Why I Can’t Write Erotica (or romance novels or sex scenes at all)

Why can’t I do this?

It’s a strange phenomenon. I write all the things. I dabble in fiction. I’m writing a graphic novel. I’m editing a collection of poetry. I write journalistic pieces and advice columns and interviews. I write, write, write. All the live-long day. Words, words, words, forever and ever. When I lie awake at night, I don’t fantasize or daydream… I think. In words.

And the thing I put into words most frequently is sex. The performance of it in porn, the ramifications of it in culture, the importance of it in humanity. I’ve written porn reviews and criticism, sexy vignettes for adult magazine, profiles of porn performers and directors and burlesque dancers and documentarians. I write all the time, and usually I write about sex.

Hell, my day job is at a publishing company, where I work almost exclusively doing behind-the-scenes editorial work on romance novels and erotica. I’m also establishing a freelance copyediting side job for romance novels and porn star memoirs.

What I mean to say is: my daily grind is sex and words. Sex in words. That’s my thing.

But goddamn it, I can’t for the life of me write sex scenes. I just can’t do it. I’ve tried. Oh, I’ve tried. At this point in my career I feel pretty confident that I have the knowledge base and the readership and the connections to become fairly successful if I started writing erotica. Objectively, I’m a shoe-in. Hell, I could kill in the fanfic markets–I’m a sci-fi and fantasy nut and I love picking apart character psychology and imagining their sexual proclivities. But I just cannot write a convincing or exciting sex scene. I can’t.

I’ve tried. I used to write vignette copy for several adult magazines. The stories I wrote were about 500 words each and would be published alongside photos of naked ladies. It was the perfect chance for me to learn to write sexy-like. But I just failed at that aspect of it. I focused instead on trying to get the voice right and to show that the woman was in control of her situation and her body, because dammit, feminism in a porno magazine was my way of fighting back! And because I couldn’t have stomached making money on it if I hadn’t at least tried to make it empowering for the anonymous women whose pictures I made up stories for. The stories focused mainly on the woman’s background, her hopes and dreams and life, and usually there’d be some sex thrown in there somewhere, or descriptions of her bountiful bosoms. But the sex was only in there because it had to be.

And in the years since I quit that lucrative-yet-thankless gig, I’ve been asked several times to write erotic stories for collections, magazines, etc. It seems like it’s right up my sex-positive, porn-friendly alley, right? Sure it does! So I’ve tried, multiple times, to pick up the erotica-writing banner and write some damn sex scenes. This should be easy as pie, right?


There’s some sort of block there. Some mental obstacle that won’t allow me to gracefully put sex into words.

This used to worry me. I’d think that maybe I was faking this whole “pervert with a pen” thing all along. Maybe I just didn’t have a vivid enough fantasy life. Or that all the porn I’d watched had drained me of the capacity to be original about what’s sexy. Or that I was actually, deep down, a prude. That commenting on sex was ok, but when it came to actually doing the sex part I froze up. Maybe I was a complete fraud!

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, in part because holy crap could I use getting actually paid sometimes for my writing. Most of the writing I do is for free, with the occasional exception of a very small paycheck coming in months after the fact. And I keep thinking, if I could just get this erotica writing thing going, I could make some money on the interwebz. I know the internet peoplz luvz der pr0nz. But I just cannot make it happen! What is wrong with me? Am I allergic to  money?

But no. Now that I’m writing about it, I’ve realized it’s not that I’m a prude, or that I’ve been faking my perversion. It’s not that I’ve destroyed my concept of sexuality with porn, or that I’m above getting paid for my writing work. I think it’s a lot deeper.

Like I said before, words are my thing. They are how I interact with the world, primarily. The way I see the universe and interact with it is so hugely verbal that I protect my nonverbal spaces, like my painting and drawing hobbies and my modeling work, from words. I like to have parts of my life that exist without language, in an abstract space that doesn’t require a story or explanation. And sex exists in that space for me. Not that there’s no talking during sex, or anything, but for the most part, for me, sex is a nonverbal experience. It’s an experience that can proceed in a wordless, sensory void. I can be present in it without examining it, filtering it through words, or writing it down. Sometimes I think I should write it down–I have some fucking incredible sex, people. Maybe the world needs to know about it. Maybe I should find a way to put my experiences into the lives of characters and write erotica about it. Maybe I’d make a crap-ton of money.

But in the end I think it’s better for me to let sex alone and allow it to be wordless. It keeps me healthier and happier and makes my experience if it more fully immersive. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to put it into words in a meaningful way, but for now, I think I like it this way.

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