Conflict is one of those things I think is neglected. It appears in some cases – awkwardness/discomfort, in some slice of life you have problems creep up in the sex, some situational factors can pop up – but on the whole, you don’t see conflict manifesting in the scene itself. Which is a shame because it’s such fertile ground.
Now when I talk about conflict, it can mean several things. It can be the core struggle of the story, it can be one manifestation of the story’s struggle, or it can be merely a complication, a very large pothole in the story’s road.
Sex can be the source of so many problems within a relationship. Not enough sex, too much sex, the passion is absent in the sex, one partner isn’t good enough/someone isn’t getting pleased, discomfort towards certain acts/kinks or towards sex itself, performance anxiety, physical issues with performance, physical issues with logistics (You’re too big), contraception and pregnancy concerns, losing the mood, being interrupted. Simply having expectations and not having them met is conflict in and of itself.
Let’s not forget the favorite: the power dynamic. Oscar Wilde once said “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” So your conflict can be who’s in control in bed, or use the power in bed to do something else, like humiliate.
Beyond sex being the problem, a story’s problems can come into the sex. The easiest examples are stress induced performance issues/distractions, emotional triggers being hit during the scene, or a previous issue spilling into the sex like a fight. In Michael Connelly’s “The Fifth Witness”, the main character has sex right after having some thugs beat the hell out of guys who put him in the hospital, and in this scene his sex gets way more aggressive than his ex-wife is comfortable with. I seem to recall one Spiderman plot arc, Mary Jane got cervical cancer from Peter Parker’s radioactive semen – no joke.
Characters can use sex to achieve their goals, be it the rising action or the climax. A female thief in “Eye of Aphisis” is screwing a mage while her partner robs the wizard’s tower. A character in my “Comfortable Sins” subtly makes blackmail material during the sex scene. My “A Thousand Touches of Pain and Pleasure”, the main character has sexual powers, and she’s using them in the middle and end of an actual fight scene. While we don’t actually see it, the Gatekeeper and Keymaster doing it unleashes Gozer – that’d be some pretty plot relevant coitus right there.
There’s this excellent scene in Spartacus: Blood and Sand where two characters who hate each other’s guts are tricked into having sex with one another because both are wearing masks and believe they are screwing someone else. When it’s revealed mid-screw, one partner tries to kill the other, is dragged off, and then the other partner kills the trickster responsible. This act proves to be incredible leverage used against that character. I don’t think the kind of heat, about-face shock and enraged bloodshed could have been accomplished if they hadn’t been interrupted in the moment.
I can’t rightly discuss this topic without mentioning rape. I don’t want to talk about it, I think it’s used more regularly than the comma, but it’s a conflict thing that characters do.
Finally there’s situational factors. Are they trying to avoid detection (with a few near discoveries)? Do they only have a short amount of time to do it? Horny characters stuck in a heat wave may struggle to find a balance between getting off without overheating.
I love conflict, and I try to mix it with the sex in my stories. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas of how you can, too.
The last article, coming up next, will be a smattering of a few smaller issues.