The nominees, if you please: Bad Sex Awards 2013 or When did literariness become synonymous with sterile?

lady chatt 3It has occurred to me that why the judges of the Bad Sex Awards find it so easy to pick nominees is partly based on its exclusions:

The purpose of the prize is stated as to “draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” The prize is open only to popular literature, with material intended to be pornographic or erotic expressly forbidden. 1

Why would anything intended to be erotic be excluded? Perhaps because writing that is intended to arouse can never be considered ‘literary’ at all, and so falls below their purview. If any writing intended to arouse is beneath consideration, it’s hardly surprising writers seeking literary acclaim steer clear of it, and end up writing so much depressing sex instead. When did ‘literariness’ become synonymous with sterile?

Links to some articles on ‘The Bad Sex Awards, 2013’ or, ‘gee, it’s so hard to write sex well when you have to make sure you don’t turn anyone on and lose respectably ‘

Bad Sex Award 2013: Manil Suri wins for Explicit Scene
Telegraph Reporters, The Telegraph

“Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

It’s time for a Good Sex Award
William Nicholson, The Guardian Online

If there’s a value in novelists writing about sex then how are these awards helping? “Britain’s most dreaded literary prize,” the Huffington Post calls it. The danger is that the dread, the hurt inflicted, or merely the fear of the hurt, casts a chill shadow over writers as they consider whether or not to follow their characters into the bedroom. Mockery is a powerful weapon.

Bad Sex Award: Who do you think Should Win?
Extracts and Poll, The Guardian Online


Who do you think should win the Bad sex award?
  20% Woody Guthrie
  6% William Nicholson
  8% Manil Suri
  10% Rupert Thomson
  10% Matthew Reynolds
  3% Susan Choi
  41% Jonathan Grimwood
  4% Eric Reinhardt

Poll closes in 1 day

The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,
by Amanda Hess, Slate Magazine.

In defence of bad sex: Half a century after the end of the Chatterley ban, high culture still recoils at the least whiff of smut.
Laurie Penny, New Statesman

Secondly, many of the passages of “bad sex” selected for public mockery are, in fact, rather well-written descriptions of sex that happens to be fumbly and awkward. In real life, that’s what a lot of sex tends to be, especially at major plot points.

Here are some of the things that occur in the shortlisted “bad sex” passages: two young people worry if God will judge them for bunking up. A man is overwhelmed by sensation during intercourse and starts having weird minor hallucinations. A woman attempts awkward dirty talk involving her own breasts.

All of these are things that actually happen, and it behoves us to imagine that art and literature can describe the many worlds of human lust, pain and emotion that do not take place in soft focus, with billowing white sheets and smooth jazz playing in the background.

And earlier this year:

Good sex in Literature: Why is it so hard to find?
Stuart Jeffries, Guardian

Here’s another theory: when we read a novel we do a lot of imaginative work to visualise a scene – work that is done already for us in the cinema or in visual art. When we do that work we can make things easier for ourselves by imagining the author as one of the sexual actors in the story or, at least, by imagining that the scene is an extrapolation of the writer’s tastes or fantasies. Yeats was not a swan (gee thanks, professor), but imagining such a sexual scenario might well have satisfied some psychosexual need.


  1. Furness, H. (2013). “Bad Sex Award 2013: Woody Guthrie, The Catholic Church, and No Bridget Jones.” The Telegraph. Nov. 7, 2013

One Thought on “The nominees, if you please: Bad Sex Awards 2013 or When did literariness become synonymous with sterile?

  1. This “award” makes me grind my teeth every year.

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