Steamy Scandals: Literary Representations of Sex

Given we all have more spare time because of lockdown, I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I’ve been reading some books with a few spicy scenes. Especially with the likes of Bridgerton being released on Netflix in January, a lot of the popular books have a steamy romance at the heart of their narrative. The intimate parts of any novel always walk a very thin line between sexy and cringy. If done right, a sex scene can draw you even further into the story, making you a little hot under the collar at the same time. But, when done badly, one awkwardly written sex scene can ruin a perfectly sound plot. While the likes of E. L James have nailed the erotic fiction genre with very lucrative results, those who haven’t quite hit the spot can be just as infamous.

Clearly raunchy novels have a very wide readership, with 50 Shades of Grey selling 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015. While 50 shades of Grey may be an acquired taste for many, the books erotic content made it a sure-fire hit for the public. The contemporary books which fall into the ‘erotic fiction’ category tend to be fairly well received – but this isn’t always the case. Perhaps the king of sensational literature is writer D.H Lawrence, with his incredibly sexual books creating (and often still creating) a lot of buzz because of their content. The novel which takes the crown for most sexual, and indeed most controversial, is by far his last text – Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lawrence faced major backlash for the prolific sex scenes between Connie Chatterley and her husband’s groundsmen Mellors. The novel was banned for obscenity in six countries and even put on trial by Penguin Books in 1960. The trial, as predicted, drove sales through the roof. On the publication day of the unabridged version, London bookshops sold out of every copy. The novel’s time in court arguably making it both controversial and popular.

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From Giphy

For those of us who have read Lawrence’s novel, the sex scenes don’t always translate very well. As a person with a penis, it is safe to say that Lawrence was not particularly well-informed about the workings of a vagina. The descriptions of Connie and Mellors’ love-making seems almost comically dramatic, packed full of wave metaphors and slightly too many references to Connie’s bowels when discussing her orgasms. Perhaps simply a product of its time, Lawrence’s sex scenes certainly feel dated when read now and the cross-class affair between Mellors and Lady Chatterly has lost its appeal since the 1920s. But is modern literary sex any better?

Erotic plots in literature have certainly seeped into almost every genre of novel as the stigma surrounding sex and pleasure has slowly begun to decrease. Readers of the popular YA fantasy series A Court of Thorns and Roses have filled the internet with more fanfiction about the protagonist’s bedroom activities than you can imagine. Sex, however, is a very subjective experience and incredibly hard to render accurately in literature. No two readers are the same, so naturally sexy moments won’t get everyone hot under the collar, but there are certain ways of writing which are guaranteed to be a turn off. The inclusion of certain recurring buzzwords such as ‘quivered’ and ‘torrid’ are cringe-worthy enough to make any reader close their book and wonder if awkward was the sexual tone the author aspired for?

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From Giphy

Given the ever-increasing frequency of sex scenes in popular literature, every reader has their own opinion on which is the cringiest sex scene in a book. But, which one really is the worst of them all? Well, the ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’ has kept a record of which novels have truly had the worst sex scene of the year. 2019 proved to be an extremely terrible year for steamy literature, with not one but two winners being announced after much deliberation from the judges. The judges added: “Faced with two unpalatable contenders, we found ourselves unable to choose between them. We believe the British public will recognise our plight.”

Can such a decision really be that hard? Well, a brief extract from joint winner The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin is very persuasive: “Katsuro moaned as a bulge formed beneath the material of his kimono, a bulge that Miyuki seized, kneaded, massaged, squashed and crushed. With the fondling, Katsuro’s penis and testicles became one single mound that rolled around beneath the grip of her hand. Miyuki felt as though she was manipulating a small monkey that was curling up its paws.” Decoin appears to be a well-deserved winner of the ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’ with such stomach-curdling descriptions of sex, but who will top the list in 2021?

-Aimee Fisher

Featured Image Source: Unsplash

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