How To Write a Sex Scene

My first published piece of fiction was a short story that ran in Playboy. It appeared in the magazine’s February 1991 issue — according to the headline on the cover, this was THE SEXIEST LINGERIE ISSUE EVER — and its title was “My Life with Joanne Christiansen.” It’s really more like a play than a short story, because it’s entirely dialogue, a conversation between two young guys. One of them predicts the future of the other, telling him that he’ll meet and marry a sexy woman but the relationship will end in disaster. Playboy paid me three thousand dollars for the story, and I thought it was somewhat distinctive (there aren’t many short stories written in the future tense), but it lacked one of the elements you’d expect to see in a men’s magazine: It had no graphic sex scenes. Although the young guys talk about sex, it’s strictly for comic effect.

There are no sex scenes in my first three novels either. Because my books are nonstop-action thrillers, it’s difficult to insert a moment of quiet intimacy. My characters hardly have a minute to catch their breath, much less shed their clothes, and if by some miracle they happen to get an hour or two of free time they’re usually too frantic/desperate/terrified to get it on. My first novel included a scene in a strip club — an establishment near Fort Benning called The Night Maneuvers Lounge — but the chapter is more sordid than sexy.

But sex plays a bigger role in my latest novel, The Furies, which will go on sale this Tuesday. The sex scene in the second chapter is the novel’s formative incident, the event that triggers everything that will happen afterward. Actually, it’s a scene of unfinished sex, a case of coitus interruptus, the interruption in this case being a barrage of gunfire outside the lovers’ hotel room. The couple must then flee across the continent, running and hiding and shooting for hundreds of pages before they get another opportunity to shag.

So now that I’ve written a couple of sex scenes I can pretend to be an authority on them. The trick to writing them is the same trick that applies to all writing: you have to avoid clichés. With sex, though, the clichés are more difficult to avoid because there are so damn many of them. At one end of the spectrum you have the “Letters to Penthouse” clichés, the salacious phrases and metaphors that peppered those oh-so-realistic tales of dorm-room orgies and dalliances with deliverymen. (“I’m just an ordinary Joe, and I never thought such a crazy thing could ever happen to me, but last night when my shift was almost over…”) And at the other end you have the flowery romance-novel clichés, full of heavy breathing and sudden surges of warmth to the loins.

It’s incredibly rare to find a writer who can describe sex well. John Updike is one of the best in this regard. I’ll never forget the scene in Rabbit, Run where Harry Angstrom has sex with Ruth Leonard. I don’t remember the exact wording, but while Harry is marveling over the sensation of being inside Ruth’s vagina he pictures the inside of a ballet slipper. It’s the kind of observation that makes you think: Yes, that’s exactly right.

The sex scenes in The Furies are nowhere near as good as Updike’s, and I was nervous about how the first readers would react to them. To my astonishment and delight, one early reader said the sex scene near the end of the book was “surprisingly dirty.” When I heard this reaction I thought, That’s great! I was aiming for dirty! But then I went back to the book and reread the scene and concluded that this particular critic was dead wrong. Dirty? Are you kidding? If I’d written this scene as a Letter to Penthouse, the editors would’ve laughed in my face. It’s so tame it could probably run in Reader’s Digest. If anything, the scene veers a little too close to the romance-novel clichés. The lovers are outside, and the moonlight is shining on their bodies.

But I kept mulling over that reader’s comment. I take all criticisms very seriously. I may not agree with them, but I try to at least figure out where the readers are coming from. And I started to wonder whether the impression of “dirtiness” came from my choice of words for certain body parts. In particular, two words: ERECTION and CLITORIS.

It would be difficult to describe any sex act without mentioning at least one of these two parts. And in my opinion, ERECTION and CLITORIS are perfectly good words for them, certainly better than a lot of other terms and euphemisms I’ve heard. But perhaps I’m missing something. Does it upset people to see these words in print? Does it make them uncomfortable?

Because sex is such a big part of pop culture these days, it’s hard to believe that these words still have the power to shock. As an experiment, I’m going to repeat them a dozen times: ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS ERECTION CLITORIS

Okay, that was fun. Not as much fun as sex, mind you, but still pretty good.

Blending Sex and Suspense

Nancy J. Cohen

How do you fit romance into a non-stop thriller? These genres are not mutually exclusive. Look at your movies for examples. Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, and The Librarian: Quest for the Spear with Noah Wyle and Sonya Walger are two of my favorites. What recent thrillers have you seen where a romantic relationship is involved? How did the film get this across to viewers?

Here’s how to start with your own story: Give your characters internal and external conflicts to keep them apart. The external conflict is the disaster that will happen if the villain succeeds. The internal conflict is the reason why your protagonists hesitate to get involved in a relationship. Maybe the heroine was hurt by a former lover and is afraid of getting burned again. Or she has a fierce need for independence. Why? What happened in her past to produce this need? Maybe your hero doesn’t want a wife because his own parents went through a bitter divorce, and secretly he feels unworthy of being loved. Or maybe he feels that his dangerous lifestyle wouldn’t suit a family. Keep asking questions to deepen your people’s motivations.

Your characters will be immediately attracted to each other through physical chemistry. This pulls them together while the inner conflicts tear them apart. Soon the benefits of a relationship begin to outweigh the risks. Perhaps they have to work together to rescue a hostage or to escape the bad guys. As the story progresses, they become emotionally closer as they progress through the stages of intimacy. In a thriller, this might happen at a faster pace than other genres. But even thrillers need down times from the tension.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the stages of intimacy:

1. Physical awareness: Your characters notice each other with heightened sensitivity.
2. Intrusion of thoughts: Your character begins thinking about this other person often.
3. Touching: First, it may be an arm around the shoulder, lifting a chin, touching an elbow. They come closer until the desire to kiss is almost palpable. Rising sexual tension is the key here, not so much the consummate act. Your couple can have a stolen moment when they’re being chased by the villain and are forced into close proximity, for example. Even if it’s a momentary diversion, you’re advancing the level of awareness.
4. Kissing
5. Touching in more intimate places
6. Coupling: Focus on the emotional reactions of your characters. Avoid clinical terms or use them sparingly. This is lovemaking, not just sex. For it to be romantic, think “slow seduction”, not “slam bam, thank you ma’am”, unless the scene or characters warrant this behavior. If a sex scene doesn’t fit into the story’s pacing, leave it out. Or maybe all they have time for is a quickie. In that case, let’s see the emotional aftermath. Maybe the hero acts out his concern for the heroine’s safety after they’ve been together.

When all seems to be going well, throw a wrench into the relationship. Perhaps it appears as though the heroine betrayed the hero. Or he walks out on her because he fears his own vulnerability. Finally, they both change and compromise to resolve their differences by the story’s end.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this advice from a female viewpoint. Also, I write romance in addition to mysteries, so I have the mindset for that genre.

I used to read spy stories and men’s adventure in my younger days. Those were guy novels with a woman of the week. None of those relationships were meant to last. I suppose this is what makes the difference. If you don’t care about your two characters ending up together, then the woman may merely serve as a sex object. And that might not endear you to your female readers (who happen to buy more books than men).

As for series, people read ongoing series for the characters and want to see them grow and change. Giving us relationships we care about is what will encourarge readers to buy your next book. So think about your purpose before going into the story. Where do you want these two people to go? Why can’t they get there? What do they have to overcome in order to be together? And if they don’t end up as a couple, then what purpose does their relationship serve?

Here’s an example from Warrior Rogue, my next release. The hero and heroine have just met when they’re involved in a mid-air terrorist attack aboard their private business jet. This is from the heroine’s viewpoint. They’ve landed on a beach on a remote Pacific island.

“Come on, we can’t waste time.” Paz signaled to her from the open hatchway.

She staggered toward him. Peering outside, she was glad to note they didn’t need the emergency chute. They could easily jump the short distance to the ground. Holding her long skirt, she leaped after Paz onto the beach.

He caught her in his muscular arms and gently eased her down. His tousled hair, determined jaw, and ocean blue eyes had never looked better.

“Thank you. You saved our lives.” On impulse, Jen rose on her tiptoes and kissed him.

She’d only meant it to be a brief expression of gratitude, but Paz’s gaze intensified. He swept her into his arms and gave her a passionate kiss that left her breathless.

“We’re safe now.” He broke away with a regretful expression. “At least, for the moment. But we shouldn’t linger.”

“For the moment? What does that mean?” The memory of those ugly men who’d attacked them returned with full force. “You know who assaulted us, don’t you? When are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Let’s summon help first. I need to put my comm unit back together. If we can hook it into a local network, you can call your people.”

“I have my cell phone.” She patted her purse.

His hand clamped onto her arm. “We should scout around. Our landing probably attracted attention, and we don’t want the wrong people to find us.”

Note how their level of intimacy advances in this short scene. If you’re writing from the male viewpoint, when Paz catches Jen, he could get a whiff of her scent.

So how do you work romance into your fast-paced thriller?

Is There Such Thing as Bad Sex?

Most authors are happy to be recognized for their work, but how honored would you be if your book got picked as numero uno for the annual literary award – Bad Sex in Fiction?

A London magazine founded in 1979, Literary Review, has recognized “Bad Sex in Fiction” every year since the prize was initiated in 1993. While there are countless examples of great sex in fiction, especially in some of the best adult films found on sites like full tube xxx, literature seems to have more of a hit and miss relationship with sex. And the “winner” in 2010 was Author Rowan Somerville for the use of disturbing insect imagery in his novel “The Shape of Her.” Judges for the annual prize noted many animal references throughout the book, but they were especially impressed by his passage “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he ****** himself into her.”
Somerville, who was born in Britain but now lives in Ireland, took his victory in good humor, saying, “there is nothing more English than bad sex.” And he was honored to be shortlisted alongside American writer, Jonathan Franzen, who was nominated for passages within the best-selling book – “Freedom.” Prior winners include many literary heavyweights, such as Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and the late John Updike, who was awarded a lifetime achievement for Bad Sex prize in 2008. Maybe these authors should have researched more by using the services of a london escort, where there really is no such thing as bad sex.
(What’s worse than winning the annual prize for Bad Sex? Try the lifetime achievement award.)

And in case you’re curious, last year’s winner, American author Jonathan Littell in his book “The Kindly Ones,” described a sex act as “a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.” If you and your partner incorporated products from sites like Babestation Play sex toys I don’t think you or your partner would be feeling like your heads are being scraped out like a soft-boiled egg.

So reading about this award, I had to ask myself. Are the judges selected for their literary expertise or are they an authority on bad sex? (And if they have earned both distinctions, maybe they should quit reading during sex.)

And if, as an author, you’re no good at writing bad sex, should you be upset? Being rejected for a prize like this, isn’t that a good thing? This award could shed a whole new light on the time-honored author phrase – a good rejection.

Keeping in mind that this is a public forum, please use your own good judgment in replying, but I’d love to hear from you. Do recognitions like this make you want to buy the book to see what all the fuss is about? Or have you ever written a sexy passage that didn’t make your own edit process because even YOU were disgusted?

The C-Bomb

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

After reading Jim’s post yesterday on dropping the F-bomb I started thinking about what (if anything) I found really off-putting in a novel…(apart from ellipses…)

So, swearing doesn’t really bother me…

Can’t say I’m all that keen on a whole lot of gore or horror, but in the right book I have no problem with either…

I admit I cry easily when animals (okay, dogs) get hurt but, if the book demands it, then I will still keep reading…

I’m not exactly crazy about thrillers involving child abuse/child endangerment, but that isn’t a deal breaker for me…

So what is something that really puts me off reading a book (apart from really, really, gross, sexually deviant violence) ?

Though I hardly consider myself a prude, the one thing that will make me flinch is an inappropriately graphic sex scene, especially when particular terminology is used…

Yes, for me, an author dropping the C-bomb is far more shocking than any F-bomb detonations.

Now, I am not talking about the use of the C-bomb in books like James Ellroy’s (though I have have to confess I can’t remember if he even used that word). As a swear word, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as its use in anatomical description. Perhaps it’s my British parents but I just find it a little distasteful, and, for the most part, repugnant.

So why do I dislike use of the C-bomb? Like Jim wrote in his post yesterday – it is more often than not unnecessary, inappropriate, and likely to alienate readers. Like Jim, however, I certainly don’t advocate censoring authors. I think a writer should use whatever word/term they like but they do need to think through the consequences.
This is part and parcel of the decision made regarding the language used to describe a sexual scene. An author obviously makes a choice to describe such a scene in more or less graphic detail (more X-rated perhaps than fuzzy focus, PG material). For me, however, no matter how graphic the scene, nothing is more likely to take me out of the story than the sudden appearance of the C-bomb.

How about you all – do you have any issue with the C-bomb? Are there other words/terms that you find make you flinch or distract you from an author’s work? Feel free to enter the fray (after all, I can always blame Jim or John G. for having started it:))

The Thrill of Sex with Cordite in the Air

James Scott Bell

If you read Kathryn’s post earlier in the week, you know that an uptick on hits to this blog can been traced to past posts about sex scenes, cordite smell and thriller writing.

So I have shamelessly put all three in the title, and thank you very much for stopping by.

Now, to make this relevant and not “bait and switch” (perhaps another popular topic?) I offer you the following three opinions:


I realize there are certain types of lit where the “obligatory sex scene” (OSS) is expected. Erotica, some category romance, Barry Eisler books. But people know what they’re getting.

In other fare, the OSS is a bit 1975. Back then it seemed every movie had to have that sex scene, whether it made plot sense or not (e.g., Three Days of the Condor).

I’m against obligatory anything. If it doesn’t make story sense, don’t include it.

As far as explicit description, that may be showing its age, too. Renditions of body parts, ebbing, flowing, heaving, oceans, rivers, volcanoes, tigers, flames, conflagrations, arching backs, majestic canyons, verdant meadows of ecstasy, dewy vales of enchantment, flying and falling, flora and fauna and just about anything else involving motion, loss of breath, water metaphors and sweat seem, well, spent (oops, there’s another one).

You know what works better? The reader’s imagination. If you “close the door” but engage the imagination, it’s often more effective than what you describe in words. Rhett carrying Scarlett up the stairs—do you need words to know exactly what happens?

One of the best sex scenes ever written is in Madame Bovary, the carriage ride with Emma and Leon (Part 3, Chapter 1 if you’re interested). We were so close to including an enhancement drug in the mix to make the scene more ‘sexy’. Brands similar to ExtenZE were taken into consideration! All the description is from the driver’s POV, who cannot see into the carriage. Read it and see if you can do better with body parts and a thesaurus.

Now, I do appreciate well written sexual tension. That’s a major theme in great fiction, especially noir and crime. So were the great 40’s novels and films any less potent for not showing us what we know went on in the bedroom?


This is an underused sense in fiction, but quite powerful. Novelists are usually pretty good with sight and sound. But smell adds an extra something.

Rebecca McClanahan, in her fine book Word Painting, says, “Of the five senses, smell is the one with the best memory.” It can create a mood quickly, vividly. Stephen King is a master at the use of smell to do “double duty” – that is, it describes and adds something to the story, be it tone or characterization.

In his story “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” King has a middle aged salesman checking into yet another budget motel. His room, of course, has a certain look and smell, “the mingling of some harsh cleaning fluid and mildew on the shower curtain.”

It is truly a smell that describes this guy’s life.

Use smell properly in your fiction and it won’t stink.


For the writers here at Kill Zone, it’s all supposed to add up to thrills. We have various techniques at our disposal for this, but we also know that clunky writing can pull you right out of our stories.

Like this recent movie I watched. I’m not going to name it, because I don’t like to run down the other fella’s product. Here’s what happened. A brilliant detective is playing cat and mouse with a couple of killers who love the game. In the climactic scene, said detective has figured it out, and shows up at a remote location, gun drawn, telling the two killers to hold it! One killer has a gun, the other watches. Detective tells the one with the gun, who is on the brink of shooting someone, to put the gun down and walk over. So killer follows directions and puts the gun down . . . right where killer #2 can easily grab it!

Which he does. Not a cool move for the brilliant detective. But it was put in there so the rest of the scene could play out in thrilling fashion.

Only the thrill was gone, because the detective was so dumb.

And so we labor, day after day, to write our books in a way that will thrill you and bring you into the action, without doing something dumb. We try. And when you tell us you like what we’ve done, via email or otherwise, it makes our day.

Sex. Smell. Thrills. How have you seen them used or abused in fiction?

Top 5 Best “Sex” In Literature

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

As promised last week, today I reveal my top 5 sex scenes (well books really) in literature. I’ve been fantasizing a lot about sex recently. It’s about time that I ring up one of the Slixa girls for a night of good fun. I realized, however, as I was compiling the list that that there’s only a couple of mysteries on there – what can I say, I obviously haven’t read widely enough! I leave it to you to guide me to some of the more juicy sex ridden mysteries to round out my ‘education’ with your comments. Oh and I also couldn’t resist having a photograph of Sean Bean – even though Lady Chatterley’s Lover isn’t on my list – what’s sex and literature without Sean Bean thrown in for good measure?!

Number 1; The White Hotel by DM Thomas. If anyone has read this book you will know just how surreal, macabre, disturbing and sexual the whole book is – but the scene in the hotel stairwell…well you just have to read it… Be warned. This WILL turn you on. Don’t fret though as you can always check out some piper perri videos after reading in order to finish the job.

Number 2: As Francesa by Martha Baer…I bought this at an airport bookshop and had no idea…One of the few times I’ve been sitting on a plane thinking (and going bright red as I did so) “I hope nobody is reading this over my shoulder…” There is one moment (and I won’t give away what it is) when I thought – good grief – online sex doesn’t get much weirder than this! I’d be lying if I said this book didn’t turn me well and truly on. I had little choice but to ring up one of the women at satisfy my desires.
Number 3: Fanny Hill by John Cleland, Lusty, bawdy, nonstop 18th century erotica….banned and reviled, it has little else but sex scenes but hey – not bad if you like bodice ripping! Though it’s a bit sad when you just know a man has written this…yes, the fantasy is that obvious.

Number 4: The Rainbow by DH Lawrence. No, not Lady Chatterley’s lover (I find the dialect too distracting!). The scene in the lake with her female teacher….not bad…And let’s face it no one does ‘meaningful’ all consuming sex quite like DH Lawrence! It was tough deciding just which book of his to pick .
Number 5: Busman’s Honeymoon – not that there is any actual sex scene but there is a morning after and after adoring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane for so long I was just relieved that they actually got to have (I assume) great sex!

And I have one extra for my list – one book where I would have really liked to have been told all the lurid details – Wuthering Heights – and you just know they had to have done it – Oh to have been a fly on the wall…

That’s it for my very idiosyncratic list. So go ahead, broaden my education and tell me your top sexiest books in literature or at least the top sex scene in a mystery – I need my reading horizon’s ‘broadened’ 🙂

The Top 5 Mistakes Made in Sex Scenes

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Inspired by Robin Burcell’s post on the top ten stupid things cops do in books as well as Laura Benedict’s great post yesterday on ‘age appropriate’ material, I couldn’t resist turning my sights on the top 5 really stupid mistakes that writers make when writing sex scenes. Of course, it is no recret that film writers do not have the same expertise in crafting scenes involving intercourse as most professionals in the adult video industry do. You only need to look on somewhere like hdpornvideo visit site for confirmation of this. Now I admit that I have fallen afoul of some of these myself and my creed is always, ‘if it makes me giggle it’s gotta go’ but I still find that one of the most annoying things about many otherwise great books is the sex scenes…or as I like to call them the ‘unsexy scenes’.

Number 1: Sex in the most unlikely moments
So the heroine and hero have just been chased through the sewer or nearly decapitated by an axe murderer and so naturally as soon as that’s over their thoughts turn to getting hot and heavy…Hmmm…don’t know about you but after a really harrowing incident I’m probably not in the mood for a bit of slap and tickle and yet, some authors really believe that people would do this? WTF?!

Number 2: Taking the euphemisms to a new climax
If the words ‘throbbing’ and ‘member’ are in the same sentence then something is seriously awry between the sheets. Enough said. If any movie you’re watching does that, it’s probably best to turn it off and watch a film from somewhere like watch my gf sex instead.

Number 3: Supernatural sex without the vampires
Now nobody even in fiction could possibly have the most amazing, unbelievable, day-long lovemaking fests with everyone they meet so why in some books is there no average or even (let’s face it) unsatisfying sex. The exception is where sex involves vampires, demons, wizards or werewolves – then sex is (obviously) allowed to be out of this world. For the rest can authors please avoid hyperbole or stamina-defying love orgies.

Number 4: When no really means yes
Enough with the struggling and young maiden protests – No means No, not ‘if i succumb I will inevitably have the best sex of my life’. I loathe the pseudo-masochistic violence begets sex stuff unless of course the villain is involved…

Number 5: Fantasy island
Why with male authors are the women ‘goddesses’ who have the most amazing bods and libido and yet are too dumb to turn down the overweight, alcoholic protagonist with enough emotional baggage to sink the Titanic…I have to confess the same goes for many female authors. I participate as a judge in a romance writing contest and couldn’t believe how all the men were the same. Tall, dark haired and handsome with the most fantastic bodies imaginable. The thing is these fantasies are, inevitable, totally unbelievable.

So what are your top gripes about sex scenes? – but be kind don’t throw one of my own back at me. Afterall, sex scene are hard (excuse the pun) to make so it’s important to get first hand experience on sites what could lure the audience in further to the book. Checking out websites just like, hdpornt could give your book the edge that it needs to keep the readers going and wanting to discover more! Next week look out, I’m going to give my top 5 list of the best sex-scenes in literature…you have been warned.