Sex Ed

desire blurI struggle with scenes where protagonists flirt or flush with desire. But I want to capture those moments in my writing. This one story has been haunting me since I was ten years old. Ten fucking years old. When I wrote it then, it had a lot of breast kissing and ended in “the rest, I will leave to your imagination”.  I’m still mortified by that phrase. I was obsessed with sex but had not the first clue about what took place under the covers.

It was five years after that failure before the idea crept back into my mind. This time, it stayed. I never tried to write it again, though.  Then, last Friday, a sentence lodged in my head. My writing often starts with a word-image that requires telling. And that one had the potential to be an entry point to my long-restrained story. So I typed it for the whole trip down to Florida. Bare bones outline: Fighting couple has sex instead. The end.

No, really, that’s the plot. And here’s the problem. I know what happens under the covers now, but other parts of the story don’t work. The fighting couple doesn’t spend enough time in the shift between argument and sex, so the whole thing comes off wrong. I consulted my in-house expert.

“Scott, do these two still jump in bed together too soon?”

He studied my laptop. “ “Something’s missing. I think the man needs to rationalize it more.”  Click. Exactly what I needed to hear. I had been so concerned with capturing actions and dialogue that I hadn’t even considered thoughts.

I was still mulling this over while we tried to write next week’s grocery list. It seemed Scott was, too.  “It needs more … look.” He took away my list. “She does this, right?” He put my hand on his cheek.


“Doesn’t that send a chill down his spine or something?”

“I hate the stereotypes.”

“OK, his face, then. What if it sends a chill across his face?”


“You need more of his physical reactions.”

We walked through several more gestures discussing actions and reactions. And we, unlike my couple, didn’t have to cover any extra ground to get to desire.

Then, Scott said, “I think we’re still technically parents.” We broke off our conversation and resumed the list before the living room and Wii lost their appeal for our kids.

A few minutes later, he asked, “What turns him on about her?”

“Her hair. It always smells like flowers.”

“OK, so he has to smell her hair. That could set off a moment where…” and by now he was behind me, reaching around to pull me close. I leaned into him automatically, then jumped away just as fast.

“Damn.” We glowered at the living room together.

“OK. Right. Rationalization; physical reactions; turn-ons. I’ll work on that and see what you think later. After the kids are in bed.”

“Definitely. After they’re in bed.”

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Sex Ed — 53 Comments

  1. I can’t imagine you ever finishing a story (at any age) by saying “the rest, I will leave to your imagination”.


    • Oh yeah. I hated having to do it that way at the time, but I had checked out an entire STACK of sex ed books from the library without getting any real knowledge. Who, for example, was supposed to do the ‘thrusting’ and what, exactly did that refer to? How on earth was his schlong supposed to fit inside her, and why didn’t her thighs get in the way? And these weren’t the kind of questions I could pose to my Mom, who has never been comfortable with the idea of sex. Ironically, I could have asked my Dad. He couldn’t have minded less answering stuff like that from his daughter. But I would have been squeamish as hell to ASK MY DAD something like that!

      • By the way,the answers, which I figured out only after I met Scott, were “whoever wants to”, “it grows a bit to get in there”, and “of course they do, but working around them is part of the fun”.

  2. I cower from sex scenes when I try to write them. They are always so difficult for me! I love Scott’s idea of the physical reactions though. It makes perfect sense. I want to read this when it’s done!
    Hop over and visit Ilene’s recent post The WallMy Profile

    • This also applies to what you’re writing about walls. (You and I are sharing a creative wavelength lately. I love that!) I had five basic tenets growing up:
      1) If the kind of emotional abuse my parents throw at each other is “love” then I’ll pass
      2) I am never getting married
      3) I will not have children to put them through some of this shit. (Oddly, I considered, and still consider, my childhood good. It’s the fighting I wouldn’t want them to endure.)
      4) Nobody EVER just looks at a person and falls in love. Lust, yeah. I’ll buy that. But love? Uh-uh.
      5) I don’t need any of that in my life.

      And then I met Scott and those walls just crumbled. I fell in love with him instantly and deeply. We didn’t spend our time hurling invectives at each other. And I wanted to marry him and have kids together. In fact, and this was probably the hardest thing of all for me to accept, I needed him. All of that bullshit I never believed was True.

      I had up until then, left romance out of my writing. I still read very little in the genre, because I retain healthy skepticism about the images that Hollywood and Harlequin put out there. And I’m left without the sense of wonder that I think you need to approach romance plausibly in writing. I come at it very clinically, with stilted results.

  3. For the record, as a reader, I don’t get that you struggle with this. I think You write all scenes with great honest and integrity.

    One thing I came away with from this weekend is I need to trust my spouse more with critiques and editing concerning my work. I like how your husband helps you. That’s sexy…see what I did there.

    I struggle writing about the sexy business too. Helene is a sexy story where the characters are all very sexual because they’re drunk or just turned on because of their ages or the nature of their lives. But I could never write erotica. My wife is amazing at it.
    Hop over and visit Lance’s recent post Scarred But SmarterMy Profile

    • It’s because I didn’t believe in that bullshit. At all. And then it all wound up being true. (I replied to Ilene above, and that applies here, too.) And your wife? She’s brilliant. Do trust her. Don’t waste your talent or hers by merely stroking your ego with your relationship. Look at what Amanda Palmer wrote recently about Neil Gaiman on her blog. She’s his wife, and basically, this most recent book is the first one of his that she has really been gobsmacked by. She doesn’t pretend to be bowled over by the things that amaze me as a writer. Her writing is totally different. Songs. And the two of them went on a tour not that long ago. He played a piano part in one of her songs that turned out to be eight hilarious notes plunked out on a child’s toy. Because that’s how much skill he has in her area. The two of them together pack an incredible creative wallop, but I’m sure they both had to let go of a certain portion of their egos to get there.

  4. It is funny that this is where I shine (sort of?) or ironic?
    In being very honest, I have been reading some erotica lately, and I always close the book and say, “I could do this, in fact I could do this well and quite possibly better than this” and then I come back to the real world and get on with my life.

    But I like how Scott helped you through those motions, that he SHOWED instead of telling (although telling runs a close second sometimes..) and that it allowed you to shape those emotions.

    when I write a conversation or a romantic/sexy scene, I HAVE the conversation in my mind, sometimes if no one is around, I say it all out loud and like Scott did for you, I allow myself to feel those emotions..”am I horny or just completely turned on?”, “would that be something a character actually said, in that vernacular?” when you’re flirting, teasing, sputtering, it has to sound like that…and when you’re in the heat of passion , it has to sound like that or it doesn’t ring true. Right?

    I like a couple that has sex instead of fighting…that’s a great storyline.
    (thanks for the shout out…I don’t know if I deserve it but I’m glad you can read my romances without wanting to hurl. 😉 )
    Hop over and visit Kir’s recent post Noticed {Trifextra}My Profile

  5. I have never even attempted to write a romance/sex scene…gah! But I think if you have passion in your real life, it will come through in your writing, and you and your husband obviously do!
    Hop over and visit Mamarific’s recent post Pacing the PerimeterMy Profile

    • I typically cringe away from them. But the more I write, the more I’m finding that I specialize in interpersonal relationships. Just not that kind. Which is absolutely stupid of me. So I’m going to have to take the time to stop freaking out over a twenty six year old incident that NOBODY else had a problem with and move on. Did I mention I had to change my drugs recently? I think the new ones must be working or something.

  6. I just read in the comments that you don’t plan to blog the story….Im so disappointed. I wanted to read it. I have a similar scene in my manuscript but I felt it too moved a bit fast.

    • Unfortunately, when I want to submit something to paying (or at least magazine) markets, editors frequently consider blog publication as a strike against. When they say “never previously published” they mean it!

  7. Oh, this post makes me miss my Scott more than words…

    And good on you for pushing yourself and listening to someone who has good advice!
    Hop over and visit IASoupMama’s recent post PredictionsMy Profile

    • He is an awesome critic of my work. He gives me honest feedback and not bullshit. Which means I can trust him when he says he likes it, because it means he really does. And that if he says there’s a problem, I need to have my eyes open, because he has a good ear.

    • He’s my number one test audience. He doesn’t think like me. At all. Which means he can give me this marvelous outside perspective on my own head and often get me going straight again.

  8. I loved this post and how you and your husband were turned on as you tried to figure out how to turn something on in your writing. I could see the scene and hear the conversation and thought the irony was great!

    • I know what you mean. My mother made it one page into my first novel before quietly walking away. She cannot handle profanity, and mine has several F-bombs on the first page alone.

  9. Romance does happen in real life 🙂 Love the collaboration between you and husband. The fact that it helps with a scene – even better. I too want to read your story.
    Hop over and visit Shanique’s recent post The Silence of My VoiceMy Profile

    • I’m still – fourteen years in to this relationship, twelve of them married years – completely blown away by this realization. Love comes as a shock to me every time I encounter it. Scott’s love in particular astounds me.

  10. I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin writing a story that wasn’t just some silly part of my life I wanted to share. I’d like to and that’s probably why I have so much respect for those of you who are the real writers out there.

    Two things:

    1. I liked so much how you were stricken with the thought and you wrote the outline in your mind as you were driving along. It always amazes me how many times I can spin something from a single sentence or thought and it just comes to life.

    2. That you and your husband played the ideas so well off of each other. How his perspective on the situation helped you make your story better. I think I need my wife to help me edit a little more.

    You wove this all so nicely! 🙂
    Hop over and visit Keni’s recent post #160. or, OH, There Will be Hugs!My Profile

    • That creative spark is wonderful. Do get your wife in on the editing. It took us a couple of years to get the hang of it. He writes, too, mostly nonfiction, but we’re both excellent at giving feedback. But we had to pull our egos back and learn to take the critique. Ultimate compliment. He brought in a page of an article he had written for an academic journal to show his students. He had the draft version with my feedback on it, but no indication of who I was. He just said, “This is the critique a colleague gave me about the piece before I submitted it”. He passed it around, and the room got really quiet, and one student finally said, “What did you do to piss her off?” Because I’d red inked the thing three ways to Sunday. He said when he said, “She’s my wife,” they all just stared at him. But his point – “this is how you get better” may have sunk in with that group. If even the prof is constantly seeking improvement, then maybe they don’t have to feel so bad about their drafts after all.

  11. Wait . . . are you telling me that the Wii loses appeal for your kids at some point??? That just does not computer. My kids would sit there for a week if I let them. This is my current summertime battle.

    (I know that has nothing to do with this excellent post, but I just couldn’t let that go by unnoticed). 😉
    Hop over and visit Misty’s recent post Facing the FearMy Profile

    • Ahahah! I only rarely have to put the damper on electronics. (Knock wood). Mostly, they get bored after a couple of hours and move on to other pursuits. It helps that Sam is always (even in 97 degree godawful heat) hungry for outdoor time, and they both like swimming and legos. It also helps that if I think they’re getting too involved, I just come play with them, and so far, I can still ace them both in everything they play. The day when that is still true is coming to an end. But there’s only so long that you want to sit and watch Mom zap Imperial Storm Troopers before you’re ready to find another activity.