Went the other day to the British Museum to see the Shunga exhibition – high-class Japanese porn, to you – and you know what? I found it rather boring. Very stylish, beautifully drawn, but are all those enlarged private parts actually Blue is the warmest colourart?

It made me think. Because I’ve seen many sex scenes in my time, but few of them actually worked as cinema or TV. What is it that otherwise good writers do wrong?

Sex scenes grind to a halt

Most sex scenes are boring. As the actors grind together, the film grinds to a halt…

Then I went home to write the next section of the screenwriting book, on subtext. And it  hit me. I had the answer in front of me on the screen.

Subtext

All art is about something different. Hamlet isn’t really about a Danish prince. It’s about  a thousand more profound questions of human existence. Psycho isn’t, deep down, really just about a serial killer.

The problem with most porn on screen is that it’s only about sex. There is no subtext to a sex scene.

The most erotic scenes I’ve seen have always been about something else, often with very little overt flesh. A hint of leg. A flash of a skirt…

The hidden meanings of seduction

Some of the best seduction scenes are about what we don’t see. As in The Postman Always Rings Twice, when Cora seduces the man who will ultimately help her kill her husband. It’s about hidden meanings and things left unsaid. Even the sex was about something else: power, perhaps, or fear of intimacy.

The writer has to seduce the audience with subtext.

So the answer might be: write a scene that is sexy, but has subtext… a sex scene that is really about something else.

What do you think?