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Here Are the Worst Sex Scenes That Popped Up in Books This Year

Here Are the Worst Sex Scenes That Popped Up in Books This Year: George Marks / Stringer

George Marks / Stringer

The unwitting nominees for the Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction” award have arrived and the results are the very definition of cringe-worthy. Perhaps that’s because the shortlist of six authors is mostly made up of men, whose descriptions of intercourse range from stiff and unromantic to biologically impossible to downright hysterical.

Take the phrase “bourbon is his gasoline” from Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac, which suggests the male protagonist gets better at sex the more he drinks. Anyone who’s ever agreed to take a guy home from a bar after a few shots of whiskey knows alcohol only makes the male anatomy less functional, not more. Canin also describes his character’s love-making as “fervent,” which is fine on its own, but his comparison of the act to a “brisk tennis game or a summer track meet” pushes the analogy into absurdity. I guess he likes it exhausting, competitive, and covered in sweat. (Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad after all…)

Robert Steethaler’s The Tobacconist, on the other hand, goes straight for the melodrama. While receiving oral sex, his male protagonist “felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty.” I’d give it five-plus points for sincerity but I dock it ten for its extreme cheese—although as a female-identified person, I’ve never received fellatio. Still, I have trouble believing it can be this life-altering.

A couple women do make the list but unfortunately, they are no better at evoking sex in anything other than extremely awkward and uncomfortable terms.

Janet Ellis writes that one character was “pinned like wet washing with his peg,” which sounds like a homicidal stabbing, not a sexual encounter. Her partner later assures her that the sounds of their sex is sweeter than “cows chewing grass.” It must be said though that Ellis’s ability to cram both farm animals and laundry into the same scene is kind of admirable.

Joking aside, these authors deserve a little credit. Writing about sex is tough. Detailing both the pleasure and the physicality of intercourse without seeming out of touch, corny or awkward is not a task for the faint of heart, and they deserve to be applauded for trying to describe what most people are not brave enough to even talk about in public. That said, sex will always be best experienced in the real world rather than on the page, where the limits of language often reduce sex to clichés and make physicality seem less natural and more clumsy.

Even the pros have trouble crafting sex scenes. Passages from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am were considered, but he ultimately didn’t make the finals. The Literary Review’s readers also suggested Donald Trump’s now-infamous “locker room talk,” but sadly—so, so sadly—his comments were not fiction.

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