenient.

    As for the hayloft thing, well, I won’t go into details, but even handling hay will get you covered in the stuff – even more so when any body parts happen to become wet and come in contact with it. It isn’t soft or fluffy either, something which sinks in fairly quickly after the adrenaline wears off…

  • This is so effing fantastic! Thanks for taking the time to “lay” all of this out for us. I’m branching out from YA and New Adult and writing my first adult novella series and the sex has been my biggest challenge (which is so surprising!) considering I’ve never been in kick-ass fight-tll-the-death battles before, which are vividly detailed in my books. But I…ahem…have had sex and yet words seem to fail me when attempting to get hot-n-heavy with my fingers….on my key board. Thanks again.

  • Fun post. 🙂

    I really didn’t ever expect to become a romance writer either. I’m not sure how my younger self would react to the fact that I’m writing steamy sex fiction. That was a goal that wasn’t even a glimmer of a thought back then. But hey, life is crazy sometimes. I’ve recently been picked up for a sci-fi romance novella under the name D.J. Davis and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

    I think I’ve broken a couple of these. It was my well-meaning spouse who got me into writing romance in the first place, so she can look over my shoulder whenever she wants. When I’m done writing a book, I’ll read it aloud to her. The reaction usually speaks for itself. And all of my scenes have been rigorously tested for authenticity. 😉

    Number 3’s sort of an important one. I’m a visual thinker. I think in full color movie quality.

    And thanks for number 24. Never thought about it, but I might just look good in some new frilly panties. Errr…nope…the visual just hit me…no…forget that one…No, really. You may need to drink more to forget. Where’s my vodka?

  • I’m still struggling with exactly what words to use since almost all of them sound cliche and silly to me. This is an awesome post, and totally true. My first sex scene I had to write alone and even then I blushed all kinds of crimson. I had to keep repeating to myself “I’m an adult, I’m allowed to have sex. I’m allowed to talk about sex because I’m an adult.” And then I had to ignore the fact that my mother would read it. *blush*

  • Ha! Loved this list.

    I’d add, if you aren’t hot and bothered yourself by the time you finish that sex scene you’ve done something wrong and your readers won’t be either.

  • LOL Love it. 🙂 I have one to add for my fellow female writers. If you are like me and leave writing sex scenes for the very end, try to time it so it’s not “that time” of the month when you write them. Otherwise, you end up wanting to let the heroine rip the hero’s head off. Which isn’t good…unless of course she’s a praying mantis shifter. In that case, then, carry on. LOL

  • Thank you so much for this. Always been too nervous to try my hand (ha) at writing sex scenes. This helped me think that I could write one after all

  • Thanks to #6, I am now imagining having sex where I have to hear every single thought the other person is having. This may become a story.

  • April 30, 2013 at 10:33 AM // Reply

    I don’t write sex scene, and don’t expect to. But if I ever need to, I’ll know what where to come for advice! And it was fun reading this!

  • Turgid. I feel like that is going to be an ear worm in my writing brain today.

    Excellent boots-on-the-ground advice here. Or maybe that’s panties-on-the-ground advice?

  • It’s funny, I once had a student who wrote a story that involved hayloft sex. My wife, who grew up on a farm, made a face and said “They’ve obviously never been to one before” and recommended that the student see how sexy it was to jab and rake a bristle broom across their exposed skin repeatedly. I put it more politely, but the point was the same.

  • Hilarious. Accurate. Thank you for putting such good advice all in one place! When writers worry aloud that what they write might be presumed to be something they’ve actually done I always say, “So? You did it in your head. Just remind them that you did it for the readers. It was all in service of the readers. And smile. If you’re a femme, flutter your eyelashes a little.”

  • OMG this made me simultaneously laugh myself breathless AND scream “Get outta my head, creepy-sex-writing person!” (Do not try this at home. It hurts, especially with coffee involved.) *Immediately buys seventeen copies of creepy-sex-writing person’s book* *shifty eyes*

  • I’m in ur head, making u buy teh sexxors books. 🙂 Seriously, though, y’all, I’m so glad you dug it. Isn’t Chuck the best? AROUND OF APPLAUSE AND A JUG OF MOONSHINE FOR CHERK!

  • Delilah, you rock! The scene with Criminy & Letitia in the submarine is one of my top three. Who know a lowly door – with one character on either side of it – could be SO HOT. Cannot wait to see what you and Casper get up to.
    Oh, and this post? Brilliant.

    • “Criminy & Letitia in the submarine”. This piques my curiosity. which book is that?

      Delilah: thanks for this post. I don’t write full-on sex scenes, but I have written some mild erotica. If I ever go all out, I’ll definitely keep these rules in mind.

  • LOVE this post! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read about a heroine’s ‘dripping pussy’ and I’ve just cringed. Put. It. Away. And it’s like sex on the sand – seriously? And sex on a work-top in the kitchen, I’ve done it too (I mean my protags have). And if a man has ‘touched’ a woman in her ‘secret places’ then all I’m thinking about is when is he going to wash his hands? It’s not easy, is it?

    Did I say I LOVE this post?

  • Delilah,
    What great advice for writing sex scenes. I don’t do getting drunk, but maybe a hot fudge sundae might encourage me to get a little wild. {Wouldn’t you know I love to cook and eat.) Carolyn Rae Williamson, Carolyn Rae Author at Facebook, and Carolyn Rae.com

  • I write erotica full-time…I’ve got Post-It notes with stick figure all over my desk, just so I can keep the descriptions of positions accurate. In one of my first scenes had the participants back to back…which, to my understanding, doesn’t really work.

1 2 3

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds