Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing Sex as Therapy

I give fair warning that some of this post may delve into the TMI label - not for titillation's sake, but only as a precursor to things that may be a bit uncomfortable.

When it comes to writing sex scenes I have very little difficulty with it. I enjoy it, in fact - in some ways, they are the easiest scenes for me to write. For a few brief pages, my characters don't have to focus on anything except each other and what is (hopefully) a pleasant experience...and one that will add to the story, or help drive things forward.

I fall in the middle, I think, as far as explicitness goes. I can go either way without any real discomfort, but I choose not to most of the time. I like describing the mechanics of the act, but I don't need a camera up on the woman's cervix, if that makes any sense. If I write the scene in first person, I tend to focus on the sensations of the moment and less about the details - i.e. the hardness of the man's cock, for example, or how wet she might be. I'm sort of the opinion that if the sex is good, the average person probably isn't concentrating on those details so much as getting on with the business at hand.

At any rate, I don't generally write the harder stuff  - BDSM, for example.  Not because I can't, (and it does intrigue me at times) but because for the most part I don't enjoy the concept of associating pain with sex. And yes, I realize that's a rather sweeping statement and there's so much more to it than that, but here's the general explanation as to why (and here's the TMI):

Since I was 19, I've suffered from something called Vulvar Vestibulitis. It has other names - atrophic vestibulodynia seems to be the latest variation, but it's all the same. You can click on the link if you want the medical explanation, but the best way I can describe it is to imagine having sex with someone who is wearing a condom made of sandpaper. And then go sit on a blowtorch immediately afterwards. For at least a day. There is no cure and I have tried everything short of surgery with little success. I also suffer from Interstitial Cystitis. In short, the plumbing downstairs is a mess.

In twenty years, I've pretty much never had sex without some form of pain. I suspect I always will.  Now, there are times when it's better than others and certainly I'm not going to get into more detail than that about my personal life, but I cope with it as best I can. Even though it's an awkward thing to talk about or admit to having, I do so freely because it often takes women years before getting a diagnosis, since many doctors don't know that it exists or try to convince the woman it's all in her head. I tend to spread the word when I can, in the off chance that someone stumbles across it and maybe has a chance at finding some sort of treatment.

For me, writing sex scenes is often therapeutic. It allows me to escape my own physical limitations, as it were. I realize this is probably a downer of a post, but I'll admit to a certain amount of frustration at my own setbacks.  Whereas I realize that much of the BDSM concept is often mental - i.e. the dominant vs the submissive, for example, much of it does include acts of physical pain - which is great if you like that sort of thing. But the main difference for me is that such pain is sought out and when it's over, so is the pain part (short of few bruises, perhaps.)

In my case, there is absolutely no real choice in the matter, short of not having sex at all. So, if my characters tend to fall into bed with each other a little faster than they should, it's probably more of a reflection on my own desire to experience that level of intimacy without any of the negatives.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Allison. *hugs*

  2. I think your post makes a very valid argument for romance writers and readers. Our personal experiences are what tend to guide us in the direction of our interests, even if it is a simple sex scene in a book (writing it or reading it).

    And I applaud your courage in being so upfront about Vulvar Vestibulitis. I think part of me is outraged that doctors are so ignorant about this condition. It kind of makes me think on what I've read about doctor's theories on female ailments in the past. I'm mumbling over here, so I'll stop, lol

    *big hug* Lurve on your sex scenes, my friend!

  3. It's a whole other level of "hard" or "easy." While your condition may not be common, there are certainly many, many people out there for whom sex is painful, whether on a physical or emotional level. Something that's important for all of us to keep in mind. Sometimes the loud sex next door isn't just thoughtless, it's a slap in the face.

  4. Allison! *hugs* Not that I didn't think you were brave before, but now. Wow. That level of candidness takes serious guts. Kudos.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing about this. Much food for thought, as Danica said, about how our experiences shadow, influence, and transform our art.

  6. Thanks guys. I'm not looking for sympathy or anything like that - it is what it is, but sometimes it can be a bit depressing.

    Writing the smut makes me happy. :)

  7. In a tiny way, I get this, Allison. For a very similar reason, all of my heroines are ultra physically capable women. It's how I escape my own limitations. For the brief, intense fight and chase scenes I write, I can pretend I wouldn't be a snack pack should the zombie apocalypse hit (when, in fact, you ought to sacrifice my gimped butt early in order to save yourselves.) My reality is a minor annoyance in comparison to yours. I hate that you suffer such a horrible condition, but I love the fact that you can wrest some vicarious joy out your writing.

  8. You're right, having your characters live a life that you can't is truly one of the best things about being a scenes or no.

  9. Brave post Allison, and I'm sure helpful to others out there. Like Jeffe said, there are many people who are unable to enjoy sex for one reason or another - either a physical problem, or an emotional one due to some form of abuse. I love that you write romance and sex - and I like your sex scenes very much in fact. Hurray for writing therapy - and for the way it can take us all of those places we will never actually go.

  10. Allison, I can totally understand the desire to write sex as therapy. My husband is in the Navy, and often gone for months at a time. Since I'm not the type woman to stray, I can get more then a little frustrated. I wish your issue was as easy to cure as mine, and know we are ALL here for you!

  11. Allison, I'm so excited by this post, which must sound odd, but as a reader and writer of romance, I get so irritated sometimes with the fantasy element of it all. Sometimes I want a *real* fantasy.

    So, I salute you for being brave in your post and also for being open about something that is not as rare as it may seem.

    While pain during intercourse, is not a huge part of my experience, extreme embarrassment is. I had two HUGE babies and let me tell you, it changes things forever. I did physical therapy to basically get some semblance of my vagina back.

    There is a part of me that really wants to write a post-childbirth romance with this reality, especially in a historical where no "vaginal-plastic-surgery" is an option.

    One element of writing that I love about writing sex scenes is sometimes writing the "scene that will never be." it allows me to go somewhere, perhaps beyond where my characters would ever go, but I get to explore it.

    As an actor, back in school, teachers would say to us,"Fear is your greatest enemy. Go as far as you can. Dare to go farther, and let the director pull you back." I think this must be true for the writer as well. Go to the scary place. You can always pull back later. Editing and revising are always an option. And one thing I've found, most book people are pretty open, even if they say, "Hey, maybe this isn't right for your characters," or, "this might not work for your target audience."

    Beat down the fear. Hurl it back to the nether regions from whence it came! We salute courage. And honor it.

  12. @Jennifer, thanks. :)

    And I will admit there was a moment or two when I debated actually writing a character with the IC...but to be honest, I hate having it. I don't want to write up someone with it, even if it might be somewhat interesting to make the UF heroine have to find a bathroom every 15 minutes.

    It's a fine line between writing people that readers can connect with and giving them flaws that they can't connect with at all...or make them *really* uncomfortable.