This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes

This discussion is going to get very explicit, just to warn you. If sex scenes aren’t your thing, you probably want to turn back now. You should also turn back if you are under eighteen. Really, go away.

Now that we’re alone.

A few notes before I get started. First, if you are new to fan fiction, you probably should have a look at an earlier post (Fan Fiction, and why I like it), which will make some of the preliminaries clear. Second, this is Farscape fan fiction. If you don’t know about Farscape, you must be pretty new to this blog, as I talk about it on a regular basis. Here’s the absolute minimum you need to know:

John Crichton is scientist who was running an aerospace experiment when he got stuck in a distant part of the galaxy; Aeryn Sun is Sebacean, a species very closely related to human. (One of my favorite tag lines: He’s human. She’s not. And you thought Romeo and Juliet had problems.) They spend two years becoming friends, saving each other’s asses and minds in terrible situations, beating each other up (sometimes literally), and falling in love.

The relationship doesn’t become sexual until the third season. Because this is television we’re talking about, it never becomes overtly sexual. Which is where Robyn’s fan fiction comes in.

Fan fiction exists mostly on the internet, so I could just send you over to read Robyn’s “The Well-Known Act” in its entirety. In fact, you should do that, because it’s an example of an extremely well done, very adult extended sex scene. But in the spirit of the exercise I began, I’m going to quote bits of it, anyway. For those of you too shy to take the plunge, so to speak.

The consummation of this very complex, very intense relationship is a topic Robyn handled in a series of short stories which deal with the emotional development of the characters as individuals and a couple, as well as with the physical. This is from Aeryn’s point of view. I’m excerpting two bits here, from the beginning of the interlude (the first line of dialog is John) and then a bit from the middle of it when things are in full flow.

“The Well-Known Act”. Copyright Robyn Bender.

“The well-known act of sexual congress. I’ve had some thoughts.”

“You think too much.”

“But I do good work.”

“Granted. All right.”

“We ARE different creatures. We don’t know how we fit, not like that, not for sure. I need to know that you’re way more than ready. I’m thinking, we start with the usual stuff. Rev you up a few times. Probably more than a few. But just keep away from my cock, okay? I’ll get far enough, fast enough, touching you, seeing you. Give me a chance.” The towel was gone. He was kissing her, settling in.

Might as well lie back. Put herself in his hands. She knew the man couldn’t be rushed.

She was right, of course. Things happened. Time passed. He could drive her all night.


bodies entwined. How much skin could they press? Embrace and roll. His lips on her throat. Her hand caught the nape of his neck, run through that short, soft hair. Come here, you. Cup his skull. Capture his mouth for a wet, deep kiss


on her back, shaking. Helpless with laughter. His mouth buried down in her sex. Those gleeful blue eyes peering up, eyebrows waggling. She stretched her arms toward him. He caught at her hands. Interlaced fingers, palms pressed together. She rolled her head back and stretched their arms high. Laughed and laughed as she came.

When I re-read this, the first thing that comes to mind is how very playful it is without being coy. So often sex scenes are generic, forced, contorted, self-conscious, but there’s a vitality here, a directness that works on multiple levels. If you know these characters, the way they talk to each other feels absolutely right. John is quick witted, self-confident; he likes word play; Aeryn has come to that kind of playfulness late in life and is often a half step behind, but appreciative. She’s given herself over after long months of agonizing, and she’s applying herself, now that she’s taken the leap.

Note that the word choice is explicit but matter-of-fact; nothing flowery, no over extended metaphors. The most direct descriptions of sexual acts (his mouth buried down in her sex) are offset by simple images of affection (interlaced fingers, palms pressed together).

Things intensify:

“That okay?” he asked softly, voice in her ear.

“You bastard!” she laughed. Could barely say it. Breathed hard through her mouth. “It’ll do.”

He gripped her waist. “Baby, I want you.”

“You have me, I think.”

“Yes, I do.” He moved deliberately, microns, fractions. Slow, so slow. He is going to do me, indeed, indeed. He intended to use everything he knew, his midnight thoughts, his very best skills. She was frelled. She laughed again. Too small a word. Who had known what it meant?

Her laugh faded out. She was straining up toward him. He held the same spot. Not so fast, my dear. Can’t have it all. He slid his hand down, wet with the silk. Cool, slippery stuff on her lips, her clit. “Oh, you are BAD,” she gasped, as his fingers skittered around, around. Just that little bit extra. Just one thing more. He watched the flush rise on her chest before he leaned down. His lips found her nipple. She jumped, and that jump hit his cock and she rippled around it, set off again. His mouth clamped down wetly and sucked. Can I come with my breast? Apparently so. God, only one mouth. But his palm took over, rubbed that wetness, his mouth to the other one, swirling his tongue. Yes. That!

She needed more brain. Too much coming in. Her hips rocked, her pelvis, she could feel each wet curl at his root. All circuits locked open, no filter. Squeeze her eyes shut. Try to swallow the waves in her throat. Was she making that cry, that call? His mouth clamped hers. Her throat still sang.

It’s Aeryn’s emotional transition as well as her physical one that makes lifts this scene out of the realm of the merely voyeuristic. Note the lovely balance between explicit acts; internal monologue; and dialog. Take any one of those three elements away and the scene won’t work nearly as well. We follow the natural progression from playfulness to absolute concentration not just because we are given the physical facts, but because we hear them in Aeryn’s rather amazed, completely engaged voice. Her rational mind tries to take over, but her body and her emotions are in control.

To follow the analysis I used in the other passages, the obvious contrast is in this author’s willingness to use words considered by many to be taboo: cock, clit, nipple — without resorting to technical terms or coy euphemism. It’s very possible, even likely, that if you are writing fiction in which sex scenes have a natural place in the character and plot development you will not want to take things this far. I don’t, not because I’m afraid my readers wouldn’t like it or my editor would object, but because I don’t think I could manage the delicate balance necessary to make it work. Which for me means that you can’t substitute “and then they had sex” without losing things important to the characterization and narrative flow.

And now that I’ve peaked your interest, here’s a link to a list of all Robyn’s Farscape fanfiction in chronological order.

I’ve been talking now for three days about scenes that don’t work because they are generic, forced, and coy in tone. Tomorrow I’m going to look at some of those. Then I’ll look at a scene that isn’t badly written, but doesn’t work, for me, for other reasons. I’ve got a list of maybe four or five sex scenes to cover in the next week.

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8 Replies to “NC-17”

  1. Lanna — the traffic to these entries is sky high but few people seem to be comfortable commenting. Thanks for speaking up.

  2. Ah, nice to know that traffic is high. When people are quiet you always wonder. [g] A couple of thoughts before I hit the road?

    “Playfulness, vitality, directness” — thanks, those are gratifying words. It actually surprised me that you picked this scene, and I had to think about why that was. I guess I view this one as less complicated and therefore less “worthy” than my other explicit stories. The others have more emotional complexity, risk, conflict, they have struggles and transformations going on inside the scenes, and this one seems much? simpler. More purely “about sex” than the others, more of a payoff, the “relieving” scene, as Rachel said. But, as you say, this is something Aeryn has waited a long time for, and worked hard for, and now she is totally present as things unfold, together with this man she knows so well and who is still quite capable of surprising her. And there’s nothing to apologize for in taking a few minutes to appreciate the pure goodness of Hot Monogamy.

    > Note the lovely balance between explicit acts;
    > internal monologue; and dialog.
    > Take any one of those three elements away
    > and the scene won’t work nearly as well.

    You’ve touched on another aspect of a compelling scene, I think — the sense that real, fully-experienced sexuality draws a lot of things together. There is a lot going on (for the characters, and for the reader, too). Part of the magic of a sex scene that does work is how it lets you see into these people, how they reveal new things to themselves and to each other as well as to the reader. It’s not limited to an focus on explicit acts (although, for me, direct appreciation of the acts and sensations is part of the package). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea that really naked, intense sexuality can be deeply spiritual, and at the same time gotten more willing to say that a handsome fella in black leather pants is just a Good Thing in itself [g]

  3. Robyn, I’m SO glad you jumped into the discussion. Just sorry you’ll be away so we can’t pursue it. Thanks

  4. “To follow the analysis I used in the other passages, the obvious contrast is in this author’s willingness to use words considered by many to be taboo: cock, clit, nipple — without resorting to technical terms or coy euphemism. ”

    I was thinking that part of the reason why this works well here is the character viewpoint. Given her background, Aeryn has no human coyness about sex or body parts, so it makes absolute sense for her to think about them in a frank, matter-of-fact way.

    Elizabeth Benedict’s very interesting book “The Joy of Writing Sex” suggests that the default terms for genitals should probably be whatever your viewpoint character would think (unless there’s a very good reason why not).

    And it occurred to me that this may be part of why phrases like “throbbing manhood” etc. can hurl the reader out of the story so violently.

    Because if a man actually, seriously, thinks of his penis as his “throbbing manhood”, then as a rule he’s not someone I would want to be in bed with, or want my heroine to be in bed with!

    (A dear male friend of mine once loudly declaimed “And this is my manhood” in a coffee shop in order to prove just how stupid it sounds in first-person).

    Nobody (nobody I know, anyway) thinks of their own bodies in terms of “manhoods” or “pearls” (or “cores”, my personal bete noire). So the authorial coyness breaks in on the character’s viewpoint and voice.

  5. Never having seen the show in question your scene definitely made me curious. I found it to be very well written and the critique surrounding it to be quite insightful. I liked the usage of the less technical terms, finding there use germane to the two people being described. Using less taboo or technical terms would have destroyed the overall feel of the intimacy and yet playful energy between the two of them. Just my two cents! Thanks for a wonderful read.

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