Writing Sex: Tips on Erotic Features in Literature

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Sex is a controversial part of literature, a blurred line separating “quality” literary texts from those aiming for commercial success. Like violence, it’s an element that can boost a book’s sales and earn either the praises of critics and casual readers alike or a place in the shadows of literature. So how can sexual features be incorporated effectively in a story? A good first step is understanding the complexities of writing and publishing erotic narratives.

Author’s Purpose

Every writer has to eventually ask themselves what their goal is. Make money? Play with words? Express overlooked or suppressed issues? Change the world? Each purpose requires different strategies and is granted certain liberties.

If you write for quick riches, feel free to mass produce texts bursting with consumer trends and shock factors, but don’t be surprised by the critical backlash. Also consider that the suggestion of sex – simply feeding the reader’s imagination – can be just as tantalising as the explicit description of it.

If your aim is to have fun with the magic of words, do your thing with gusto, but once again expect readers to respond with confusion, if not disapproval, towards particularly difficult or shocking texts. Additionally, the more ambitious and eye-opening the goal, the greater the demand for skill in writing. These kinds of projects need their themes and features to be carefully selected. Their structure planned towards a desired effect. And all this is a matter of practice, precision and a lot of reading.

Now, how the author’s purpose relates to sex in literature.

Narrative’s Purpose

Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash

Another important question when writing anything: what is the point? What do you want to say through the text? This affects how relevant or redundant sex is to the story.

Game of Thrones is a great example of popular literature that makes abundant use of erotic elements to both valuable and pointless effect. Sex is a part of human existence – casual, romantic or ugly. A narrative about everyday life, whether set in the real world or a fantastical one, is perfectly entitled to include sensual elements.

The problem then is the limit, beyond which neither the story nor the reader gains anything from the reading experience except plain arousal. The words spent on blatantly random sex scenes could be used in more interesting ways, but the choice – and repercussions – are entirely in the writer’s hands.

And then we have books like Fifty Shades of Grey or Lolita that are entirely about sexual concepts typically kept in the dark. Both publications prompt intriguing, if not ground-breaking, discussions. And yet one is considered of higher quality than the other, a result of differing mindsets and literary prowess.

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, was already an experienced novelist and had a rich literary knowledge alongside strict, if dubious, philosophical and creative principles. Despite his book being banned for its disturbing paedophilic plot, it continues to be celebrated for its remarkable illustration of a disturbed mind, among other things.

E. L. James approached her topic of BDSM with light-hearted excitement. This was enough to present readers with a striking scenario that discussed unconventional relationships, degrees and questions of consent, the psychological effects of child abuse and more. However, her prose lacked the strength, originality and, some would say, accuracy to carry Fifty Shades to critical success.

Sex Writing Tips in Summary

  1. Make sure erotic scenes have a purpose. For example, expressing or building emotional themes. Establishing the dynamics between characters. Mentioning a detail about one of them – birthmark, tattoo, scent – that has some bearing on the plot.
  2. Take care of the writing. If your intention from the start is not pornographic, then aim for something unique, playful, meaningful. It’s a fun writing exercise for you as a writer. For the reader, it’ll be a refreshing change from typical erotica.
  3. Be true to your authorial purpose. As long as what you produce sticks to that – and doesn’t incite hate or harm! – there’s no reason for negative comments to upset you, especially from people that were never part of your target audience.
  4. Plan and prepare with care. Publishing anything opens it to criticism and sexual content tends to rile people easier than any other taboo theme. Be wise and confident about your narrative choices. And be ready for readers’ possible reactions, as well as your own.

Take courage from famous authors, like D. H. Lawrence and J. D. Salinger, who not only used sex in literature, but more or less survived their critics. Sensuality can give much to a story, whether physical, emotional or artistic. Follow these tips and find your own path to daring literary success.

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Author: Electra Nanou

Wordy weirdo

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