Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Anatomy of a Good Sex Scene

She moaned and her breasts heaved as he thrust his throbbing member into her hot, wet channel.  When his sword filled her to the hilt, she cried out.  Never had she imagined his manhood would so completely fill her.  His body hit her womanly bundle of nerves over and over until she finally came apart inside, a white hot explosion that stole her breath and her heart....


What makes a fictional sex scene good?  Or bad?  Or boring?  Or off-putting?  Or humorous (intentionally or not!)?  The answer is, of course, that what might be effective and compelling in one story might not work at all in another.  Different genres make different demands and set different expectations, and how the author has sold the developing relationship determines a lot about what will be believable and effective.  So, the very unhelpful answer is:  we know a good sex scene when we read it.  And what's "good" might vary from reader to reader.

But, certainly there must be some elements that help push a sex scene closer to the "good" end of the spectrum.  For me, these elements include:

1) Necessary.  A sex scene that is included because it is somehow fundamental to A) plot development, including progression of the romantic relationship, or B) character development.  Sex scenes for sex scenes' sake can not only feel gratuitous but can also get tiresome.  Now, I like a good sex scene as much as the next reader (and maybe even more!), but too many of them have the potential to take the thrill out of a few well-placed, steamy ones.
2) Variety.  Missionary sex might be the most common position, but most readers are probably willing to suspend reality long enough for the hero and heroine to try a different position in each sex scene.  At the least, there should be something substantially new tried or achieved during or as a result of a sex scene.
3) Limit/vary use of euphemisms.  'Penis' and 'vagina' are probably too clinical for most of us to be used frequently in a good sex scene, but the phrase "throbbing member" probably makes us giggle or roll our eyes on sight.  If the book is erotica or has in another way been primed for explicit and intense sex scenes, then more explicit and hard-core word choices probably not only make sense, but work to heighten the eroticism of the scene.  But a lot of romance falls somewhere in the middle of heaving bosoms and, well, various four-letter c-words... ;)  The key then is to find the language that fits the story, fits the characters, and that isn't repeated to death (I once read a draft of a story that used "hot sheath" every time it referenced anything about the women's nether regions...).
4) Heat and heart.  This one might not apply to every scene an author might want to write, and certainly I can perceive an enticing story where the earlier encounters might be all heat and no heart, making the introduction of more emotional connections between the characters even more intense later.  But, for me, the most intense scenes are ones that involve both the emotional and the physical connections.  And seeing the hero reveal or admit or give into his emotional needs is, gah, always a turn on.
5) Talking.  And not necessarily dirty, although, again, big fan of the concept!  Talking can heighten both the emotional and the physical connection and intensity.  But, like with use of euphemisms, it takes some finesse.  Most of us, and most of the characters we connect with, don't talk like porn stars.  And, if our characters are otherwise mild-mannered and avoid expletives, it isn't likely they experience a massive transformation in the bedroom (unless that's part of the story).  It's important to make it real, serve a purpose, add to the intensity rather than distract from it, vary the dialogue, and keep it in character.

What do you think?  What makes a fictional sex scene work for you?  Or not?

Thanks for reading,


Laura Kaye said...

Perhaps I ought to start off this conversation by saying I don't think my little excerpt is an example of "good" LOL

Sarah said...

I never, EVER want to read about somoenes "scrotum" while reading erotica. Ever. I roll my eyes, I giggle and the moment is lost. They are not overly attractive to look at and most certainly not a wonderful thing to read about ;)

Hot sheaths, throbbing members, bundles of nerves (hate that one!), etc, all seem like something out of historical romance to me. I am not a huge fan of historical romance, so they just don't do it for me.

I'm a cock and pussy kind of girl. Um, well you get the point.

There was this one story I read called "The List", not sure if you've heard of it or not ;), but those are the exact kinds of sex scenes I'm after. The wording, the imagery, the heat, the chemistry of the characters. Everything.

I like talking in sex scenes. They feel more real, somehow. It can be loving, dirty, teasing, anything really.

Laura Kaye said...

You had me at "scrotum"...excellent commentary! ;) (and, The List, that old story...?)

Jenny (TV Is My Pacifier) said...

I'm with Sarah for the most part. Hot sheaths, throbbing members, sword, wet tunnel, etc, make me think of a historical romance, which I HATE. heh I don't mind bundle of nerves at all, though.

I'm very much in the cock & pussy camp. *snort* I don't mind dick at all, either. Even a well-placed c-word if it works in the story doesn't bother me at all. The other c-word, clit, I use regularly (although a good friend of mine insists on writing it out as clitoris most of the time. drives me nuts. LOL)

Team Pattinson said...

I find it is easier to visualize a scene when the events unfolding could actually happen! I like to know what the character is thinking while doing things & having things done. Alternating the POV (not sure of the correct term) during can make it more realistic. Each get to put in their 2 cents. I know it is good when I begin experiencing tingles shooting up & down my middle. Perhaps I am a bit partial, I've only just recently finished "The List" and all the practicing was as good if not better than after the wedding! I'm ADD, so it takes a lot to keep me focused. If the characters start to kiss, eager to be joined as one then lay together completely sated and exhausted, then I stop reading! I want to know exactly what happened in between. How they got there!

Brandi said...

I enjoy reading different types of sex scenes, but those with heat and heart are most memorable to me. Also, the author has to be a good visualizer. I like to know exactly what his hands are doing and what kind of pressure he's using and are they on cotton sheets on the bed or the leather couch? Those kinds of details help me immensely.
I don't really have a preference as to what the manyly and womanly parts are called, but it turns me off when you can tell that the author is not comfortable using *any* of those words. I really like to read about "cocks" but I say "dick" myself. haha, dick myself!
Ummm, and "The List?" That needs to be mandatory reading for all romance/smutty writers. ;) Love it!

Laura Kaye said...

TPattz and Brandi--I agree so much on the visualizing...I want to be led through the scene. I HATE when I'm reading a love scene and I can't figure out how their bodies are positioned, or how they got into a position different from the one I thought they were in. Throws me right out!

Beyond Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PattzCougar said...

"The List" was my first fanfic reading smut material. I still have it on my saved list on my Ipod. Now, If I could only get it on my Kindle :-).. Okay, now I'm confused. Visualization is good?!! I just wrote my first lemony chapter and my beta's told me to lemon-it-down a bit. I overly used the words "cock and pussy". Oh, and "core" was a no-no from my other beta. My bad pet peeve was using to much "Oh, God" in my dialogues. Response from beta, "Is Bella turning religious?" :-(. Believe me, I had a good visual but I need to tone down my overly use of body parts.

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