Saturday, June 27, 2009

Literary Review - Bad Sex Award

Posted by John Lambshead

Erotic Review has been relaunched and the new owner, Kate Copstick, has started something of a controversy in a BBC Radio 4 Today programme with Kathy Lette. Kate is reluctant to put too many female authors in the Review because women write bad sex scenes because they “have an agenda, they complicate sex, they make layers, it’s conditional. And they lie as well.”

For years, the politically correct Guardian newspaper had a motoring correspondent who could not drive. So are sex scenes written by women concocted by people without a license?

Kathy Lette admits that most married women's idea of an erotic fantasy is their husband picking up his underwear off the bedroom floor and that she always want to write 'if possible not' when filling those forms with a box marked 'sex' but is the comment fair?

The Literary Review prsents a bad sex award every year in London but the only person to win a Liftetime Achievement Award was John Updike last year. Admittedly, Rachael Johnston won the 2008 Award with Shire Hell but a quick look through previous winners suggests that the literary male is a far bigger offender. Working backwards: Norman Mailer (2207), Iain Hollingshead (2006), Giles Coren (2005), Tom Wolfe (2004), Aniruddha Bahal (2003).... Indeed, Wendy Perriam is the only other female winner since the award started in 1993.

For my money, it is the layers of complexity and conditions that women attach to sex that make the whole thing interesting. Left to men, it is about as erotic as a game of bar billiards - all wam, bam, thank you mam.

I hate dumb metaphors in sex scenes, but I also hate mechanistic descriptions. I know, there is just no pleasing me.

Hollingshead deserved his award for this paragraph alone:

'She's wearing a short, floaty skirt that's more suited to July than February. She leans forward to peck me on the cheek, which feels weird, as she's never kissed me on the cheek before. We'd kissed properly the first time we met. And that was over three years ago.
But the peck on the cheek turns into a quick peck on the lips. She hugs me tight. I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly, She slides one of her slender legs in between mine. Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair. She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I'm inside her, and everything is pure white as we're lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.'

It starts OK with floaty skirts and slim legs but women who start moaning as soon as you touch them????? I must be doing something wrong. And as for 'bulging trousers' and 'grunts and squeeks'........................

OK, so, what would you nominate as the worst sex scene in a story ever - and why?


Anonymous said...

Does "X-Files" fan-fiction count? Back in the day, I used to read a fair amount of fanfic (I once even considered myself part of the GATB -- and if you know what that means, you're definitely a fan). And every so often I used to come across those stories with a sex scene so gratuitous, so awful, that all I could do was shake my head vigorously while muttering "Etch-a-Sketch, Etch-a-Sketch, Etch-a-Sketch..." in hopes of mentally erasing what I'd just read.

It never works, by the way. In fact, it only seems to make it worse.

John Lambshead said...

Dear RJ

Fanfiction, shudder, definitely does not count. Professionals only.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

John, you realise if we admit to reading bad scenes, we must have head 'bad books?'

Kate said...

John, Rowena,

There are in fact valid reasons to read really bad books. Comic relief counts ;)

Now to unearth the Worst Paranormal Romance Evah, make sure it hasn't spawned, and see if I can get to one of the many really bad sex scenes before I start giggling too much to read.

Anonymous said...

Oh thank goodness. I really didn't want to relive some of those particular *twitch*twitch* past traumas

Anonymous said...

I'm not too sure Rowena -- I think I'd rather read a bad scene in a bad book, than a bad scene in an otherwise good book. At least in the bad book, you're prepared for it. Kind of like watching a "B" movie -- your expectations are much lower so the chances for disappointment are far less.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, RJ.

I love watching Ed Wood movies because they are what they are.

Anonymous said...

Roger Zelazny wrote a bad one in Damnation Alley. It's been so long since I read it last, I'm not sure where, but you probably don't want a quote anyway.

Hmm, didn't one of the early Conan's start with sex, sleep, wake up to find the woman half eaten by a snake? Guess that's more bad afterglow than bad sex . . .

John Lambshead said...

Dear Kate

Oh yes, paranormal romance is responsible for some of the worst ever. Buffy has a lot to answer for.

Some of the later Heinlem novels are a bit wierd as well.


Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I hate writing sex in books, and I tend to skim it in books I read. I like sex, it's just that like true love, true joy and true grief it's hard as hell to write.

For instance, I think in all my books I did grief right -- non whiny, believable -- once. In Draw One In The Dark.

Sex... well, I've confessed to liking it in Heart And Soul.

Bad sex... uh, most of it. One of the things that annoys me in romance is a feeling people cut and paste from their other books...

pete mac said...

Surely there's something Norman (Gor) book with bad sex in it somewhere. The trouble is, you have to read Norman to find it...

As for the British sex columnists, why focus on the bad ones? My favorite sex columnist evah--Olivia Judson, a British boffin (ahem)-- did a short series for the BBC.

Her book "Sex Advice to All Creation" made the non-fiction best-seller list, and deservedly so.