Now that I am an internationally famous author celebrated for my graphic portrayals of amour (see "A Pervert Among Us," New York Times Book Review, April 2002, and "How Low Will He Go?" Us magazine, January 2003), I am frequently asked how I manage to write such incredibly hot sex scenes. This usually happens at one of the many celebrity author venues I frequent, such as the Playboy Mansion Reading Room.
     My general response to these inquiries is to laugh shyly and say, "Look, kid, ask Updike, he's even smuttier than me."
     But I must admit that the question is being asked so frequently these days, and with such delicious sycophancy, that I feel duty-bound to respond to my public somehow.
     Therefore, in the general interest of preventing more bad sex writing from entering the cultural jetstream, I am officially setting out this, my Twelve-Step Program for Writing Incredibly Hot Scenes:

Step 1
Never compare a woman's nipples to:
     a) Cherries
     b) Cherry pits
     c) Pencil erasers
     d) Frankenstein's bolts
     Nipples are tricky. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and shades. They do not, as a rule, look like much of anything, aside from nipples. So resist making dumbshit comparisons.
     Note: I am guilty of the last.

Step 2
Never, ever use the words "penis" or "vagina."
     There is no surer way to kill the erotic buzz than to use these terms, which call to mind, my mind at least, health classes (in the best instance) and (in the worst instance) venereal disease.
     As a rule, in fact, there is often no reason at all to name the genitals. Consider the following sentence:
     "She wet her palm with her tongue and reached for my penis."
     Now consider this alternative:
     "She wet her palm with her tongue and reached for me."
     Is there any real doubt as to where this particular horndoggle is reaching?

Step 2a
Resist the temptation to use genital euphemisms, unless you are trying to be funny.
    No: Tunnel of Love, Candy Shop, Secret Garden, Pleasure Gate
    Equally no: Flesh Kabob, Tube Steak, Magic Wand
    Especially no: Bearded Clam, Shaft of Manhood
    I could go on, but it would only be for my own amusement.


Step 3
Then again, sometimes sex is funny.
     And if you ever saw a videotape of yourself in action, you'd agree. What an absurd arrangement. Don't be afraid to portray these comic aspects. If one of your characters, in a dire moment of passion, hits a note that sounds eerily like Celine Dion, duly note this. If another can't stay hard, allow him to use a ponytail holder for an improvised cock ring. And later on, if his daughter comes home and demands to know where her ponytail holder is, well, so be it.

Step 4
Do not allow real people to talk in porn clich├ęs.
    They do not say: "Give it to me, big boy."
    They do not say: "Suck it, baby. That's right, all the way down."
    They do not say: "Yes, deeper, harder, deeper! Oh, baby, oh Christ, yes!"
    At least, they do not say these things to me.
    Most of the time, real people say all kinds of weird, funny things during sex, such as, "I think I'm losing circulation" and "I've got a cramp in my foot" and "Oh, sorry!" and "Did you come already? Goddamn it!"

Step 5
Use all the senses.
     The cool thing about sex — aside from its being, uh, sex — is that it engages all five of our human senses. So don't ignore the more subtle cues. Give us the scents and the tastes and the sounds of the act. And stay away from the obvious ones. By which I mean that I'd take a sweet, embarrassed pussyfart over a shuddering moan any day.
    You may quote me on that.

Step 6
Don't obsess over the rude parts.
     Sex is inherently over the top. Just telling the reader that two (or more) people are balling will automatically direct us toward the genitals. It is your job, as an author, to direct us elsewhere, to the more inimitable secrets of the naked body. Give us the indentations on small of a woman's back, or the minute trembling of a man's underlip.

Step 7
Don't forget the foreplay.
    It took me a few years to realize this (okay, twenty), but desire is, in the end, a lot sexier than the actual humping part. So don't make the traditional porno mistake. Don't cut from the flirtatious discussion to the gag-defying fellatio. Tease the reader a little bit. Let the drama of the seduction prime us for the action.

Step 8
Remember that fluid is fun.
    Sex is sticky. There's no way around this. If you want to represent the truth of the acts, you will likely be required to pay homage to the resultant wetnesses. And I'm not just talking about semen or vaginal fluid. I'm also talking sweat and saliva, which I consider to be the perfume of lovers, as well as whatever one chooses as a lubricant. (Sesame oil is my current fave, but it changes from week to week.)

Step 9
It takes a long time to make a woman come.
    I speak here from experience. So please, don't try to sell us on the notion that a man can enter a woman, elicit a shuddering moan or two, and bring her off. No sale. In fact, I'd steer clear of announcing orgasms at all. Rarely, in my experience, do men or women announce their orgasms. They simply have them. Their bodies are taken up by sensation and tossed about in various ways. Describe the tossing.

Step 10
Remember that it is okay to get aroused by your own sex scenes.
     In fact, it's pretty much required. Remember, part of the intent of a good sex scene is to arouse the reader. And you're not likely to do that unless you, yourself, are feeling the same delicious tremors. You should be envisioning what you're writing and — whether with one hand or two — transcribing these visions in detail.

Step 11
Remember that, contrary to popular belief, people think during sex.
     I know this is going to be hard for some of the men in the crowd to believe, but it's true. The body may race when it comes to sex, but the mind is also working overtime. And just what do people think about? Laundry. Bio-terrorism. Old lovers. That new car ad, the one with the dwarf falling off the cliffs of Aberdeen. Sex isn't just the physical process. The thoughts that accompany the act are just as significant (more so actually) than the gymnastics.

Step 12
If you ain't prepared to rock, don't roll.
    If you don't feel comfortable writing about sex, then don't. By this, I mean writing about sex as it actually exists, in the real world, as an ecstatic, terrifying and, above all, deeply emotional process. Real sex is compelling to read about because the participants are so utterly vulnerable. We are all, when the time comes to get naked, terribly excited and frightened and hopeful and doubtful, usually at the same time. You mustn't abandon them in their time of need. You mustn't make of them naked playthings with rubbery parts. You must love them, wholly and without shame, as they go about their human business. Because we've already got a name for sex without the emotional content: it's called pornography.

Step 13
Read the Song of Songs.
    The Song of Songs, for those of you who haven't read the Bible in a while, is a long erotic poem that somehow got smuggled into the Old Testament. It is the single most instructive document you can read, if you want to learn how to write effectively about the nature of physical love.
    I am not making this up. 

[Editor's note: To buy Steve's book, which is full of very good sex writing indeed, click here.]

©2003 Steve Almond and Nerve.com, Inc.

Commentarium (30 Comments)

May 21 03 - 1:50pm

this was awesome. funny and dead on

May 21 03 - 8:26pm

Regarding "..I speak here from experience. So please, don't try to sell us on the notion that a man can enter a woman, elicit a shuddering moan or two, and bring her off. ..." ; guess what it happens to me all the time and no they are not faking it ... and no I don't claim to have a huge dick either (though I have been told I am "generous" but I don't think that has anything to do with it). I don't understand why/how but that's the truth. So I think you *can* write about it!

May 22 03 - 3:27pm

Maybe if I'd broken more rules than #2, I would have been a finalist. Eh, probably not.

May 22 03 - 3:41pm

Mon amour,

Thanks for the hot hot tips. Now it's back to the drawing board.

Laura Dunne

May 22 03 - 8:24pm

Hellooo, EGM,

I guess I'd have to say that seeing is believing. Don't know what you've got darlin, but I've been a woman a long, long time, and can tell ya, we're great fakers, and "it don't come easy!"

(No offense, I really hope you are as great as you think you are, if so would love to meet you!)

May 23 03 - 4:20am

I wish you would write my boyfriend and tell him he can't just stick his dick in me and *KABANG* get me off. He seems to think it's a personal affront to his manhood!

May 23 03 - 3:46pm

Ha ha! Clever and funny, and I'll be taking at least some of your advice. I hope those people who always post in the comments section to describe what their 'throbbing hardness' did to some 'horny slut's' 'dripping wet lips' back in the 70's do too. And regarding, "guess what it happens to me all the time and no they are not faking it" I bet they are.

May 29 03 - 10:01am

Excellent and very tastefully done article. As a new erotica writer I appreciated the candor and truth in your article.Thanks - from a woman's point of view.

May 30 03 - 7:27pm

LMAO@step 9...oh you poor guy..LOL..and it's kind of funny with the women saying that they're great fakers ot that they think we think we can just stick it in and WHAMO..lol..it's not even like that..I'm not saying that I'm good at all, in fact I like to think of myself as modest but I have NO problems making women cum. No they weren't faking, sure its always possible somewhere along the lines but you can tell when a women is REALLY cumming, in fact I've given a few women their first squirting experience and that you can't fake sooooo just keep plugging along (pardon the pun..lol)

Jun 01 11 - 1:14pm

um... as to squirting, it doesnt actually have to accompany an orgasm you know

Mar 26 12 - 12:03am

Yeah, my sister knows the difference between orgasm and squirting. Her ex used to make her squirt all the time (cuz he thought it was funny), but she only orgasmed once or twice when with him. (Yes, my sex addicted sister tells me everything because I myself refuse to have sex. She feels that I need to know everything about her sex life)

Jun 10 03 - 12:58am

I must say I have been trying my hand with sex scenes with no real satisfaction. A member of a writing group sent me a link to this site. I must say that now I can see my mistakes. This has been a great experiance and a big help thanks for offering suggestions. I sometimes find it very hard to take all the aspects of a situation into consideration. I hope that I can now go back and perfect my work and make it some thing people will enjoy reading.

Jun 09 03 - 10:41pm

Thanks for the subtil, thoughtful and kind steps. Your guide is inspiring and so good to read at!

Jun 17 03 - 7:51pm

Yes, please do read Song of Songs in the Bible. The most amazing thing that the Right ever did was convince us that the Bible belonged to them. It doesn't. The most amazing thing the Left ever did was to believe the Right in this regard. Read it, all of it, you just might be suprised.

Sep 21 10 - 4:07am

As well as being very funny, this is a very helpful list. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write about sex effectively but this article will help me get nearer to it anyway!

Oct 01 10 - 2:08pm

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Oct 01 10 - 5:53pm

Yes, sure, I like it, Interesting and educational. Please continue to write more interesting post in your website.

Oct 03 10 - 2:53am
Crack Helen

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Oct 03 10 - 8:39am

Yes, sure, I like it, interesting and cool. Please continue to publish more interesting texts in your personal site.

Oct 19 10 - 4:59pm
Crack Helen

Ok im out now.

Jan 08 11 - 3:28pm

Thanks for writing this, now i'm headin' off to the drawing board xD

Feb 08 11 - 9:38pm
Serial Kaitlin

Hmm, nice. im out right now.

Feb 15 11 - 6:34pm

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Feb 18 11 - 4:43am
Download Theresa

Thank you very much. The system looks amazing. We are waiting

Nov 06 11 - 11:50am

The comments from insecure males interspersed with bots amuse me almost as much as the actual article did. Almost.

Nov 11 11 - 1:30am

Actually if you tease the woman to near orgasm before you can bring her to one quite quickly. But not without a great amount of foreplay. I love some of these ideas but for erotica and some other hard core books euphemisms will not work. They want to hear the dirty words. I know I would because of the characters I am bonding with.

Dec 18 11 - 2:48pm

Thanks bro. I'm an aspiring writer and I'm almost always writing romance. I get off on the sex scenes. They're necessary for the story, but I feel like I approach them wrong. I'll take this into consideration.

Feb 26 12 - 7:01pm

I'm a women, and I'm frequently told that I fuck like a man - don't assume all women are the same and that we all like/need foreplay, all of the time. Sometimes we just want to fuck, no messing about. The brain is the biggest erogenous zone for me - if those mental buttons are pushed right then it's 0 to take off in no time at all.

P.s. I have never faked it, because I generally get there first!

Aug 06 12 - 7:48pm

i once owned a dinner theatre, we had one actor who used to think every woman desired a good pounding from his self proclaimed extra large member. Our new costume designer, who was a sweet, sexy, petite girl quietly listened to his bragging about how he could go on and on for hours and how huge he was. Thinking, she would naturally need him to prove it to her as well. She quietly kept sewing a costume but only uttered this comment, "Can I clue you in on something there, stud. Women don't want 9 hour donkey dick sessions...bigger doesn't mean instant orgasm for women...bigger means it hurts, 9 hours...hurts...stop trying to act like we can't live without your dick. If you think I'm lying, let's see how it takes before you cry when someone shoves a water pipe the size of a small bat in your ass for 9 hours. He stopped bragging...at least to her.

Aug 09 12 - 3:58am

I agree with all but one thing you've said: who, exactly, is your target audience when a sex scene includes a "a sweet, embarrassed pussyfart"? Avid readers of parodies?
These are great tips for romance writers but it would be ill-advised for them to insert something like that in their story because:
a) it kills a mood. Fast. You want to turn on your reader, make them want to buy those books that you got an advance paycheck for, not make them think that you're crazy even when you're being real.
b) it will gross out a reader. As much as a pussyfart is realistic, that is not why they're reading your love story. They want fantasy from phenomenal fictional relationships, and this fantasy extends to shuddering moans of pleasure, with no mention of vaginas, penises and pussyfarts.
Fantasy sex shouldn't make your readers grimace or want to gag. It should make them want to reach for their dildo.