Guest Opinion – Orgasmic Description

Val Kovalin of Obsidian Bookshelf  has, at my invitation, sent in this intriguing post on something I’m sure we have all wondered about in the context of M/M stories. She would love your comments and observations on her post.

Val has been reviewing for about three years.  She reads across most fiction and nonfiction genres, but likes m/m fiction best. Visit her Obsidian Bookshelf blog (see link below) for reviews and non-stop advice on reading and writing topics in the m/m genre –

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First, I’ve got to say that I totally admire the courage it takes for anyone to attempt to write erotica.  There are only so many ways to describe the sex act, which means that a writer probably can’t help stumbling into clichés.  Also, everybody’s sexual predilections are so unique and subjective that there is no telling how each reader will react to certain descriptions. 

The readers might burst out laughing.  They might put the book down in disgust.  Worst of all, they conclude that the writer has never had sex in his or her life.  We women who write m/m definitely face the possibility that we might sound like we don’t know what we’re talking about because it’s not like we’ve experienced gay male sex firsthand. 

As an m/m fiction writer (not yet published, but working on it), I have total sympathy for how difficult it is to write sex scenes.  I tend to write mine last of all when the entire story is finished because otherwise I’ll just sit there in a totally intimidated mindset and not be able to advance the plot at all.  It definitely helps me to skip over writing them in the rough draft.

From_behind_DSAs a reader, I’ll admit that I’ll snicker if a sex scene gets too far-fetched.  But then I always remember how hard it is to write about the body parts involved in sex and what happens to them.  I mean, we only get three possible approaches.

First, we can use the scientific terms such as penis or erection, anus, and ejaculating.  Positives?  Well, as words go, they’re accurate and unambiguous.  No unintentional connotations there!  Negatives?  Some find these words so cold and clinical that they kill the mood in a sex scene.

Second, we can use the slang terms like prick, asshole, and coming.  Positives?  These terms can sound edgy, gritty, and exciting.  Negatives?  They can be too culture-specific.  Also, they can sound too negative in that many slang terms double as insults. 

Third, we can use metaphors like rod or shaft, entrance, and erupting.  Positives?  Metaphors let you build in connotations.  If you write that someone is ejaculating, it doesn’t really give you much range of meaning beyond the verb itself.  But if someone is erupting, the exaggeration conveys a lot of intensity.  Obviously, this is a better-than-usual orgasm!

Negatives?  The unintentional humor attached to some built-in connotations.  I mean, you can never predict individual reactions to something you’ve written.  The weirdest metaphor I’ve ever read for an erection?  Rebar – as in those steel rods used to reinforce concrete.  It immediately sent me off on a distracting tangent, wondering if the guy whose viewpoint we were in worked in construction and was so into his job that he tended to think only in builder’s terms!

The weirdest metaphor I’ve ever read for ejaculating?  “And then he exploded.”  This doesn’t sound all that weird, but every time I run across it, which is often, I always picture someone just vaporizing down to his sub-atomic particles.  Talk about distracting!

Here is where I’d love to hear your opinion, whether you’re a reader or a writer.  What types of words do you prefer when reading or writing sex scenes?  Are there words that really kill the mood for you?  Have you run across any really off-the-wall metaphors for the sex act lately?  Anybody else out there find sex scenes difficult to write?

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Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

96 comments

  • Jules
    Funny you should mention The Dreyfus Affair. One of the things I loved about the book was that the sex was not graphic. Here’s what I said in the review about the sex

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    “Randy and D.J. loved each other in really strange and wonderful ways. There is no explicit sex in the book and most of the sex was by innuendo, using techniques like closing the hotel door after the guys go into the room, and you have to use your imagination about what they’re doing. However, the book did not lose any of its romantic impact or luster by the lack of explicit sex – in some ways it was better.”

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    Of course this book was written 16 years ago but I still found the techniques to be effective.

    If you want to read the full review here is the link

    http://www.gaybook.reviews/?p=756

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    Sometimes less is more! Many times when I read a book with an overabundance of sex my conclusion is that the author ran out of story so the sex helped to fill the pages. There are very few female authors who can write a sex scene that will blow me away – Jordan Castillo Price, M.L. Rhodes, Jourdan Lane and just a few others. Most M/M writers should learn that we appreciate a taste but not a bucket full unless they can do it really well.

    Reply
    • Less is more, ha, ha! My mantra. 🙂

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      You said: “There are very few female authors who can write a sex scene that will blow me away.”

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      I’d second that recommendation for Jordan Castillo Price, and also add L.B. Gregg’s novella “The Men of Smithfield – Gobsmacked” for hot, hot, hot sex scenes!

      Reply
  • This would be why my sex scenes tend to not get into a lot of detail. I’m in awe of writers who can get detailed and hot and just keep going, but I’ve read enough smut where the descriptions were just… awful. I always got a little thrill out of books that gave us just enough information to hint at what was going on but not tell outright, because that meant I got to use my imagination. When I was reading “The Dreyfus Affair” (Lefcourt), for example, there’s a lot of hinting that goes on and obviously not a lot of exposition, as that book was never meant to be an erotica novel. One part I remember specifically was when the team’s manager says that Randy Dreyfus “has his head up his ass.” The narrative goes on to say to effect of, “While that was not strictly true in the way it was meant, it wasn’t that inaccurate with regards to Randy’s current activities.” (I don’t have the quote right or the book on hand.) The next chapter, we find out from Randy in his therapist’s office that at that moment, he and DJ had been fucking in DJ’s sexy Jaguar.

    My brain sort of exploded into little tiny pieces. Forget that the sexual tension between Randy and DJ was awesome, just that HINT that they’d been up to something – was DJ fucking Randy? Vice versa? Was it rimming? – made me stop and fantasize for a full forty-five seconds about what had been going on. I loved it.

    What’s funny to me is that I was all nervous about one of my recent novels having more explicit sex in it than I usually write, and every single review has mentioned, “There’s no graphic sex in this.” *headdesk* Oh well. I figured if I was naming body parts and there was visible semen, it was graphic, but different strokes. (And I admit, it wasn’t anywhere near as graphic as some of my heroes manage to write and still sound suave.)

    Reply
    • Jules, you said:

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      “What’s funny to me is that I was all nervous about one of my recent novels having more explicit sex in it than I usually write, and every single review has mentioned, “There’s no graphic sex in this.” *headdesk* ”

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      It’s always fascinating to me how we can all perceive the same writing so differently! *headdesk*, indeed!

      Reply
  • I stopped reading romance/erotica for many, many years. I just came back to the genre 2+yrs ago. For the longest time, I was thrown out of a story when I read the word “coming”. My 1st thought was, “Where is he “going” during sex?” I have gotten used to it now, but previously I remember that “what a male ejaculates” did = cum. I remember a childish saying that was something like- When 2 people add their parts together their sum equal’s cum. *rolls eyes*

    Reply
    • Interesting! I think I read somewhere about orgasms that we in the West will say, “I’m coming,” and in the Far East, they’ll say, “I’m going.” Different perspective on the same thing.

      Reply
  • Val
    This post has now raced past 4 others to half way up the ladder of “Popular Posts”. If you check you’ll see Orgasmic Description now has almost 500 “views”. Great job!

    Reply
  • Jordan
    No one will ever mistake your guys for the female ideal of a gay man; they remind me of guys I know and have known. Crash’s apartment is that of the quintessential man, although he takes it to extremes.:)

    Reply
      • Val
        You’re so right about the van – it should have been condemned. The blanket was just disgusting! *g* I’m reading my print copy of Scary Mary: Channeling Morpheus (couldn’t get enough of the books as ebooks so I decided I needed it in print also.):)

        Reply
  • I just realized something. Most (not all) female M/M writers seem to have probelms writing sex scenes (even the ones who are really ballsy) and avoid them like the plague until they HAVE to write them. I wonder why? The male M/M writers don’t seem to have this problem, unless they’re not telling the truth when I ask this question.

    Reply
    • I love my sex scenes…but I always stop in the middle and finish the next day. I figure my subconscious must need to churn on them.

      And, Val…hot damn, what a cool topic! I loved reading both the post and all the comments!

      Reply
      • “And, Val…hot damn, what a cool topic! I loved reading both the post and all the comments!”

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        Thank you, Jordan! I’m pleased and astonished myself. I thought the post might get about five comments. Maybe it helped that I titled it “Orgasmic Description” 🙂

        Reply
    • Somehow I get the feeling that the men writers are telling you truth. Which makes me really wonder about us women! I know for me I’m not real practiced at writing sex scenes, having come up through SFF fiction, and then also being painfully aware of the limited pool of expressions for the sex act and then having an inhibited feeling about getting cliched from the get-go. But otherwise I just have no explanation for us women in general. Very perplexing!

      Reply
  • Ally
    I would never make a negative comment about male characters not meeting mythical standards of cleanliness. God knows I’m not that clean.

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    One of the reasons I love Jordan Castillo Price’s guys is that they are all slobs and their homes are like a pig sty.:)

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    This washing off right after sex is definitely a female trait (some writers anyway). Glad you don’t follow that trend Ally.

    Reply
    • *is really late to party…probably should have brought Alka-seltzer and a vacuum cleaner*
      I’m glad you mentioned my pigmen, Wave. I was reading all the comments thinking, “Really? The guys jump up and wash off? Mine walk around the next day with random objects stuck to themselves because they rolled onto them covered in semen. And they had a REALLY good time doing it.”
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      A publisher changed the spelling “come” to “cum” for me and I wrote back in my comments that I’d rather not use the word at all if that was how it would be spelled. I haven’t had the fortitude to check the final mss for the offending word.
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      I sometimes use more juvenile words for cock when my characters are being deliberately childish. Wiener was a recent fave…I think that was in Swarm, which was just reviewed here 😀

      Reply
      • “Mine walk around the next day with random objects stuck to themselves because they rolled onto them covered in semen. And they had a REALLY good time doing it.”

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        Totally! Ha, ha!

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        There are some hilariously juvenile sounding words for cock: wiener, weenie, willy, ding-dong, pee-pee! Too funny.

        Reply
    • “One of the reasons I love Jordan Castillo Price’s guys is that they are all slobs and their homes are like a pig sty.:) ”

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      Pigmen, ha, ha! Definitely with that grody van in Channeling Morpheus. 🙂

      Reply

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