Throwback Thursday: Bringing Readers Inside the Bedroom

Writing about sex is hard (no pun intended). While there are plenty of writers who have found their niche writing romance novels filled to the brim with sensual scenes, the majority of us do anything to avoid a sex scene. As my book editing professor has mentioned on more than one occasion, readers don’t need to be taken into the bedroom. In other words, describe your lovers ripping each other’s clothes off and passionately kissing, but let the reader’s imaginations fill in the rest.

But what if you don’t want to stop at the bedroom door? How do you write about sex without causing your reader to roll their eyes, skip ahead, or feel completely awkward (mostly for you). For one, understand that metaphors and sex work–up until a certain point, at which you lose readers. In Slate.com’s recent article “The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,” Amanda Hess gives readers one example of what she deems a “delusional” metaphor from Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:

We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, but Hess’ astute observation, “Congratulations–you fucked,” pretty much sums it up. When metaphors are too complex, they seem unrealistic. For most of us, sex doesn’t equate to feeling like a superhero diving through atomic nuclei and causing statisticians to rejoice. Hess also offers other examples of “bad” sex writing.

In Jonathan Grimood’s The Last Banquet, he writes:

I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it.

Grimood’s writing serves a purpose. I haven’t read The Last Banquet, but who am I to judge the sexual fetishes of another person? Fictional or not. Including sex accessories or toys (like the cheese), helps make sex scenes more descriptive, but if they are going to be included, like most description, the accessory should say something larger about the character. And no, I’m not talking about some esoteric symbolism regarding the way the cheese really represents the character’s soul. The accessory should help show how the character is sexually adventurous or maybe has an interesting fetish–whatever it may be. However, I am not sure that I can ever look at Brie cheese in quite the same way again.

Lastly, be aware that because sex is so intimate, too much information will inevitably cause readers’ minds to wander to the author’s own sex life. Norman Mailer’s novel The Castle in the Forest is a good example of this:

His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

Mailer is infamous already. He stabbed his wife twice at a party and told the guests, “Let the bitch die.” But the Hound? I’m not sure what else I expected from a writer known for his ego.

How do you approach sex in your own writing? Tell us below.

– Melanie Figueroa

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About Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor-in-Chief at The Poetics Project. She has a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and a passion for stories in all their forms. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.
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