What is the Worst Literary Sex of All-Time?

07 May
May 7, 2012

So, I’m just about through reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections — and a certain scene with a hapless red chaise longue had me thinking: what is the worst literary sex, ever?

(Salon.com has more, if you’re really interested: “The secret Jonathan Franzen influence, hiding in plain sight”)

Sure, there’s the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, but that’s not what I’m really interested in for today.

Granted, good sex — and perhaps especially bad sex — is intensely and inevitably subjective. But there have to be some universal standards that make bad literary sex bad for everyone … right?

But, I really have no idea. I’d love to know what everyone thinks.

Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (see also: The Guardian, “How to Have Sex with a Ghost“) scores high on the possible Gross Sex Quotient (GSQ) with some oedipal and phantasmagoria mixed in there for good measure. But, I probably like Murakami’s novels too much to call it the worst.

Me personally, I’m going to go with Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint. I thought about quoting the liver passage, but I just couldn’t do it. Yuck:

“Portnoy’s Complaint is told as one long psychotherapy session. It shocked some readers, delighted others. Hardly anyone, though, is indifferent about Alexander Portnoy.

Within a few pages we learn that Portnoy — nice Jewish boy, brilliant honor student — has a problem. He loves himself too much, and one part of himself in particular.”

And, on a slightly-related note: “How Come the Worst Sex Writers Are Always Men?

“A clue to the dearth of women winners might have something to do with the fact that men still outnumber women at both commercial and academic publishing houses, according to The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin. In 2010, of the 13 large houses that TNR examined, Penguin’s Riverhead imprint came the closest to closing the gender gap between male authors, who accounted for 55% of books published, and female authors (45 %). And the house with the lowest percentage of female authors? That would be Harvard University Press, with a paltry 15%.”

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