How much raunch to put in sex scenes :: Confessions of A Dirty Blonde

I like it here. I have a great view and I can put Kahlua in my coffee before heading into the office, so that’s badass.

For those of you who missed the memo, I just left my career as a high school English teacher – so I could be here with you. And after my first post, you’re already sending me sweet vibes via email. How cool is that?

The first note I received was from an Amazon bestselling author who is concerned about how much raunch to put in her sex scenes. How to make the pages steam without burning her career.

So you’re telling me I get to talk about nasty things every week, while drinking morning cocktails? Yeah. Yep. Yes.

Bitch of a job this.

Here’s the question:

“I need tips on writing a love scene. I can write fuckhot love scenes when I’m writing erotica, but I can’t publish erotica. (Long story, but it comes down to I’m a teacher in a tiny rural community and omg-the-drama-it-could-cause.) But more than that, I don’t want to have to write erotica in order to write romance.

“Because of that, any love scenes I write are fade-to-black or vague, and even my own mother said she wishes I’d write something a little dirtier. (Isn’t she great?) So I’m wondering if you have any tips on how to write a decent love scene without having to cross the line to erotica.”

She had me at ‘fuckhot.’ And at the bit where she details her concerns because of her career. I taught in Podunk, Missouri (shout out to MoCo) in the beginning of my career, which is part of the reason I chose to begin writing with a pseudonym. Juggling professional and writing careers can pose problems if you’re supposed to be seen as a role model. So I understand entirely why she’s bound to PG-13 material – and I think her mom is badass.

Still, I’m not entirely sure there is technically much difference between writing romance and erotica. Most of us assume one is dirtier and kinkier, but they both have a similar goal, right? To arouse their audiences’ sexual desires.

The difference, I believe, is between an entire manuscript and a scene. Here’s my thought:

There is something smoldering hot about a sex scene refusing to give away all the details, letting the readers’ imaginations run wild.

Because of that, I don’t think she really has a problem at all, but an awesome opportunity to play with her words and flirt with her readers (like foreplay).

Here’s my suggestion:

I always love detailing bodies coming together, using verbs (enraptured, danced, grazed, etc.) to describe their placement, without coming out and saying anything about penis-and-vagina action (or other combinations of sexual organs).

An example?

“His hand grazed the curve of her lower back as she sank into the down comforter. She blossomed for him underneath his broad shoulders with her smooth legs intertwined and buckling around his waist.”

We’re not talking about penetration. Frankly, blossoming for him could mean many things. But imagery makes the reader see something and they will go wherever their imagination wants. That’s exciting (for them and you).

The rule I write sex scenes by is simple. If I would cringe saying it to one of my former bosses, I probably need to leave some of the dirty work up to the readers.

Erotica is great, if that’s what you want to write, but you don’t have to write an entire book of it, if you don’t want to.

Playing with unusual verbs and putting a metaphor on its proverbial back are two ways to get the point across without giving away the goods.

Funny, this is the second post I’ve referenced giving it all away (and my refusal to), yet here I am dishing out tips on how to make your work dirtier while avoiding a mud bath.

You guys sure put out one hell of an initiation.

Got writing questions for Lindsay? Email Confessions of a Dirty Blonde goes out every Thursday.

9 replies
  1. Beth
    Beth says:

    Well, I’m sorta picking this article apart a little, because I’m trying to reconcile it to what I know about romance vs. erotic. According to the industry in the last ten years or so, the statement, “Erotica is great, if that’s what you want to write, but you don’t have to write an entire book of it, if you don’t want to” doesn’t jive. It claims that Erotica is merely the sex part of a romance. Also, the statement that both erotica and romance have a goal, “to arouse their audience,” feels slightly off, too. I write mainstream romance. My goal is to show a HEA; sex is included because I believe it’s a large part of humanity. Whether my reader gets aroused by a particular sex scene is non of my business. If that were my goal, I’d be writing porn or producing porn movies. I’d rather my readers–aroused or not–feel the emotions from that scene. A good sigh. Heart-racing. Maybe even some anger because they know the sex isn’t going to work to get the MC what he/she wants.

    From what I’ve learned–and yes, the entire industry is a quagmire of subjection–Erotica is defined BY the sexual journey, not the journey to the HEA. It’s more like extremely sensual [or even dirty] women’s lit. It’s about growth, maturity, or coming to some kind of inner peace through meeting someone and having them push the character’s boundaries through sexual experience. HEA is not necessary between two people in an erotic novel. Hell, the ending could be that the MC overcomes her prudeness and is now comfortable sleeping with two or three people at a time–all at once or not.

    Romance is boy meets girl. It’s conflict. It’s overcoming that conflict and choosing love, HEA. The sex in romance is what draws the reader into the emotions. Sex can add to conflict or resolve conflict, but it doesn’t define the story. In romance, no matter how subtle or not the sex is, the story is still about the relationship, sex is the bonus, depending on how explicit you like to read. Which is why we can have romance, inspirational style, or romance with words like blossom or even penis.

    Sorry, sometimes I talk too much. I do like a good discussion, though, and I mean nothing to offend. Just giving a different perspective on those thoughts. Your article really made me think today. Now I’m off to do edits and rewrites…and maybe take the word penis out of my ms. 😉 <3

  2. Capo
    Capo says:


    I use sexually charged language here for the purpose of mood, but arousal can simply mean a reawakening of the senses (it doesn’t have to reference sexual arousal). Playing with word choice, as this column presents, is something I do regularly while *trying* to stay focused on the topic.

    I think the difference here is the writer was only focusing on one scene inside, instead of the entire plot. I love your explanation of both types of lit, but I’m unsure the difference between the two is the answer she was looking to find. There are people who want to stay main stream/conventional for reasons of their own, regardless of the new ideas of the industry.
    My response was directed toward her and others with the same problem.

    Any thoughts on the recent(ish) restrictions Amazon placed on erotic novels versus romance? The censorship produced in their terms makes a clear difference between romance and erotica, whether we want them to or not.


  3. Capo
    Capo says:

    P.s. I’m responding via cell in Hawaii, so it’ll be a few days before I’m home/able to respond fully. Please feel free to email me with additional questions.

  4. Beth
    Beth says:

    I can see what you mean…and going back to the original question does focus the content of your article. But maybe the better question for the original questioner [OQ] would be… what’s the problem? I have never heard of steam burning a career. As a matter of fact, I often find it discouraging that the more poorly written, yet very steamy novels are flying off the shelves, making thousands of dollars a year, when my more Nora-esque versions reach stagnant within months of their release. I have often considered trying my hand at a much steamier novel–arousal and penis included–in order to see if the statistics have value. Slap a sexy cover on that thing, and watch what happens.

    I see hundreds of 5 star reviews for a book only to pick it up and find the writing atrocious, but it contains the sex appeal that a certain audience wants. Think of what the OQ could do if she combined that sex appeal WITH good writing??? That’s what I wonder. But if the writing is merely a comfort issue than she’s obvious asking the wrong people. She should only be asking herself. What am I comfortable writing? Can I write it and put my name on it? Would I have to use a pen name? Or should I just write softer sex scenes… 🙂

    As far as that amazon thing goes… my research only resulted in speculation, nothing that confirmed Amazon was actually banning certain books.

    • Capo
      Capo says:

      I can attest to her fear of losing her job, as someone who worked in education (and got my hand slapped for my writing). Yes, even though I taught English. You’re supposed to be a “role model” for kids. In district code that means prude (no sex, no social life, no controversy). Real person? Not in the classroom.

      At the end of the day your voice is what’s most important in writing. It certainly won’t come through if you’re writing something way out of your comfort zone, although a good editor could help you through. The questions you listed are very helpful for people questioning their choices.

      You, ma’am, are a welcome addition to the conversation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the future. Please come back.

  5. Rebecca Trogner
    Rebecca Trogner says:

    You know, I struggle with this issue. In my first book, I didn’t put enough “romance” in the book. It’s such a fine line to walk. In my second book, I’ve put in more love scenes, but as you wrote, I’m a bit more creative with how I write it. I’m always perplexed by the taboo of writing “too much” sex in books, because in film and TV and music and anywhere else it is fine. I also notice that people think “real literature” shouldn’t have too many sex scenes, if any at all. The writer should just “fade to black”.
    Great post

      • Rebecca Trogner
        Rebecca Trogner says:

        Yes, it is. The majority of readers do not feel that way, but the major reviewers, magazines, and newspapers won’t look at anything that has too much “sexy time”. 🙂 But, that seems to be changing some. Very interesting post. I think a lot of authors have internal conflict trying to figure out the “line”.

  6. Caroline Gerardo
    Caroline Gerardo says:

    I’m writing transgressional thrillers that are literary. A number of male readers commented that I didn’t have enough sex in my last two books. Current work in progress has more, but also transgender alternative. I wonder will there be screaming and yelling about having one villain who is secretly off the main stream? As you say if I don’t use the technical words for body parts – does that really allow reader to find their own way? Avalon told me they wouldn’t publish a scene in my first book because they would never allude to a rape. But the event was motivating to the main character. I ended up going my own way. Perhaps this means I will never be a best seller. Thought provoking post Bravo


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