The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 December 2006

Sticky situations

A few days back I put up a brief piece about this year's Bad Sex in Fiction award.

It occurs to me, or at least to someone, that the award might actually be superfluous, because "all sex scenes are gratuitous":

There used to be something of a point to sex scenes in novels. Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The average semi-literate shopkeeper, who learned everything he knew about sexuality from bawdy limericks, and could count his sexual conquests by the number of different genital rashes that appeared in a calendar month, loved to read racy novels written in French and printed on parchment soaked in vinegar to rinse off the ink from Napoleon: I'll Be Back. It was exciting, back then, to read about having sex on sheets, and to indulge the fantasy of raping the scullery maid without the "comeuppance" of being castrated by her scythe-wielding boyfriend.

By the 20th Century, most people had at least heard of sex, and fictional portrayals began to move on to exotic locales and positions, and introduced the revolutionary concept of having extramarital intercourse without a slow descent into Hell afterwards. In the last quarter-century, the average teenager's sexual experiences were beginning to outstrip the inventive capacity of wallflower future authors who were in the library salivating over the one dog-eared copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn when their classmates were exploring the seductive powers of pre-mixed vodka and orange.

Now, of course, anyone with Internet access can have any sexual question answered, and any fetish satiated, in 0.13 seconds. So, the only sexual frontier left for fiction to explore is what it might be like if Galadriel, Lois Lane and Ally McBeal gang-banged Professor Snape and the fat guy from Lost.

Such a tease, that Lois.

But the real reason that they're extraneous is that they never seem to have anything new to say:

Almost all of them could be edited down to "And then they did it," without losing anything original.

Human anatomy, after all, is pretty well standardized. Once upon a time the characters were portrayed as breaking the laws of North Podunk; today they're portrayed as breaking the laws of physics.

(Which, of course, may explain why Lois Lane and Superman ... um, never mind.)

Posted at 6:27 AM to Almost Yogurt


I disagree with the idea that sex scenes have to outdo reality to be interesting, or uh, um, stimulating. Or that they have to outdo previously written stories. Any well-written scenario can spark your imagination, if you begin with the frame of mind that its not a literary competition. However, the badly-written awards are just a hoot!

Obviously, thats the perspective of an older female bibliophile. I'm determined to extract the greatest pleasure possible out of anything I spend time on.

Posted by: Miss Cellania at 8:06 AM on 8 December 2006

This may well go back to the old "Write what you know" premise, which I'm reluctant to defend. Certainly if that were new law instead of old saw, I'd be barred from even mentioning the subject.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:02 AM on 8 December 2006

Obviously Miss Cellania has never contemplated copulation with Plastic Man.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 4:42 PM on 10 December 2006