To Write a Sex Scene or Not Write a Sex Scene, That Is The Question (Today’s Wednesday Wisdom)

RomanceAt several of the book club discussions I’ve attended over the year about my first novel, many women have asked me why I didn’t write the sex scene between Michael and Annabelle when they first became intimate.

I have two answers for you:

1—My parents would read it. I’m not sure how I’d feel discussing that particular scene at a family gathering…


2—I believe much can be left up to the imagination of the reader.

It is difficult, I think, to write something that is so intimate, and at times magical, as a moment where sex is not just sex, but rather a sort of spiritual melding of two people into one. (If you’ve ever tried to describe an intimate moment to one of your friends, you know what I’m talking about. Some things just don’t translate well beyond those who are engaged in the act.)

I was thinking about this because I’m about to write what I call a “psuedo-sex scene” in the novel I’m presently writing. It’s one whereby you know the characters “do it,” but yet you don’t divulge everything in the scene as the clothes drop to the floor piece by piece. And then I came upon this particular quote, and it just spoke volumes to me.

“Sex almost always disappoints me in novels. Everything can be said or done now, and that’s what I often find: everything, a feeling of generality or dispersal. But in my experience, true sex is so particular, so peculiar to the person who yearns for it. Only he or she, and no one else, would desire so very much that very person under those circumstances. In fiction, I miss that sense of terrific specificity.”    – A Psychiatrist to Anatole Broyard

This falls under the writing rule of “be specific, not explicit.”

I know some people don’t mind writing explicit scenes. As my writing seems to be geared primarily to contemporary romance as opposed to Romance-Romance (like a Harlequin novel) or erotic romance, I believe I can get by with intimating sex, and not actually writing about as it unfolds in full detail.

I’m not E.L. James, nor do I ever plan on including any sort of explicit sex scenes like the ones she created.

I believe if you understand your craft, and you have a handle on the characters and plot, you can intimate some and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination, without actually seeing what unfolds bit by bit in the bedroom with the characters.

Perhaps I just respect my characters’ privacy too much.


Nevertheless, either way you go, it’s all in good fun.


  • robertsonwrites

    This is an excellent point that I think many writers forget. You have to write in your own style and not try to adjust to the style of other artists. Sometimes its what is not said that really brings you into the story. 😉

  • Daniel Ionson

    Completely depends on the genre and purpose of the sex scene. In most movies the sex scenes are simply gratuitous… porn without being “porn”. But in some stories, the telling may be better off w/ the sex made explicit. I haven’t written such a scene yet, but who knows what story in the future may actually call for it.

    • Steph's Scribe/Stephanie Verni

      I agree. My stories (or the way I tell them) don’t need it. Erotica wouldn’t be what it is without it. And sometimes something that happens “beneath the sheets” could impact the plot. All I can say is it’s tough to allow yourself to be that free. I find it a bit daunting.

  • reneedeangelo

    I think, like with any story you write, you have to be true to the story and characters. It does depend on the genre, but also what kind of characters you’ve developed. I had the same problem the first time I considered having my teenage character curse, smoke, and drink in a story. I didn’t want those to be the examples I put out there, but ultimately had to be true to the character and the story developing. For example, you mentioned E.L. James above. The scenes and the language she used in Fifty Shades spoke to the character as well as the genre.
    I think that as long as the voice of your characters wouldn’t go into explicit detail, you don’t have to either. This is just my opinion. I know I would probably have a very difficult time writing an explicit scene also. Good luck!

    • Steph's Scribe/Stephanie Verni

      Totally agree with you. In my published novel, I reconsidered Michael and how he spoke as well. I ultimately took out the “F” bombs, but did leave in other cursing. (He was generally a pretty nice guy, so it fit him.) However, I know what you mean. The scene I’m considering writing with “limited sex” in it, is between two of my main characters, whereby she is the one tentatively entering the relationship. I’m wondering if it would behoove the reader to “see” the scene, or if I should leave it to the imagination. We’ll see where it goes…but it does give a writer a lot to think about in terms of both story and character.

  • Jack Flacco

    Good reason for not writing the scene if you’ll end up discussing it at family gatherings with your parents around. Awkward!!! I know in my case, certain scenes in my book scared the stuffing out of my sister and it became an instant topic of conversation at our dinner table–in a positive way that is!

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