Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things, and the bad things, that may be… let’s talk abooooouuut sex.
Specifically—the vocabulary. Now, I’ve told a lot of stories to a lot of friends over the years, and have gotten an absolutely outstanding return on investment out of a few of my less fortuitous encounters (to Mr. 15 Seconds of Glory, thanks as always for the laughs). As with many things, it’s incredibly easy when you’re playing it for a joke.
But when I’m actually writing a sex scene for a novel, hooooo doggies. It’s not setting it up that’s the challenge, or striking the right tone that ties it into to the plot, it’s figuring out what the hell words I want to use. See, I grew up on a steady diet of Harlequin historical romances (and I do mean “grew up”—my mom’s hospice nurse started bringing me her hand me-downs when I was 13, after which I moved on to acquiring armloads at our local used bookstore), which meant a steady diet of moist grottoes and throbbing members and strawberry-tipped, quivering mounds. Writing like that is perfectly suited to a format like a historical, but it would be woefully out-of-place in one of my books.
And yet at the other end of the spectrum, using the bare, basic terms just feels so… medical. Like the science class in Varsity Blues: “penis, penis, penis; vagina, vagina, vagina.” Romance author Boone Brux has a hilarious blog post about writing sex scenes, in which she persuasively advocates the approach of just calling it what it is… and yet, somehow, seeing those words mixed in there on the page with everything else can feel a little jarring to me sometimes. The next best range of terminology is the slang category, which is used with great confidence and to very sexy effect by erotica writers like Megan Hart—but that’s not really me, either.