Writing About Sex Without Actually Writing about Sex

So it’s been a while since I posted (I blame the government), so I decided to return with a topic that will certainly attract viewers: sex! I’ll try to keep this PG, but I think we all know I’m setting myself up to fail.

As most writers and regular people know, sexuality and whatnot is one of the biggest topics floating through a person’s mind, especially from puberty onward. So in order to write a non-asexual character’s mind authentically, you’re going to have to include some sort of hint of the, uh, you know, the . . .

*starts to make hand gestures, but decides against it.*

The problem for many writers throughout history is that people tend to be squeamish about the whole topic, and it’s not considered appropriate for certain ages. Which, okay, that makes sense. I don’t think there’s any sane person who thinks including graphic sex scenes in a children’s novel is an okay thing to do. But as a result, writers have found clever ways to get around that cultural taboo, by using things like metaphors, similes, and euphemisms.

Even non authors do this all the time. Example, I’m 70% sure that whenever my friends and I are talking at any given time, some sort of authority figure is listening in without my consent. So I have to find clever ways to word my questions. If one of my friends just went on a date last night, I’ll be all like:

  • “Yo, did you seal the deal?”
  • “Did you sheath the sword?”
  • “Did you snuffle her curnufflegus?
  • “Did you huffle her puff?”
  • “Did you dehoney the flower?”
  • “Did you deflower the garden?”
  • “Did you dance to the song of love?”
  • “Did you put your USB cord into her laptop?”
  • “Did you put your pillow into her pillowcase?”
  • “Did you tie the shoe?”
  • “Did you unlock the door?”
  • “Did you slay the mighty dragon?”
  • “Did you use the back side of your hammer to pull out that nail that was stuck in your wall for like, three years?”

Some of them don’t really work too well, I’ll admit, but whatever. The point still got across.

Writers do this all time as well, for different reasons.

When writing for children (such as middle grade books and kids’ shows) writers avoid sexual content, because well, come on, these are kids we’re talking about here.

The young adult genre will often feature sex, but because of fear of censorship and whatnot, you’ll rarely get an actual depiction, and if you do, the ultimate lesson of the scene will probably be that sex is bad, and that you should wait until you’re married, or something. (I don’t actually read a lot of YA these days, so I might be way off here.)

The adult section is the one area where writers are allowed to get away with pretty much anything they want, providing they’re a guy. A female author certainly is allowed to include sex scenes in their novels, but because of reasons that totally don’t have anything to do with sexism, their work isn’t likely to be quite as well respected.

(Theory Time: if a woman had written A Song of Ice and Fire, you could bet your ass it would’ve been labeled “erotica” as at least the sub-genre.)

So how do these authors overcome these restrictions?

My favorite is the technique used when writing for children: including obvious sexual references that would fly straight over a child’s head. These are awesome because it’s harmless to the child and yet hilarious for the adult.

Example: On the show Victorious, which is one of those shows I watch whenever there’s nothing else on, has several moments in which it’s heavily implied that the main characters’ mom is totally having an affair with her husband’s friend, and it is the funniest running gag I can remember seeing on Nickelodeon.

You could also try the young adult genre technique, in which you describe sex scenes so vaguely that it’s damn near impossible to tell if the characters actually did the deed or not. Perfect example being The Fault in Our Stars. Did they really have sex? I know Hazel wrote a venn diagram confirming it afterward, but I’m not too good with diagrams so I can’t be sure.

If you’re writing for adults, there really aren’t a whole lot of limits for what you could write about in terms of sexual content, profanity and/or gore, at least none that I’m aware of. I used to think there were limits in adult books, but then I read Stephen King’s It and quickly realized my mistake. (Not even HBO could adapt that book faithfully.) Still, you should probably use sex scenes sparingly, if at all. I’m not saying this due to squeamishness on my part, but only because sex scenes in general are hard to write well, and aren’t particularly interesting on their own. For example, here’s a deleted scene from one of my Doctor Who erotica fan fiction short stories:

[Scene has been removed by the federal government due to its disturbing content.]

“What should I use instead?” you ask.

Well, I say. I think you should just use lots and lots of dopey, nonsensical euphemisms. Think back to all those horrible sex scenes you’ve read in the past. How much better would they have been if they’d simply read something like, “James snarsnidioused her har-har, if you know what I mean.”

Before I end this post, I should clarify that neither ‘snarsnidious’ or ‘har-har’ are actually words, although I’m sure you could guess their definitions considering the context.


Hopefully I have just helped my readers write better works of fiction. I probably haven’t, of course, but at least you’ve all learned a few new euphemisms to use. Feel free to make them popular.

(Note: This post was published about three hours before it was actually intended to be published. Apologies for any typos.)

4 thoughts on “Writing About Sex Without Actually Writing about Sex

  1. Y’know, there is hardly any mention of sex in YA. I mean it’s implied – there’s a book called… Ugh, what’s it called? Hang on. Dinner with a Vampire. And it’s not EXPLICIT but you basically know what happens because it’s more explicit than you usually get. My problem is how the hell are we supposed to know what’s going on when the books don’t show it? People are uncomfortable talking about sex to teens, which is bloody ridiculous because we’re the ones that should be learning about it MORE so we don’t do anything we don’t want to do.

  2. The main problem with writing about sex in fiction is that it can easily leap from erotic into hilarious. There’s actually an award given out every year to the worst sex scene in literature. There’s nothing worse then trying to be sexy and getting laughed at!

  3. “As most writers and regular people know”
    This made me chuckle.
    When I think about sex scenes in YA fiction, the only thing that comes to mind is that ridiculous bed-breaking scene in one of the Twilight books. Then again, the only YA books I’ve read are the Twilight novels (which I still regret wasting time on) and the Hunger Games books.
    The most hilarious ones I’ve read by far is the wannabe-BDSM scenes in 50 Shades (yet another regrettable waste of time).
    Brett Easton Ellis can write a good sex scene in my opinion, albeit not a vanilla one.

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