What Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Taught Me About Writing Sex Scenes: A Guest Post by Heather Anastasiu

I’m a romance reader (and writer) who loves books of all levels of heat. If it’s got a romance tag on it, I’ll read it, everything from Christian fiction to intense BDSM erotica.

With my latest historical fiction novel, super explicit sex scenes weren’t appropriate for the feel of the story, though there is sex, even in the first chapter. But writing it was a conundrum—how did I write sex without, well, nipples, cocks, clits, women’s cores, and my favorite, steel members coated in velvet?

Then I remembered the sex scenes written by the master, Diana Gabaldon. She doesn’t fade to black but she doesn’t get explicit about it either. And yet I always know exactly what is happening. I might have to read a sentence a couple times to get it. Like wait, did that mean that Claire just went down on Jamie!?! But yep. That’s what just happened in that scene. Without ever saying it. And day-um, it was HAWT. There’s tons of sex in her books, none of it written the way sex is typically written, and it’s more powerful because of that. Here’s what I learned.

Avoid mentioning specific anatomy. Anatomical euphemisms are appropriate for certain romance heat levels. But if you’re aiming for less explicit or want to experiment with writing sex without relying on the old standard (and sometimes laughable) go-tos words, just never mention them.

Use dialogue to drive the scene – in the one I mention earlier, where Claire goes down on Jamie, most of the scene is dialogue. He asks her in a shocked tone what she’s doing. She’s like, what’s it look like? and, want me to stop? To which he responds, understandably, no! The dialogue gives us so much more of a sense of playful connection with these characters (and an idea of Jamie’s innocence at this point) than a physical description of her dropping on her knees and grabbing his ‘member.’

Keep it real. Jamie’s a virgin. He has sex like a virgin, and it’s awesomely awkward at first. So much of sex in real life is not fantasy magic, every one blasting off together at that perfect moment ALL THE TIME. Write sex scenes so readers can see the characters’ vulnerability—it’s hot to watch your characters learn, grow, and build up their sexual connection.

Ambiguity is king. If you don’t let yourself use the anatomy words, you have to get creative, and that makes for interesting sex scenes. But make no mistake, none of this is to say that these more ambiguous sex scenes have to be rushed. Not at all. 

Sex scenes shouldn’t be about the sex. Really. They shouldn’t. They’re should be about emotional connection. There are a TON of sex scenes in Outlander. Some are just a paragraph or two, but the ones that get pages are the ones where something is emotionally changing with the couple. Sex is either the means or climax (ha ha, pun not intended) of emotional connection or change. The longer sex scenes occur 1) right when they get married, 2) after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, and 3) at the end. In these kinds of sex scenes a reveal or a reversal occurs. In the first two, it’s a reversal. In the marriage sex scenes, Claire starts to feel something for Jamie she never meant to (reversal). In the scene after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, he intends making love to her to be a ‘claiming’ of her, only to realize she’s the one who possesses his soul (reversal). In the last important sex scene, it’s a reveal of important information—whether Jamie’s going to be okay or not. This is one reason Gabaldon’s sex scenes are so powerful: They have emotional stakes.

Heather Anastasiu writes historical romance and young adult fiction. Her latest release is Tsura: a World War II Romance. To find out more about Heather, you can check out her website atwww.heatheranastasiu.com


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09/01/2015 2:10 am

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Heather Anastasiu
Heather Anastasiu
08/30/2015 8:56 pm

Hi Nifty – gah, love the scenes you mention – I know, there are just SO many we can talk about where she continues the mastery. She is one of those authors you can go to just knowing every scene you get is going to be something you can learn from. And you’re right – it’s the ‘intimacy’ to the scenes that gives them such punch.

08/28/2015 10:27 pm

“”This is one reason Gabaldon’s sex scenes are so powerful: They have emotional stakes.””


As a long-time fan/reader of the Outlander series, one of the things I appreciate is the VARIETY of sex scenes in the series. Some are quite explicit; others not so much…or not even at all. But yes, there’s always this vital intimacy in the scenes. The connection is there, even when the sex act is not described in detail.

One particularly memorable and intimate for me was in the 5th book. Roger heads into the dairy shed to find Claire, and when he walks in, he DOES find her…and Jamie also: “”They were both fully clothed, standing well apart — and the air was so filled with the musk of desire and the sharp scent of male completion that Roger had felt the blood burn in his face, the hair on his body prickling erect.

“”His first instinct had been to turn and leave, but there was no excuse for that. He had given his message to Claire, conscious of Fraser’s eyes on him, bland and quizzical. Conscious, too, of the unspoken communication between the two of them, an unseen thrum int he air, as though they were two beads strung on a wire stretched tight.

“”Jamie had waited until Roger left, before leaving himself. From the corner of his eye, Roger had caught a slight movement, seen the light touch of the hand with which he left her, and even now, felt a queer clutch of his insides at the memory.””

It’s not a physical scene, but it’s deeply sexual nonetheless…and it’s certainly intimate. I love the image of Jamie touching Claire lightly on the hand before leaving her, and I love how Roger saw it and recognized the message there and felt the impact of it in his own body.

A few chapters later in the book, Jamie is deathly ill from snakebite and Claire is tending him. He’s tired and very cold, and Claire lies in the bed with him, cuddling him from behind, trying to warm him with her body and wishing that she were bigger and could cover more of him: “”…as it was, I could do no more than cling to him like a small, fierce mustard plaster…”” She feels she MUST lay hands on him, and he asks her to touch him: “”I felt very odd; no longer frightened, but with all my senses at once preternaturally acute and yet…peaceful.”” What follows are a few paragraphs that describe a scene in which she masturbates him until he finds release, their two bodies moving in unison. “”He sighed, long and deep, and I felt the air rush from my own lungs. We lay silent and passed gently into unconsciousness, together.””

Okay, I better stop. I could go on and on, and it’s easy for me to turn the pages of one of the Outlander books and become ensnared by yet another beautiful scene or arrangement of words. :-)