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Awkward Sex Scenes in Books

December 29, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

WARNING!! Adult situations will be discussed using graphic language.  (image via wikimedia)

Sex can be awkward in real life, so it makes sense that writing sex scenes can be just as uncomfortable.  If the wrong words are used in a sex scene, readers laugh.  If a particular act seems unnatural, readers laugh.  Writers usually don’t want readers laughing at their sex scenes, so authors have to be careful about how to approach an intense romantic moment.

The following excerpt from the book Men Like Air by Tom Connoly was selected by The Literary Review as a contender (but not the winner) for its 2016 Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

As an aspiring author, I’d like to examine what makes the following scene thought of as bad or awkward:

 Often she cooked exotic meals and put chillies or spices in her mouth while preparing the food and s***ed him while the food cooked and then told him to f*** her while his manhood was burning rock-hard with fire.

First of all, sex during food preparation/consumption can be dangerous.  I wouldn’t try it in real life, but in fiction, it provides opportunities, and the author leaves some unanswered questions here.  For example, were the chillies and peppers in her mouth while she s***ed him?

This could be interesting, except once food is introduced to the mouth, teeth and saliva make it unappealing.   Men are visual, and the image of food mashed up in an open mouth can overcome sexual desire.  Because of this, the author should be clear about what is going on.  Food preparation/consumption during sex sounds great in fiction (and looks fun in a movie), but in real life it can cause some issues.

Another problem in the sex scene excerpt sentence was the term “manhood.”  It’s tough to describe the male body part without making a reader laugh.  If I provided a list of common words/euphemisms for the male body part,  a bunch of readers would laugh.  And If you have to choose a euphemism, “manhood” is awkward.  Nobody uses “manhood” in everyday conversation.

For example, when a rude driver cuts me off on the freeway, I don’t wave my fist and yell out “You manhood!”

“Manhood” is by nature an awkward word and probably shouldn’t be used in a sex scene, especially since the author was comfortable using “f*ck.”  If an author is going to use a blunt word like “f*ck,” then the author shouldn’t mind using a blunt replacement for “manhood.”

There’s good news about manhood and related words.  Sometimes a writer doesn’t even need a euphemism for the male body part.  In the context of this sex scene excerpt, the male body part is implied .  The author could write “He was burning rock hard with fire” and even the most naïve reader will know exactly what is rock hard.  We don’t need the euphemism.  We don’t need a picture.  We get it.

Also, the woman partner doesn’t need to tell the guy what do when he’s rock hard.  Most guys in that physical state can figure out what to do.  Now if the female is engaging in dirty talk by telling the guy what do, then the author is leaving out crucial information.  Dirty talk is an art and if she’s engaging in it or just giving instructions, the author needs to give information.  A woman rarely just says to f*ck her and that’s it.  At least from my experience, it doesn’t happen that way.

Since sex is a normal part of life, authors should be able to write about it without readers mocking the scene.  By avoiding the mistakes in today’s excerpt, you too can possibly write a sex scene that your readers can enjoy with a straight face.


A couple years ago, I put a sex scene in my ebook, but… sigh… it didn’t win any bad sex in fiction awards.

  1. I also don’t buy a woman wanting intercourse when a man’s penis has pepper juice on it (unless maybe if he was wearing a condom) since a woman’s vagina is even more sensitive to irritants than a man’s penis is.

  2. I’ve been to a few panels on writing sex. The line that always stick out for me (pun intended) “Cock is the gold standard.”

  3. Some very valid criticisms. The pepper idea is something I’ll remember to avoid.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. You Expletive | The Drawing of the Words
  2. Awkward Sex Scenes in Books II | Dysfunctional Literacy

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