Lessons from 10 years of writing about sex for adult businesses
I’ve written copy for lots of industries but none have shown me the same level of love and commitment as the sex industry.
While solar panel companies, various digital agencies and hospitality businesses come and go, the adult industry has swung work my way ever since 2009. My career, outlook on life and relationships and work satisfaction have all been influenced by it.
If I stopped writing about sex, I’d miss it. I toyed with the idea of giving it up when I arrived in Australia. I considered taking my career in a completely different direction because I was unsure if I wanted to be known as a ‘sex copywriter’.
Not because of shame. More for fear of being pigeon holed.
I’m a proud generalist copywriter who just happens to write about sex more than anything else. But I don’t want to lose the ‘anything else’. That said, in the last few years I’ve noticed that when copy jobs pop up for sex companies or someone has a question about writing for the adult industry, they think of me.
This is very cool. I appreciate that doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s led to some fellow writers getting in touch and asking how they can get into writing for the sex industry. It’s definitely an under-served industry in terms of professional support offered so 100%, the more the merrier.
For those of you interested in writing for the world of adult, this is my attempt to give back and answer your questions about what’s great, what’s not, where to start and four things I’ve learnt about copywriting for the adult industry. So, strap-on, buckle up those cuff restraints and let’s talk about sex writing.
Sex writing: lots of people are at it
Like any industry, the sex industry has lots of branches. This means there are lots of different people writing about sex from many angles. There’s a position to suit everyone.
Let’s start with some dedicated sex and relationship journalists. Off the top of my head, there’s Alix Fox, Nichi Hodgson, Paul Smith, Violet Fenn and Karley Sciortino. Some write for B2C, others write B2B and some crossover.
If B2B is your comfort zone, then there are several industry publications to look up, subscribe to and maybe down the path, pitch to. The main ones are Erotic Trade Magazine (UK), XBiz (US) and Synergy (Australia).
Next there are academics and sex educators such as Tristin Taormino, Meg John Barker, Justin Hancock and Midori. And sex workers and activists including Juno Mac and Rebecca Crow. Again, this is just a teeny tiny number of folks. If I could name all the amazing academics and sex educators creating brilliant content, we’d be here a long time.
(Hint: Go check out who I’m following on Twitter for more names.)
There are PR companies such as Nina Saini’s Media Bitch and Tanya Tate’s Star Factory. And there are digital agencies such as Agency Atlantic and Webmistress Victoria.
Sex blogging and sex toy review blogging is a world all of its own, with many bloggers contributing content for businesses and companies. Girl on the Net and Cara Sutra are two of the big hitters.
And then there are copywriters like me.
I’m definitely not alone in the sex copywriting category. Topher Taylor, Mia More and Connie Baker are the first few who spring to mind and are ‘out’ as adult industry writers and content creators.
Plenty more copywriters create blogs, website copy and product descriptions for this industry than you might think. It’s just that most folk don’t advertise it. What’s important to realise is there are many, many, many professional writers, designers, developers and agencies who are producing material for adult companies and supporting this network.
Getting into sex writing
Niching for the adult industry shouldn’t be any different to niching for any other sector. And yet, it’s so different.
It shouldn’t be different because it’s just another industry. It’s full of businesses and people who work within the industry to provide goods and services that other people want.
It is different because of censorship rules and prudes. Advertising regulators, governments, online big businesses and outraged ‘Won’t-You-Think-Of-The-Children’ types who believe all adult content should be filtered out of sight, makes the whole industry ‘other’. It wraps it in so much red tape and stigma that it can make your job as a sex copywriter so fucking hard you want to scream.
If you choose to go into adult, it’s worth brushing up on censorship laws. Be aware of the restrictions placed on businesses in this industry so you don’t accidentally write something that could get you or your client a spanking.
OK, that got a little heavy.
Let’s talk more about the cans than the can’t, aye?
As I was saying, getting into this niche is similar to breaking into any other. A lot of it comes down to networking and understanding the industry. Get to know some of the companies, business owners and main movers.
You can start by looking up the writers and publications I mentioned above. Get following them and engage.
How it worked for me
I was lucky enough to land a job at a magazine that had a heavy focus on sex. This was very early on in my career (the first month of being out of uni) and it went from there.
I made time to go to trade shows, got to know PRs that worked with adult brands, covered adult events, met editors and journalists who worked on adult titles, got to know managers of sex toy stores, owners of sex toy and lingerie manufacturers and even worked as a sales assistant in London’s biggest adult shop for a while before becoming their full-time, in-house copywriter.
(Most. Fun. Ever. I miss talking to the public about sex toys and kink.)
Your path will be different. But I encourage you to look up what adult events happen in your part of the world and start engaging with the community. The big ones that spring to mind:
- Literotica in the UK is a weekend-long writing festival for anyone who writes adult content.
- Sexpo in Australia (and sometimes South Africa and the UK) brings a huge number of adult businesses together every year.
It’s worth seeing what events individual stores are running, too. Many host book readings, erotic art displays, sexual wellness and education classes. Is there a way you can start supporting those businesses with your services?
There are different areas of the adult industry you can write for
When I started writing for the adult industry, I was 100% writing for lingerie and sex toy companies. This changed in 2019 when I got my first few independent escort and sex worker clients.
It’s odd to think I only popped that cherry recently. I’ve interviewed loads of adult performers and sex workers over the years. I’d just never written marketing copy for them. Either way, it’s all fine by me. Sex work is work.
Lingerie, sex toys and escorting are just three areas of the sex industry you could write for. But there are plenty more if they don’t tickle your pleasure zones. There’s also:
- The club and alternative lifestyle scene
- Specialist sex toy and furniture manufacturers
- Professional Dominants and submissives
- Adult entertainment
- Sexual health and education NFPs
- Adult mental health and support companies and charities
- Erotic art
- Alternative lifestyle clothing, fashion and accessories.
4 tips and lessons I’ve discovered when writing for the adult industry
1. It’s a tight community
Although there are lots of sectors within adult, it’s definitely a six-degrees of separation deal. At least this was my experience in the UK and I’m starting to learn it’s a similar case here in Australia. Sure, some folks will be one-night stands, and others you’ll hold relationships with for years. Some, you hook up with now and then when you really need each other. Again, just like any other industry.
By and large, the adult world is a friendly community. It has to be. There are so much stigma and judgement from outside that working together is the best way to create change, open discussions and take sex out of the shadows.
2. Write responsibly
Writing about sex means you’re writing copy that may influence someone’s personal relationships and their intimate experiences. That’s a precious honour to be given. Yes, this might sound a little bit deep and I do get emotional talking about this, but I believe writing for this industry comes with a weight of responsibility. Giving wrong, inaccurate or pure jokey information that doesn’t actually say anything because it’s just a string of innuendos, could really fuck things up for someone.
So, whether you’re writing sex toy product descriptions or an in-depth article on sex worker mental health, be sensitive and aware of how people are coming to these subjects.
You can read more on my thoughts about this in Their Sex Lives in Your Hands.
3. Be open minded
You may not personally indulge or understand many of the things that go on within the adult industry. And that’s OK. No one expects you to try sploshing (sex with food) just because you’re writing about it. In the same way that a plumber won’t expect you to want to unclog a drain just because you’re writing about that. That said, and keeping point two in mind, an important skill for adult industry copywriters to possess is an ability to reserve judgement and remain open minded.
What works for me is adopting the BDSM scene guideline of SSC — Safe, Sane and Consensual — and applying it to my adult industry writing. It works surprisingly well and had stood me in good stead so far. If you come to me wanting copy for an adult business, as long as what you do follows a practice of SSC and it’s legal, I’m happy to help. No judgement.
4. Write positively
Writing about what someone can do rather than what they can’t, is a good copywriting rule to follow for any industry. But I think sex writing needs extra help.
For too long, negative words and phrases such as ‘bad sex’, ‘weird kinky sex’ and ‘naughty’ have been used when writing about sex and intimacy. There can be a time and a place for that language (if writing about domination and humiliation, for example) but if you’re writing more generally about sex, don’t add to the stigma and shame. Try and break it. Use positive, fun, playful and sexy language so it becomes alluring and pleasurable for the reader.
So, how was it for you?
I feel like I’ve unloaded a lot of information in this post. Along with some fairly personal thoughts and feelings about what I do, why I do it the way I do, and who I write for.
If you’re thinking of niching for the adult industry in some way, I’d love to know if you found this helpful? Or if it’s thrown up any more questions you’d like answered?
In any case, thanks for reading. This has been a fun one to write.