We're generally in favor of awards here at the Seattle Review of Books. We don't put too much truck in them — awards are not the end of a certain type of literary conversation; they're the beginning. But (as long as they don't overly favor straight white men) awards are fun, and it's nice to publicly recognize the hard work that goes into the writing of books.
There's one award we don't much like, though. That's the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which was just given out at the beginning of this month. We're all for criticism and for pointing out bad writing— of course we are — but we don’t believe in shaming authors who dare to write about sexuality. The Bad Sex in Fiction Award would be acceptable if the organizers also gave out an award for the Best (or maybe Hottest?) Sex Scene in Fiction, but they don’t. They only ridicule, they never commend.
The thing is, sex scenes are incredibly hard to write. We’ve talked to some authors who have said they’re the single hardest scene to write. If you’re too vague it can sound abstract and puritanical. Get too explicit and you’re writing erotica, a label which carries with it a whole other set of expectations. Write a bad sex scene and, well, critics will mock you for it and you might just win yourself the most notorious award in the literary field, the closest thing to The Razzies that exists in the book world.
Quite frankly, we want to read more sex in our fiction: more sex scenes, more adventurous descriptions of sex, more vibrant depictions of all kinds of human sexuality. Sex in fiction is not just for titillation — though it is for that too. Sex also tells us about characters, it advances the plot, it develops the theme. And it helps to normalize sex! We don’t need another cultural outlet to inform us that sex is something embarrassing and bad. We’ve got plenty of those already.
Look, of course there are bad sex scenes. And they shouldn’t be celebrated, and bad writers shouldn’t be coddled. But by singling out bad sex scenes for shaming — why not an award for the most ridiculous scene of violence? — the organizers of this award are sending exactly the wrong message to authors.
So here’s the thing: if you’ve read an especially good sex scene this year, tell us about it. Tweet at us. Send us an email. Let us know on Facebook — either post it on our wall or, if you’re the bashful type, send us a message. We promise to keep your identity private, but if you turn us on (heh) to some good examples, we’ll share them with our readers. Let’s celebrate good sex in fiction, not shame the bad sex.