by | Sep 3, 2017 | Chris Goff, On writing | 7 comments

by Chris Goff

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

Truth be told, I love a good sex scene. I love nothing more than curling up in front of the fireplace on a snowy Colorado night with a great romantic suspense novel, or a steamy Regency romance. Sex in thrillers is another matter.

I’m not a prude.

But too often it seems, sex in crime novels seems gratuitous. Sure, we’re all grownups and sex is a natural part of relationships, but that’s not a great reason to put sex into our books. Consider the facts.

1. The timeline in a thriller is tight.
In reality, most people running for their lives or trying to catch a killer or working against the clock to save the world don’t have time for sex.

2. Writing sex that satisfies both male and female readers is nearly impossible.
Bottom line, men and women view sex differently. Men are easily aroused, while women need more to make them interested. According to Leon F Seltzer Ph.D., “men’s brains are designed to objectify females,” (Psychology Today, May 11, 2012), while “women respond to a truly astonishing range of cues across many domains. The physical appearance of a man, his social status, personality, commitment, the authenticity of his emotions, his confidence, family, attitude toward children, kindness, height, and smell. . . . For women, no single cue is either necessary or sufficient.” (Psychology Today, May 14, 2012). In other words, women are looking for the potential for love and a long term relationship.

3. Writing sex is hard to do well.
Granted, there are some thriller writers who can handle it. Mostly women. Most with a background in romance writing. But for many of us, it’s difficult and ugly.

The Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Every year since 1993, the Literary Review has presented an award to “honor” some lucky recipient and draw attention to “perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in otherwise good literary novels.” Among the winners and nominees are a number of multiple award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors.
On the shortlist for the 2016 Bad Sex in Fiction Award was Ian McEwan’s Nutshell (possibly the first passage of sexual description told from the point of view of a fetus). It was dismissed for being too well written to qualify. After all “the purpose of the award is not to discourage writing about what goes on in the bedroom (or elsewhere),” but to draw attention to “poorly written passages of sexual description.” According to the Literary Review website, “the hallmarks of ‘bad sex’ are, broadly speaking, euphemism, confusion about what’s actually going on, the clumsy use of language and metaphor, and hyperbole.”
George Pelecanos was a 2015 Award Nominee. This passage came from his first collection of short stories, The Martini Shot. Literary Review had this to say, “An acclaimed crime writer…it seems he’s also an ingénue when it comes to writing sex.”

She lay back on the couch and arched her back, and I peeled off her pants and thong. Now she was nude. I stripped down to my boxer briefs and crouched over her. I let her pull me free because I knew she liked to. She stroked my pole and took off my briefs, and I got between her and spread her muscular thighs with my knees and rubbed myself against her until she was wet as a waterslide, and then I split her.

And Lee Child was a 2011 Award Nominee. His blockbuster The Affair “offers a seduction scene that achieves a prose-poetry all of its own.” (Sorry, Lee!)

Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow. Deep and easy. She flushed and gasped. So did I. Long and slow.
Then faster and harder.
Then we were panting.
Faster, harder, faster, harder.
‘Wait,’ she said.
‘Wait, wait,’ she said. ‘Not now. Not yet. Slow down.’
Long and slow, long and slow.
Breathing hard.
‘OK,’ she said, ‘OK. Now. Now. Now!’
Faster and harder.
Faster, harder, faster, harder.
The room began to shake.

Which is why, Chapter 34 in RED SKY, the second my Raisa Jordan series, begins like this:

Jordan woke up in Davis’s arms. It wasn’t what she’d planned or expected, but she hadn’t resisted. In her line of work, relationships were hard to maintain. She didn’t much go for casual sex, but she had to admit it—last night was nice.

Fade to Black. Need I say more?

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. S. Lee Manning

    I forgot about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Thanks for a laugh. And while I do like the occasional sex and romance scene in my thrillers, also agree that there's times when fade to black is best.

  2. Gayle Lynds

    Oh, my goodness, Chris, what a wonderful essay examining the pros and cons of sex scenes. Thank you!

  3. Chris Goff

    After reading a few of the entries, I'm reconsidering my "prude" status.

  4. Anonymous

    That says it all — nothing else needed

  5. Jack Getze

    "For women, no single cue is either necessary or sufficient." Oh yeah? I have a friend, lives in Marina Del Rey, says he arrives in a Ferrari and NEVER goes home alone.

  6. Chris Goff

    Okay, so hot cars are a turn on….

  7. Sonja Stone

    Chris, I totally agree about the pacing in thrillers, but it never occurred to me that men and women prefer different sex scenes. It makes perfect sense, I'd just never thought about it. I like what you've done in RED SKY. Sex happens off the page and behind closed doors. Great post!