A year ago, I was desperate to write some really good sex…

Writing good sex scenes feels impossible for me. It’s not because I don’t like them. I do. I really, really do. I love reading sex scenes, and I love sex in real life.

The problem with writing sex scenes as an author is that my own experience in the kinky department is fairly limited. I enjoy vanilla sex with my husband Nick of eight years, and it’s usually missionary position in our bed.

As the mom to three under the age of seven, my current kink in the bedroom is efficiency. I just want to both enjoy it and get it done. But vanilla missionary sex in a novel where everyone is pleasantly satiated in three minutes is not going to get your readers all hot and bothered or get TikTok book influencers to swoon over you.

Even though the job of a novelist is to literally make things up, a part of me feels like a fraud when I attempt to write wild sex scenes, like someone who has never been on safari trying to describe the mating rituals of Serengeti lions. I have imposter syndrome over steamy sex.

I dealt with this problem a few years ago when I wrote a quick and dirty novel called Marriage Vacation for the television show Younger. We didn’t have many guidelines for writing the book based on the show, except that one particular sex scene had to be one of the most salacious things ever written, like so hot people might throw the book out a window.

My editor Christine and I went back and forth as we kept getting notes from the show’s producers to MAKE IT HOTTER. I was texting her on my phone under the table during Christmas Eve at my very proper mother-in-law’s house.

I don’t remember what we landed on. But I know it was positively filthy.

Sex is huge business right now for books. All kinds of sex. Kinky sex, rough sex, fairies sex. I wanted my new novel The Sicilian Inheritance to be filled with all the delicious things — delicious food, delicious wine, delicious men and women. I wanted my readers to long for garlicky buttery pasta and steamy Sicilian beach sex. The food and the wine were easy. But I kept getting stuck on the sex. It didn’t help that I was writing the book while pregnant and postpartum.

When my sex scene writer’s block really set in, I began polling my girlfriends over coffee. Asking real women what turned them on on the page seemed like the best place to start.

I swear some dude next to us almost spit out his latte when my friend Erin said, “More nipple action in the foreplay and don’t use adjectives to describe a penis.”

Most of the ladies I talked to wanted more women in control during sex scenes in novels. Many women — from age 21 to 81 — told me they’re sick of scenes in books and movies that are wildly far-fetched or with characters who are too perfect.

“Talk about how my butt jiggles when it gets smacked,” one friend said. “Also don’t have anyone doing it against a wall. Has anyone ever had successful sex getting lifted against a wall?”

Friends also wanted efficiency (just like me). “Make it hot and fast,” one pal said.

Another told me, “I want it to be fun! So many sex scenes take themselves too seriously. Make sure the characters feel like they’re having a great time. Sex in real life is all skin smacking skin and bodily fluids. These things are sexy and also hilarious.”

Another friend mentioned making it risky and dangerous, but without scary consequences. “Get me out of my comfort zone, but not tooooo far out of my comfort zone. Sex in a forbidden place is always hot for me.”

Why hadn’t my friends and I had these conversations before? This was the first time we’d ever talked about what we liked and didn’t like in the bedroom, the first time we’d said any of it out loud together. It was amazing and it got me out of my slump (and even enticed me to be slightly more adventurous in my own bed).

One friend told me she also likes vanilla sex in real life, but added “when I read, I definitely want banana-sundae-with-a-cherry-on-top sex. It makes me excited to go back to regular sex with my husband. The book is the fantasy. You get to step into a different world and then you can go back to your own world.”

That was the trick. I didn’t need to tap into my reality, but rather my fantasy. I could write sex in gorgeous forbidden locations, in a beach cave, in abandoned ruins in the middle of Palermo.

All these suggestions from all these brilliant women were my way in. I think I ended up writing good sex on the page in The Sicilian Inheritance. Actually I know I did because one early reader told me she went off to find her husband after reading one of the scenes (it is indeed sex in a beach cave).

“Good” sex is subjective. We all like what we like, and that’s really the beauty of it.

What would make a scene sexy to you?

Jo Piazza is a podcaster, editor, and the bestselling author of The Sicilian Inheritance, We Are Not Like Them, and other books. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children. Follow her on Instagram, if you’d like.

P.S. “I didn’t have sex for the first two years of my marriage,” and did you have sex on your wedding night?

(Photo by Yurii Shevchenko/Stocksy.)