In thinking about what he’d like me to better understand, I landed on a hard truth. He’d like me to understand his feelings about our sex life. My avid viewing of Dr. Phil and Oprah upheld this conclusion. Married couples who have kids often have problems with sexual intimacy.
After taking time to digest this revelation, I landed on another hard truth: my main characters, a married couple living in each other’s bodies, would have sex as the other person.
At first I thought that maybe I could get away with eliminating sex scenes by stating my main characters didn’t want to do it because it would be too strange. But in trying to justify this, I couldn’t think of one person I knew who would let this opportunity pass unexplored. Sex is too much of the fabric of a marriage to be ignored.
Because of this, Switch-A-Wish has sex scenes. It has descriptive sex scenes. It has scenes that were incredibly uncomfortable to write. I had to suppress my inner prude and let the characters take over in order to get through it. I had to read other sex scenes to find language that would describe what was happening in a way that didn’t sound too vulgar, but also didn’t sound too much like I was trying not to be vulgar.
When I was editing the first draft I almost deleted it all because I knew my mom would want to read the book and I couldn’t imagine how embarrassing it would be for her to know what a dirty mind I had.
I had to make justifications that allowed me to move through it. The first is, they are married, and married people should have sex with each other. The second is, even if they weren’t married, our bodies are designed to create and embrace intimacy this way. Third, I’m just editing a rough draft, no one will ever read it. In honesty, it was the third one that worked best.
Now, it’s out there. My voice, my name, my words about sex will be shared with the English reading world. It helps to write this blog post, admitting to the fact that writing about sex was embarrassing. Because it was hard for me, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
That said, here are a few tips to keep in mind if you ever find yourself writing a story where the characters are going to have sex, and you have to write it down for them:
1. Do some research. Don’t run out and have sex with someone and take notes throughout (unless you’re into that, who am I to judge?). I mean go online and read about sex. Go to blogs and discussion forums. Amanda and Chris’ sex lives were not about me. So, looking at other people’s sex lives helped depersonalize the scenes.
2. Don’t edit yourself as you write. I’m not someone who just writes and then revises when it’s all done. I write a little, then go back and edit, then write some more. It works for me. That said, I didn’t do this when I was writing the sex scenes. I just tried to picture what was happening and record it. I used whatever strange vocabulary that came to mind (wiener, anyone?) and didn’t judge myself. I let these scenes alone for a while and then I came back later and edited them. It was easier because now it felt like work, trying to take words and make them understandable and arrange them properly. This I could do.
3. Read other sex scenes. There are many, many, many writers who have done this longer than me and have figured out beautiful (and incredibly raunchy) ways of describing sex. Some are very graphic (as in, pornographic), while others hold details. By examining their language, their words and the intent of the scenes, I started to figure out what I liked. I was able to find my comfort zone and this gave me boundaries.
4. Get a second opinion. I trust my husband’s opinion. He’s also a writer, albeit an academic writer and columnist. But he reads, and he’s not a prude. So I bounced a few of the scenes off him to get a sense for what words he would use, and how he would react if trapped in my body.