Lucky for me, there were no sex scenes in Driving Sideways—there were, however, numerous anecdotal references to awkward or hilarious sexual episodes that made my more puritanical relatives sit much farther from me at Thanksgiving.
And this is essentially my approach to sex scenes. Find the funny and keep it real. Because let’s face it, sex can be hilarious! It’s an event that can go from “Don’t even think of stopping!” to “Dear God, I hope I never see you again!” in under a minute. There are smells, sounds, and sights one frequently doesn’t want to behold. There may be uncomfortable, unusual requests that show up in a Tweet later.
Sometimes one of the parties is trying to watch Conan O’Brian over his/her partner’s shoulder. Sometimes the dog won’t come out from under the bed—or worse, watches. Sometimes someone gets a cramp or sneezes during oral sex. Sometimes during the act you think about the dry cleaning you forgot to pick up or that open house you want to attend this Sunday or how full your bladder suddenly feels. And sometimes one of the parties must suddenly bolt from the room in an often futile attempt to conceal an ill-timed fart.
Oh sure, once in awhile “cinematic” sex is called for—you know, the kind of frantic, desperate, heated coupling most married people don’t believe in any more. I like to think of it as Easter Bunny sex—you’re pretty sure it existed once, because you have fond memories of it. This all-consuming, hormonal kind of sex has a short shelf life, because most people simply can’t sustain Level Ten passion and actually go about their daily business. The prep work alone for that kind of experience just eats up too much time.
Sex can be tender, painful, intense, angry, weird, beautiful, heartbreaking, selfish, funny, shy, embarrassing, or boring. Maybe the same couple will cycle through all of these in the course of their relationship. Ultimately, sex is a form of communication, and before I write any such scene, I have to ask myself: what does the scene call for? What are my characters thinking, feeling, recovering from, secretly wanting? Does one of them like the other just a bit more?
(Psst: the answer is Yes.)
Above all, when two of your characters are about to get it on, please do not call it ‘lovemaking.’ Somewhere a puppy is kicked every time that word is used. Also, wherever he is at that moment, Adam Richman gags. Which is really saying something for a man who regularly horks down buckets of food that weigh more than a husky terrier.
PS: For some reason, the first word that popped into my mind when I sat down to write this was “glisten.” Disgusting.
Jess Riley swears those are not her feet (fetishes) on the cover.