Come listen to Episode 4, Part 3 of 3 of my podcast, 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. The subject? Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes), Baby! Transcript and link to the Spotify podcast episode below.
Episode 4, Part 3 of 3, on Spotify: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/bxGYeK8Kqzb
This podcast episode is available on YouTube as well. Find it here: https://youtu.be/PoaxOzKMyZ0
Welcome to another episode of 12 Minutes – or less! – with the Author. We’re still talking about sex – specifically including sex scenes in books, or not. This podcast is Part 2 of Episode 4: Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes), Baby. If you haven’t listened to Part 1 and Part 2 yet, I encourage you to go back and check them out first.
I’ve also listed this episode as clean versus explicit, but please note that there might be one or two slang words used for body parts that might be considered crude. But I’ll endeavor to keep it clean.
Recently I reached out to 11 authors I’ve met through Instagram. I sent them a list of questions on writing sex scenes – or not writing them. I asked each author to answer 3 of the questions.
The genres of the authors I contacted range from paranormal cozy mystery to sexy rom-com, to fantasy, dark fantasy, and adult dark fantasy, to contemporary fiction, sci-fi, and thrillers. They write in young adult, new adult, and plain ol’ adult categories.
Before we get to the Q&A portion, once again, thank you to these authors:
- Lisa Alfano
- Saffron Amatti,
- Jennifer Brasington-Crowley
- Neil Bullock
- Jessica Cantwell
- Julie Embleton
- Rose J. Fairchild
- Barbara Kellyn
- Shari T. Mitchell
- Bruce Spydar
- Rachel Stanley
Alright, listeners, let’s get to it.
Question #1 for the Author: What do you think readers like to “see” in a sex scene for the genre you write in?
Jessica Cantwell: She writes in the YA category, and says: I think there is a huge sliding scale here and ultimately you should write what fits with your book. You can’t please every reader.
Lisa Alfano: For my thrillers and YA fantasies I prefer my plots and characters to be the stars, not sex scenes. I know that [name redacted] [has some] YA fantasies are pretty explicit and I don’t mind reading them, but I don’t believe that expanding the details of my characters’ sexual escapades would enhance my story.
Next question: If your sex scenes are “off-page,” how do you convey the act (or passion) to the reader? (Please identify your genre.)
Julie Embleton: I write more about the emotion of the act as opposed to the technical side, because really, how many ways can you say ‘thrust’? I enjoy getting into the MC’s head and how the act feels to them emotionally. Again, it’s intimacy and deep connection I want to convey, as opposed to the technicalities behind railing someone into the mattress.
Rachel Stanley: There is only one sex scene in any of my books – I was busy torturing my characters throughout A Grim Series, they didn’t have time for any shenanigans – but I handled it using the ‘fade to black’ method. My readers know that the characters had sex because of the language but I didn’t describe the act. Hopefully, the passion was instilled in the moments leading up to the event!
Next question: When did you think you took a risk in a sex scene? What was it? How was it received?
Neil Bullock: There’s a scene where the matter of consent crops up in my upcoming book, Nexus. I wasn’t sure if I’d done a good enough job setting the scene up, and I was far from sure if it had a place in my story. I only have my beta feedback so far, but the majority agreed that it worked, and that the reactions were understandable and genuine, and I kind of wish that wasn’t the case.
Next question: Do you have an example of an author who does a good job of presenting sex scenes in their stories?
Jessica Cantwell: I think Colleen Hoover and George RR Martin write spicy scenes very well.
Lisa Alfano: An author who does an excellent job of on-page romantic/hot scenes, is Jude Deveraux, the romance author. I think I’ve read every one of her books through the years while sitting on the beach. If I could write sex scenes like her, oh boy, readers would get to know my characters in a more intimate way. For now, I think I’ll stick to suspense and thrills and action and keep the majority of the sex off page.
T.L. Brown: I’m going to add author Jennifer Brasington-Crowley to this mix. The sex scenes she writes, positive or negative, are always relevant to the story she’s telling. I think she pulls off something other authors don’t always nail down: authenticity.
Next question: What language is preferred by your readers? If you listened to Parts 1 and 2 on this topic, you know what’s coming next. Examples include: penis vs. cock vs. member vs. “shaft.” Making love vs. fucking? In other words, if you include sex scenes in your stories, what type of language do your readers expect? (Please identify your genre.)
Shari T. Mitchell: I’m answering as a reader. Penis or cock are just fine. Member sounds creepy. Maybe it’s my genre, but it sounds too much like dismember.
Ah, spoken like a true thriller-mystery author, Shari! Dismember.
Bruce Spydar: I use the language to fit the character’s background and personality, and also the situation. My different MCs (BJ in the Shy Backpacker, and Megan in Refining My Dining) vary their language depending on who they are talking to, and whether they are in dialogue or narration mode. Both BJ and Megan are quite well educated, and each possesses quite a decent (and indeed, indecent) vocabulary. I don’t know whether my readers prefer this language, but this is what they get.)
Author Jennifer Brasington-Crowley writes: I am rewording this question to: What language do authors prefer (versus my readers)? She says: The language I use in sex scenes is indicative of the type of sex I am portraying. A romantic, consensual sex scene will be more ethereal with a concentration on the emotions as opposed to the actual act itself. “He touched her like she was made of glass.” But if it’s a sex scene that’s supposed to make you squirm, I will use more intense, or sometimes even offensive words. “He didn’t even ask her name, didn’t kiss her, just thrust into her in the backstage bathroom.” My genre is unconventional romance/drama.
Rose J. Fairchild: I’ve seen a wide variety of language use in dark fantasy, though again I’d say it tends to err more on the raw side. I, however, like to be a bit more poetic in the language I use. I don’t skimp on the details, but I use words to invite all of a reader’s senses to come out and play in order to more fully immerse them in the scene.
Next question: Do you “hold back” in writing a sex scene because you worry about how it might reflect on you personally?
Saffron Amatti: Why do you think I write mysteries and not romance/erotica?! Nah, not really, sex scenes just don’t fit into my books. It’s not something I really want to write about anyway, so I guess it’ll still be “off the page” even if I switch genres in the future.
Last question – in fact, the last question and answer of this exploration into sex in books on page or off page: What advice do you have for writers who choose to include sex scenes in their book(s)?
Barbara Kellyn: Stay true to your characters. Just like you wouldn’t write dialogue that they wouldn’t speak or have them do something crazy that seems like a 180-degree change of their personality, their most intimate scenes should stay true to who they are in terms of their words and actions. While it can show a different (ahem) side to them, it should still be a natural progression of their personal development and the next level of their romantic relationship. Even if the MC has a secret kink or fetish, then tease it beforehand – don’t just spring it on the reader and expect them to buy it. You don’t want to pull them out of the “heat of the moment” by having your MC do or say something totally questionable.
That’s great advice, Barbara!
T.L. Brown: I’ll add my two cents as well for this last question. I think many readers across all age-appropriate genres are curious about the private lives and tastes of our characters – and this frequently extends into the bedroom. It’s fun for writers to develop those multi-layered characters and explore sexual themes, both positive and negative.
And whether you like it or not, sex sells. It always has. We haven’t invented it. With the preponderance of storylines that run a little left of center, bringing kinks, explicit language, and blushing readers together, it’s a market that is hungry for more.
But here’s my advice: Write what is true to your heart. Your characters might never let readers cross the threshold into their bedrooms. Your characters might not have an interest in “going there.” And that’s perfectly fine.
Your characters might actively engage in sex on the page to some degree. You might reveal dark secrets or their vulnerability – or even unexpected playfulness!
But whatever you choose to include – or not include – in your story, stay true to yourself as an artist – because that’s what you are, writers. Be honest in your writing and the right readers will fall in love – or maybe even in lust – with your work.
Holy! There you have it: 11 authors sharing their perspectives, experiences, and advice on including sex scenes – or not – in the books they write. Thank you to all of these talented authors. We’ve learned so much from you!
And now, over to you, listener. Are you a reader? Are you a writer? What do you think? I’d like to hear from you. Drop me a note in a comment below – and remember, I might publish your comments.