Yes, Sex! Now that I’ve got your attention, what makes for good sex scenes in fiction?
Obviously it has to be an essential part of the tale. Sex for sex sake, well, that might be fun, but I'm always thinking of the story and why it's there. If I was simply writing erotica (I have dabbled, yes) or even pure pornography, it might be different as sex is THE point, but since I write speculative fiction, it's more a happy participant and not just the focus.
Except when it is the focus, then, I'm there with the characters completely. Yeah, it gets crowded...
I love David Cronenberg’s commentary on his 2005 movie, A History of Violence, where he notes the original script didn’t have the two sex scenes he added to it. Sex scenes as a form of balance, the first one loving and playful, the second, rough, brutal. The thinking was that it would deepen our understanding of the couple at those junctures--as much there for psychological reasons as reasons of the flesh--but also, he noted, and I’ll paraphrase, sex is an essential part of life, which has always been my take on it.
I used a similar approach when writing my first novel, The Corner of His Mind, tracing the balance of two characters via the development of their sexual life, from two early sequences of free-for-all coupling, while later, there’s one brief and concentrated lovemaking encounter and, more so, a scene in which the female character, Molly--an artist with an idealistic, outsider mindset--uses her physicality to convince Trent--a writer and her perfect match, though he may not know it, totally--not to head off to, well…let’s just say, he’s gotta face his demons. It’s potent stuff.
Anyway, the point here, as I get to it in a roundabout way, is: what makes a good sex scene? Lots of "ooohs" and "aaaahs" and ovelry flowery descriptions are boring and cliche, and I avoid cliche like the plague (yes, that's a joke; did you get it?). For me, it’s fully immersing myself--and the reader--in the scene and keeping the characters real, true to themselves. Conversation, ambience, humor, frenzy, and it's gotta flow, everything goes into the scene, including the reason it's in there: character development, and to move the story along. It’s not just sex, it’s life…but it’s hot!
Here’s a brief, intense example from that first novel that has music as a lead in (of course, haha). We’re thrown into the scene immediately as Molly is peaking, yet it’s got kick and isn’t wrapped up in vanilla description, it’s got color, and tastes good, too. Well, at least I think so.
Squealing reams of feedback roughly accosted a pulsating rhythm: Brighter Death Now in all its perverse joy--sordid death industrial of the highest order. What Trent and Molly found appealing about the primal, distorted noise as it barged out of the stereo’s speakers was beyond easy explanation besides the fact that it touched them somewhere deep inside, where reptilian recollections roamed freely. The raw, teeth-bared and tearing at one’s eardrums sounds had nothing to do with Top Forty and everything to do with not only coloring out of bounds, but smearing the boundaries in filth and tearing up the map as well. But it, as well as other like-minded distributors of disharmonic disgust, was noise, catastrophic and uninhibited and it worked magic as background participant during many of their sexual trysts: a musique concrète ménage a trios.
Molly’s legs squeezed Trent’s head, opened wing-like and wide to accept the pleasure and clamped again around his head as her orgasm rippled not like the plunked, watery echo of the dropped stone, but more like a boulder being tossed in to disrupt in indescribable ways. The sounds she made—coughs, gasps, harsh laughter—escaped from her throat in clipped, erratic peals. Trent looked up at Molly, her head tilted so far back he could only see the bobbing spasm of the Adam’s apple in the taut cables of her neck; he admired her breasts and the metal rimmed nipples that pointed skyward, the arch of her back, the complete abandon that was their sex. Her breathing hiccupped, hard and quick. Her hands grabbed her thighs and pulled her legs further apart. She finally looked down at Trent as he watched from his deliciously subservient perspective, her eyes wide in terror and ecstasy, hips grinding her vagina into his face. Trent lapped and nibbled and flicked his tongue and sucked and--
“God. God damn!”
Trent pulled his head back enough to speak. “I’m not your God, but you can bow down and pray to me whenever you want.”
She laughed, something dark and squiggly, drenched in bliss.
Trent raised himself up and scaled her body, kissing the naked, sweaty flesh as he did. He entered her as he kissed her lips.
Molly protested: “I don’t think I can take much more.”
“I’ll be gentle,” he said, knowing of the tantalizing after orgasm itch that the mere touching made insufferable. He could relax, move slowly (slower, slower) and urge her on at a more lenient pace, not pushing her, but with her; connected, entwined.
“I was thinking…” she said, catching her breath, or at least pulling it into focus.
“Yes,” Trent said, lips to her neck. She moaned.
“Stop that! You need to stop that.” She was all teeth, playing to bite him; snapping as a sprung mouse trap. He stopped and stilled his pace. They held each other like this, to start again in a while.
Sometimes it was just too much.
Scintillating fun stuff, eh? Well, I think so, as do Trent and Molly. And it continues after the conversation, flowing as it should and would in real life, before shifting into high gear again. I’ve got a much longer one in the novel that's quite a bit more explicit yet appropriate--as noted above, these characters are physical and it's necessary to feature them in this way in order to make what comes later work--but the point is, all sex scenes should be natural, not manufactured, it’s got to have a sense of reality, the characters are themselves, immersed as well, and loving it.
Well, unless you're writing erotica or porn, then, well...get naked and get to it!