The Best Way to Do It (on paper!)

Yeah, I was going to do a post about cliched sayings that it seems every book has to have, like when someone always ‘smells fear,’ but I decided to just go for the jugular and talk about a local favorite. (Don’t worry, this post has a Disney rating.) 

Let’s face it, sex in a book is kind of…usual. I personally kind of expect at least one sex scene. Our characters are supposed to be life-like and so, they do it. I also think we’d feel a tad bit disappointed if the two star-crossed lovers didn’t hit the sack at least once. 

What is the best way to portray this very human need? Do we…dress it up in the language of floral anatomy? I always loved the “his stamen” references. On the one hand you could say it’s pretty weird that anyone would draw an analogy between flower and human sexuality. And on the other hand, you have to admit it’s pretty cool that flowers are sexual. It’s like nature did that just for writers. 

You’ve got Heinlein who doesn’t really have sex scenes, but just mentions it throughout the story, a sort of novel-length tease. Piers Anthony too. I don’t call these sex scenes, so much as nudity. This is an okay method if you ask me, lets you do all of the imagining, which may be better than having it described in great length, ad nauseam.  

Erotica does it’s thing with the use of all the slang and four letter words. I guess that’s the stock solution to sex in a book. It’s effective in that it gets the job done. A good “down in the trench” engineering approach when you want a fail-safe method. But somehow it seems we should treat the subject with a bit more respect. 

I will never forget the sex scene in Stephen King’s It. At the time, I had been reading something about how you’re not supposed to say “feel” but describe the internal physiological changes taking place. So, instead of saying, “he felt excited” you would say “adrenaline flooded his brain” or some such. Well, in It that advice is taken way too far in the sex scene at the end. Reads like a medical manual, describing all the internal glandular processes that take place during the deed. No sir!  

I think the best writer on sex scenes is China Mieville simply because he doesn’t sugar coat and leaves a lot to the imagination. In The Scar he has a sex scene between this guy and his girlfriend who has her lower body grafted into a machine chassis, so her legs are metal caterpillar tracks. If you’ve ever read his work, you’ll understand. Anyway, the line is “and somehow they managed.” 

Whoa, I bet they did! You just don’t have to write anything else.

I’ve always drawn on the old romance model in my writing, I guess because that’s what I grew up thinking was a “sex scene” in a book. But I don’t really like it. I became a fan of Mieville’s, “And then they *&@*#” approach. Just come out and say it all crass and shameless.

There’s other ways too. Diana Gabaldon mixes in all the violence with it, which I can’t say does very much for me. But hey, maybe that’s historical accuracy. I’d be pretty upset if I was eating haggis too, I guess.

You’ve got the Philip Marlowe approach. Jeeze. He just takes and doesn’t care. You have to admire that only because the dames are always too happy. What a Svengali!

But in the end, I think I am casting my vote for Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witch Series. Pretty good on the steam, but not overboard on the details. A good balance of taste, I thought. Then again, I have not read 50 Shades of Gray, so…  


What do you think? Any examples of particularly good or tasteful sex scenes in books?