Pen to Pen: Write Sex Scenes that Sizzle with Elizabeth Lister

This week’s Pen to Pen column is for all you romance and erotica writers out there. Just like it takes practice to get good at sex, it also takes practice to get good at writing about it. Award-winning romance author Elizabeth Lister is here to pass on what she’s learned and to help you draw from your own experiences when writing about this crucial part of a character’s story.

This post includes an explicit excerpt, so if you’re not comfortable with that or it’s not legal for you to read such material in your jurisdiction, please browse other Pen to Pen posts or my writing blog for something more suitable. Thanks!—Dale

How to Write a Great Sex Scene

by Elizabeth Lister

So, you’re writing a romantic story and your central characters have reached the moment when they will share a first kiss, or a grope or two, or head to the bedroom (or the kitchen, basement or even the beach) for something more serious. Cue the sexy music. You want to be able to take your readers on that journey, and you’d like to do it in a way that conveys the characters’ emotions and experiences effectively.

In this post I’ll give you some effective techniques that will make your written sex scenes arch off the bed and yell your name.

My first full-length novel, Beyond The Edge (book one in The James Lucas Trilogy) won an Honorable Mention from the National Leather Association–International for excellence in writing about bondage, sadism/masochism, leather and fetishes. This book is also featured on a Goodreads list for Best One-Handed Reads. Also, a good friend of mine told me he made the mistake of reading my free short story The Beach House on the train to Toronto and had to remain seated for thirty minutes to avoid public embarrassment.

The most basic requirement for writing great sex is to know what you’re talking about. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying.

Have great sex in real life. Get into it. Experiment. Find out what a mind-blowing orgasm feels like. Learn how to do stuff. Try lots of stuff.

You get the point. Plus, what a wonderful way to become an expert!

Seriously, in order to describe two (or more) people getting off together in a compelling and realistic way, you need to have experienced good sex yourself.

Now, that’s only the required first step, of course. Then you have to be able to recreate your experience on paper.

Which is not to say you must have experienced a threesome in order to write one. Certain things can be extrapolated and imagined (God, can they be imagined!) and there is usually an element of exaggeration in a written sex scene. There doesn’t have to be, but sometimes a completely realistic sex scene can be a little dull.

The trick to great erotic romance is to make the sex scene as realistic as possible with an added element of fantasy and wish fulfillment. Nobody has great sex every time in reality, but in an erotic romance, readers expect several extremely satisfying encounters. You can still have your characters fumble and have things go wrong. This can add an extra dose of realism and bring your reader into the scene. As long as your characters reach the end goal of intimacy and satisfaction, you’re golden.

If you have a modicum of writing talent, you are able to describe multiple experiences and people. When it comes to writing a great sex scene, you need to get into the heads of your characters, and describe what they are experiencing on a deep physical and emotional level.

I like to write my stories from one character’s point of view. This automatically makes any sex scene intrinsically personal.

As a cis female who usually has sex with men (well, one man now, but I have experience with others) I know how men’s bodies tend to respond during sex, so I find it pretty easy to describe that. I happen to love all the messes and bodily fluids that go along with sex with a trusted partner. I love writing about a man watching another man orgasm—the sight of his lover’s cock shooting, the sensation of hot spurts of semen on his skin, the body-consuming rapture of his own powerful orgasm.

All of these things are what make sex great for the character and for the reader.

Detail, detail, detail. How does his/her body look? What does he/she smell like? What sounds is he/she making? How does it feel to be penetrated? How does it feel to be the one doing the penetrating? Are there toys involved? How do the toys make your characters’ experience better?

“He kissed my straining erection through the fabric of my black boxer briefs. Then he tugged them and my jeans down to my knees. My cock bobbed free. I hissed as the cold air hit the moisture at its tip.”

from Exposure by Elizabeth Lister

You need to describe these things on both a physical and an emotional level in order to get the reader involved. And don’t forget to have fun. If it makes you hot and bothered, it will probably make the reader hot and bothered as well.

One other thing. Don’t forget to change things up as much as possible. Readers can and do get bored of the same thing over and over again. Luckily, humans have a broad range of sexual behavior, and there are many ways for two (or more) people of whatever gender combination to be physically intimate.

Exploring these possibilities in a sexy book is what erotic romance is made for.

Two men embracing in bed.
Apresurado by Nick Fuentes, made available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license-ShareAlike license. Filters applied by Dale Cameron Lowry. Photo at top of post also by Nick Fuentes Felicidad. via photopin (license). You can find more of Nick Fuentes’ portraits of same-sex couples at Proyecto: Su Historia (Relatos de Parejas).

About Elizabeth Lister

Elizabeth lister's face

In between making school lunches, driving her two children to activities and snuggling in front of the TV with her handsome husband, Elizabeth writes graphic erotica about gay men in love.

She is author of The James Lucas Trilogy, which follows the lives of three men drawn together by a mutual enjoyment of BDSM play and an undeniable attraction to each other in the novels Beyond The Edge, The Cross and The Trinity and A Numinous Light.

She is also just finishing up The Loft Trilogy, a series of novellas featuring the same characters from The James Lucas Trilogy and more of their sexy adventures.

You can follow her monthly serial romance, White Balance, for free on her website at

Other places to keep up with Elizabeth:


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