I discussed the use of body language and sex scenes as tools for character development in this post, and the way that sex scenes can be used to give the readers a lot of information about the characters and their dynamic. This post is about how the sex scenes can be used to advance the main plot.
There are various ways that a sex scene can advance the plot, but we’ll dive right in and start with a less innocent one.
Achieving a goal.
Sex can happen for a lot of reasons, and one of those is to achieve a goal. It may be a goal that both characters are aware of and are aiming for, or that only one character knows about. What sort of goal might be in play here? Perhaps career advancement or leverage to blackmail someone; it could be a cult in which sleeping with the leader is a rite of passage, so the goal would be to become a member of said cult. Of course there’s also ingratiation and to harm a rival, too, or good old-fashioned money.
People have goals, aims, and ambitions. Sleeping with someone in particular can be a good way to go about achieving those goals. Of course, it could start out that way but evolve into the next one, namely:
Start of relationship, or end of another one.
A happier use of sex to advance the plot is the start of a relationship. It can bring two people together and change the relationship from strictly platonic over to sexual and intimate. That, then, has the potential to change the priorities of one or both of the characters, which can be used to advance and twist the plot. Of course, it can also end another relationship. If A was in a monogamous relationship with B, but they then slept with C, that original relationship is likely to end. Or, it could result in blackmail 😉 That being said, the act of sleeping with C could have been completely out of character, thus it could be used to:
Illustrate a change in character’s personality.
Sleeping with someone could illustrate a change in the character’s personality, which then gives a strong pushing off point for further plot advancement. Maybe they use it as an excuse to continue with riskier behaviour; perhaps they’ve finally started to open up emotionally and trust someone. It could be that they’re now possessed by a succubus and that was the turning point for them, where they finally gave up fighting and relented to the succubus.
Bring about conflict, jealousy etc.
Sex is an intimate act, and it’s also something of a territorial act. This means that there is a lot of room for conflict stemming from jealousy and related emotions and reactions. Perhaps A really wanted to be in B’s bed, but B actually chose C. That then led to A slashing C’s favourite orchids to ribbons and then beginning to plot the demise of their business. It doesn’t have to be quite so extreme, but the opportunities are certainly there.
Change the character’s trajectory.
This can be a light or dark option, depending on exactly what happened during the sexual act. It could be that it wasn’t consensual and that took someone from a very positive trajectory into a downward spiral. Or perhaps they had a fantastic experience that opened them up and gave them more self-esteem and confidence that pushed them onto a positive path. It can be an important moment in the plot where things change and twist. This can, of course, be included in the blackmail option, and the goal one, too. It could be that the character’s trajectory changed because they slept with their boss and they got a very nice promotion at work that opened a lot of doors to them. Perhaps they finally achieved the goal of sleeping with their idol, but it was miserable and they lack aim and a goal afterwards. There are lots of options.
Change a dynamic and position of power.
This can be dark, where again it’s not consensual and that strips a character of their previous power and strength, thus changing the characters’ dynamic. It could be instead that a previously strong character, one in a high position of power, found themselves being seduced. That could make them weaker willed and put them at the mercy of the other character’s whims and fancies. This could, of course, also relate back to BDSM, particularly in the exploratory stages of things.
In summary, sex scenes have a lot to offer both the reader and the writer. They can tell the reader a lot about the characters and offer plenty of opportunities for plot advancement. They don’t necessarily need to be graphic, but carefully chosen details can give away a lot. This means that they shouldn’t be shrugged off as mere titillation or ignored as something worthless, as they are useful tools in most writers’ toolboxes.