Give Good Sex?

I read an interesting newspaper article a while ago about concerns raised by the judges of the Booker Prize. Not that they were unable to pick a winner, or that there was anything wrong with the quality of the nominated works, the problem was—of course—sex. Was there any doubt?  

Rather than there being too much of it, the opposite was the problem as the judges were expecting lots of the good stuff from the nominated books but got nada. Well, they got some, but not enough to satisfy them. It proved to be such a big issue that it was repeatedly discussed, which resulted in the authors themselves confirming their reasons.

The nominees offered an array of reasons for why they avoid writing about the sexual act, but it all boiled down to “I don’t wanna!”  

There was some talk of the authors being worried about earning the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award, which is given to writers who pen sex scenes that are less than erotic. The idea of the critics merely being failed writers was little comfort, with many admitting that they would feel humiliated and upset if their work was chosen. This reason seems like a valid one, but this was not the only one put forward.

One of the most interesting reasons for not writing about sex came from a very well-known English writer, who told a crowd at a book festival that it was actually impossible for a novelist to write about real sex, as opposed to the pornographic variety. Sex is too personal and, therefore, cannot be universal. Who says it has to be universal? It was even suggested that a ‘closed door’ and implications are more effective. It seems that these people are of the same mindset as those that sought to prosecute Penguin under obscenity laws due to Lady Chatterley’s Lover – and that was 50 years ago!

An editor of the Literary Review went so far as to say that there are no cases where sex scenes work in fiction. (Though the Bad Sex Awards are meant to be light-hearted rather than humiliating.) Other writers suggested that it was difficult to write about ordinary or loving sex, which resulted in books containing drug use and rape.        

I can only wonder what I and the many other erotic writers out there are doing when this type of opinion exists. Who is reading all the erotic tales that exist if they’re so bad? It is very disheartening to realise that literature is affected by such prudish ideas.

Fortunately, the article mentioned several other writers that had the opposite view. A story in which the heroine losing her virginity was an integral part of the story, gay writers writing novels that they can see themselves in. It is by using these sex scenes that the writers reveal the true personalities of their characters. What’s wrong with that?     

There is one glimmer of hope that shines through the fog of nonsense, bright enough to offer a little hope—at least the judges wanted to read about sex!



  1. Sometimes I think some authors try to be literary with an eye on winning a prestigious prize. The best books are the ones written just to tell a story, I think. As a reader I want to connect to a character in the book, to be able to say “that could be me.” I like erotic romance and erotica. It’s a shame the authors up for the Man Booker prize don’t want to write, or are afraid of writing about, sex. You erotic authors have been doing a realistic job of your sex scenes for years and we readers love it.

  2. I guess what the authors were really saying was, “I am not capable of writing a scene about a realistic sexual experience, therefore I will belittle the idea that it can be done and done well, so no one notices my inadequacies. ” sigh…If they ever bothered to read outside of their cocoon of major publishers’ stuff, they would soon find out just how wrong they are, and that many of us are hard at work (ahem) writing realistic sex that many readers enjoy.

  3. Ah, Sheila, you give me hope. I love to hear from readers and it is especially encouraging to hear that you want to see yourself in the characters. Definitely improved my morning!

    Very well said, Fiona. I suspect that it is even worse for those that have written work to great acclaim – anything less than that is unacceptale, so writing about sex becomes too risky.

  4. I suspect you’re right in saying they don’t want to end up with the worst sex award. Many of these literary writers would feel they needed to describe the sex in an original way – afterall we erotica writers must have covered every which way and then some. So they end up with odd descriptions like – being skewered by a butterfly pin or something – which just sounds weird to the average reader. So I reckon they are best left at doing what they do and leave the sexy stuff to us!

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Barbara. I don’t know many fans of purple prose so the alternative is to give up completely!

  5. I do wonder if, as a nation, we’ll ever be able to be really grown up about sex. The Bad Sex Award is fun, but it does reinforce that giggly awkwardness around the ‘Doing It’ we seem to grow up with and, yes, I’m sure it puts a lot of highly talented people off even trying.

    Some of the entrants are genuinely horribly written, but I’ve read some really good accounts of ‘bad sex’ that were well-written and honest, but just not at all erotic – I don’t think they were meant to be either. It seems unfair to nominate those. It seems that you can get nominated simply for having the effrontery to include a sex scene in a mainstream literary novel.

    Oh well – in the meantime, more work for us, eh ;). Thanks for this thoughtful and interesting post.

    • That’s a very good point. There does seem to be a large section of society that never gets further than naughty postcards.

      It must be especially galling to those who write decent sex scenes and use them to move the story forward, only to earn a bad sex nomination.

      Definitely more for us, which I must get back to….

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