Until yesterday I didn’t know there was an award for bad sex in fiction but there is and it’s been going on since 1993 and it makes my day to hear it! I just read excerpts from the 8 nominees (including one from Woody Guthrie who wrote a novel in 1947 that was just published) and all 8 of the entries exemplify why I think there’s too much explicit sex in novels. Sex is very hard to write well. It’s not to my taste in the first place but I concede that a really well written sex scene that isn’t just trying to get you off but is authentic to the characters and adds to the story has a rightful place in fiction. But most sex in fiction IS cheesy or out of place in otherwise non-raunchy writing.
Major pet peeves in fictional sex scenes:
- Food and sex. I have friends who like to play with food in the bedroom (so they claim). I don’t understand it and I don’t care if you love to lick comestibles off of skin but I don’t want to read about it. I just read an excerpt that included the following elements: a wet nurse, brie on nipple, anus that tastes of chocolate and tobacco. No thanks. Not hungry now.
- Sex as life-altering ecstasy. Yeah, I know, it feels great to have sex. I’m not arguing that sex is one of life’s great perks. But sex is a primal and dirty activity and even the most amazing orgasm isn’t life-altering or transformative. (This is the point where there’s always someone who suggests that if you don’t think an orgasm can be life-changing then you obviously haven’t had “good” sex)
- The contest humans have to define “good” sex. Good sex is any sex that you thoroughly enjoyed and want to repeat. The most basic sex can be the “best” sex if you forget about the laundry while you’re in the middle of it. So stop suggesting that other people haven’t experienced “good” sex just because they don’t share your tastes.
- Sex scenes that are written in a different style than the rest of the book. Like if Jane Austen used the word “cock” or “cum” in Pride and Prejudice. Or if Henry Miller used gentle euphemisms for sex scenes suitable for Miss Marple’s ears. If you write sex scenes in your novels don’t make it hard and dirty if the rest of the book is more lyrical. And don’t make the writing suddenly soft and poetic if the rest of your book is more earthy and edgy. Your sex scene should feel authentic and follow your writing style seamlessly.
Go read those 8 excerpts for a great start to your day!