The Literary Equivalent of "Jizzed My Pants" Is "Shed My Pleasure"
It's pushing midnight and none of my usual methods of pulling up last minute topics are working (googling sex news = a whole lot of rape-related victim-blaming, and google scholar is no help either). You know how when you can't think of something you just look around for whatever inspiration might happen to fall under your eye? Well, surprisingly my eye slipped right past the vibrator and straight to the bookshelf. So today's topic is sex in literature, or more specifically, my personal experiences of sex in literature (feel free to expound on your own experiences in the comments). The act of sex is a difficult thing to write well. Sex scenes in books are often just like the real thing: incredibly awkward. Many writers side-step the problem by leaving it implied, while others write in so much detail it makes you cringe.
As a kid I remember encountering sex scenes in two very different scenarios: the fantasy/scifi novels that I devoured on a regular basis and my mother's cheap romances that I would occasionally sneak a peak at. My mother mostly made sure that I stuck to age appropriate level stuff, but I remember coming across at least the allusion to sex in several books and short stories I read. The ones that stand out most in my mind are some (mostly implied) sex scenes in Ann McCaffrey's Dragonrider series, which actually is not the best introduction to adult relationships, since the sex is frequently not completely voluntary. For those who aren't familiar with the books, there are humans who are telepathically bonded to dragons. When the dragons mate, the humans get swept up in the act and end up fucking whoever is bonded to their dragon's partner. There's also one scene not-dragon related in one of the books that's always felt kinda rapey to me. I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable about these scenes, even though the sex wasn't explicit, mostly because of how little choice some of the participants had. On the other hand, it was through scifi and fantasy novels that I first encountered sexually active gay characters (although the sex there was also usually off the page) and other rather unconventional types of sex (an alien with tentacles on its head that turned out to be phalluses springs to mind).
My mother's romance novels, which she used to buy by the boxful, were another matter altogether. There the sex was explicit and weird (in a totally heterosexual and non-tentacle-related way), at least to my pre-pubescent self. It was from one of those books that I first learned about cunnilingus. I must have absorbed knowledge of blowjobs somewhere, because I wasn't surprised when the heroine went down on the hero, but when the hero returned the favor my mind was blown. I tended to read only the sex scenes in those books, so I couldn't tell you anything about the plot, but that scene had a surprisingly strong impact on me. Years later, in high school, when some of my female friends expressed disgust at the idea of receiving oral (these friends were virgins at the time, as was I), I was as shocked as when I'd first read about the act. It had become, in my mind, a natural reciprocation that should be expected, and it was that book that planted the seed of that idea (later watered by a few movies, but that's a story for another day when I can't find any sex news). Of course, I took away more lessons about how sex shouldn't be than how it should from romance novels. Many of the scenes made me distinctly uncomfortable, not because of the mere fact that they were about sex, but because of how strangely the participants acted. One scene in which the hero kept repeating over and over during foreplay that the heroine tasted "sweet," almost put me off dirty talk forever ("So sweet. You taste so sweet. Oh god so sweet." REALLY DUDE, IS SHE SWEET?). Sex in these books, for all their graphic descriptions, just never felt real to me. It's always the best sex either character (or at least the hero, since the heroine was usually a virgin) has ever had, and everyone always comes together because in Romancelandia that is a sure sign of True Love. I never got over the initial awkwardness of those books. While I know many people who enjoy these kinds of books, and my understanding is that the sex has gotten better, I can only rarely bring myself to pick one up (usually while I'm at my mother's house, since they're everywhere).
In college and beyond I encountered more literary forms of sex. I bought a version of 1001 Arabian Nights that had not been edited for Victorian tastes and discovered that the stories are full of sex. I also started reading more poetry and discovered quite a lot of eroticism there. I think to this day the only written text I've masturbated to is an e. e. cummings poem. In many of the novels I've read as an adult, especially the ones that could be considered high literature, the sex is still awkward but it feels more intentional, as if the author wants to point out the absurdity of the act rather than titillate us with descriptions of throbbing members and wet passages. I have occasionally stumbled on sex scenes that seemed hot, but for the most part it seems that for me at least, sex is one of those things that is best enjoyed in person. I love sex, but reading about it almost always makes me vaguely uncomfortable, like I'm looking in on someone else's fantasies and discovering that what gets them hot only leaves me bewildered.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.
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