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Another writerly question (aka let's talk about sex, baby)
Writers who write about serial killers have presumably not actually committed murder, though they may have researched it.  Is it any different when we're talking about writing fictional sex scenes?  Assume that I'm not talking about fade to black scenes. 

Do you think a writer must have had sex at least once in order to write about sex convincingly? 

The context for this question is that someone recently messaged me asking for advice on writing sex scenes.  I haven't had a chance to write back yet.  Frankly, I don't know if I'm even qualified to give her any advice beyond some suggested links.   At any rate, because of the person's age and certain things she said, I suspect she is a virgin.  That got me thinking.

ETA:  My question isn't about whether someone must have engaged in the specific sexual acts they're depicting, but rather have they actually been with a partner in some fashion, experienced an orgasm, and so on.

Hmmm. This is a tricky one L! In many ways I think one can only write convincingly if writing from experience, on the other hand, writing fanfiction is all about observing something else and writing from that which basically blows that argument out the water :)

*goes away to ponder further*

*waves hello* I hear you. Tricky questions--the ones that don't have easy answers--are often the most fun to ponder. Sometimes just asking the question is enough. :)

Thanks for commenting.

Hope you don't mind me nosing into your LJ... I was linking to leave a comment on your last marvelous B/B fic and I saw your question.

Because basic human emotions are common to mostly everyone, good writers draw on those basic emotions, do their homework, and extrapolate how a serial killer might feel pretty effectively. Most people have felt anger and understand its physiological effects, but the question remains if a serial killer agrees that the writer describing his experience got it right. :)

For me, writing about sex is somewhat simliar. We can only truly know what our own individual experience of orgasm is, but we have enough skill and imagination to hit the common moments to make it effective in a general sense. Understanding how touch works, how the senses engage during sex with a partner can be very helpful in portraying intimacy. So I'd say some degree of shared physical experience is necessary.

That all said, I'm writing a lot of slash these days. I can't tell you how m/m sex feels, But I understand male orgasm from direct experience, and I have very generous male (straight and gay) friends who answer my questions.

My guess is that you can get by with reading good descriptions, watching vids, and learning by proxy, because that's what many women who write m/m do. But basic human understanding of sex.

Talk about muddying your waters. Sorry!

And to muddy further... do you mind if I add you to my flist? I love your writing to bits.

Mind? Not at all. I think we were both commenting at about the same time. You commented on Truth Serum, and I replied and asked you to take a look at this question post. Then I wandered over to read and comment on The Calling, and I asked if you would mind if I friended you. And here you were. *g* Ah, synchronicity.

I am in total agreement with you about writing drawing on basic emotions. And I knew that someone would raise the point about whether a serial killer would agree with a novelist's description of his experience and motivations. ;)

Slash as written by women is a particularly interesting example.

So yes, "basic human understanding of sex" is essential. But maybe after that, research and intuition is enough--as it can be when writing about anything besides sex. Fiction, after all, is about the illusion of the real. It isn't the real itself. Still, there's a part of me that thinks sex is somehow different. Hm...

You haven't muddied anything; I suspect there aren't black or white answers to these questions. The discussion is fascinating, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

You may regret friending me; I tend to ramble. A lot. It's how I process things. ;)

Edited at 2008-01-31 07:51 pm (UTC)

I would say no, you don't have to have been in the sexual situation you are describing or any kind of sexual situation. Unless you're writing straight technical porn (which doesn't really make for good fanfic), the sexual situation is more about the emotions.
Writing good smut seems to be a combonation of research and thought. Research can be actual sex, or asking questions about it. Then, thinking through the scene and deciding what makes sense and what doesn't. That sounds very technical, but I'm pretty sure you know what I'm getting at here.

I've never had sex, I've never even French kissed anyone, but I have been told my sex scenes are quite convincing and even titillating. Maybe I just have a good imagination, but I really don't know.

Maybe it is my virgino intactus state, or perhaps just my own sense of language taste, but one thing I won't do when writing sex is mention body parts, or, to be more specific, slang words for body parts. You'll never see a "cock" or a "shaft" or even a "clit". I feel one doesn't need to be explicit in order to convey a point or even to make it sexy.

It's possible that a virgin's take on sex may even be more romantic, because she has yet to experience the crappy side of the issue. Romance novels rarely mention what can go wrong.

I think it depends.

If you are so doubtful about what you're writing, not only needing a beta, but some more advice about what you are describing, that means for me that you have no idea of what you want to transmit. My advice in that case would be that if you are not sure at all about writings some scenes, then don't, or at least do MORE research. :( But when despite having not experienced some 'things' you are sure and don't need help about writing that -you may have had some information from friends, TV, etc, then go ahead.

I'm aware we're talking about sex here, but this can be applied to some other subjects, love, murder, cooking, forensic anthropology, riding a bike... ;)

Anyway, I might say having experienced orgasm really helps in writing about sex. My personal POV. ;)

I hope I had got myself properly understood. XDD

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I've never written a sex scene myself (which is in fact a lie, but the one time I did I thought it sucked, even though I've been told it was good)

But I read one fic of yours with a very good sex scene. I don’t remember the title but the characters were David and Emily and they played chess and they were in Canada. Or something like that.
I liked it.


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Hmmm... this brings to mind your poll about preferred names/descriptions for the "parts"... I would say that it is *possible* to write sex scenes when you haven't actually had sex, maybe if you are a big fan of the 'bodice-ripper' romance novel, and perhaps emulate what you've read. However, I think if you were to write *convincing* sex scenes, ones that are more like 'real people sex' and not 'romance novel sex', then you should have actual first-hand experience. (Did I straddle that fence or what?) Seriously, I personally think that believable sex scenes between adults (thinking Booth and Brennan here, not eighteen yr olds) require some actual experience with what's being described.

Hmmm... this brings to mind your poll about preferred names/descriptions for the "parts"...

*g* It does, doesn't it? I think that's because sex whether real or fictional, is a sticky business. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

However, I think if you were to write *convincing* sex scenes, ones that are more like 'real people sex' and not 'romance novel sex', then you should have actual first-hand experience.

I haven't made up my mind on my own answer to this question, but I think you're onto something with this real sex vs. romanticized sex construct. Real sex is often messy and funny, with people getting muscle cramps, accidentally hitting each other, sometimes having difficulty orgasming, getting distracted by the phone, etc. *g* It CAN be romantic, but it can also be a hell of a lot of other things. Sex is great, but it's also pretty ridiculous. Now I personally don't mind reading about more realistic sex in fiction, but I wonder if I'm in the minority there. I could be wrong, but I suspect most people don't want to read about the more mundane aspects of sex, like people really should wash before they do it in order to avoid UTIs, etc. Hygiene is good, but I've yet to see that mentioned in any love or sex scene I've EVER read--in fanfic or regular fic.

I've written highly romanticized (I think) scenes, but I think I've also inserted little ridiculous moments like Booth accidentally biting Brennan while they were kissing a bit too enthusiastically in What Would Happen. Stuff like that just happens sometimes. *g*

Thanks for weighing in; I knew you would have something interesting to say. :)

Edited at 2008-01-31 07:32 pm (UTC)

My first thought is that you probably do need to have had sex in order to write about it. This seems wrong, in a way, because writing involves use of your imagination, so why wouldn't this apply for sex?

I think this is possibly because sex is a (reasonably) universal experience - if someone writes about scuba diving, for example, most people won't have a baseline to compare the writing with. With sex scenes, most people will have experience of sex, and even if they haven't actually done the specific act that's been written about, they can probably tell if the 'feel' of the story is correct.

Just my thoughts!

If I was thinking about this purely objectively, I think I'd probably be inclined toward a 'yes' answer.

But I can't approach it that way, because I happen to know an excellent writer who falls into the "hasn't had" category, though you'd *never* know it from her fiction. I think it comes down squarely to the talent of a writer - if you can realistically depict other sorts of scenes without firsthand experience, then it's not impossible to do the same for those steamy, passionate scenes.

Whereas there are people who might have all the experience in the world and still can't write a decent sex scene.

I don't think its absolutely a nessecary thing that you've had to have sex but more so an understanding of feelings, senses, and things like that. Researching things, asking questions are all good places to start for somebody who doesn't know much on the subject.

I agree with some of the other comments, sometimes a virgin has a better insight to it because they have yet to see any sort of negative aspect of sex. IE: One night stand and them ending up unwantingly pregnant, etc...

Romance novels also help and to me I think when you look at professional fiction you can see that they can make you see what's going on with the two partners without being immature on the subject.

I've read sex scenes from some fiction (both fan and novel) and you'll run across somebody who really made the sex scene seem immature, or had everything out of wack on it.

But I also have to agree that it's all about the writer. If a writer has really good talent, the majority of the good writers can actually make you see a good sex scene even if the writer him or herself has never experienced it.

If that all makes sense?

Hopefully, I could help provide some help.

Edited at 2008-01-31 10:57 pm (UTC)

I've always been really good at writing porn- even when I was a 15 year old band geek. I mean, come on, everyone spends half their time thinking about it, right? I think it depends on how good the writer is and not how good their sex life is.

Oh, when I say porn, I don't mean that sex scenes are porn. I was just making fun of myself. Then I though, 'Some one's gonna misinterpret that.'

Hmmm… I think that you don’t need have sex for write a good sex scene. Perhaps it helps but it isn’t necessary because fic sex isn’t real sex. If you want to write a scientific essay you need experience but for a fanfic... Because fic sex is always shiny, clean, sweet… perfect. Real sex is different, harder.
I read a hundreds of fics with sex scenes and ONLY in two of them the men had problems. In one of them Mulder had a trigger-happy and in the other Booth had a cramp in the leg when he had Brennan against wall. In the rest of the fics the sex is absolutely perfect. And the female characters ALWAYS have orgasms. They are very lucky!!! ;)


I think I wrote some of my best smut when I was a virgin.
Then again, I wasn't some 15 y/o trying to write smut, I was 25. I'd been writing for a while, and writing smut wasn't that much of a challenge. You can be a virgin and know how your body feels when the orgasm hits.
Just like an orgasm you can fake your way through smut. I'd read enough of it to convincingly write my own.
Plus, I've come across published writers who are married with kids who can't write good smut (yes Laurell K Hamilton, I'm looking at you).

So as an ex-virgin writing smut, I say NO, a writer doesn't have to have had sex to write convincing smut.

I can often tell if someone who's written a sex scene has some experience of sex or just romanticized about having sex.

I've actually stopped reading a fic if the sex scene is too contrived, too romanticized, unreal, or just "WTF?".

It's like someone who hasn't had children writing about childbirth; if you haven't experienced it, write around it, but don't write about it directly.

Hey, I'm gonna nose in here too, hope that's okay. I've taken to checking your lj nightly, as your fics are up here quicker than they make it to any of the comms :)

I've never written fanfic myself, so I can't answer as a writer. I've always assumed that most people who write sex scenes are generally sexually experienced, just because I figure the 'uninitiated' may be uncomfortable with writing explicit sexual material. That said, I've definitely read a few fics where the author has, at the end, admitted that they're a virgin and hope the sex was written convincingly. Sometimes I'm surprised, sometimes I'm not.

I think that if you read a lot of M fanfics, you'll probably be familiar with the mechanics of what's hot based on your own reactions- and thus able to write a decent sex scene. However, I suspect that if you've actually had sex personally, you'll be able to draw from your own experiences - consciously or not- to a better result. I'd say it probably depends more on the skill of the writer than on their own personal experience, but that having said experience would add something to it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that anyone can write a sex scene, but you have to know what you're talking about to make it really hot.