Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit!

Sex Tips for Writers

Below is a collection of tips for authors writing sex scenes. These are intended as general guidelines and suggestions, and things to think about. Remember that, as in all things, no rule is absolute. These suggestions come from our combined experience in the world of sexually explicit fanfic, but that doesn't mean you have to listen to us if your gut says otherwise.

Consider Your Setting
If your sex scene doesn't take place in a bed, think about how the setting will affect the sex. For example, sex on the beach is romantic, but think about all that sand in uncomfortable places! Similarly, sex on a desk or table may be exciting, but could also be uncomfortable for the person on the bottom. That doesn't mean don't write the scene; it just means you should make sure your reader knows that you've thought about these things. Your story will seem a lot more realistic if you include even just a brief mention of the floor being cold, or a character worrying about rugburn, etc.

Consider Your Pairing
"Pairing," of course, refers to the selection of the two characters who are having sex in your scene. ("Pairing" can also refer to sex scenes involving more than two people, but let's not get too complicated right now!) We would never dare to tell you that your pairing is wrong or bad (unless it involves under-age characters), but you should bear in mind that the more unusual your pairing, the more carefully you need to set it up. If the two characters are already involved on the show, you need very little setup; but if they're not, you need to make your readers believe that these two characters could have ended up in bed together.

Handling Your Shyness
A lot of people get embarrassed or nervous when writing a sex scene -- and that applies even to people who have written lots of sex scenes! We can't tell you a surefire way to avoid or "get over" shyness, but it does help to have a quiet, private environment to write in, and plenty of time. Remember that your readers may sense your embarrassment if it comes through in the story too much. You can use this to your advantage by incorporating shyness into the plot; but if you're writing a story where shyness isn't appropriate, you may need to try harder to keep your own embarrassment out of the story.

For many people, part of what makes us nervous about writing a sex scene is exposing our own inner desires or fantasies to our readers. Sometimes we feel like the things our characters do in our stories say too much about our own personalities. If this is a problem for you, try writing one sex scene that you will never show to anyone. This may help you get past the embarrassment, and then for your next sex story, you'll be more comfortable.

Write What You Know?
If everyone only wrote what they knew, then virgins could never write good sex stories, and women couldn't write good male slash, right? Well, not necessarily. What you have to remember is that no matter how different the characters are from you, no matter how different the situation is from your life, there's always something of you in the story somewhere. After all, if you're a woman who knows what it feels like to be physically attracted to a man, then you can imagine what the characters in a m/m slash feel like. And if you're a person who knows what it feels like to be sexually aroused, then you can project yourself into the mental position of the characters in your sex scene, even if you yourself have never actually had sex.

Possible Positions
Make sure the sexual positions you're writing about are physically possible! It's okay to write about things you've never tried, but do some research first. Read a book, check a website, ask your friends. This goes for kinky stuff (e.g. B&D, S&M) as well.

Don't Be Afraid of Sex Words
Too many writers ruin an otherwise promising sex scene by using sex words that don't fit the scene. If you use the technical terms (penis, vagina, intercourse), your story may sound too clinical. Similarly, you want to avoid the silly flowery terms found in dime-store romance novels. There is a happy medium, and that can be hard to find. Think about the kinds of words you use, or like to hear, in bed. Those are likely to be the words that feel the most natural in a story as well.

Another thing you should think about when crafting your story is the issue of birth control and disease prevention -- also known as: to condom or not to condom? Okay, if you're writing science fiction sex, then you can dream that it's in a utopian world where STDs no longer exist and everyone's automatically on birth control. For example, in Star Trek stories, you can pretty much ignore the whole protection question. Also, the undead certainly don't need to worry about either of those things, so in vampire fandoms (e.g. "Buffy") you're probably safe as well.

In any other case, however, if your characters aren't using protection, you should have a good reason why. Characterization can be a good reason; there are some characters who just seem like the "living on the edge" types, who would purposefully avoid using protection. In this case, and in any case where you deliberately don't have your characters use protection (other examples: they're monogamous; they're trying to have a baby), it's a good idea to mention it in the story, so your readers know you're not just ignoring the issue.

In general, though, rather than try too hard to explain it away, it's a better idea to have your characters use protection. It's not hard to work it into a story, and you don't need to spend a lot of time on it. If it really bothers you, then write a sex scene that doesn't involve any unsafe acts. (For example, mutual masturbation is generally safe sex.)

Don't Be Afraid To Omit
This may seem strange to say in a "how to write sex scenes" context, but don't write a sex scene if it's not necessary! We've seen great stories that got ruined because the author seemed to think she HAD to put in a sex scene -- so she stuck one in, even though it didn't really help the plot, and in fact it just served to distract from the main plotline. So don't be afraid to simply "fade to black." And remember, if you're really just not comfortable writing sex, that's okay! You can still write perfectly good fanfic without it.

Remember The Emotions
One of our biggest complaints about a lot of sex stories is that they concentrate too much on the action and not enough on the emotion. We like to call this "insert tab A in slot B fanfic." It doesn't matter how much detail you include about which body part is doing what to which other body part -- it won't turn us on unless you tell us how the characters FEEL about this. And that means both emotionally and physically!

Of course, it is possible to go too far in the other direction. We've also seen stories where, for every sentence that describes an act, there follow five paragraphs about how the character felt about that act. Enough is enough! Try to strike a balance between emotion and action.

Maybe you think we spend too much of this website harping on characterization. If so, you probably haven't read some of the fanfics we've seen! And characterization can become a big problem in sex scenes specifically. Your readers need to be able to believe that the characters they know from watching the show would act this way. You should think carefully about things like: Would this character have performed this particular sex act before? If not, would he or she have heard of it? Would he or she be willing to try it without hesitation, or would it take some convincing? How does each character feel about sex in general, about this sex act specifically, about this partner speifically? And so forth.

Non-Consensual Sex
This is a tricky one. Rape in fiction is a hot button for a lot of people, and it's likely that we're going to piss someone off no matter what we say about it. You see, there are a lot of people who are turned on by reading stories with nonconsensual sex in them -- even though these people think rape is a terrible thing and would never dream of condoning it outside of fiction. Now, some people think it's okay to be turned on by rape fiction. Others disagree. So we won't tell you that you shouldn't write fanfic involving rape; we'll just say that you should be very, very careful about it, and bear in mind that you may offend people. In particular, if the person being raped enjoys it, and/or ends up falling in love with the rapist, you're almost guaranteed to offend a fair percentage of your readers.

Of course, not all rape fiction is intended to turn on the reader. We have read rapefic that is not at all erotic, but that is very powerful and emotional, where the main focus of the story is the victim's recovery process.

We HIGHLY recommend that, if your story involves rape in any form, you put a large, easily noticeable warning at the beginning of the story. This will be greatly appreciated by people who don't like that kind of thing -- not to mention people who might suffer actual psychological damage from reading it (such as rape survivors).

Also, make sure you understand the difference between rape and BDSM. B&D (bondage and domination) and S&M (sadism and masochism) may involve partners being tied up, or inflicting physical pain on each other, and the like -- but it is ALWAYS consensual.

As we mentioned in the previous section, sometimes it's appropriate to put warnings on your fiction. This can apply to lots of different types of fiction, not just rapefic. Generally, you need to tailor the warning to your audience. For example, if you're posting a m/m slash story to an email list devoted to m/m slash, you don't need a warning. But if you're posting the story to a more general-purpose list, you'd do well to put up a warning. Similarly, if you're posting a rapefic to a list devoted to rapefic, you probably don't need a warning. Other than slash and rape, another thing that you might want to warn readers about is character death. If your story involves killing off one of the canon characters, some people won't want to read it and will appreciate being warned. Other people think that warning about character death spoils the story, so use your best judgment.

Of course, there will always be some people who will ignore the warnings and be offended anyway, but that's not your fault if you've posted your story in an appropriate forum with the appropriate warnings.


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Last updated March 14, 2001