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Sexual Cliches to Avoid
Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 8:35 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 214

When writing anything, authors are cautioned to avoid overt cliches. But they can seep into sex scenes, too.

Cliched dialogue.
Cliched descriptions.
Cliched set-ups.
Cliched aftermath ...

How do you work around this so that you avoid resorting to the same-old, same-old?

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 6:37 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

bueler, bueler?

For myeslf... Its just a matter of being happy with it. If im not, rewrite.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 11:54 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 279

I haven't (yet) written a sex scene but what are some of the typical cliches?
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 3:06 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 214


Well, I'll just share something that a newly-divorced gal pal of mine suggested. She married her "one and only" and is just ... er, experiencing new sexual partners. I was talking to her about how difficult it is to write dialogue in a sex scene without it sounding like a huge, dorky cliche -- know what I mean?

So, god love her, she said, "Your male character should tell the female character, 'I want to be the best lover you've ever had.'" (She was dead serious about this because apparently, the last guy she hooked up with used it, and it actually worked.)

Raise your hand if you've heard *that* one before, ladies. Not sure if she knows that *all* men say this, regardless of the circumstances, and that it's really a come-on line at best. Is a line like that going in my book? Absolutely not.

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 1:26 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 279

I haven't heard that one, but I've been with the same guy since my teens... That's no excuse for that level of gullibility. Now I'm curious, was he the best lover she ever had?
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 5:36 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 214

Well, apparently, he was better than her ex-husband. Which isn't saying a lot.

So ... yes, she thought so. In reality? Probably a nope on that.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 6:08 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

well, best lover so FAR.

I can honestly say I've never used that line. I was told by my first that I was far better than I had any right to be, being my first, and my wife told me while we were dating that I was her best, but I wouldn't expect to be the best with a partner. Thats just got cheese all over it.

(personally, I think a hea SHOULDN'T be the persons best ever, if they've had a decent amount of experience. I find that the kind of chemistry that creates that kind of , ohh my god, that was better than anything, ever!, usually either only comes for people that have NOTHING else in common, or, is a relationship that quickly becomes just about the sex. For a good long term relationship, the sex has to be GOOD, yes, but it doesn't have to be the best ever, in my mind. )
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:35 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 24

I've written a few sex scenes...

I'm not saying they're good or anything, but I know what helps with mine:

1) I don't use dialogue unless the characters are into dirty talking. Or maybe the partner is trying to make her laugh (vice versa). But, usually, I stay away from dialogue.

2) By staying away from dialogue, I go into the feeling of the mood. More of the breathing, the little noises (sheets crinkling). I go into the taste and feel of the other body, etc. Or I'll "zoom" out and focus on the dim/bright light in the room. Perhaps they're outside? So I'll spend a line or two describing the trees or the sound of nature. I do it more so that I don't bombard the reader with sex. Steamy or not, I like giving them a break and going into the surroundings - but not too excessively.

3) I usually fall into the cliches when it comes to the set-ups. I have nothing to offer with this one. :/

4) As for the aftermath...hmm...I actually just...keep it casual. Or try to, at least. If it's some really romantic scene, I'll maintain the romance after the act. But I'll keep it as simple as I possibly can. Something every day life. I don't like adding the whole "glowing" aftermath - I think that's outplayed. And, even, I sometimes just skip it. Once the deed is done, I'll move onto the next scene and remember that now they're both aware of each other's body/presence a little more now.

You know what clilche bothers me, the cliche that the first time a woman has sex with her "one and truly"'s always perfect. I actually haven't read a romance where the woman feels any sort of discomfort the first time (if she's a virgin, that is). Just...bothers me.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 10:33 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

So, had to share. Just got woken up by a screaming baby (who is now fed and snoozing in his crib) from a dream in which a male just said to a female, "i want to be the best lover you ever had. "

She looked at him dispassionately, and in a deadpan voice, said, "well, then you'll have to be better than I am, and no man has been yet. "

In the dream, i was laughing at said male for the next couple of days, subjectively.
Sinnie Ellis
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 8:59 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 66

I use my own experiences. Why not, I know it, write what you know. It's all about the experience and if you can make it real for your readers you get two thumbs up.

I don't believe in cliche anything. Sex can only be described so many ways.

Posted: Thursday, April 7, 2011 7:49 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 1

Hiya Mel,
Just dipped into the waters here. It's my first day onsite.
I agree with both Sinnie and Celeste.

I'd stay away from dialogue, unless you want to make the scene comic and if and when I did resort to "pillow talk", I'd cull from my own experiences or from any anecdotes that friends have shared with me about their experiences.

Your example of your friend's for instance could be used as a comic foil in a write.

You could have the male counterpart use precisely those words : 'I want to be the best lover you've ever had.' and from that create some tension and comic relief in the scene with his female counterpart's reaction to such a hackneyed line.

The thing is cliches are cliches for a reason because so many people have used them which makes them a very poignantly true (if somewhat pathetic) fact. Using it might be a fun way of illustrating the humanity in the throes of such sexual intimacy; sex being a thing that has been far too glamorized and glossed over in romantic writing. Let's face it, most people are not Eros & Aphrodite and their awkward stumblings make for a REAL & viable connection with the reader...

I dunno, I love those moments of truth.
Cyrus Pavel
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 6:46 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 1

Lisa, I think all that matters is who you are writing for. When I am writing for me, I tend to write details from memory and incorporate them into stories. If I am writing for a broader audience, then I take the details of the demographic I am looking to target and write more for them. If that makes any sense?

Basically, If you are writing for an audience that will be similar to your friend, then you might want to consider using the cheesier lines as the words: 'I want to be the best lover you've ever had.', may appeal to a wider audience.

& personally, I have never and would never use such a thoughtless line. Sounds like something I would have heard on Saved By The Bell: After Dark.

I also happen to agree with CCsays. All in all I think personal experience will dictate what lines come out of your male character.

~ "I speak body language, f*ck pillow talk"
Misa Buckley
Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 8:09 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 1

Gosh, so many votes for silent sex! Admitedly, I have written it, but most of the time my characters do talk. Sometimes they're snarking at each other (I-hate-you-but-find-you-irresistably-attractive sex is so much fun to write!), sometimes it's quieter talk, but rarely completely silent.

If my couple are happy and comfortable together, they have the sort of discussions we all have during sex (or am I the only one to wonder if I shut a window mid-coitus?). It might go a ltitle wrong and they laugh about it. Or there's an interruption that leads to frustration (and hotter sex later).

If it's a new couple its even more fun, because there's the exploration aspect, learning how to pleasure the other person, learning how one character feels about the other. I love making my characters emotionally vulnerable, and there's nothing like sex for that.

And I have had a male character use a very cheesy chat up line. My FMC whalloped him with a pillow, which led to a full-on fight, a lot of laughter and (imo) very hot sex.
Rebecca Kovar
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 8:42 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 6

I actually use dialogue in sex scenes to avoid cliche. If the characters speak realistically, most cliches will fall by the wayside. Either that, or the object of affection will laugh uncontrollably, gather his/her clothes, and leave. My characters tend not to suffer fools.

I think dialogue during sex can to clue the reader into the mood, feelings, tension, etc. Sometimes, it's instructive, because expecting a new lover to know/do what pleases you is absurd. Sometimes, it is part of a game or challenge. The best way to avoid cliches is to stop and think what *these* people would say/do that shows who they are and how they feel, rather than focusing on describing particular aspects of the sex.

In all cases, the sex has to further the plot. Otherwise, why waste the space with it?
Posted: Sunday, May 1, 2011 12:52 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 226

I'm a dialogue avoider, too.

@Natalie - I hate the virgin + Casanova=perfect sex cliche, too. Not saying I haven't used it, but he had a lot of extra work to do first. In my marriage of convenience story, the hero and heroine's first time is their wedding night. I broke the "rule" and switched POV in the middle of that scene. Starting with the hero's POV, he's doing a great job for a while--then he actually enters her, and his thought is "ohmigod, this is the best thing evah!" (but in a Regency vocabulary). Then I switch to hers-- "ohmigod, this is the worst thing evah!--and go on from there. She does NOT orgasm from intercourse in that first time. I enjoyed writing it more because it was realistic (based on personal and friends' anecdotal experiences).

I probably fall into cliches to start and end them, though. I find writing sex scenes to be a pain in the arse (no pun intended).
CP Warner
Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2011 12:06 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 1

I think none of my characters ever have perfect sex. In my latest book, the "first time" between the two main characters is less than stellar.

An excerpt, if I may beg your indulgence:

A few hours later, we crept into bed, exhausted, and though we lay awake in each other’s arms, it seemed that, once again, there would be no attempt at lovemaking.
Ronan was certainly very different from any other man I’d ever known, and I wondered: was he still just trying to be polite, or was something wrong with him?
Tired as I was, I couldn’t fall asleep right away.
Neither could Ronan. He shifted restlessly.
As he moved in closer, I felt something questing its way along the cleft of my buttocks: an insistent presence well known to any woman who has ever shared a bed with a man. It made itself known through two thicknesses of fabric: his flannel pajama bottoms and my flannel nightgown. I smiled. Well! There was certainly nothing wrong with that part of himself!
“Remember what you said about me moving on and seizing the day?”
“There’s something else I need to do as part of that.”
“Such as?”
I turned toward him and brought my face close to his. “I think you know.”
“Sarah—aah! Lord, your hands are cold, woman!”
He was rapidly shrinking beneath my touch.
“Sorry,” I said, withdrawing them. “I guess that wasn’t exactly a turn-on.” I tucked my hands under my arms to warm them.
His hand stroked my cheek. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes, Ronan. Please.”
“All right, then,” he answered, touching his lips to mine. “Let’s begin.”


It didn’t end up being the most auspicious beginning. Ronan was wonderful with hugs, and he kissed well, but beyond that he was clumsy as a teenager, and surprisingly clueless. He hadn’t made love to me so much as he had screwed me: a crude way to think of our first time together, but really the only way to describe it. I was shocked, but managed not to show it. After awhile, I was even able to put it out of my mind, because he gave me a one-armed bear-hug and nuzzled my breasts and kissed me over and over again. There was a kind of youthful charm to feeling like I was having my first ever make-out session. Having it with Ronan was ever so much better than it had been back in the day with my first boyfriend and his mouthful of orthodontia.
After awhile, Ronan was ready for more.
The second time was slightly better than the first, if only because it lasted longer and I was able to adjust to his rhythm. But ultimately, when he was done and we lay back on our pillows, I felt unsatisfied.
“It wasn’t good for you, was it?” he asked.
“If you’ll show me what you like as we go, I’ll be happy to oblige you.”
“All right.”
He moved closer and kissed my cheek. “I’m sorry if I failed you this time.”
“Was it good for you, at least?” There was a bitter edge to my voice that I couldn’t soften.
He seemed not to notice. “Wonderful!” he replied, with more enthusiasm than I thought was warranted. He planted one more kiss on my cheek, and within moments he was asleep and snoring.
Wonderful? Was he serious?
I lay awake for a long time, wondering.

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 4:38 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 240

We-e-e-ell, reading over this thread last night inspired me to go and replace my "place-holder" sex scene with something a little more inspired and reload the wip!

One nice thing about lesbian sex is that there are about a zillion ways to do it that yes, indeed, "count" as "doing it." The heterosexual thing seems to always come to a certain point at which penis+vagina is the Real Deal and everything else is just icing, or foreplay or whatever. In lesbian sex, the possibilities are somewhat endless (and mind you these endless possibilities INCLUDE penis+vagina, just not penises made of flesh and blood--usually).

That said, how the characters are going to have sex pretty much depends on who they are and certain characters are going to lean towards doing it in a somewhat similar way each time. My short story just has one sex scene, so it required me to figure out what the combination of these two particular women was likely to produce, then write that once. In novels, I've had the same characters have sex multiple times and that was trickier, but also fun, because what they did varied depending on all where they were in the relationship, what other feelings or events were influencing them, etc. The kind of sex they were having was another way of deepening the characters and enriching the plot.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 3:53 AM
Jenny Crusie has an interesting viewpoint. She says that like any other scene there should be something going wrong that the protagonist is trying to fix. Fail that and it’s just for titillation. Personally, I’d add that it can also be an epiphany or in some way act as a plot turning point.

The other advice I’d give is to focus on emotion more than plumbing.

What I find funny is that people assume they’re looking into your bedroom when they read your work, especially if they know you. One of my beta readers once came to me and said that as she was reading the first story she took home she found herself stopping and shaking her head. Her husband asked what was wrong, ad as she reports she said, “Well, I work with this guy, and here he’s talking about nipples and stuff.” She said it was a weird feeling.

Trailer Bride
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:34 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 30

Resist the temptation to liken female genitalia to anything in plant kingdom. Rosebud is permissible as a tribute to Welles but only for the anus.

Explosions. Rods. And throbbing. Should all be avoided. Unless you can think of a way of using them all in the same clause. Which is obviously impossible.

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 5:48 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 214

@T Bride

Your post made me chuckle, because it made me think of a romance novel that I read written back in the 1990s. For some reason, the sentence “He exploded” just dug in my mind and squatted there. I mean, what was this, spontaneous combustion? All I could think about when I read that the first time was, “Wow, that must have been a big mess to clean up.”

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 3:16 PM
Joined: 5/25/2016
Posts: 1

Hi, new here. I think the best writer of sex scenes in contemporary writing is Sandra Brown hands down. If you haven't read a Sandra Brown novel, maybe try one some time. She's formulaic, but a good read and the sex is hot.

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