What I Learned About Writing Sex Scenes by Watching My Husband Butcher Wild Game

At our home in the north woods, we had one hard and fast rule. If any one of us killed it, we all ate it. There were exceptions, of course. Snakes. Skunks. Anything exhibiting potential symptoms of rabies. But that was about all. Everything else… and I mean everything… went into the pot. But, having been the one to make that rule, I almost immediately ran into a problem.
Have you ever seen a beaver minus skin and innards? It looks just like a baby. I defy anyone to dump something resembling a baby into the stew pot. Can’t be done. So it wasn’t long after our arrival in the woods that I made another rule. I’d figure out how to make the harvest of the forest palatable and I’d cook it, but first someone else must butcher it and continue the process until all that was left was meat in chunks similar to what I’d find in a butcher shop.
Though hunting wasn’t my thing, mainly because when I shoot I can’t hit the broad side of a barn, I was interested in everything having to do with our new way of life, including the fine art of butchering livestock. And wild game. So I ended up spending a fair amount of time watching my husband butcher wild game. In the process, I learned something.
I learned about body parts. Lots and lots and lots of body parts.
Then, in the course of events, I became a writer. Not just any kind of writer. Nothing so easy. I wrote romances that, by definition, can and often do, include sex scenes.
Being a true professional, I applied the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair, turned on the computer, and wrote a number of pages until I found myself at the beginning of a steamy sex scene. At that point I stopped, as I’m wont to do, and let my mind wander, seeking the mental image that would become the next scene in my story.
Can you possibly imagine what mental images came to mind? Of course you can. I saw body parts. Dozens of body parts, hundreds of them, floating through mental space before dropping nicely into my story.
Did I see long limbs tightly entwined around sweaty bodies that are the stock in trade for sex scenes? Uh-uh. Of course not. Nor did I see flaring nostrils, eyes, or any other body part capable of flaring in that mental picture. Didn’t see any heated skin, either, rubbing against more heated skin. Nor any bare bodies whose discarded clothes lay in charming disarray across the floor as said careless housekeepers made passionate love on the kitchen table.
Nope. The limbs I saw mostly ended in paws or hooves. And the bodies on that kitchen table belonged to small or large forest animals. Yes, I did see skin, but it was still covered with bits and pieces of fur. All in all, I didn’t see anything helpful.
Why not? What was going on? I did some thinking and realized I was seeing those things because most bodies share the same general configuration, whether human or animal. And, upon further thought, that the plumbing design that makes body parts operational works the same way across many, possibly most, species.
Which was a definite turn-off for a romance writer. So much so that I believe I shoved the manuscript I was working on in a drawer and went for a walk to clear my head, which by then was definitely in need of an airing.
As I walked, listening to the forest birds, I remembered an article about Colleen McCoullough, author of The Thorn Birds, and many other internationally acclaimed novels containing some very good sex scenes.
According to the article, she’d been in bio-medical research before becoming a novelist, and that affected her view of sex just as watching Dick butcher wild game affected mine. She then proceeded to say that the most important sex organ in the human body is the brain. Because… eureka moment… sex is one percent physical and ninety-nine percent perceptual.
The act itself can be horrible, as in the case of rape, or transforming, as in the case of true love. Or just fun. Or funny. Or boring. In all cases, the methodology is the same. The plumbing works the same. It’s the perception of the act that makes all the difference.
Realizing that, I returned to my computer and got on with my story. But I didn’t write it the way I might have if I’d not watched my husband butcher wild game. I wrote about the people having sex more than about the sex act itself. And I still do.
In concluding, just today, on a chat group I belong to, someone wondered about the use of purple prose in sex scenes. She then mentioned that she likes getting into the mind of the lovers. When I read her post, I thought… Yes!… that’s what it’s all about. What lovers are thinking, what they’re feeling, what their perceptions of the act are as their bodies become more and more tightly entangled and they work their way through the physical stuff to the inevitable climax of the scene. Pun intended. 🙂
So now I can and do write sex scenes and I don’t have any prudish qualms about doing so. But I accept that there are limits to how I’ll describe the goings-on. I’m big on perception, light on purple prose. Because I find it difficult to write while rolling on the floor laughing as I remember what body parts really look like.

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