Sex is not one-size-fits-all. Writing about it isn’t, either. Readers are individuals who have individual tastes, and you can pretty much guess what they want according to what types of books they like to read. It’s important to recognize this as a writer, especially when it comes to sex, because something that is a turn-on to a romance reader might be a complete turn-off to a reader of thrillers.
One thing is universal, though. Sex is a sensual experience, and writing it should be, too. More than any other act, sex should be explored by a writer. What does it taste like, feel like, smell like? What made the character want it, need it, have to have it at that moment and with that person and in that place? What made it so necessary, so needful, so urgent that it could … not … wait … another … second …
Readers want sex that feels like it would naturally occur in whatever circumstance you’ve created. That doesn’t mean that it’s always pretty. On the contrary. It may sometimes be ugly, but ugly sex can be among a writer’s most effective tools. In my first book, Pipe Dream, the sex takes place during a drug-fueled orgy on a dining room floor. It’s dirty. It’s primal. It’s nasty, but in that world, where every sensation is heightened and every moment is filled with risk, it’s sexy, it’s gratifying, it’s real. In another setting, it wouldn’t be.
That brings me to my next point. Sex should only be written if it’s integral to the story. It should define the characters’ relationship. It should be an expression of some emotion, whether love or hate, longing or desperation, fear or joy. If the emotion is present along with the physical description, it gives the writer the tools needed to go beyond the ordinary, and to give the reader the kind of fantasy that only a book can provide. For example, your character might be in the throes of passion, knowing all the while that she’s about to plunge a knife into her lover’s back. Your character might lead his girlfriend from the bedroom to the Jacuzzi with every intention of electrocuting her once she gets inside. Your character might have sex with a married woman while filming it to send to her husband. Your characters might be married, and while they’re trying something new for the first time, the wife might wonder, even in the midst of the moment, where the husband learned this new trick.
My point is this: You want to take the reader inside the physical act and allow them to experience the sensations. But if that’s all you’re offering as a writer, your readers can get that on a porn site. You have the capacity to take them beyond the physical. You have the tools to let them pull back the curtain and look at the feelings and the emotions behind the moment. You are the one who gives voice to the things we don’t say out loud. As a writer, you can give readers the chance to say the things they wanted to say but wouldn’t, wanted to do but couldn’t, wanted to feel, but didn’t. That’s what writing good sex is about in my estimation. Anything less will almost always come off stilted and fake, and we all know that good sex is a lot of things, but it’s never ever fake.
Solomon Jones is the author of the critically acclaimed novels C.R.E.A.M., Ride Or Die, The Bridge, Pipe Dream, and Payback, as well as the short story collection, Keeping Up With The Jones: marriage, family and life … unplugged. Jones also writes the Weekend Warrior column for the Philadelphia Daily News. Jones has been published in Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia magazine, the Philadelphia Weekly, and the Philadelphia Tribune. An adjunct professor at Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts, Jones lives in Philadelphia with his family.