Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Asexy Sex Scenes 101

Recently Melannen started a conversation in Dreamwidth about sex scenes featuring asexual characters, which inspired a similar conversation here on my blog.  Melannen has since posted "101 Asexy Sex Scenes" -- a list of prompts for stories involving asexual characters.  Some folks thought the discussion was going to lead to a how-to post, but that's not where the original author was headed.  Based on the discussion, however, it looks like such a post would be useful.  So, here's my take on it.  YMMV.

These are my base premises:  You, the author, have some experience writing already -- enough to feel comfortable tackling a delicate topic.  You know how to do research and are willing to do your homework for a story.  You are a reasonably mature and decent human being who doesn't want to hurt people's feelings unnecessarily.  You're interested in, or at least curious about, writing some asexual character(s).  You're planning, or considering, a scene that puts someone(s) asexual in a sexual situation.  Here are some thoughts on making that scene accurate and entertaining, and minimizing the chance of causing offense. 

1) Understand asexuality to the best of your ability.  It exists in many flavors and there are different aspects of it, such as romantic/aromantic, whether there is any sexual attraction at all, and whether the character finds sex to be merely uninteresting or actively off-putting.  Asexuality as an orientation is different from celibacy.  If you don't understand what asexuality is, you're unlikely to render it accurately and the results will probably stink.  Ideally, read both nonfiction and fiction examples.  Some good resources include:
asexuality on LiveJournal
ace_of_arts on LiveJournal
Asexuality on Dreamwidth
Asexual Fandom on Dreamwidth
"Asexual Information and Perspectives"
Asexual Visibility and Education Network
"Asexuals: Who Are They and Why Are They Important?"

2) Figure out, as best you can, what kind of asexual your character(s) will be.  This influences the kind of situation likely to occur and how the character will probably respond.  For instance, a romantic asexual may be concerned with feelings and relationships in ways that an aromantic asexual will not.  Stand them side-by-side and hit them with the same love spell, and their reactions will probably differ even though they share a sexual orientation.  Further note that speculative fiction can introduce elements not standard for humans, such as an alien species for whom asexuality is the norm or one with more than two sexes one of which is typically asexual in orientation.  You'll need to define however many parameters of asexuality relate to your storyline.

3) Consider the canon if writing about an existing character, whether your own or someone else's.  That may tell you a lot about the character's sexual orientation and identity.  If it clashes with what you want to write, you'll need to provide a plausible explanation for the differences or changes.  If it supports what you write, it'll give you things to build on. 

4) Identify a motive and context for the sexual activity.  Asexuals generally don't have sex with other people for their own gratification.  So you need to explain why the asexual person is doing this at all.  It may be consensual or nonconsensual, or somewhere in between.  You must make it plausible and compelling, or else the plot will wobble.  Some possible examples include:
* a first sexual encounter in which the character does not know that sex isn't their thing, and discovers it in practice
* an asexual character is in a relationship with a sexual character, and wishes to explore for mutually agreeable activities
* an asexual character having sex to conceal their identity and pass as a sexual person
* mating for the purpose of reproduction
* fantasies, dreams, alternate dimensions, and other things that may seem real but aren't, or are unconventionally real
* spells, alien technology, telepathy, and other things that cause an asexual character to feel sexual attraction and/or have sex
* arranged marriages, bargains, bets, dares, and other circumstances that lead to sexual activity without necessarily desire
* rape, sexual harassment, other violent and/or nonconsensual situations
* things that are not precisely sexual, but can be described in sexual terms; or are sensual/passionate but not copulatory

5) Watch out for cliches.  They can offend readers and make your story look dumb.  If you must use them, handle with care and distinguish your writing from previous examples.  For instance, it is possible  for someone's sexuality to shift over time, but that is rare.  (Someone might have one or two underwhelming sexual encounters, and if their attraction and sex drive are low, might not bother to keep exploring -- but then fall in love, decide to try one more time, and discover at least one activity that's tolerable or enjoyable.)  If you want to write about it, you need to acknowledge both the possibility and the rarity, because it will probably throw your characters for a loop. 

6) Decide the tone.  Sex scenes may be steamy, sweet, overwhelming, underwhelming, awkward, hateful, clinical, and many other flavors.  This is often dictated by your plot and/or character(s) but may be your initial inspiration, so it doesn't always stay in this point of the sequence; that's okay.  It does usually preceed and influence your word choice and some details of the action.  Bear in mind that the same action may be described and experienced in totally different ways -- which you may find useful if an asexual character and a sexual character are interacting.  You may find it helpful to read scenes with a similar tone to help you target how to achieve your desired effect.  "Steamy" and "awkward" are two popular choices for asexy sex scenes.  There aren't many resources for "awkward" (which is very rare in standard sexual/sexual scenes) but there are lots for "steamy" of course:
* How to Write Erotica by Valerie Kelly
"How to Write Erotic Fiction and Not Make a Fool of Yourself"
"How to Write a Fictional Sex Scene"
"20 Steps to Writing Great Love Scenes"

7) Communicate the asexual character's identity clearly as you write the story.  It's jarring to most readers, and may be offensive to asexual readers, to describe a character as asexual but write them as if they were sexual.  An asexual person might have sex but is unlikely to experience it the same way as a sexual person would.  Your character might announce their identity out loud, refrain from mentioning it, actively hide it, or even not know it yet.  There are infinite variations here and they depend a lot on individual character features.  It's your job as the writer to convey the necessary information to your audience.  Some possible options, and most stories will combine several, for this include:
* object clues -- such as an asexuality flag or a t-shirt with an ace card on it
* external dialog -- an asexual character might simply say, "I'm asexual."
* internal dialog -- an asexual character's running commentary in their head might be, "I'm bored.  This sex is boring."
* body language -- physical responses such as moaning or erections might not be as vivid for an asexual, if they have low sexual feeling; if they have high sexual feeling, the reactions might be vivid but without the usual matching "attraction" indicators such as gazing into a partner's eyes
* emotional arc -- sexual activity may require different processing for an asexual than a sexual character; an asexual character caught in an alien love web may later freak out over the damage to their identity, or might consider consummating an arranged marriage an unpleasant chore but not mind that they haven't married for love
* actions - such as being completely oblivious or completely misinterpretting sexual advances (i.e.: the ace's pretty roommate playful plops herself into his lap and he responds by tickling her... and not much else), failing to involve his/herself in typical casual activities performed by sexuals (i.e. the ace is always last to notice the hot guy/girl that all his/her friends are ogling, or failing to actively engage in 'locker room talk'), failing to understand the typical courting behaviours (i.e., the ace asks a girl out to the movies... and just watches the movie with her) [entry courtesy of the_vulture]

8) Be respectful.  Putting an asexual character into a sexual situation entails pushing their boundaries, because it's not their usual inclination.  That means you need to handle the sex scene with the care due to any challenging or controversial topic.  Don't trivialize it.  Give it the attention it deserves.  Let the characters work out their actions and feelings onstage.  It will usually make for a stronger story that way anyhow.  For those of you who write things down instead of making things up: if your characters run screaming out of the room or start throwing things at you, it's prudent to give them time to calm down.  They will be more entertaining when they are more coherent.

9) Pay extra attention during revision.  Reread your rough draft and polish it yourself before handing it to your first-reader.  If possible, ask an asexual friend for feedback on the story.  They may spot glitches you missed.  This is true even if you are asexual yourself, because there are many variations and your asexual character isn't you (unless you're writing Mary Sue asexy fanfic) so some details differ and those may affect how the story works.

10) Consider including some nonfiction references.  So far, there is a little awareness of asexuality as an orientation, but not enough.  Not all asexuals have encountered the term or identify as such.  Readers may not recognize the terms or the character type, or how those things influence a story.  It can be helpful to say something like, "In this story, Alex is an aromantic asexual, and that shapes most of the plot.  If you're not familiar with asexuality, check out (resource link)."

Tags: gender studies, how to, writing

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