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How to write riveting sex scenes that leave your reader wanting more: the language of love, part 1

Have you ever read a sex scene in a novel and cringed?

You can find bad writing anywhere, in any genre. But, as author Diana Gabaldon says, “While bad writing about murderers, spies, elves, or young people with self-esteem issues is merely boring—bad writing about sex is hilarious. So, how do you ensure that readers are riveted to the page rather than rolling on the floor or running off to find a spouse or friend to read the most memorably horrible phrases aloud to?”

I don’t know about you, but when I read a bad sex scene, I’m either rolling on the floor laughing and/or feel embarrassed for the author. In fact, there’s a certain bestselling male author that I really enjoy reading, and then one day I read a sex scene he wrote. It was so awful and cringeworthy that I couldn’t read anything by him for a long while. You don’t want your readers to have a similar experience.

When some of my writer friends found out I was preparing a webinar on how to write sex scenes, most of them asked me the same question—what do you call “it?” Meaning, of course, what do you call the male sexual organ without making it sound too graphic or corny or pornographic? I love this question.

There are many different points of view about how to write sex scenes. I agree with Diana Gabaldon when she says sex scenes are not about the exchange of bodily fluids but about the exchange of emotions (I’m not talking about pornography—that’s different and it’s mostly about writing about bodily exchanges).

So, with this idea in mind—that sex scenes are about the exchange of emotion—I think it’s a good idea to spend less time thinking about what to call “it” and most of our time thinking of descriptive words that evoke sex.

Words like:

Desperate. Need. Aching. Burn. Radiated. Charged. Thrust. Caught. Throb. Trembling. Eased. Stroke. Forceful. Powerful. Fill. Pooled. Friction. Grip. Bite. Soft. Silky. Velvet. Tease. Taste. Slip. Slid. Bathed. Wet. Slick. Exposed. Raw. Pounding. Bruising. Glistening. Delicate. Rough. Turgid. Swollen. Feast. Hard. Swirl. Curve. Round. Engulfed. Exploded. Hungry. Starved. Dancing. Enflamed. Thundered. Gasping. Shaking. Tumescent. Quivering.

Remember, unless you’re writing porn or hard-core erotica, try to describe sexual behavior in terms of people rather than their body parts.

Example: “He slid into her” rather than “He slid his you-know-what into her you-know-what.” Ugh. Not so much. I think you get the idea!

A sex scene isn’t just any action scene. Your words need to evoke a physical and emotional reaction in the reader. It’s less about what the characters are doing than about making your reader FEEL what they’re doing.

Exercise: The list above is just a starting point. Make your own list of evocative words that you can have on hand while writing your sex scene. You won’t use them all, of course, but if you get stuck, you’ll have a list to help get your creativity going again. Think of strong, sensual, or erotic verbs, nouns, adjectives, and even a few adverbs. The general advice on adverbs is don’t use them in your writing but I think a few well-placed adverbs in a sex scene can make it richer and more specific.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite words because I’m always adding to my list!

I’d also love for you to join my webinar on Thursday, January 19, 2023 at 4:15 p.m. Pacific. Recording sent to you right after the webinar if you can’t attend live or want to re-watch it in the future. Cost is $39 (10% goes to World Central Kitchen for food & disaster relief).

Go to this page to register: and scroll down to my webinar on January 19.

Of course, if you want all the great craft webinars you can still get the bundle and you’ll receive the recordings of past webinars. Each webinar is 2.5 hours and packed with great stuff!

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