As an MFA student in Cornell's creative writing program, I once attended a poetry reading where a famous poet read a poem containing this climactic line: "He pumped his brine into her." I have repressed the name of the poem -- and perhaps I have remembered the line incorrectly, perhaps it was "He pumped her full of his brine" -- but I have never forgotten the winceable badness of it.
Now I know there's an award for such things -- The Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, which since 1993 had singled out “otherwise sound literary” fiction that includes “unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature,” reports the Guardian.
The bad sex awards (the actual award is a plaster foot) were set up by the Review's late editor Auberon Waugh "with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." According The Guardian:
Last year's award was given posthumously to Norman Mailer for his final novel The Castle in the Forest, in which a male member is described as being "as soft as a coil of excrement". "It was the excrement that tipped the balance," admitted Philip Womack, assistant editor of the Literary Review, at the time.Alastair Campbell's depiction of a gauche sexual encounter in his debut novel All in the Mind landed him on the shortlist this year, despite his early career writing porn for Forum magazine under the pseudonym the Riviera Gigolo:
"He wasn't sure where his penis was in relation to where he wanted it to be, but when her hand curled around it once more, and she pulled him towards her, it felt right," Campbell writes. "Then as her hand joined the other on his neck and she started making more purring noises, now with little squeals punctuating them, he was pretty sure he was losing his virginity." (Source: The Guardian)
The Literary Review's Jonathan Beckman explains that there's "quite a lot of variation" in terms of how, exactly, the sex was bad. "There are some which take the sex far too seriously," like a passage in Paul Coelho's Brida in which sex is described as "the moment when Eve was reabsorbed into Adam's body and the two halves became Creation.")
Beckman also complained of passages which contain "a grating change of register" or a "tortuous logical path" and "others that are just slightly ridiculous." he said.
I'd intended to quote liberally from the passages that put their authors in "stiff competition" (The Guardian's pun, not mine) for the Bad Sex Award. But I found myself wincing and cringing too much even to cut and paste.
But if you'd like more punishment, you can read last year's shortlisted passages, and well an the entries from 2006, 2005 and 2004 (Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons won the award for a passage which begins "Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth ... " Wolfe declined the award and boycotted the ceremony, claiming that judges had failed to recognize the irony in the passage).
Yeah, sure, irony. Wolfe has a point -- a comedic sex scene can look like bad sex writing in the wrong context. But the truth is, there are just some metaphors that won't ever expand or enrich our understanding of sex -- a penis that is like excrement, or in the case of 2005 Bad Sex Award winner Giles Coren's Winkler, a shower hose:
"And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he'd ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro." (Source: The Londonist)