Romance writer Chloe Thurlow

Literary romance

Why Sex Sells Screenplays & Makes The Movie

Sex sells. Sex scenes in movies can be moving and passionate, but must remain subtle, understated. Sex scenes are a glimpse of what sex is in life, but that glimpse must be more than just a visual feast, it must be integral to and enhance the story.

In a screenplay, the writer must direct the director to understand whether the scene is loving and impassioned, or spicy and erotic. It is hard to understand this maxim, but nudity is less sensual than the suggestion of nudity – a bare leg, shoulder-blades, a scooped back, invite the eye to imagine what is not seen.

A girl in a mask, even fully dressed, is automatically alluring – why is she in a mask? What is she hiding? Who is she? A camera that pans across a nightclub and pauses at a shapely leg in elegant heels make us want to know who is wearing those heels. It’s sexy. And sex sells.

It is the potential of sex more than sex that’s exciting to an audience. A couple climbing the stairs, dropping their clothes as they go holds our attention far more than that same couple stripped naked banging away on the bed sheets. The sex act is pretty much the same, him on top, her on top, the variations are limited. It is flirtation, the verbal and visual foreplay, the scent of sex that grips the audience.

Describing a sex scene requires the same restraint  and nuance – he lifts her shirt over her head and reaches for the clasp at the back of her bra. She smiles because he can’t find it. Their eyes meet and he looks down as she unhooks the clasp between the cups and her breasts are briefly revealed before he looks up again. Now they kiss and we see her busy fingers pulling the shirt from his pants. This is sexy. The audience wants more – the secret is to make them wait.

Sex Sells Maxim

Words in a sex scene detract. Silence is sacred, except for a music track which, again, must be subtle, no marching bands and sliding chords; strings are best, a quartet by Schubert, Death and the Maiden, perhaps, something moving and mysterious, the violin (the maiden) in counterpart to the deep resonance of the cello (her lover). Schubert understood the maxim: sex sells.

If there is a need for dialogue, almost anything a writer can think of will have been thought of before and will thus be cliché: I’ve wanted you so long; I never knew it would be like this; Wow, you’re amazing.

Avoid all this stuff and strike out for something original. Let the sex play out and maybe she says: You know, I wish I’d never given up smoking. Maybe he says: You must have done this before…

Sex is cool. What people say has to be cool. Encounters that don’t end in sex can be just as passionate. It is done with the eyes, with light and shadow. Any director worth the name will have watched thousands of films to see how it’s done – and then set out to do it the same, but different.

In the book I am writing now, a couple meet at the New Years Eve Tartan Ball. They are Tom and Katie. Katie is dancing alone on the edge of the floor. Tom speaks to her and there is a frisson.

TOM: Do you want to dance?
KATIE: I am dancing.
TOM: That’s not dancing, it’s just moving about.
KATIE: I happen to have a broken finger.
TOM: And the kilt’s not that good.
KATIE: I like it.
TOM: Can I buy you a drink.
KATIE: Seeing how the bar’s free…

He smiles. She smiles. That night they will see in the New Year in her big bed with a view of the City banks across the Thames – and we don’t even need to show the sex scene, we can cut straight to New Year’s Day with Tom and Katie sitting up in bed eating marmalade on toast.

Sex sells. Get the sex right and it will sell the screenplay. There are sufficient books on how to write a screenplay to build a new planet. My favourite is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.

8 Discussions on
“Why Sex Sells Screenplays & Makes The Movie”
  • My comments are short and sweet. Sex and sensuality starts in the imagination. Keeping our imaginations captive holds our interest and attention longer than getting right to the point. When you can master the art of illusion through imagery, sound and words rather than being full out, you have brought your audience to a level of erotica they never knew existed. There is a big difference between literary magic in sex as opposed to smut and porn. This is why I love Chloe so much.

  • “In a screenplay, the writer must direct the director to understand whether the scene is loving and impassioned, or spicy and erotic. It is hard to understand this maxim, but nudity is less sensual than the suggestion of nudity – a bare leg, shoulder-blades, a scooped back, invite the eye to imagine what is not seen.”

    I recall an A-Level General Studies Exam where a question asked for the definition of a Freudian slip. One of the choices was ‘a mistake in speech that reveals a deep-seated attitude’, but the option I liked best was ‘a flimsy garment that draws attention to what it conceals.’

  • The best sex/love scene is felt before it even starts. The very feel of it or as I call the ‘fragrance” of it is smelled before it actually happens. For example: Couple doing a light pillow-fight added with a slight tinge of erotic gestures coupled with teasing sensual dressing.
    For men sex is all in the “seeing”. For most of the women sex is more about orgasms (how it may come) and not entirely the physical touching.
    For writers you have to concentrate on these two points to develop a best sex scene. Keep the man looking out for more. Restrict the girl from a physical touch as long as you can.
    Now as the man need to see more, he would go to undress her while coming in touch with the girl giving her many orgasms and in the course you have done enough for the viewers to felt for it. The male viewers would already be ahead of the man undressing the girl in the scene while the female viewers would wait for the real orgasms to happen. It’s all about alluring but it should be dramatic and appear to be natural.

  • I know nothing about how films are written and made, but I do know when the sex is bad the film is awful. Hope some scriptwriters get to red this perfect blog.

  • Always sex sells movies. In fact sex sell itself… Maybe, some of people like the sex idea or pleasure to see that or some of them find in sex movies something that they do not find in their personal life…

  • I think you’re writing about one particular kind of sex scene that may feature in a film. There are actually many other kinds, right up to very violent rape scenes. The sex scene is a part of the story, presumably there to make some point or other, but it may not be the point you are discussing here, which is (I think) that the people involved have a good and caring sexual relationship. There may be all kinds of other elements in the relationship – including lots of negative things (jealousy, anxiety, guilt, power-play, anger, uncertainty, embarrassment, asymmetry of affection or commitment, unresolved background issues of various kinds ,and of course fantasies of different kinds, nasty or nice, shared or not). Sex is not one particular thing any more than, say, imagining is.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.