Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Baaad Sex in books -- Short list.

Baaad Sex, even when it's bad it's good. Or is it?

Over at the Guardian UK, the shortlist for bad sex scenes has been announced. To quote:-

'The story of the seduction of a lesbian by an ageing stage actor, which includes an eye-watering scene with a green dildo, has won Philip Roth the dubious honour of a place on the shortlist for the Literary Review's bad sex in fiction award.'

And here, is where you can read some of the excerpts. We all need to smile and shake our heads at least once a day.

There's no denying sex sells, but do we have too much sex? Has it become trivialized? When pre-teen girls are wearing make up and high heels, when the media saturates us with sexual images and reality encourages promiscuity, where is the magic and wonder of intimacy?

With the success of the Dark Urban Fantasy, there is a lot of sensual writing appearing in the book stores. Obviously, it is answering a need. Yet the Twilight books are incredibly popular and are strangely un-erotic. They are all about yearning. Are young women tired of being treated as sexual objects? Do they crave passion ... from a safe distance. Edward can't get hot and heavy with Bella, without killing her.

In a book, you need to apply the same rule to a sex scene as to any scene. It should advance the plot or reveal something about the characters or, hopefully, do both.

When was the last time you read a book that depicted sex/passion/love in a powerful and moving way?


Brendan said...

Never. I skip those bits. If I want porn I will read porn, I don't need it in my everyday reading.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


This is getting off topic ...

There was a scene Dave Freer posted on the Mad Genius Club Blog, where a character has to kill her old faithful dog that is in pain.

It was so moving I cried. A book should be able to move you, but the emotions have to be true.

Perhaps the problem with the baaad sex scenes is that they aren't true to the characters or the book.

Kaia said...

Personally I find the Twilight type writing a lot more disturbing than a few hot scenes. Because while it may be "clean" in regards to sex and such, the relationship in itself is... kind of creepy.

That aside, wow those are some bad sex scenes! I find it interesting that almost all those author names are male, although I'm not entirely sure why.

Of course, it's easy to write bad sex. To write bad sex in a good way, on the other hand, is almost impossible. And as we are on the subject, anyone that wants to see that done beautifully should check out Roadkill by Robert Shearman.

Personally I don't mind hot/sexy/explicit scenes in my reading, as long as it's done well. And with that I mean that it somehow has to further the story or develop the character. Just sex scenes for the sake of it is boring.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I'll have to look up Robert Shearman's work.

I find myself skipping the sex scenes if it slows down the pacing of the narrative.

The opposite is true of Tansy's new series, it is highly sensual, but I can't remember any actual sex scenes.

And yes, the relationship in Twilight was annoying. I felt like shaking Bella, particularly in book two when she was self harming to get Edward's attention. Pull your socks up, girl!

Brendan said...


A scene that reveals characters' emotional state and draws you into empathy with them can have amazing impact and I think that is one of the problems I have with sex in books(and many films).

To me sex is about intimacy between people and I can't help but feel that what amounts to voyeurism on the part of the author and reader cheapens what these people have. And if the point of the scene isn't about that intimacy, then whatever the author is trying to convey should perhaps be shown in a different way.

"Why is it that the most delightful of physical positions the the participants is an aesthetic abomination to onlookers" Barry Hughart - The Story of the Stone

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I get so immersed in the characters and the story, I don't feel as if I'm standing apart watching.

I think a really good writer makes you forget you're reading a book.

Brendan said...


You may be lucky. No matter how involved I get in a story I don't think I have ever forgotten I am the reader.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Most of the time I can't switch off the 'inner editor' but if the story is good, it will sweep me away.

That's what I look for. In Computer Game design they call it 'immersion'.

Brendan said...

Immersion I get. I was chatting with a friend about a recently released book by a favourite author and part of the convo was this:

It is a problem when you are reading and you pre-imagine what the ending is going to be. You are either right and so the ending is no fun, you are wrong but think your idea was better and then you really aren't enjoying it; but if you are lucky, the author comes up with something mind-blowingly different that you are stunned and proclaim the book a classic.

Of course ideally you should be so caught up in the story you don't have the luxury to imagine what is going to happen later. The author keeps your attention in the now too well.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan, I find I'm always anticipating the way the story will go. I can't help myself.

But if the author takes it off in an unusual direction that works, I'm delighted.

Flinthart said...

I read from the head more than the heart, I guess. I've never (not in my entire life as a reader, stretching back to age 2) 'fallen in love' with a character, or found myself completely lost in a tale.

There have been plenty of books that I wanted to continue long after they were finished, lots of interesting and admirable characters that I figure I might like if I met them -- but nothing of this Edward/Bella-type bullshit has ever touched me.

Having said that, it's probably easy to realise that I've never been particularly moved by a sex scene. They generally come across as plot devices; means of developing characters, relationships, and plot.

I'm sure I've read some that were good, and effective. I just can't remember any that stand out.

I'm definitely not offended by them, though, and I feel that properly used, a sex scene can be a very valuable part of a narrative. I wrote one into "Angel Rising" for exactly that reason - to add another dimension to the relationship between the protagonist and the other main character, and to ensure that his confusion about her, and his motivations regarding her were sufficiently charged to make his subsequent actions (and hers) believable.

It was an interesting exercise. Nobody's complained about it yet, so I suppose I must have kept it sufficiently low-key...

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dirk, you cynic you!

Seriously, though. Your reason for writing that sex scene was absolutely spot on. Sex confuses people in and motives in real life, it should do that in books and films, too.

I would be right in thinking you're a left brain person, all logic???

Here's the link to the spinning ballerina. I see it left or right, depending on what I've been doing. I'm sure your kids would find this interesting.,21598,22492511-5014324,00.html

TansyRR said...

Rowena - Roadkill, the Shearman piece Kaia referred to, is in the double format with my Siren Beat. You *have* bought a copy of that, right? (grins) I know you have already read it...

And *cough* there are more sex scenes in P&M than there used to be...

I agree that sex can often be used badly and falsely in fiction (to 'spice' things up rather than to further character/plot) but I can also be annoyed when sex is avoided in the text, or if it happens off camera.

I think placing a sex scene off camera requires as much if not more skill as actually writing it - it's too easy to be left with the sense that the author is avoiding a fairly important act of intimacy and thus isn't sharing everything she/he knows about the characters.

Stacia Kane wrote an amazing series of blogs last year about writing sex - I found them fascinating reading, right up to the point where she stated categorically that there was no room for humour in sex scenes. I thought that was a really odd pronouncement. If funeral scenes (heh, Mother and Son) and fight scenes (Bridget Jones) can be funny, then why not sex?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Agree absolutely. There is plenty of room for humour in a sex scene, after all when you think about it, the whole thing is ludicrous.

Sorry, couldn't help that.

Seriously, humour reveals another level of intimacy.