What We\’re Reading

Literature about sex, no matter who has written it, is almost always terrible, and everybody knows it. This is widely known and acknowledged — even on this very site, by both the great Sonya Chung and Julia Fierro. We’re all so tuned into its legendary badness that even relatively minor offenses in the realm of sex writing annoy us far more than other writerly transgressions. An imperfect depiction of sex is far worse for some reason than an inept description of someone entering a room or having a marital spat or whatever other things a book might get wrong without anyone disapproving quite so mercilessly.

There is sufficient scorn for bad sex writing that the Literary Review famously awards an annual prize for it. Though “prize” seems like a funny term for becoming the object of public ridicule and mockery. It’s a missing component of the human brain, the ability to recognize one’s own completely botched attempts at writing about penetration, blow jobs, and the rest of it. Most writers, one must assume, push themselves away from their desks at the end of their earnest writing sessions and think to themselves, Job well done. Only to discover a few months or years later that they have gone and humiliated themselves, at least according to a bunch of smug bastards on the other side of the ocean.

Which isn’t to say I’m not in sympathy with the smug bastards. In writing my own book full of sex, there was almost no one I could turn to for inspiration. There wasn’t a single book I looked to and thought, “What I’m trying to do is write sex like she did or like he did.” There weren’t even movies and TV shows I felt had handled it the way I wanted to see it done. You know what movies and TV shows are really brilliant at capturing? Bad sex. They’re great at doing awkward, depressing, uncomfortable sex scenes where everyone is sort of strangled in the sheets, and the women are keeping their breasts covered, and everyone is obviously faking their orgasms and not getting what they want. And you know that the movie is probably about a breakup that hasn’t happened yet but soon will.

What We're Reading

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