Bad Sex 2010: Dead Bugs, Pencils & Giant She Creatures

Each year Britain's Literary Review honors a mainstream author with "The Bad Sex In Fiction Award."   The award goes to writers whose descriptions of sexual antics and activity inspire "eye-rolling and disgust." 

This year, Rowan Somerville won the award for descriptions in his book, "The Shape of Her."  Passages like the following secured him the honor:

Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.

As if that wasn't good enough to secure the best of the bad prize, elsewhere in the book Somerville describes a nipple as "the nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing in the night."

Some other big literary names were on the list of nominees, including Jonathan Franzen for his book Freedom which included the following passage:

One afternoon, as Connie described it, her excited clitoris grew to be eight inches long, a protruding pencil of tenderness with which she gently parted the lips of his penis and drove herself down to the base of its shaft.  Another day, at her urging, Joey described to her the sleek warm neatness of her turds as they slid from her anus and fell into his open mouth, where, since these were only words, they tasted like excellent, dark chocolate.

Another nominee was Adam Ross for descriptions in his book, Mr. Peanut.  Including a passage where a husband describes his love for his wife's "giganticness" and said if he made love to her from behind he felt like "an X-rated Gulliver among the Brobdingnags."  Ross writes,

She was not his wife but a giant she-creature, an overlarge sex pet:  his to screw, groom and maintain.

In accepting the award, Somerville was gracious and stated that he felt it was fitting because, "There is nothing more English than bad sex."

I write Regency Romance  that is not exactly regular Regency.  My books are Regency, twisted, tangled and taken way over the top. My books are romances that revel in the Regency Rules and revile them. Often in my books the rules are part of the wall keeping the hero from the heroine.  So in my tales the hero rips down the wall and lays it at the heroine's feet as public proof of his devotion. 

But, say it ain't so, Rowan.  The English - bad lovers?  Well, that's not the way they're written in Regency.  The Lords and Ladies, the Dukes and Earls may be rogues and cads; they may, in fact, be perfect pricks. But they're not written as bad lovers.  In social lore it's the French and the Italians who are the great lovers.  That lore has not translated to romance novels.  In romance novels the French or Italian will be the bad guy.  The forever after hero, the heroine's perfect love?  Well, he'll probably be British, thank you very much. 

Why?  If the reality is that the Frenchman is the perfect lover and the Brit is the buffoon, then why have romance novels written it all very differently? 

Well, romances are products of the culture of the writers.  In American culture we may find the French and Italian man's culture of "sharing the love" interesting, but we don't find it admirable.  The "romance" cultures of France and Italy are perceived as being places where men have revolving doors in their bedrooms.  And women don't find that romantic.  The English cad or rogue would just be one of the boys in France.  

See, it' s those rules again.  The rules that I love my heroes to rebel against.  The rules are only worthy of rebelling against if they were important to forming the hero's life and past.  Those rules made the hero who he is and within the rules lie a code of honor.  If a hero is not honorable, he'll never get the girl in a romance novel.  Because to Americans, honor is sexy.

The UK's "Independent" published a piece on the awards that included the phrase - "Bad Sex, Please, We're British..."  In the piece they call the Bad Sex Award a peculiarly British form of disapproval that grew out of the notion that "sex and literature made for uncomfortable bedfellows."  The independent piece says the awards are proof of their opposite - that if bad sex writing exists, then so does good sex writing.  The piece notes that the bad sex prose tends to occur in describing the act itself. The piece advocates the view that sex is more fully represented in literature once you go beyond the act itself, and include all of the things the act encompasses. 

I agree with that viewpoint, actually.  To me, the sexiest writing of all happens in the parts of the book where the hero and the heroine aren't having sex.  The first meeting, the flirtations, the first kiss are all fodder for mighty sexy stuff.  But I find the pinnacle of sexiness to be stories where there's an extended period when the hero wants the heroine, he needs the heroine, he desires her far more than his next breath - but he can't have her. 

The agony of frustrated desire is mighty heady stuff.  It's like Christmas - the most fun is in the anticipation.

Still, I wonder if we should all work harder to make our writing worthy of a bad sex award.  In bad sex terms, I think that there's way too much territory we haven't yet explored.  Dead bugs, pencils and giant she-creatures are all well and bad, but we could do much worse.  How about kitchen implements?  There's really not enough romantic descriptions comparing the act to a kitchen device or appliance.  How about - I processed her faster than a Cuisinart.  Or - I made her froth faster than a hand blender.  It could be - I kept her as hot and wet as an immersion circulator.  How about - she made me come like a dishwasher on the rinse cycle. 

The British like to think they're good at bad sex but I think they're really too good to be bad enough to take top prize.  Maybe the French and the Italians could earn honorable mentions in the category, but I don't think anybody can do bad in as big and brash a way as an American. 

Comparing having sex to pinning a dead bug on a board is pretty bad, but I think we could do much worse.  Kitchen implements, anyone?