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How To Write About Sex

August 26, 2013

I get two magazines, Wired, and Science Journal. Wired I read, and Science Journal I skim, because I don’t have a Ph. D. or High. IQ. But I do read magazines I would never subscribe to when waiting to get my hair cut or to see the dentist. Recently one of those advertised “Exciting New Sex Positions to Heat Up the Bedroom.”  Wow. Talk about pandering to the masses, I thought, snagging it. Inside, there was just a feature about intimacy (yadda, yadda, yadda) and a website for “more information.”

When I got home, I googled the website and it went to a magazine for women much like the Men’s Health magazine that my son used to hide under his bed in middle school. The new sex positions guide was in there all right—the illustrated version. I’m not big on reading directions so my plan was to just look at the illustrative guide and absorb the instructions—much like I learned to program the timer on the new coffee maker which makes coffee at 3 a.m.

These were not photos but a set of line drawings set up in little squares in a table of 8 across and 5 down. But the only parts of bodies showing were the portions from neck to ankles. It was impossible to tell male from female because the requisite parts were always connected—and when they’re connected, they’re basically concealed. It was like when you were in third grade and had to compare two “identical” photographs to see how many subtle discrepancies there were—only instead of comparing two photos of men with fishing poles and bait buckets by a stream, (Oh look! The one on the left has put his hat on backwards!) I was studying hips, knees, and thighs in one little square and the hips, knees and thighs in the little square one row over and I swear they were identical—until, wait!—the guys hands had moved! And I thought, This isn’t news, this is high school.

Writing a scene that contains a sexual encounter is exceptionally difficult to do well. It’s nearly impossible not to feel judged and vulnerable as you write. So try this. Flip it around. Eliminate all expectation—take the pressure off by making your assignment to write not about sex, but about longing.  Write a scene between two people who desperately want to kiss but can’t even touch—maybe they’re two adolescents at lunch with the girl’s grandparents, they are co-workers in the office but married to other people, they are members of two different caste systems, she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen but his strep test came back positive, she’s in prison, he’s visiting under supervision.

The only unclothed body parts in this scene are eyes and hands—oh, and brains—which is perfect since great sex begins with a thought and ends with a memory.


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