The Bad Sex in Fiction Award Is a Lie

Announcing the Skeeve’s new, improved Bad Sex in Fiction Prize.

In real life, bad sex is a relative term. When engaged in by one or more intellectually competent adults who agree on the endeavor, with no coercion or pathogen transference, even the most suboptimal flailing is, after all, sex.

Usually poor sex is better than no sex. So, in the context of available experiences, even poor sex can function as good sex.

But fiction is not like life. In fiction—if the alarms of the Literary Review U.K. are to be heeded—bad sex not only exists, it is so rife that its depiction has achieved the equivalent of a competitive endeavor. In the eyes of the Literary Review, bad sex in fiction has risen to the level that it deserves a trophy.

The Literary Review is a magazine that the Washington Post has described as “flush with tight, smart writing.” It was founded in Edinburgh, a small town in Scotland, by Dr. Anne Smith, head of the English department at Edinburgh University, a school where the English is spoken through an accent so thick that most people reading this would need subtitles to follow directions to the bathroom.

But we live in America, a new world and an ongoing experiment.

Starting in 1993, the Literary Review has presented a Bad Sex in Fiction Award every year to some writer of popular distinction whose taste conflicts with the Literary Review norm. Though presented by a publication that has literary in its name, this Bad Sex in Fiction commendation is not literal to its name.

The Literary Review’s website clarifies that the award is not presented for a depiction of bad sex; rather it is given to honour  “an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel.”

That “otherwise good novel” caveat is, like the Literary Reviews non-literal interpretation of “bad sex in fiction,” subjective.

Pop entertainer Morrissey’s debut novel, List of the Lost, ranked near the top of 2015’s field for the 23rd annual Bad Sex award. Upon List of the Lost’s publication, reviewers at the Guardian crowed, “The publishers should be ashamed of themselves” and Morrissey’s book is “an unpolished turd.”

Does this language designate “an otherwise good novel,” marred only by the one lame fuck?

There is a palpable consensus that Morrissey’s novel is not “otherwise good.” What was the purpose, then, of including it among Literary Review’s bad sex contenders? For that matter, what is the purpose of the Bad Sex Awards?

According to Literary Review party line, “The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them.”

The most charitable word to describe this outright lie is disingenuous. Discouragement is not on the agenda. If not for a free-flowing fount of crap sex scenes, this award never would have reached its 23rd iteration. And, honestly now, without a Bad Sex award, how many of us would have entertained a thought of the Literary Review this year?

Sex that is awkward, unfulfilling, embarrassing, messy, regretful, sex that is broken up by the intrusion of a rambunctious family pet.

I have an idea that the Literary Review’s motives to include Morrissey as a contender are not far from my intentions in writing an Internet post with the click-baited words sex and award in the title: The Literary Review is trolling for traffic, just like the Skeeve.

The journal has the highbrow equivalent of a sponsored content arm. Users can enter credit card information and order specific books that the publication has reviewed. Staff and contributors “also create carefully tailored gift boxes with collections of fiction and non-fiction selected by our staff and contributors.”

England is an insular land that cherishes its archaic, obsolete, outmoded traditions. Now that the Bad Sex in Fiction award is nearly one-quarter century old, don’t expect any reevaluation or enlightened update. But we live in America, a new world and an ongoing experiment. We have the liberty to do what these hidebound pedants cannot.

The Skeeve hereby opens the nomination window for a new, improved Bad Sex in Fiction Award: The purpose of this prize is to honor an author who has produced an outstanding scene depicting bad sex—sex that is awkward, unfulfilling, embarrassing, messy, regretful, sex that is broken up by the intrusion of a rambunctious family pet. This bad sex depiction may occur in an otherwise not good novel.

Thanks to Kindland for the repost.

Allan MacDonell Administrator
Director of Skeeve Allan MacDonell is the author of ‘Prisoner of X’, ‘Punk Elegies’ and ‘Now That I Am Gone.’
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