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Advice for writers

Writing Intimate Scenes with Sensitivity

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Crafting Meaningful, Intimate Sexual Scenes

As writers, we often find ourselves tasked with portraying intimate and romantic sexual scenes that are not only engaging but also respectful and realistic. These moments of vulnerability can be powerful tools for character development and plot advancement, but they also require careful handling to ensure they are portrayed sensitively and authentically. In this article, I’ll share guidelines for crafting intimate scenes that enhance character development while maintaining sensitivity and respect.

Understanding the Importance of Sensitivity

Intimate sexual scenes aren’t merely moments of physical connection between characters; they serve as critical junctures where emotional bonds are forged and narratives are propelled forward. However, navigating these scenes requires a deep understanding of sensitivity and mindfulness, considering the diverse experiences and perspectives of readers. Here’s a closer look at why sensitivity matters and how to approach it:

Prioritize Consent and Communication

Consent lies at the heart of any intimate encounter depicted in literature. It’s essential to ensure that all parties involved actively and enthusiastically consent to the interaction. This means going beyond mere verbal consent to depict a culture of affirmative consent where characters communicate openly about their desires and boundaries. By emphasizing communication before, during, and after the scene, writers can underscore the importance of mutual respect and understanding, setting a positive example for readers.

Imagine you’re writing a scene where two characters, Sarah and Alex, are about to engage in a romantic encounter. Instead of glossing over the issue of consent, you can explicitly portray Alex asking for Sarah’s consent before proceeding:

Alex gazed into Sarah’s eyes, his heart pounding with anticipation. “Sarah,” he murmured, his voice husky with emotion. “Before we take this any further, I need to know—are you comfortable with this? With us?”

Sarah’s breath caught in her throat as she met his gaze, her own heart racing in tandem with his. She reached out, placing her hand gently on his cheek. “Yes, Alex,” she whispered, her voice trembling with emotion. “I want this, with all my heart.”

With a shared understanding and mutual respect, they leaned in, sealing their unspoken agreement with a tender kiss.

In this example, Alex’s explicit request for consent not only emphasizes the importance of mutual respect and communication but also sets a positive example for readers. By portraying consent as an integral part of the romantic interaction, writers can reinforce healthy relationship dynamics and promote a culture of respect and understanding.

However, consent doesn’t always need to be explicitly verbalized to be present in a scene. Writers can convey consent through nuanced cues and non-verbal communication, while still ensuring that the characters’ boundaries are respected. Here’s an example where consent is conveyed through subtle yet clear signals:

As Maya leaned in closer, her fingers tracing gentle patterns along David’s arm, he felt a surge of warmth spreading through him. Their eyes met, and in that silent exchange, they both recognized the unspoken invitation. With a soft smile, David leaned forward, closing the distance between them.

Their lips met in a tender kiss, a silent affirmation of their mutual desire and consent. In that fleeting moment, they communicated more with each other than words ever could.

In this example, consent is conveyed through the characters’ non-verbal cues and mutual understanding. By paying attention to subtle signals and cues, writers can depict consent as an integral part of the intimate interaction, even in situations where it’s not explicitly verbalized. This approach allows for a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of consent while still prioritizing respect and communication between characters.

Focus on Emotion and Connection

While physicality is often central to intimate scenes, it’s the emotional depth and connection between characters that truly resonate with readers. Writers should strive to portray intimacy as a multifaceted experience that encompasses not just physical sensations but also a profound emotional connection. Delving into characters’ vulnerabilities, desires, and fears allows for a more nuanced and authentic portrayal of intimacy, enriching the narrative and deepening reader engagement.

Crafting Realistic and Respectful Scenes

Creating intimate sexual scenes that resonate with readers requires meticulous attention to detail and a steadfast commitment to authenticity. Here are some essential considerations for crafting scenes that are both realistic and respectful:

Research and Representation

Taking the time to research and understand the experiences of diverse communities and identities is essential for accurate representation in intimate scenes. By representing a range of perspectives and lived experiences, writers can enrich their storytelling and ensure inclusivity. Sensitivity readers, who provide valuable feedback from their own lived experiences, can offer crucial insights to help writers navigate sensitive topics with authenticity and respect.

Let’s say you’re writing a romance novel featuring a protagonist who identifies as asexual. Before depicting any intimate scenes involving this character, it’s essential to conduct thorough research on asexuality and understand the spectrum of asexual experiences. Engage with asexual communities, read personal accounts, and consult reputable resources to gain insight into the nuances of asexuality and how it intersects with intimacy and relationships.

Through diligent research, you’ll uncover a wealth of perspectives and experiences that can inform your portrayal of the character’s journey. Sensitivity readers who identify as asexual can provide invaluable feedback, ensuring that your depiction is respectful, accurate, and inclusive. By representing diverse identities with authenticity and empathy, you not only enrich your narrative but also contribute to greater visibility and understanding of marginalized communities.

Use Language Thoughtfully

Language plays a pivotal role in shaping readers’ perceptions of intimate scenes. Writers should choose words and descriptions that are respectful and inclusive, steering clear of language that may be demeaning or objectifying. By carefully considering the emotional impact of their language choices, writers can evoke empathy and understanding in readers, fostering a deeper connection with the characters and their experiences.

Examples of Sensitively Written Intimate Scenes

Numerous authors have successfully navigated the complexities of intimate storytelling with sensitivity and respect. Here are a few examples:

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman: The intimate scenes in this novel are characterized by their emotional depth and vulnerability. Aciman masterfully captures the intense emotions and longing between the characters, creating a poignant and memorable portrayal of intimacy.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: This contemporary romance novel features intimate scenes that are both steamy and emotionally resonant. McQuiston prioritizes consent and communication between the characters, resulting in scenes that feel authentic and empowering.

Resources for Crafting Intimate Scenes

For writers seeking guidance on crafting intimate scenes with sensitivity, there are numerous resources available:

Books: Writing Sex Scenes: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors by Rayne Hall and On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels provide practical advice and techniques for writing intimate scenes.

Online Workshops: Platforms like Writing Excuses and Romance Writers of America offer workshops and webinars specifically focused on writing romance and intimate scenes.

Writing Communities: Engaging with writing communities, such as Absolute Write and the Romance Writers of America forums, can provide support, feedback, and camaraderie as you navigate the challenges of writing intimate scenes.

Supporting Your Writing Journey

At Atmosphere Press, we understand the importance of crafting intimate scenes that resonate with readers while maintaining sensitivity and respect. Our team of experienced editors and publishing professionals can provide guidance and support as you navigate the complexities of storytelling. Whether you need assistance with character development, scene crafting, or navigating sensitive topics, we’re here to help you create impactful and authentic narratives.

Writing intimate sexual scenes with sensitivity requires thoughtfulness, empathy, and a commitment to authenticity. By prioritizing consent, focusing on emotion and connection, and using language thoughtfully, you can create scenes that enhance character development and deepen reader engagement. Remember to research, represent diverse perspectives, and seek feedback from sensitivity readers to ensure your scenes are respectful and inclusive. At Atmosphere Press, we’re dedicated to helping authors craft meaningful and impactful stories. Let us support you in creating intimate scenes that resonate with readers and contribute to a more inclusive and empathetic literary landscape. Happy writing!

EKB author photo 1

Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at Atmosphere Press (submit your manuscript here!), is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories…or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.

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