Why the Bad Sex Awards Are Tiresome

Dec 07, 2013 • Books

the bad sex awards annoy me

Since 1993, the Literary Review has graced us with a winner for its annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, created to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” While it no doubt brings publicity and drives sales for the authors who get short-listed and win, my views on it have changed over the years from mild amusement to distaste.

This week, Manil Suri received the dishonor for a scene in his novel, The City of Devi. If you want to read it, buy the book and take a stand against the notion that sex has no place in high-art.

That basically summarizes what I think of the Bad Sex Awards. But I think that Laurie Penny says it much better:

More than half a century since the end of the Chatterley ban, “high” culture still reaches for its smelling salts at the least whiff of sauce. The squeamish sensibilities that produce the Bad Sex Awards have, in common with commercially produced pornography, the assumption that there is an objective scale by which the goodness or badness of sex may be judged, and a standard script from which one ought not to deviate. […]

Priggishness may yet do to literature what pornography has done to cinema — namely, to widen the gap between sexual content and everything else. Over the past decade, as racy videos have become freely available online, mainstream movies have become substantially less explicit. An 18 rating is no longer the draw it once was. Nobody needs to go to the cinema to see a pair of breasts any more and it is more lucrative for most directors to keep it chaste for a lower age-rating. The result is an increasing divide between sex and the rest of culture: airbrushed limbs and choreographed grinding are permissible but the truly explicit stuff must be kept out of the mainstream, banished to its own shady realm where we can access it with the proper degree of shame and self-hatred.

[…] The truth is that bad sex is not nipple slips and weird cheese scenes. It’s not clunky metaphor made clumsy flesh. Bad sex is ignorance, abuse and trauma. Bad sex is what happens when we believe that talking about sex is “redundant” and writing about it is “crude.” It’s what happens when sexuality becomes a shameful, angry place at the forbidden centre of culture, where all the angst and hate and gendered pain is enacted on the bodies of others. Ritual humiliation and fear of humiliation are still part of the modern erotic script — and that’s what makes really bad sex.

Read the whole thing. It’s important.

Header by Jenn Calder.