Writing About Sex

Louisa Leontiades On Writing, On Writing-General

I’m writing about sex. Usually I write about pop culture, psychology and philosophy. Sexual philosophy. Relationship philosophy, it’s true, but rarely the actual act. As I prepare The Husband Swap for the second edition I follow the notes written in the margins by my editor (the magnificent Lucy Pearce at Lucent Word). And at chapter 7, I’m getting a bit uncomfortable with them.

“Tell us about your feelings.”

“Tell us about the sex”.

“We want to hear about the pieces of clothing coming off. Especially that first piece, it’s a barrier.”

“Stop going into philosophy, he just kissed you FFS!”

“SHOW US!!! TELL US!!!”

Really? It’s like being back at school with red pen dotted about my creative writing text book. Although – ahem – slightly different. You have to be 18+ for one thing.

“You have an amazing opportunity.” She said. “Your book doesn’t have to be aimed purely at the curious new-to-polyamory folk. It borders on both erotica and chick-lit. You’re letting your readers down if you don’t give them what they want. Otherwise you could call it “Polyamory, the mistakes I made… which wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.”

I like to write about challenging paradigms. Constructs. Neuroscience. Sex? Not so much. It reminds me of my body and boy is it difficult to concentrate on good writing when you’re writing about the flowing of your own vaginal juices. Because writing about it means you have to live it in the moment. In order to write it well, I have to feel it…

My boyfriend hasn’t read it. He said

“If the back of the book had described it as a woman’s descent into madness and multiple relationships with some hot sex thrown in, then sure I would have read it. Sex sells. But it’s all a bit intellectual.”

“But polyamory isn’t about sex.” I said. “You know that. Why is it that no one gets this?”

“But everyone thinks it is. Your title is “The Husband Swap”. You’re selling sex. You’re like those headlines which have clickbait-y titles. You promise sex and then you just fling a lot of Kant at us. It’s false advertising.”

I like Kant. I thought I was writing about the beauty of polyamory. But I guess sex just as beautiful… even if for a long while I thought it wasn’t. Polyamory involves romantic and usually sexual relationships. My own sex negativity has prevented me writing about a multitude of sexual encounters. But here’s the thing. You can imagine scenarios, characters and psychological interactions. You can amalgamate pieces of different people and make them into one. But the only sex you can write about well, is the sex you’ve had. That means people everywhere, reading about my sex life.

I’m no stranger to honesty. Especially where I think an expose of my own life will help other people. I’ve written about the shame and taboo surrounding sex during pregnancy for example, for that very reason. But writing about sex in a based-on-a-true-story book furthers pretty much only one goal. The sales of my book. Isn’t that called selling out? And besides who’d be interested in reading about my sex life? Certainly not my mother.

“You’re like those serious European actresses.” said my boyfriend laughing. “You know, the ones who do tons of little budget indie films and then decide to go to Hollywood. Do you know what they become?”

“Waitresses?” I said.

“No, porn stars.” he said. “You want to be a serious writer. But you’re gonna end up writing about sex instead.”

Brilliant.

So I said

“Well at least their sex lives are more exciting than what I can write about.”

And that’s when it occurred to me. The reason I have difficulty writing about sex is not really because it’s private. After all, that’s not what I’m about. Nor is it really because I want to reinforce the understanding that polyamory is about love, not sex. Although it is, and I do.

It’s because I feel that my sex life is inadequate. Boring. God forbid that someone out there on the interweb should think that I have a boring sex life.

One of the ideas that people have in their heads when I talk about open relationships, is that there are lots of orgies. But (unfortunately for them) nothing could be further from the truth. At least for me. No doubt lots of other people have them and enjoy them. So I imagine that my sex life would a big disappointment for them. I imagine them picking up a second edition copy of my book supposedly beefed up with some hot sex and shaking their head in disgust as they reach the final chapter. In the time when erotica has come to the forefront of popularity there’s a lot of competition for how raunchy you can make your writing.

You just start with half a dozen European cities, throw in thirty euphemisms for male genitalia, and bam! You have got yourself a book. ~ Nora Bing (Friends ~ The One With Mrs. Bing)

I said to my boyfriend.

“If it’s based on my own experience. The sex I’m able to write about is pretty mundane. No whips. No chains. No Mr. Gray. It’s hardly going to get anyone hot under the collar.”

“That’s what you think.” he said. “But from everything you’ve told me, people will be taking bathroom breaks at work…”

So I encouraged by his belief in me, I started writing. And it was really hot.

The Husband Swap is coming soon in second edition. The story of a woman’s descent into madness and multiple relationships with some hot sex.