So maybe the title is a bit of click bait, but in honour of Valentine’s Day, here are some thoughts on writing about sex.
Also known as “Dear God, my mother is going to read this.”
How weird is it? Well, apparently my phone was so weirded out by the word “sex”, it insisted on changing it to “six”.
I can easily blame my hesitancy on my Catholic school upbringing. Sex was included as part of religion class. That won’t mess you up at all. I remember being in grade 4 or 5 and having our theology teacher show us a film that included a line drawing depicting how it all “fit together”. Afterward, she tried to remain calm while she slowly and oh so methodically wound the projector’s power cord around her arm… over and over and over again. She couldn’t make eye contact with any of us and we were all mildly terrified. She said “Well, that was very grown up, and that’s ok.” Everything about her voice and body language screamed “THIS IS SO NOT OK.”
Contrast that with my experience in grade 7, when my oldest sister was volunteering for Planned Parenthood. Along with stellar birth control talks, I also got a Love Carefully pin… which I proudly wore to school. They had a very different attitude about it all.
So that just scratches the surface of my issues.
As for the business of writing a
love sex scene, I played with sexuality a smidge in Sometimes Marco Polo Can Go All Wrong, but for a full novel featuring the life of a young female character, there’s going to be love and sex. The question for any good (recovered) Catholic girl is, how far do I go?
The mom issue is mostly imaginary, but it’s real in my head. I’m going to dedicate this book to her. My mom is 87 years old. Sex was not a frequent topic for us. However, my mother is incredibly well read and is by no means naive. So that is a neurosis I just have to get over.
I will also need to get past the feeling that I’m laying myself out there on the page. Writing is already an activity that leaves you somewhat vulnerable because you are putting a piece of yourself out there. When a colleague mentioned he had read my blog, I felt exposed. So to get descriptive about sex feels very revealing. Heck, I feel vaguely naked when I don’t wear my glasses. Yet, I have a feeling my friends would not buy me portraying myself as shy and innocent.
And then there’s the technique. Writing out a sex scene is not very easy. You run the risk of being clinical, lewd or ridiculous. Proper terminology does not make for inspired reading. I could use steamier vocabulary, but that just doesn’t seem right for a piece of historical fiction. There’s always the romance novel route, with such hot phrases as “throbbing manhood”. I think I threw up a bit in my mouth.
So that’s my challenge: how to be true to my character and her story, keep the reader’s interest and not accidentally cross the line into smut. Clearly I need to read more “literary” sex scenes. And practice. Maybe, I should probably get it out of my system and just write a full on erotic short story. Of course, you’ll never know. I’ll be writing it under a pen name.