THE BLOG

How to Write a Great Sex Scene (and Whether to Include Yourself in It)

13/03/2014 17:15 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

When it comes to the sex scenes in my love stories, I have been asked a number of questions - but the number one question, by far, is: did they actually happen to me?

Especially all those al fresco sex scenes, of which, now that I think of it, there do happen to be rather a lot.

Was it really me who was losing my virginity under the chestnut trees of Eton College? (That was the first love story - The Well-Tempered Clavier.)

Was it me who was having at my girlfriend on top of the washing machine in the New York laundry-room? (Woman Who Made Men Cry) Or coupling with my much older lover on a chair made for giants? (Woman Who Knew What She Wanted.)

And sex in the Sahara on the Marathon des Sables. Did it really happen?

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Photo supplied by Bill Coles.

So, yes, that is what my readers most want to know. Did the sex scenes, al fresco 'n all, happen to me, or have they been spiced by nothing more than my juiced imagination. I don't know... perhaps it is a particularly middle-aged male fantasy to be dreaming of sex outside in the sun, with the wind on your skin, and your toes twisting into the grass...

We will return to this later.

What I've realised is that sex scenes are a tricksy little problem for writers of romantic fiction.

Do you go for the Full Monty and have page after page of sex in all its most graphic detail? Or should it instead be just a brief lift of the veil?

And then what sort of sex are you going to go for? Will it be relatively tame, in a bedroom, in a bed, or will you go down the Fifty Shades route with manacles and rope and mewling yelps of pain and ecstasy?

One thing I know for sure is that when it comes to penning love scenes, women authors can get away with a deal sight more than men. Though they may just write better, which is also, of course, a distinct possibility.

However... I reckon that if it had been me or any other guy writing the sex scenes in Fifty Shades, then we'd have been torn to shreds for putting flesh to our perverse fantasies.

The writers Martin Amis and Julian Barnes believe that it's impossible for a male author to write a good sex scene. If a guy does have a stab at a genuine literary sex scene, then in all probability it will be toe-curling and/or end up being shortlisted for the Bad Sex Awards. (Though if they win, they can still sell a ton of books.)

And for a long time, I kind of went along with what Martin and Julian said. Who was I to argue with these literary silverbacks?

The problem being: I still had to write sex scenes. I write love stories! And sex - at least these days - has got to be all part of the mix.

I remember my first genuine sex scene - young Etonian losing his cherry to his piano-mistress in Windsor Great Park. My first draft it was all there - every detail.

It was one of those scenes which you slightly had to read through your finger-tips - not even I had the stomach for it. Next draft - slightly toned down. Analogies deleted, especially the one about pistons...

Next draft: Analogies back in. This time more florid.

10 drafts later... well it was, perhaps, slightly better than the first draft, but even today, I'm not quite sure it hit the mark.

The question about sex scenes is always how much detail a writer should go into - and how much should be left to the readers' imagination.

And then I cracked it. I'm not saying it's never been done before. But I don't know of anyone else who does sex scenes quite like this.

And, what's more, I think I've shown that when it comes to sex scenes, those plodding curmudgeons Amis and Barnes just don't know what they're talking about.

What I realised is that when it comes to sex scenes... You've got to have the detail... but you've also got to leave a lot to the imagination.

And the way forward is: Banter.

So these days, all my lovers are perky and cheeky and chatty - bantering back and forth about this and that, laughing and quipping as they have sex, and it's also a much funnier way to write about love-making.

By using dialogue to sell the sex scene, you don't have to explain the whole dusty mechanics of what's occurring... and that leaves much more to the mind's eye of the reader and this is always excellent.

Now: some people have complained that most people don't actually chat much when they're having sex.

Well... maybe not all lovers. But a fair few. Maybe that's just me.

Perhaps one day I'll go through all my sex scenes, and shall underline the events that have actually happened to me in black. Those love scenes that are based on hearsay will be underlined in green; and those that have sprung from nothing more than my most lurid fantasies will be underscored in brilliant scarlet.

Perhaps.