The classic advice for writing a sex scene is to make sure it advances plot or character. [Note: Advice may not apply when you’re writing pornography.] When you write a story that is made up of sexual encounters, you have no choice but to demonstrate how that is done. Carmen Maria Machado shows us very well indeed.
One man. I met him at the bar around the corner from my house. We made out on my bed. He smelled like sour wine, though we hadn’t been drinking. We had sex, but he went soft halfway through. We kissed some more. He wanted to go down on me, but I didn’t want him to. He got angry and left, slamming the screen door so hard my spice rack jumped from its nail and crashed to the floor. My dog lapped up the nutmeg, and I had to force-feed him salt to make him throw up. Revved from adrenaline, I made a list of animals I have had in my life—seven, including my two betta fish who died within a week of each other when I was nine—and a list of the spices in pho. Cloves, cinnamon, star anise, coriander, ginger, cardamom pods.
One man. Six inches shorter than me. I explained the website I worked for was losing business rapidly because no one wanted quirky photography tips during an epidemic, and I had been laid off that morning. He bought me dinner. We had sex in his car because he had roommates and I couldn’t be in my house right then, and he slid his hand inside my bra and his hands were perfect, fucking perfect, and we fell into the too-tiny backseat. I came for the first time in two months. I called him the next day, and left him a voicemail, telling him I’d had a good time and I’d like to see him again, but he never called me back.
One man. Did some sort of hard labor for a living, I can’t remember what exactly, and he had a tattoo of a boa constrictor on his back with a misspelled Latin phrase below it. He was strong and could pick me up and fuck me against a wall and it was the most thrilling sensation I’d ever felt. We broke more than a few picture frames that way. He used his hands and I dragged my fingernails down his back, and he asked me if I was going to come for him, and I said yes, yes, I’m going to come for you, yes, I will.
One woman. Blonde hair, brash voice, friend of a friend. We married. I’m still not sure if I was with her because I wanted to be or because I was afraid of what the world was catching all around us. Within a year, it soured. We screamed more than we had sex, or even talked. One night, we had a fight that left me in tears. Afterwards, she asked me if I wanted to fuck, and undressed before I could answer. I wanted to push her out the window. We had sex and I started crying. When it was over and she was showering, I packed a suitcase and got in my car and drove.
One man. Six months later, in my post-divorce haze. I met him at the funeral for the last surviving member of his family. I was grieving, he was grieving. We had sex in the empty house that used to belong to his brother and his brother’s wife and their children, all dead. We fucked in every room, including the hallway, where I couldn’t bend my pelvis right on the hardwood floors, and I jerked him off in front of the bare linen closet. In the master bedroom, I caught my reflection in the vanity mirror as I rode him, and the lights were off and our skin reflected silver from the moon and when he came in me he said, “Sorry, sorry.” He died a week later, by his own hand. I moved out of the city, north.