Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bad sex

Having taken a quick look at the ten authors shortlisted for the annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award, I have to say the passages quoted are pretty excruciating. But then again, can any fictional description of sex ever do justice to the real thing? I think not.

Sex is such a personal and physical experience, I don't really think any writer, however brilliant, can capture it at all realistically. Their attempts are inevitably going to be leaden, bizarre or over-the-top.

Certainly I've never read any description of sex that accurately reflects my own experience. The images conjured up are quite laughable, like a non-swimmer trying to describe what it's like to swim.

So in a way the Bad Sex Award, however amusing it may be, is rather unfair on the poor embarrassed authors who're singled out for special attention. I'm sure their efforts are not much worse than all the authors who've been lucky enough to escape notice.

In fact I wonder why sex has to be described at such length in novels anyway. What's the point of these flowery renderings of a bit of nooky? We all know what it's like (well, those of us who actually engage in it), so why not just leave us to fill in the details? A lot of writers could save themselves a lot of creative torture and a lot of guffawing readers by putting the red pencil through the whole shebang.

But just to give you a taste of the Bad Sex offerings, here's a typical passage:

"Her hair was piled high, but when she shook her head it came cascading down in a glowing wave over her shoulders, and fell as far as her knees. The rippling curtain did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them."

That's from Desert God by Wilbur Smith.

And now I have to go, I'm laughing so much it hurts.


  1. That nearly made me spit out my coffee, I was laughing so much!

  2. Jennifer: You should read the others, they're even more ridiculous!

  3. I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


  4. Sounds like Anonymous has first-hand experience with bad sex? He seems to rear his head once a year on Blogger.

    Romance novels are big business, so I guess plenty of women like to read that stuff. Pretty cheesy though!

  5. Nick, I have seen that comment from 'Anonymous' on another blogger blog today, exactly the same word for word.I suggest it is spam.

    Back to your topic:

    There was a lot to be said for dear old Barbara Cartland, who was fond of leaving the shenanigans behind closed doors and to our imaginations.

    As I once said to Elly, "I would rather do it, than read about or watch it!

  6. I'm leaving the comment from Anonymous (who's not even brave enough to use his real name) as it's an interesting insight into contemporary maleness. As someone says on Feministing, what these men really seem to be looking for is women who are "feminine, aesthetically pleasing and perpetually sexually and emotionally available to the men in their lives." Sorry, guys, today's women have set their sights a little higher than that.

  7. Bijoux: Well, I've never read any romance novels, but I thought they were usually fairly coy about what happened under the sheets. Or have they moved on a bit? Are they catching up with Fifty Shades of Grey?

    Grannymar: Yes, maybe Barbara Cartland had the right idea. About explicit sex that is, not all the romantic tosh.

  8. John: How very dare you. I'm as pure as the driven snow, as pure as Tinkerbell. Unlike this decadent filth that passes for reputable literature.

  9. Anonymous - You just signed your own death warrant!

    Nick- Wilbur Smith? Obviously a Born Again Virgin.

  10. And I am laughing with you. AND more importantly Wilbur Smith is laughing all the way to the bank as well.

  11. Keith: I expect dreadful writing from Wilbur Smith, but I'm surprised Kirsty Wark was shortlisted. Though as I said, can anyone describe sex in a wince-free manner?

    Ramana: It's depressing how much money some people can make out of truly terrible writing, while authors whose writing is exquisite are lucky to make a living at all.

  12. Funny how nobody has commented on the main point I was making, that most descriptions of sex in fiction are so laughably inept they might as well be done away with. And who would miss them?

  13. My comment got disappeared by blogger. And now I can't remember exactly what I said.

    So I'll say this - those descriptions are mostly pretty icky to me. The make sex sound pretty unappealing and I LOVE sex. Also, I'm not really interested in any sex that doesn't involve me, so I don't like reading graphic depictions of it.

  14. Agent: I'm glad you agree they're awful descriptions. And I love your frankness about your purely personal interest in sex! I just think it's virtually impossible to fictionalise sex in a convincing way.

  15. I know, very self-centered of me! I think, "Am I in it? Nope? Okay, moving on."

  16. Agent: Quite right too!