There’s so much to consider: How old should characters be when they do it? Should they do it at all? If you write sex into your novel are you endorsing teen sexuality? Creating peer pressure that could encourage teens to have sex before they’re ready? Ruining their lives?
Frankly, it’s a quagmire many of us are eager to avoid.
Besides, even if you do decide to take the plunge, let’s admit it – there’s something inherently hilarious about writing sex. It’s all ‘he touched this’ and ‘she stroked that’ then ‘the lights darkened and she forgot everything…’
I’m sorry but… eeuw. And also, ha ha ha ha…
Personally, I just can’t face it.
Luckily, you don’t have to write sex to write something sexy. Romance is very sexy. A meeting of eyes across a crowded room. A sudden sense of connection that makes goosebumps form a pattern on your arms… That kind electricity is much more compelling in written form then you might think.
Maybe that’s because we all know what it’s like to meet someone and feel a surge of electricity. To have someone touch your hand and that simple contact make you catch your breath.
In Night School, this happens most between my main character, Allie, and Sylvain, a handsome French student to whom she feels drawn, even as her head tells her he’s wrong for her. Because she resists him, most of what happens between them is the exchange of longing glances, or short, breathless conversations in which she tries to keep her distance because if he touches her… well, she might not be able to resist him anymore.
In that way, not having contact – much less sex – becomes very sexy. Their mutual longing adds weight to every word, every touch.
One writer who does this very well is Cassandra Clare. There’s a scene in The Clockwork Angel where Will unbuttons Tessa’s glove and pulls it off just so he can touch the skin of her hand. That moment is so powerful – so filled with unspoken attraction – it fairly rips your heart out.
I admire it not just because it’s a great scene, but also because I know how difficult it is to write that sort of thing well. It’s very easy to lapse into awkwardness or to simply fail to convey the emotion that gives sexuality its power. Many writers brush over these scenes too quickly. Their lips touch, her heart pounds and… we move on.
You need to linger there. Lavish it with attention and time. We need to know how Tessa feels at that moment. How Will’s breathing changes. The things she notices about him. The unspoken signals he sends.
Done right, a simple scene in which a boy finds an excuse to tuck a strand of hair behind a girl’s ear, or a moment where a girl’s hand inadvertently brushes that of the boy she fancies, or when two characters hold each other’s gaze for a moment too long or, best of all, when they finally kiss after chapters and chapters of wanting to – can be more potent than any sex scene. And tell you more about the characters than a sex scene ever could.
Who needs actual sex when you can have that?