How to Write a Great Sex Scene: 6 Examples
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
Since 1993, the Literary Review's Bad Sex Award has honored the year’s most outstandingly awful scene of sexual description in an otherwise good book. Drawing attention to the poorly written, redundant, or downright cringe-worthy passages of sexual description in modern prose, the prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature. The award, however, proves that even the best writers stumble when attempting to write intimacy between lovers.
Sarah Hosseini's upcoming Writing Real Sex 4-Week Zoom Seminar will be beneficial for anyone who wants to write more REAL, honest sex scenes in general. No matter if you're writing poetry, nonfiction, fiction, or screenplays, your work at some point might encompass the full range of human interaction, including sex.
In honor of Sarah's upcoming class, we've provided six great examples of how to write a sex scene below:
Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy
At fourteen I had discovered that a tongue had no real taste. I was sucking the tongue of a boy named Tanner, and I was sucking his tongue because I liked the way his fingers looked on the keys of the piano as he played it, and I had liked the way he looked from the back as he walked across the pasture, and also, when I was close to him, I liked the way behind his ears smelled.
Those three things had led to my standing in his sister’s room (she was my best friend), my back pressed against the closed door, sucking his tongue. Someone should have told me that there were other things to seek out in a tongue than the flavor of it, for then I would not have been standing there sucking on poor Tanner’s tongue as if it were an old Frozen Joy with all its flavor run out and nothing left but the ice. As I was sucking away, I was thinking, Taste is not the thing to seek out in a tongue; how it makes you feel— that is the thing. I used to like to eat boiled cow’s tongue served in a sauce of lemon juice, onions, cucumbers, and pepper; but cow’s tongue has no real taste either. It was the sauce that made the cow’s tongue so delicious to eat.
Mary Gaitskill, Secretary
“The last time I made a typing error and the lawyer summoned me to his office, two unusual things occurred. The first was that after he finished spanking me he told me to pull up my skirt. Fear hooked my stomach and pulled it toward my chest. I turned my head and tried to look at him.
“You’re not worried that I’m going to rape you, are you?” he said. “Don’t. I’m not interested in that, not in the least. Pull up your skirt.”
I turned my head away from him. I thought, I don’t have to do this. I can stop right now. I can straighten up and walk out. But I didn’t. I pulled up my skirt.
“Pull down your panty hose and underwear.”
A finger of nausea poked my stomach.
“I told you I’m not going to fuck you. Do what I say.”
The skin on my face and throat was hot, but my fingertips were cold on my legs as I pulled down my underwear and panty hose. The letter before me became distorted beyond recognition. I thought I might faint or vomit, but I didn’t. I was held up by a feeling of dizzying suspension, like the one I have in dreams where I can fly, but only if I get into some weird position.
At first he didn’t seem to be doing anything. Then I became aware of a small frenzy of expended energy behind me. I had an impression of a vicious little animal frantically burrowing dirt with its tiny claws and teeth. My hips were sprayed with hot sticky muck.
“Go clean yourself off,” he said. “And do that letter again.”
I stood slowly and felt my skirt fall over the sticky gunk. He briskly swung open the door and I left the room, not even pulling up my panty hose and underwear, since I was going to use the bathroom anyway. He closed the door behind me, and the second unusual thing occurred. Susan, the paralegal, was standing the waiting room with a funny look on her face. She was a blonde who wore short, fuzzy sweaters and fake gold jewelry around he neck. At her friendliest, she had a whining, abrasive quality that clung to her voice. Now, she could barely say hello. Her stupidly full lips were parted speculatively.
“Hi,” I said. “Just a minute.” She noted the awkwardness of my walk, because of the lowered panty hose.
I got to the bathroom and wiped myself off. I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt mechanical. I wanted to get that dumb paralegal out of the office so I could come back to the bathroom and masturbate.
Susan completed her errand and left. I masturbated. I retyped the letter. The lawyer sat in his office all day.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
He used to come easing into bed sometimes, not too drunk. I make out like I’m asleep, ’cause it’s late, and he taken three dollars out of my pocketbook that morning or something.… I think about the thick, knotty hair on his chest, and the two big swells his breast muscles make.… I pretend to wake up, and turn to him, but not opening my legs. I want him to open them for me. He does, and I be soft and wet where his fingers are strong and hard. I be softer than I ever been before. All my strength is in his hand.
My brain curls up like wilted leaves.… I stretch my legs open, and he is on top of me. Too heavy to hold, and too light not to. He puts his thing in me. In me. In me. I wrap my feet around his back so he can’t get away. His face is next to mine. The bedsprings sounds like them crickets used to back home. He puts his fingers in mine, and we stretches our arms outwise like Jesus on the cross. I hold on tight. My fingers and my feet hold on tight, because everything else is going, going. I know he wants me to come first. But I can’t. Not until he does. Not until I feel him loving me. Just me. Sinking into me. Not until I know that my flesh is all that be on his mind. That he couldn’t stop if he had to. That he would die rather than take his thing out of me. Of me. Not until he has let go of all he has, and give it to me. To me. To me.
When he does, I feel a power. I be strong, I be pretty, I be young. And then I wait. He shivers and tosses his head. Now I be strong enough, pretty enough, and young enough to let him make me come. I take my fingers out of his and put my hands on his behind. My legs drop back onto the bed. I don’t make no noise, because the chil’ren might hear. I begin to feel those little bits of color floating up into me— deep in me. That streak of green from the june-bug light, the purple from the berries trickling along my thighs, Mama’s lemonade yellow runs sweet in me. Then I feel like I’m laughing between my legs, and the laughing gets all mixed up with the colors, and I’m afraid I’ll come, and afraid I won’t. But I know I will. And I do. And it be rainbow all inside. And it lasts and lasts and lasts. I want to thank him, but don’t know how, so I pat him like you do a baby. He asks me if I’m all right. I say yes. He gets off me and lies down to sleep. I want to say something, but I don’t. I don’t want to take my mind offen the rainbow.
Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name
I washed her with slow, careful gestures, first letting her squat in the tub, then asking her to stand up: I still have in my ears the sound of the dripping water, and the impression that the copper of the tub had a consistency not different from Lila’s flesh, which was smooth, solid, calm. I had a confusion of feelings and thoughts: embrace her, weep with her, kiss her, pull her hair, laugh, pretend to sexual experience and instruct her in a learned voice, distancing her with words just at the moment of greatest closeness.
But in the end there was only the hostile thought that I was washing her, from her hair to the soles of her feet, early in the morning, just so that Stefano could sully her in the course of the night. I imagined her naked as she was at that moment, entwined with her husband, in the bed in the new house, while the train clattered under their windows and his violent flesh entered her with a sharp blow, like the cork pushed by the palm into the neck of a wine bottle. And it suddenly seemed to me that the only remedy against the pain I was feeling, that I would feel, was to find a corner secluded enough so that Antonio could do to me, at the same time, the exact same thing.
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
She said, ‘Very well, you may kiss my vibrato.’
He took her left hand and sucked the ends of her fingers in turn, and put his tongue on the violin player’s calluses there. They kissed, and it was in this moment of relative optimism for Florence that she felt his arms tense, and suddenly, in one deft athletic move, he had rolled on top of her, and though his weight was mostly through his elbows and forearms planted on either side of her head, she was pinned down and helpless, and a little breathless beneath his bulk. She felt disappointment that he had not lingered to stroke her pubic area again and set off that strange and spreading thrill. But her immediate preoccupation – an improvement on revulsion or fear – was to keep up appearances, not to let him down or humiliate herself, or seem a poor choice among all the women he had known. She was going to get through this. She would never let him know what a struggle it was, what it cost her, to appear calm. She was without any other desire but to please him and make this night a success, and without any other sensation beyond an awareness of the end of his penis, strangely cool, repeatedly jabbing and bumping into and around her urethra. Her panic and disgust, she thought, were under control, she loved Edward, and all her thoughts were on helping him have what he so dearly wanted and to make him love her all the more. It was in this spirit that she slid her right hand down between his groin and hers. He lifted a little to let her through. She was pleased with herself for remembering that the red manual advised that it was perfectly acceptable for the bride to ‘guide the man in’.
She found his testicles first and, not at all afraid now, she curled her fingers softly round this extraordinary bristling item she had seen in different forms on dogs and horses, but had never quite believed could fit comfortably on adult humans. Drawing her fingers across its underside, she arrived at the base of his penis, which she held with extreme care, for she had no idea how sensitive or robust it was. She trailed her fingers along its length, noting with interest its silky texture, right to the tip, which she lightly stroked; and then, amazed by her own boldness, she moved back down a little, to take his penis firmly, about halfway along, and pulled it downwards, a slight adjustment, until she felt it just touching her labia.
How could she have known what a terrible mistake she was making? Had she pulled on the wrong thing? Had she gripped too tight? He gave out a wail, a complicated series of agonised, rising vowels, the sort of sound she had heard once in a comedy film when a waiter, weaving this way and that, appeared to be about to drop a towering pile of soup plates.
In horror she let go, as Edward, rising up with a bewildered look, his muscular back arching in spasms, emptied himself over her in gouts, in vigorous but diminishing quantities, filling her navel, coating her belly, thighs, and even a portion of her chin and kneecap in tepid, viscous fluid.
James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime
“She begins to strip like a roommate and climb into bed.
They have fallen asleep. Dean wakes first, in the early afternoon. He unfastens her stockings and slowly rolls them off. Her skirt is next and then her underpants. She opens her eyes. The garter belt he leaves on, to confirm her nakedness. He rests his head there.
Her hand touches his chest and begins to fall in excruciating slow designs.
He lies still as a dog beneath it, still as an idiot.
The next morning she is recovered. His prick is hard. She takes it in her hand. They always sleep naked. Their flesh is innocent and warm. In the end she is arranged across the pillows, a ritual she accepts without a word.
It is half an hour before they fall apart, spent, and call for breakfast. She eats both her rolls and one of his.
“There was a lot,” she says.
She glistens with it. The inside of her thighs is wet.
“How long does it take to make again?” she asks.
Dean tries to think. He is remembering biology.
“Two or three days,” he guesses.
“Non, non!” she cries. That is not what she meant.
She begins to make him hard again. In a few minutes he rolls her over and puts it in as if the intermission were ended. This time she is wild. The great bed begins creaking. Her breath becomes short. Dean has to brace his hands on the wall. He hooks his knees outside her legs and drives himself deeper.
“Oh,” she breathes, “that’s the best.”
When he comes, it downs them both. They crumble like sand. He returns from the bathroom and picks up the covers from the floor. She has not moved. She lies just where she has fallen.