One of my first fiction teachers gave me some very important advice about writing sex scenes: “You don’t need to tell people where all the parts go. They know where the parts go.” Now I’m not against erotica. I don’t write erotica, but I have no problems with it. But in all other types of fiction (literary mainstream, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc.) the main purpose of a sex scene is not to explain to the reader how to have sex.
I read a book recently where there were way too many sex scenes. It got to the point where I was dreading them. It was like, “Oh, here is another sex scene.” Each sex scene was excessively detailed. This writer didn’t leave anything to the imagination. I didn’t need to read where one character put her tongue. I didn’t need to read the word, “phallus” or “vulva” that often. It was unnecessary and most of the sex scenes didn’t advance the plot in some way or reveal the characters’ feelings or personalities. They were boring and tedious and worse, they weren’t even titalating because they were so clinical.
A sex scene, as with any scene in a work of fiction, has to perform multiple jobs. On the surface a scene portrays characters doing something. Whether they are baking a cake or getting married, the characters are doing something. On a deeper level, the scene is revealing something to the reader. Either the scene is moving the plot forward or it is developing a character. Look at the scene below from Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris:
“A little shyly, I reached down to touch him, and he made a very human sound. After a moment, the sound became deeper.
“Now?” I asked, my voice ragged and shaking.
“Oh, yes,” he said, and then he was on top of me.
A moment later he found out the true extent of my inexperience.
“You should have told me, ” he said, but very gently. He held himself still with an almost palpable effort.
“Oh, please don’t stop!” I begged, thinking that the top would fly off my head, something drastic would happen, if he didn’t get on with.
“I have no intention of stopping,” he promised a little grimly, “Sookie. . .this will hurt.”
In answer, I raised myself. He made an incoherent noise and pushed into me.
I held my breath. I bit my lip. Ow, ow, ow.”
The sex scene works because it doesn’t spell everything out. Harris doesn’t tell us which parts are going where. It also works because it gives us a little insight into the relationship between these two main characters. Sookie chooses Bill, a vampire, to be her first love. Bill, although he is a vampire, is concerned enough about Sookie’s well being to worry about hurting her during their first time.
This is what a sex scene should read like in fiction. It should leave alot to the imagination and it should either advance the plot or add to character development.