How to Write About Sex

Tips from a literary journalist

Sara Davidson
8 min readMar 29, 2021
Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

I’ve been a reporter since the ’60s, when “Literary journalism” was being created by writers such as Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, and Joan Didion, with whom I had long talks about writing. I’ve published more than a hundred magazine articles, written dozens of TV shows and nine books, including the New York Times best-seller Loose Change and the Kindle Single, Joan: 40 years of Life, Love and Friendship with Joan Didion. What would you most like to hear about? I look forward to connecting.

Writing About Sex. Most people write too little or too much. You want the reader to feel increasingly warm and involved, not grossed out. As with epic lovemaking, you don’t go straight to the act. You move slowly, teasingly. You write about the sensations that arise, the thoughts that come up, the force of desire, the urgent will to connect at the root and that moment when thinking stops. You can be playful. Jim Harrison, who writes wicked good sex in his novels, once quoted a friend who said, “If you can get a woman to laugh, nine times out of ten, she’s yours.”

In the piece below, I had to be careful. I was writing about sex between people in their 70’s, which, to most people, is an automatic “yuck.” I stayed away from details, wanting to convey that, for this couple, sex was astonishing — that it could be so

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Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is the N.Y. Times best-selling author of Loose Change, The December Project, and The Didion Files, 50 Years of Friendship with Joan Didion