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The Literary Rants: Bad Sex in Fiction

December 20, 2016
If the author doesn’t stop the scene right here, too many things can go horribly wrong. (Image via wikimedia)

If the author doesn’t stop the scene right here, too many things can go horribly wrong. (Image via wikimedia)

Sex in literature is the opposite of sex in real life.  Most people would rather have bad/mediocre sex in their personal lives than none at all, but in most fiction, sex just makes things worse.  Sometimes the sex in fiction is so bad that it can win an award.

A couple weeks ago, The Literary Review gave out its Bad Sex in Fiction Award (poorly-written sex scene in an otherwise good book) to The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca.  I’d never heard of this book (I’m sure the author has never heard of my books either), but I have to admit that the sex scene stands out:

 ‘My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach. With a swerve of her hips, she turned me over and I was on top of her. She opened her legs, pulled up her dress and, holding my hips over her, pushed my prick against her opening. I was her plaything, which she moved around. Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.’

I don’t want to get too technical, but this author makes a couple basic mistakes.  First of all, never use the word prick to describe a male body part.  Prick implies small, and no guy would use that word when describing himself in a sex scene.  Shlong is better because shlong has the word long in it, and every guy likes to think of himself as big.

Plus, calling the male/female body parts sexes is kind of awkward.  Maybe sexes is better than prick and whatever word you use for the female counterpart, but it’s still kind of awkward.  I’d say it makes the scene feel kind of stiff, but that could be taken the wrong way.

Stiff.  Haha.  It’s difficult to write a sex scene, but it’s also hard to critique one too.

Hard.  Haha.

According to The Literary Review article, winners seem to not attend the award ceremony.  That sounds like sour grapes to me.  If I won a bad sex in fiction award , I’d attend.  I mean, it depends on where the ceremony was held and whether my expenses were paid or not, but I’d feel no shame in winning an award for writing a bad sex scene, especially if the flight, meals, and lodging are paid for.

The problem with writing a bad sex scene in an otherwise good novel is that nobody cares about the “otherwise good novel.”  All of that effort put into the “otherwise good novel” has been wasted because of a bad sex scene.  That’s how real life is too.  If a guy goes on a date, and the date leads to a romantic encounter, all the guy will remember is the romantic encounter.  The other details disappear from our memories.  Where did we eat?  What movie did we see?  What beachfront property did we take our romantic stroll down?  Once the sex happens, all that previous stuff fades from our memories, even if the sex wasn’t that great.

I almost feel bad for The Day Before Happiness.  Maybe it was actually a good book.  Now we’ll never know, all because the book has a bad sex scene in it.  At least it won an award.


I wrote a sex scene in my ebook, but the Literary Review didn’t notice it.  Sigh.  I might have attended the ceremony.

  1. If sex is written well, it is recognized instantly. A general rule is less (words) a better passage.Of literary devices metaphors are good for sex. Allusions are rip roaring. Actual physical descriptions: It may be best to be straightforward. Similes should be nuanced.

  2. “Our sexes were ready” is just awful. The w(hole) thing is wretched, to be sure. He could have written more about proof of readiness, not just stating it. “We were both hot, and we did it,” is about as magical. As a woman reading it, it just makes me go “ew.” Are they gymnasts, with all that swerving? Our pastor says men are like microwaves and women are crock pots. This passage is like putting ice in a crock pot; it doesn’t help a lady warm up. I DO find it ironic that it’s called “The Day Before Happiness.” Remember, you can’t spell happiness without penis. I mean “piness.”

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