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No Sex Please, We’re British! (And American)

One thing which always perplexes me as a script reader is the lack of juicy sex scenes about. Whilst many of my European and repatrioted clients give their characters a rocking good time in the bedroom (and just about everywhere else – I’m particularly looking at you, JK Amalou!), as do my openly gay clients of any nationality. Yet it seems to me as if your average straight British and American screenwriters just *don’t want* to write sex into their screenplays – they’ll go out of their way to NOT write it in fact. Instead, there will be all sorts of sentences to allude to the idea sex has JUST HAPPENED, like:

“Steve and Molly lie back in bed, spent.”


“Steve and Molly bask in the afterglow.”

Sometimes a scriptwriter can’t even bear to think about it so much they end up writing something like “Steve and Molly have sex” as a one line scene before moving on. Once, I even saw “Obligatory gratuitous sex scene now follows… Moving on.”


Obviously a writer doesn’t want to write hardcore sex into movies where it would be completely out of place: a kids’ movie is not the place you want your characters swinging from the chandeliers. However, I’ve had conversations with many a screenwriter, both British and American, that sex is “not needed” in the average ADULT movie. Apparently it doesn’t push the story forward.


There are so many ways of using sex to push the story forward in your screenplay. For one thing, it progresses the relationship between your protagonist and love interest in your romance, period drama, historical epic or rom-com. Also, not many people save sex for after marriage these days – and it’s said that in times of stress, people jump into bed even quicker than they do when everything’s peachy: this means sex in your thriller or war story can add to your script, even in your bloodthirsty horror.

Then there’s the fact sex can add to character. If you have a protagonist who never normally would go home with someone they barely know, but does, you can explore their motivation for that. Similarly, if your character is a slut but there’s one person they *can’t* have and it pains them, there’s a whole plethora of character motivation you can explore.

Sex can feed into your plot, too – particularly when it comes to surprising your reader or audience. What if: your character is pulled into industrial espionage, simply ‘cos she gets drunk, goes home with a guy – and wakes up to find him dead next to her, shot in the head? You could really play with expectation – make it seem like this is going to be a one night stand… Only for it to turn into a moment that totally turns your character’s life upside down.

Readers don’t get many thrills in this job, but reading a good sex scene (note: NOT rape) is definitely a perk. My French, Spanish and even German clients – and I’ve had a few of ’em, oo er! – delight in sex scenes that ADD to the story and/or character. Gay scripts too usually have lots of this type of “good”, story-relevant sex too. And thank God for that! Else I’d have a complete dearth on my pile.

So next time you feel tempted to write a boring word like “spent” or worse, the dreaded “afterglow”, PLEASE – think of your poor reader. Let’s have some nice action words – THRUST is a good one. Arf.

Any fave sex scenes in produced movies while we’re on the subject? One of mine is probably BETTY BLUE – wow! Worst: TERMINATOR. They so look like they’re going through the motions considering they’re creating the new Messiah! Come on…

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16 thoughts on “No Sex Please, We’re British! (And American)”

  1. I’m certainly not afraid of sex scenes, not that the need has arisen in the scripts I’ve written.

    If a sex scene does add to story and character, then certainly, but I think you can do so much more with unresolved sexual tension.

    The TV series Moonlighting was so much better *before* Maddie and David “slept” together. (I love that euphemism, it’s so wrong.)

    But such things did happen in a novel I wrote, including necrophilia – sort of – except that bit wasn’t explicit but implied in an almost throwaway line so it had the shock value of “oh my god, you mean he’s been…” because the reader had to *think* and *imagine* which is far more potent than merely describing it.

    In my opinion.

  2. David – wondered if you were going to jump in with that!! (For those who have no idea what we're talking about, this refers to a losing virginity scene David wrote). I wouldn't go so far as saying ALL first shags are bad shags – fellas seem to have better recollections than laydeez, after all, but then you lot have fun no matter what, even if it lasts all of 3 secs. Girls however tend to end up thinking, "Was that it???"

    Adds – defo agree on the unresolved sexual tension in TV: Frasier was better when Niles & Daphne WEREN'T together. And certainly in novels imagination is great – but then it's more psychological. In movies I much prefer SEX and lashings of it, thanks (but not porn).

  3. ?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    You’re so dead*.

    Everyone else: ignore him. Move along now. So: fave sex scenes in MOVIES anyone?

    (*Especially as you seem to intimate I neglect you.)

  4. What? Terminator not your fave sex scene??

    Just goes to show because it *is* one of mine. Then again Terminator is one of my all time fave films.

    Betty Blue just a touch full on for me 🙂

    The Piano one of my faves but bizarrely some of the sexiest scenes (different I know) are the ones where there is no actual sex shown e.g. Witness.

    And I’m going to add two TV sex scenes; Buffy and Spike in BTVS and Poldark (anyone remember that, Rachael if you’re reading? all very BBC of course.)

  5. I think the only thing close to a sex scene that I have written set the scene and then faded to black after a kiss. Pathetic, eh? Sorry.

    I think I need a Lucy masterclass in writing these things without blushing. Help me to write swear words and sex scenes, I beg you.

  6. Caroline – I love Terminator too, but nope, even as a girl and still innocent I thought that was a crap sex scene!

    Laura – I will GLADLY give you a masterclass. Send me a scene or something and I will rewrite it saucily, then you have to rewrite it EVEN SAUCIER. Yay!

    Elinor – haven’t seen the Last Seduction, must watch it if it has decent sex in it!

  7. Betty Blue & The Last Seduction, definitely. Funnily enough I haven't written much sex into my screenplays apart from the one that got through on Screen East (maybe that says something…!) but my nanowrimo novel was pretty mucky filth in bits – and the language! Oh my. *blushes* Not.

  8. For a well-written bad sex scene, read Billy Mernit’s excellent blog entry The Movie on the Page, where he prints a good scene from The Savages.
    Off-topic, but he’s also spot-on about Michael Clayton, a fine script which is also in my list of all-time best first pages. I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not feeling compelled to turn the page.

  9. All of the example storylines you provide do not really need the actual sex act to be shown. The character you cited can still be pulled into an industrial espionage if you don’t show the actual sex act, and the female character who would never normally have a one night stand can still have an exciting evening out of character without us seeing her actually “thrusting” away.

    Showing the act of sex can only be of use if it in some way reveals something about the character (crazy funny sex scene like in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) or if something happens mid-shag which moves the story on. Otherwise it is unnecessary, but not necessarily a bad thing.

  10. Int. Bedroom* – Night**

    They do it. It is ace and skill.

    I’ve just had a glance through Larry Kasdan’s script for Body Heat and instead pages describing the characters pulling shapes over their bedroom giblets it’s all about the before and after.

    The actual fucking isn’t the important thing. It’s all about the foreplay and aftermath. It’s about trading innuendos. Michelle Pfieffer curled up on the piano lid singing “Makin’ Whoopee” is far sexier that seeing her with her legs behind her ears, getting her brains bashed into the headboard as she gets fucked senseless. It’s the anticipation, the tease.

    Maybe you should watch something like Wilder’s Double Indemnity and pay attention to Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray’s flirty dialogue.

    Or get yourself some fresh batteries. 😉

    * – or kitchen, living room, bathroom, car (backseat), Oval Office, department store, submarine, space shuttle, etc….

    ** – or morning, afternoon, evening, 12th dimension, etc…

  11. Quite frankly, if I’m watching a film on DVD and a sex scene crops up I usually forward passed it. Rumpypumpy on telly is not for me :o)

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