31 May 2011

A Writer’s Guide to Being Sexy

…in your writing. Sorry, I can’t help you with the real thing.

Whether you’re writing hardcore erotica, sizzling romance, or just a single scene requiring some Tab A into Slot B action, I’m here to help you bring the sexy back with this series on sexy writing.

Today we’ll talk about the language of the scene.

Let’s face it: it’s very easy to write a bad sex scene. You run the risk of clinically sterile language, or the opposite – coarsely pornographic language. There’s also the potential for unintended comedy. I don’t want that to happen to any of you, so I’ve compiled a few guidelines. Note that I didn’t say rules. It’s up to you to decide if/when to use each of these tips. And fergawdsakes, don’t overdo it with any of them!

More descriptors more sexy

Breasts are not made any more appealing when described as amazingly perky, round, brown sugar-colored globes of desire. Really? Would you say that to your partner, or want it said to you in a moment of passion? ‘Course not. You/they would likely burst into a fit of laughter. Stick to one, maybe two descriptors, or let the image stand on its own. This also ties into my next point:

Euphemisms are your enemy

If everyone calls it a cock, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t go trudging through the thesaurus looking for other names for human anatomy. Abandon the above mentioned globes and just call them breasts. Or maybe your character would say tits. Titties and boobies are giggle-worthy and should be avoided at all times, in my opinion.

When in doubt, revert to the standard slang, or DON’T NAME BODY PARTS at all. Yeah, you heard me. She let go a breathy moan as he pushed into her. No need to say what pushed where – we already know.

Here are some tried-and-true words to use (try not to blush):

  • cock
  • tits
  • ass
  • breasts
  • dick
  • pussy
  • clit

C*nt has become much more mainstream of late, but I’d be careful with it. I won’t even type the actual word here, and I won’t say it. I just don’t like it, and that’s a personal preference. But of course, if it fits the character you’re writing, it may be appropriate. Use it sparingly, at your own risk. I think it even sounds awful. Go ahead, say it out loud (preferably when you’re alone – not on the bus or at work). It’s guttural – all hard consonant sounds. Doesn’t scream sexy to me. Which brings me to my last point for today:

Pay attention to sound

No, not those sounds. Yuck. I’ll leave that for another post. I mean, pay attention to how the words you choose sound to the ear. I don’t know about you, but even when reading silently to myself, I still hear the words in my head, and, to a lesser extent, feel them in my mouth (oh boy, you’re gonna have a field day with that phrase, I’m sure.)

Never underestimate the sexiness of well-placed alliteration. His thumb slid over the sliver of skin peeking out above the waistband of her jeans. That s sound is just sensual, both to hear and to say, isn’t it?

To me, open, round vowel sounds as well as softer consonant sounds like f, h, and l (to name a few) can be the sexiest. The heat of his breath sends a slow shiver from the nape of her neck to her toes. Mmm, sounds yummy, right?

To contrast, clipped vowels and hard consonant sounds often are the least sexy. You’d do well to notice that most of your standard curse words have this characteristic – fuck, shit, bitch, etc. I’m not saying there’ll never be a place for an urgently whispered Fuck me! in your manuscript – there is certainly occasion for something like that. But an entire scene, or even just a few sentences, full of those types of words can really kill the mood.

Especially use this guideline any time you’re thinking of some anatomical euphemism. As I mentioned, c*nt sounds harsh to me. Words like rod and pole don’t sound particularly sexy either, and even invoke painful images at times. Unless you’re writing some sort of BDSM scene, these are not the images you want to paint in your reader’s mind.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you write a sex scene, and I promise you’ll have something that gets the heat level rising. Next time I’ll discuss realism when writing sex, so I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Do you have any favorite words that you find super sexy, or words that make you cringe?


  1. Wonderful post, Jen, particularly about paying attention to consonant and vowel sounds. I love it when authors play with cadence in sex scenes, too; it puts me right THERE in the rush of emotion and sensation. So lovely.


  2. Thanks Lucy! I think the way words sound is a very undervalued part of writing - especially when it comes to sex scenes.

  3. That makes so much sense and yet I never thought of the words that way. WOW...There's an AHA moment. Oprah would be proud. :)

  4. *dies of flattery* WOW, and Oprah reference? For ME?! Aww thanks Suzanne. I'm glad I could give you that a-ha moment! (Um, I can't NOT write sexual innuendo today! lol)

  5. A very insightful post, Jen.

    Although I rarely get that graphic in my own lovemaking scenes, (I do have the odd one in my work somewhere.) The advice is spot on.

    Nicely done.

  6. Great post! I did a blog recently on "Why Can't I Write Erotica?"--it is so hard. (Ha ha!) Thanks for the guidelines!

  7. I'm glad to shed a little bit of light on the subject, Dee! It can be difficult - more so than many people probably think.

    Marion - throat, yes, that has some sexy connotations in the right context.

    Thanks for stopping by ladies!

  8. Came for the shewrites blogger ball-- stayed to be educated! I love your blog. I don't write erotica, but I have been struggling with a couple sex scenes in the novel I'm working on. Your tips will be truly helpful to me. Thank you!

  9. I like similes when I digest/create erotica. Comparing what the character is doing or has done that gives the reader an extra image to mull over in their mind as the words are eagerly skimmed across. And referring to ankles and thighs.
    Pet peeves are things that are too direct. Such a turn off. I love your idea about alliteration. That in itself can hint around without being direct just enough to give the reader a wordgasm. hehehe

  10. I am of the opposite opinion - c*nt (which I'm only typing that way because you did) sounds sexy to me whereas pussy just sounds kind of gross. The unfortunate thing is that everyone seems to have a strong opinion one way or the other - but they don't match up, so you'll end up annoying someone :)


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