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Is sex impossible to capture in writing?

To quote Woody Allen, “Pizza is a lot like sex. When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” Writer John Banville (who won the Booker Prize for his awesomely beautiful and lyrical novel The Sea back in 2005) would agree. And he goes one step further, saying that because of this, it’s impossible to write well about sex. Meaning that because men, at least, tend to enjoy most sex, no matter how bad it is, there is this inherent disconnect: They can’t write about it because they have no idea what just happened. Was it good, was it bad, was it the same old thing, was it earth-shattering? All they know is that they had an orgasm and it felt pretty cool. And as Tolstoy didn’t really say, good sex is all alike; all bad sex is bad in its own way. The latter is worth reading about; the former is just bad erotica.

“I am never quite sure what bad sex is,” Banville said in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. “I am not sure I have ever had any bad sex. It has always seemed to me wonderful. I always felt incredibly lucky that a woman would consent to engage with me in this extraordinary act.” He goes on to say, “What people feel they are doing is so discontinuous with what they are actually doing… The spectacle of sex is never very dignified, but when you are engaged in it it seems transcendently sublime.” OK, so maybe the man can’t write sex scenes, but clearly he’s pretty freakin’ eloquent on the topic of sex! Man, we wish he’d at least try to write about sex.

Author Martin Amis got at something similar last month, when he noted that women are better at writing about sex because men “forget the fiascoes and the no-shows” while women are more honest. There’s that disconnect again: If men only remember the good bits, how can they possibly capture real sex on paper?

We wish we could say that this proves why 50 Shades of Grey is so good: because it was written by a woman. But it turns out that women can write godawful sex scenes, too. Watch this space for a post coming soon about exactly how bad the writing in that book is. (Yes, we did finally force ourselves to get through it — the things we do for our readers).

So what do you think: Do women write better sex scenes than men? Does bad sex make for better writing than good sex? And what are some of your favorite sex scenes in literature?

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