Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s get a little intimate and talk about sex writing…..
How do you describe the ultimate in subjective experiences? And of course, how can you make it fun to read and relatable?
What is sex writing?
Pretty much any time you need to write about sex! This can range from erotica to clinical description. It can be non-fiction and informative, poetic, creative, pornographic, scary, autobiographical, fantastic…all of it!
But while there are many, many different ways to write about sex, it really helps to go in with some guidelines.
Do your research
Especially for fiction writers crafting sex scenes, research is key. You have to understand how the act, anatomy, and/or objects involved work before you write about them. As with any creative writing, you have to take your readers along with you. While you don’t want to give them “tab A into slot B” instruction, you also don’t want to leave them wondering too much. For the sake of believability, go and learn about as many details as you can.
This is not to say that every sex scene is going to be an encyclopedia of “how to do X”, but your readers will find it more believable if you seem to know what you’re talking about – even if you’ve never participated in the acts your describing.
Learn vocabulary – and know which register to use
This is part and parcel of research. It’s not enough to know one term for everything; you need to have a wealth of words at your disposal. If you’re writing a blog post about public health, “penis” and “vagina” and “anus” are acceptable. But what if you’re writing an erotic interlude between 2 characters? Do people in a passionate encounter really say “penis”? They probably do not 😉
This is a matter of learning to write in different registers. When we use the term “register” with regard to writing, it simply means differentiating between appropriate vocabulary and structure based on the occasion:
In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. . .As with other types of language variation, there tends to be a spectrum of registers rather than a discrete set of obviously distinct varieties (source: wiki for “register”)
Know thy reader:
One of the qualities of “good” writing is the cognizance of different registers and the ability to change them. And I’m not just talking about anatomical terms here – I mean the entirety of the sex piece you’re crafting. Choosing the way you present your language, content, and even sentence structure depends on your intended audience.
Learn anatomy – and keep going!
Sex ed is not distributed equally. Many people are still in the odd position of learning sex by watching porn, which is a bit like learning to walk by watching gymnasts back flip.
This means that we’re not all equipped with a broad enough knowledge of sex to write effectively about it. This goes beyond “babymaking”: What about oral, anal, masturbation, etc? What about fetishes? What about BDSM? Sex toys? Safer sex?
As I said before, not every essay, story, or blog post is going to be a comprehensive list of everything about a particular sex act. Nor do you have to have personal experience, although it can help to write what you know.
Like I said in my academic writing post, every effective writer has a solid “cocktail party knowledge”. Sex is no different! Writing about sex effectively for any purpose can only happen when you know what you’re talking about enough to communicate it to a reader who may or may not.
Inclusive language is key
Let’s perform a little experiment. Google the word “sexy”. And click image results.
This is what I got:
Chances are you’ll get the same thing – image after image of young white women with similar body types in similar poses. This is the problem with popular concepts of “sexy”. It’s precisely this that leads sex writing to boil down sexuality to a monolith, informed by white, middle class, hetero values.
You can see the issue here! Young, fit, straight people are not the only ones having sex. So let this be reflected in your writing. Old people have sex. People with disabilities have sex. People of different cultures have sex. LGBTQ people have sex. Abuse survivors have sex. And they all have it in different ways.
I feel like this is all too basic to say, but apparently it bears repeating (shouting from rooftops). If you have any leeway at all, please try to be inclusive in your language. And if you’re writing creatively, then you have so many ways to break this norm. Challenge your perceptions!
I hope this has given you some food for thought in writing about one of humanity’s basic topics! And happy Valentine’s Day 🙂