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Tim Chapman Says, “Let’s Have Sex (Fictionally)”

Tim Chapman is a former forensic scientist for the Chicago Police Department and is the author of A Trace of Gold and The Blue Silence. You can find out more about him here, see his last post here, and get his books here.

A few summers ago, at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, author Clare O’Donohue and I gave a talk about writing sex scenes. It was essentially a conversation in which we shared opinions and read the nasty bits from a few famous novels, as well as our own. To prepare, I perused books that contained well-known sex scenes: Women In Love, Tropic Of Capricorn, Delta Of Venus, and, of course, Fifty Shades Of Grey. I also read some mystery and crime fiction, including a couple of Agatha Christie stories. Based on this research I devised a highly unscientific way to categorize sex scenes. I broke them into three classifications: Sensual, Functional, and SensuoFunctio.

•Sensual sex scenes use imagery that appeals to the senses and symbols that are sexually implicit. The mood is established, and then—boom—it’s suddenly the next morning. Mysteries, particularly those that follow the rules of the cozy, usually fit the Sensual category if they contain sex at all.

•Functional sex scenes are just that. They’re explicit, describing the action, (insert Tab A into Slot B) often naming body parts, either clinically or with slang or (sadly) euphemisms.

•SensuoFunctio sex scenes establish mood and then describe the action.

My own writing generally falls somewhere in the Sensual model. There are two reasons for this. First, readers often attach their own habits and biases to the characters they’re reading about. We might be doing the same things in bed (or in the kitchen, or the garage, or behind the library),  but we do them slightly differently. I like to leave some things to the reader’s imagination. Second, I infuse a lot of my own personality into my characters. I’m not sure I want my readers to know what I’m like in bed (unless I’m writing a comedy).

You’ll notice that I haven’t classified any of this writing as pornography. That’s because pornography implies obscenity. For the record, I don’t find descriptions of sex to be obscene. Gay, Straight, Queer—its all a rich tapestry. What’s obscene are gruesomely detailed descriptions of murder and mutilation and/or rape. There is a place for obscenity in writing. After all, reality is fodder for fiction. I would argue, though, that classics like 1955s Lolita in which the protagonist lusts after a twelve-year-old girl, need to be viewed through a twenty-first century lens.

Here’s the sex scene from my novel The Blue Silence.

Book Cover. The Blue Silence by Tim Chapman. Murder New Orleans Style. Woman underwater.
The Blue Silence by Tim Chapman

            They cut through the park to the bike path so they could see the lake while they walked. The sun was down, but the moon was up, and McKinney watched the ripple of its reflection on the water. It appeared to follow them as they walked. Nina put on her sweater and took McKinney’s hand in hers. He noted that there was strength behind the softness. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and she squeezed back, and then a sort of sexual energy passed between them. McKinney had known on the first night he kissed her that, sooner or later, they would wind up in bed together. Some part of him knew her now, or rather, anticipated her—the feel of the soft hairs at the base of her spine, the taste of salt just above her collarbone, the warmth of her exhalation on his ear. He sensed these things about her. He needed to know them.

            They walked without speaking for a bit. A cool breeze blew in off the lake, and a light shower fell on them from a sky that had been clear moments before. Nina pulled herself into the crook of his arm, and they hurried back, ducking into a short tunnel. The air in the tunnel was dense and mildewy. The moon had passed behind a cloud, but they could see the glow of the streetlights at the other end of the tunnel. They kissed for a while, and her fragrance, all the smells that defined her, filled his senses. She took one of his hands from her waist and put it on her breast. He felt her nipple, firm under his palm and, with his other hand, pulled her tight against him. The sound of footsteps along the walk robbed them of the moment. Almost in a whisper, Nina said, “I know this takes away some of the spontaneity, but would you…I mean, if you’d like to…can you spend the night?”

            McKinney raised her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “You’re sure?”

            She nodded. “Let’s walk back to the El.”

            “The hell with the El,” he said, leading her out of the tunnel, “Let’s take a cab.”

And then—boom—it’s suddenly the next morning.

A question for my fellow authors: How do you write sex scenes?

A question for readers (don’t be shy): Which of my three made-up sex scene categories do you prefer to read?

Tim Chapman

Tim Chapman is the author of thrillers A Trace of Gold and The Blue Silence. You can find out more about him on his website,, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Tim — Like you, when I write sex scenes, they fall somewhere on the sensual spectrum (nothing explicit). I leave some things to the reader’s imagination. And then — BOOM! — it’s suddenly the next morning.

  2. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    Excellent post to discuss what is often left undiscussed in mystery-writing. Since I write in the cozy genre, my “sex” scenes are absent. I include light touching, kissing, tension and leave the rest for my readers to fill in the blanks. I prefer the sensual descriptions when I read novels.

  3. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Love this post, Tim! I write police procedurals, but they aren’t gritty. I describe them as soft-boiled with heart and they cross over to cozy readers. The sex scenes in my books are of the sensual variety with much left up to the reader’s imagination. As a reader, I like sensual or SensuoFunctio scenes. Since most of my reading is in the crime fiction genre these days, I’ve noticed a lot of authors I’ve been reading use the sensual style.

  4. Avatar
    Maggie Smith

    Hey, Tim – like the others above, my debut out next spring features one sexual encounter in real time and it’s sensual – protagonist takes her male companion’s hand and leads him to the bedroom. Then they’re eating an omelet the next morning and exchanging innuendos about the night before.

  5. Avatar
    Saralyn Richard

    Wonderful topic, well-explained. There are still readers who eschew any books containing sex scenes, regardless of the type. My mysteries include sex, though, because it is part of life and often entwined with character motivation. Thanks for the glimpse into your book, too.

  6. Avatar
    Laurie's Story

    Well, I have to admit that in my psycho-suspense series, I have, at times, gotten explicit. There is, however, a crafted reason for this. Usually because something happens during the sex scene that has impact on the plot. Nice writing, Tim, and bravo for an interesting post!

  7. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    As someone who doesn’t want to read explicit sex scenes (or watch them in movies), I find the sensual far more interesting in the “less is more” sense. A great topic, Tim, thanks.

  8. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    What’s really fun is trying to write a character who is as randy as a British royal without getting too explicit. Oddly enough, explicit sex scenes bore me after a while. There just aren’t that many ways to get to the, ahem, point, no matter what variation on human sexuality you’re describing.

  9. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Tim, talk about an attention-grabbing blog title! I enjoyed reading your three categories of sex scenes. As a reader, I like the sensual type. As a writer, since my audience consists of nine- to twelve-year-olds, and my books are cozy mysteries, I don’t have any sex scenes. But my four detectives, being thirteen, are starting to hear the bees buzzing and the bird chirping. So, I write things like, “He took her hand, and for once, she didn’t pull it away.” That’s as explicit as I get. Parents can do the educating now. I’m retired!

  10. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I sometimes write the full on scenes, but usually I edit them down to something tamer – Boom! Next morning. I tend to write toward a cozy audience which influences the decision. Right now my WIP is closer to a suspense, so it’s gotten a bit more … descriptive. We’ll see if it has an appeal.

  11. Tim Chapman
    Tim Chapman

    Thank you all for your comments. I look forward to reading your sex scenes in the future, whether they’re holding hands, a morning-after omelette, or bow-chicka-bow. ;^)

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