Writing about sex in literature is a difficult task; there are so many ways authors can go wrong. Nowadays, most writers spend too much time on the build up and then release the curtain during the show, choosing instead to segue to a point immediately after the act. Others spend an inordinate amount of energy coming up with penis euphemisms, and end up ruining a scene (think: late John Updike), or even a whole novel. Evelyn Waugh’s son, Auberon, established the Bad Sex in Fiction Award 17 years ago for this very reason. He wanted to “gently dissuad[e] authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing, or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels.” Rowan Somerville was the 2010 winner for some godawful passages in his second novel, The Shape of Her. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, was also nominated, as was Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.
To counter this terrible scourge on contemporary readers, here is a list of noteworthy sex scenes in modern literature not by a Great Male Novelist (e.g., Mailer, Roth, or Updike) — those supposed masters of the form.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Brokenhearted, Janie Crawford revisits her home in Eatonville, Florida and begins to recount the key moments in her life to her friend Pheoby. As a girl, she spent her free time lying in the grass, watching nature reveal itself to her:
“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.”