Breakout session five: Turn up the heat

How to write steamy sex scenes – Nicole R Murphy

Any scene in a book needs to do at least one of these three things:
– move the plot forward
– reveal character
– show the setting

An all right scene will do one
A good scene will do two
A great scene will do all three

This goes for sex scenes as much as any other scene in the story.

Welcome to Temptation – Jenny Crusie

  • scene on the dock is important for a lot of reasons, it is the first introduction of the dock and also the first sex act between the main characters
  • that location is a key to the mystery (although not apparent until later)
  • not just a great sex scene, was a really vital key to what was going on in the book

Once you decide to put one in the book, how hot to write it?

  • Challenging yourself verses needing the emotions to appear on the page
  • on the one hand, important as writers to keep challenging ourselves
  • on the other hand, the best scenes happen when we’re feeling the emotions as we’re writing and that’s particularly confronting in a sex scene
  • will not get better at writing if you don’t challenge yourself – perfection is never reached but can be worked on

Develop your sexual writing like you did your sexual self
We go through stages – develop your sex scene writing the same way…

  • kissing
  • making out
  • mutual masturbation
  • intercourse
  • experimenting and fun!

If you find a level you are comfortable with, move sideways at that level.  Take yourself through steps and challenge yourself.  it doesn’t have to be for a book, it can be an exercise to practise.
Keep track of the sex scenes you respond to, and when it comes time to write your own reference the ones you like and try to use similar techniques

How to make your sex scenes pop off the page:


  • adding all the senses to our writing is important, but it’s vital in a sex scene.
  • Sight, touch, smell, taste, sound – they all work as aphrodisiacs, in real live AND on the page.


  • actions that take place within the scene need to be physically possible, otherwise it will jolt the reader out of the action
  • consider the characters and what they would and wouldn’t do – don’t let your own thoughts or issues get in the way
  • don’t let your own issues get in the way (don’t imagine your mother reading over your shoulder)
  • be aware of how educated readers are becoming about sex and sexual positions (eg the readership of Smart Bitches Trashy Books)


  • Pick the most appropriate language.
  • If writing erotica, stick with ‘hot’ words like pussy and cock.
  •  Don’t be afraid of terms like vagina or erection – be direct about what’s going on.
  • Don’t try to hide what’s going on behind flowery language because you’re a bit squeamish

Intimate and Emotional
Kate Elliot:  The way I as a reader learn about character in the story is through action and reaction and interaction: I learn about the character through what they say and what they think and how they respond to the crises of the story.
Sex that is just about the physical doesn’t pop the way that sex about emotional interaction does.

Not every sex scene has to be described and articulated – they can be implied if it does not do one of the three things outlined above (developing character, setting or story)

  • maybe be part of their regular relationship and not need to be discussed
  • may only need to appear again if there is a story reason
  • read erotica and erotic romance to see how those writers deal with sex, because they need to be able to use language well.  Study their techniques and see if there is any you can adapt even if you don’t write to that heat level


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