Writing About the Smells and Sounds of Sex

Why do writers often ignore these senses?


In her article, The Basics of Writing Toe Curling, Clit Tingling, and Dick Throbbing Erotica on Medium Sonja Rae advised writers to concentrate on smell, sight, touch, taste and hearing when writing about sex. That’s good advice when writing about almost anything.

I read a lot, but so many writers, especially when writing about sex, seem to ignore smell, taste is limited to salty (I’ll let you work out the context of that one) and all characters hear is dialogue and the odd moan.

Smell is the most potent trigger of memories and emotions. The smell of blancmange tinged with disinfectant still takes me back to my first day at school and that was nearly sixty years ago. We hear all sorts of small sounds that inform us about the world around us.

Sonja’s advice set me thinking about writing about the smells and sounds of sex so here’s a scenario.
Imagine you are tied to a bed and blindfolded. What are you going to hear? Your lover walking around the room? Are they barefoot in which case there might be the slight slap of feet on a wooden floor or the click of high heels? Maybe there is a rug near the bed, so the sound of their footfalls disappears or becomes the faintest brush of their feet on the material as they approach.

In The Iron Tongue of Midnight one of the heroine’s lovers is from another dimension and only partially slips into her world so he glides silently across the room (a large part of him does materialise in her dimension so she does feel him slip into her). Silence can be as evocative as sounds but the reader needs to be told about it.

Background sounds

Back to you tied to the bed. What else can you hear whilst you are tied and blindfolded? The sounds of traffic rushing past on the North Circular Road, the distant roar of an airliner overhead drifting through an open window. It seems we are in modern London.

An owl hooting in the distance, the rustle of leaves stirred by a breeze in the trees, perhaps we are in the country. A cacophony of insects chirping and buzzing, it seems we are not in Britain. The increasing thumping rhythm of the couple shagging in the next room, maybe we are in a cheap motel. Background sounds can be used to tell the reader something about the location.

What can you smell?

Your eyes might be covered but your nose is not. What can you smell? The traffic fumes, the fresh air of the country, the cotton sheets on the bed, your lover’s scent.

In one of my short stories The First Time a woman is caned in a study, she can smell the musty scent of the old books on the shelves.

The action hots up as your lover approaches, you can smell their scent and I do not mean Chanel Number 5. It could be a faint musk resembling freshly baked bread, soap or even garlic. One of the major attractions between humans is their smell. The wrong scent can put you off an otherwise physically attractive person. Science Says You’re Attracted to Body Odour.

Do you hear the sheets rustle as they climb on the bed, can you hear their breathing or are that couple in the next room still banging away and drowning out everything? Your lover kneels astride you, their sex inches from your nose. Remember you are tied up so you cannot touch. Maybe it’s an indefinable musk, a hint of soap, sweet honey, or something tangy?

The English language has a lot of words to describe sounds but smells are more difficult and we have to resort to smelt “like” or “of”. Smells often serve as mental triggers, reminding us of past events or places, but the reader needs some point of reference; your first day at school probably smelt completely different to mine, hence the reference to blancmange and disinfectant. Make notes on sounds and smells as well as visual elements, but I suggest you let your lover finish before you ask them to untie you and grab your notebook.

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