The Bad Sex In Fiction Award

Writing about any form of sexual activity in a story causes all sorts of problems. Not the least of these, is that the delight gained from sex is just about the most subjective thing one can do – what pleases one person might disgust another.

Just finding the words to describe any act of sex is awkward. Should one be earthy and use coarse expletives and four-letter words, or be discreet with vague allusions and metaphors used to indicate the action and thoughts of the lovers ?

Even the finest authors stumble over this predicament. This led to the Literary Review founding an award in 1993 to acknowledge what they consider to be the worst description of a sex scene in a novel published in the preceding year. The given rationale is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

It’s aimed at literary authors, who are a bit up themselves, as an Australian might say. There’s reams of pornographic/erotic fiction in book form and online, of course – but this award appears to be trying to puncture pseuds who try to elevate their descriptions of copulation to an art form. Brits are prurient about sex anyway, so as soon as somebody starts to talk about it, let alone write about it, the sniggers begin. Some of the winners did produce some hilarious descriptions, however.

Mind you, if you think about ways of describing any intense physical sensation, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Stuff like taking a motorcycle ride, eating a tasty meal, being moved by a favourite piece of music or having an orgasm is best experienced internally. Once you put them into words, it’s bound to detract from their power and pleasure.

This is partly why I wrote an unusual, out of left field, huh? sex scene in my first novel ‘The Perfect Murderer.’ I’m laughing up my sleeve a bit, imagining what readers will think about it. The activity involved is a paraphilia. I won’t say any more about it at the moment, as I’m still mulling over ways of publishing the book.

I haven’t tried writing anything erotic recently, though I feel that simple and concise would be more effective than anything too flowery. Years ago, I wrote erotic short stories to commission through an ad in the Erotic Folio Society (long gone bust), and the strangest one was for a woman who was sexually drawn to wardrobes – having sex inside them, on them and with them!

There’s nowt as strange as folk.

But you and I are completely normal, of course….

Here are two examples from the 2009 nominees, including the winning entry (no pun intended !) by Jonathan Littell

Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Munro

“He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair.

“‘Oh, my dear Avril,’ he says.

“He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees and feels again a watery ardour in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.”


The Kindly Ones by Jon Littell

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long-stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.

If you’d like to read about the last round of the Bad Sex In Fiction Award for 2014, have a look at this link :

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