10 WORST Sex Scene Tropes in Fiction
Today we're talking about one of the easiest scenes to completely screw up in your writing: sex scenes! A bad sex scene will ingrain itself into the reader's mind. So, I felt it was necessary to tell you exactly what not to do when writing sex scenes in fiction, because I don't need any more trauma and I'm pretty sure other readers feel the same way!
Before we get started, a couple disclaimers: I will obviously be talking about sex, so if you're not an adult or you're not comfortable with adult content, go away! This post is not for you! And two, trigger warning: I will be talking about sexual assault several times throughout this post. Unfortunately, we cannot talk about shitty sex scenes without talking about predatory characters, because writers are the worst and I hate them so much. If that is a trigger for you, totally understandable, but maybe skip this post for now.
With that said, let's dive into the sex talk! Are you excited? Probably don’t be, because none of this shit is good...
Number 1: Injury Sex
“I'm a badass warrior, but oh no, I just got stabbed! Thank God I've got this hot nurse to bandage me up. But all this blood is making me horny. Good thing I can totally bang her hours after suffering a near fatal injury.”
Logic! Unless your character has super healing abilities, they should not be able to have sex, or at least aggressive sex, right after getting a serious injury. Broken ribs, deep gashes, bullet holes, severe burns–these are not injuries you can shrug off while pounding your partner into oblivion. And I'm pretty sure that most people, even people with pain fetishes, are not rock hard when they're in total agony. I think the pain from a nipple clamp is not quite the same as that of internal bleeding.
Number 2: Tragedy Sex
“My best friend, sibling, or parent just died and I'm so distraught. You know what would help me in my time of need? Penetration.”
Tragedy sex, which is sex that occurs directly after the death of a character, is very common in fiction and writers usually try to rationalize it by saying the character in mourning ‘needs a distraction.’ Some people may do this in real life, but it's typically described as emotional denial and pretty toxic. Yet in fiction, it's written to be romantic. Quite often, it's the first time the main couple has sex.
Their first sexual encounter is a distraction from impending doom and misery?
Sex scenes are supposed to be swoon-worthy, or sensual, or hot, and tragedy sex is none of these things. It’s awkward to transition from death to ding-dongs. It feels out of place and completely inappropriate. No one wants to imagine your character being turned on at a funeral, I promise.
Number 3: Acrobatic Sex
I completely understand that some people are more flexible than I am. Actually, most people are more flexible than I am, but that's beside the point. If you're writing a sex scene that is so acrobatic I have to read it more than once just to grasp the positioning, I'm no longer tantalized or titillated. I'm just confused. I once read a sex scene three times and I still didn't understand what was going on. Either someone was suspended in the air, or they were quadruple jointed, or maybe the author just doesn't understand human anatomy.
The thing about sex is it feels good, so you don't gotta add a ton of bells and whistles to make it a good time. If you feel like you gotta add a ton of convoluted acrobatics to make the sex scene interesting, maybe you're just not that good at writing sex.
If you feel like you gotta add a ton of convoluted acrobatics to make the sex scene interesting, maybe you're just not that good at writing sex.
Number 4: "Do You Trust Me?"
If a character says this right before a sex scene, I guarantee they should not be trusted. “Do you trust me?” is emotional blackmail, and every sex scene I've read that began with “Do you trust me?” involved a character who was saying this because their partner was hesitating. That is predatory! Maybe instead say, “We don't have to do this if you don't want to.” That's reassuring and actually instills trust. To all people, real and fictional alike, if anyone says “Do you trust me?” right before boning, run!
Number 5: "He Takes What He Wants"
Yet another popular line in fiction that aptly describes a rapist. You do realize that a man who takes what he wants when it comes to sex is the exact definition of a sex offender, right? I know you're trying to say he's dominant, but dominance and assault do not go hand in hand. Ask anyone in the BDSM community. They've got Doms galore and they still preach clear and enthusiastic consent. And while “he takes what he wants” shows up a lot in fiction, sometimes it's reworded in other ways like, “If we continue, I'm not going to be able to stop myself.”
That is not hot. If a man said that to me, I would pack up my shit and leave. Thanks for warning me you might assault me, you fucking nightmare! Writers, please stop including this in your sex scenes. It's not masculine; it's terrifying.
Number 6: Unprotected Sex
How do you expect me to enjoy this sex scene when I am worrying the entire time that the character might get pregnant? Even if there's no sperm or egg involved, what if they get a rash? You don't know where that person's butt has been! I know you think protection is like, a total mood killer, but so are babies. How are these characters gonna come in the midst of an anxiety attack?
“What if he doesn't pull out in time? I'm not ready to be a mom!”
You may be able to get through a sex scene without worrying about this shit, but I cannot. Just say your character wrapped it up and move on. Your readers will thank you. I will thank you!
Number 7: Splooge Sex
There are people out there with full on semen fetishes, and that's fine. But do we need so many sex scenes out there featuring long, graphic, disgusting descriptions of jizz? Gobs. Puddles. Pools. Hot. Thick. White. Pearly.
Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this torture? And what is it with people saying the jizz splashes out? It's not a wave, okay. Jizz does not splash. I just don't understand the need for any of this. Why does it exist? Please stop describing splooge. It's penis goo, not art, for the love of God.
Number 8: Insta-Sex
Hook-up culture exists, and if you want to write about it, that's fine. However, a sex scene that takes time and effort and longing and anticipation is way more effective than a sex scene that happens instantly. It's not gratifying to read sex between the main ship if it happens immediately. Sure, if they're hooking up, it makes sense. It's just not as enjoyable to read.
A sex scene that takes time and effort and longing and anticipation is way more effective than a sex scene that happens instantly.
But it's 10 times worse if the insta-sex is combined with insta-love. Insta-lust is a thing which can lead to insta-sex, but insta-love doesn't exist. You can argue with me, but you're wrong. If you're trying to convince me that these two complete strangers are suddenly madly in love and also making love, I'm just gonna think you're a tool...or a 12 year old on Wattpad. Don't try to romanticize insta-sex. We all know you're just horny.
Number 9: Surprise Kink
Being kinky is fine, but you know when it’s a good time to tell your partner about your special little kink? Before you have sex with them! Not in the middle of it. This is true in real life and in fiction. It's jarring to the reader when you randomly plop a kink into the middle of a sex scene.
This is also true for extreme shifts in character. Yes, people behave differently during sex versus normal life. Sometimes the way they have sex is the polar opposite of their actual personality. But when writing a sex scene, you need to make sure the tonal shift isn't out of nowhere. It has to make sense. For instance, I once read a sex scene where everything leading up to that moment was romantic and warm. Then, they start banging and the dude's dirty talk was so aggressive. “Take that [bleep], you [insert your choice of sex-pletives here]!”
Where did that come from? Should I call the police?
Number 10: Romanticized Sexual Assault
Fuck. I'm not gonna linger on this point for too long, because well, I don't want to vomit. The world of fiction has been romanticizing rape culture for eons. It's not anything new. It just became a lot more apparent once the young adult community hopped on board. The main reasons this trope is the absolute worst is one, readers are impressionable; you're basically teaching people that sexual assault is not only okay, it's swoon-worthy. Two, it's just plain gross. No one needs that shit in their lives. And three, there is no such thing as non-consensual sex. Non- consensual sex is rape. Thanks, writers. I don't want to live on this planet anymore, and you're to blame!
So that's all I've got for you today!
If you write any of these types of sex scenes, please understand unequivocally that I hate you so much! I lie awake at night, my mind flooded with horrors, because of you. Sex scenes should be well-written, accurate (aka anatomically plausible), and above all–consensual. If you're considering writing a sex scene with any of the horrible tropes listed in this post, please don't, and maybe get some therapy. It’s past time for us to reclaim sex scene writing and put some actually good content out there! I believe in us.
Now, this comment thread is about to get truly filthy, but let's share the worst sex scene lines we’ve ever read below. C’mon, the ones that haunt dreams. We can bitch about ‘em together.
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