Books are my porn.
And I’m not talking about erotica. Or 50 Shades of Grey, which yes, I read and yes, it turned me on and motivated me to masturbate several times, despite being horrified at the writing itself.
But 50 Shades is not the “be all” of sex in novels. Despite the book’s BDSM nature, I found the language too basic, unimaginative and sometimes clinical, with words like “erection,” “come for me,” “climax,” “wet.” The main character, Anastasia, actually calls her vagina, her “sex,” like an immature child, and the recurring mention of her “inner goddess”—groan—almost completely ruined it for me all together.
On the other end of the spectrum is Nicholas Sparks sex: over-the-top romantic, unrealistic and it’s always. pouring. rain. I love The Notebook as much as the next girl. I too want to have forbidden, soaking wet sex with a soaking wet hunk. But the sex scenes that Nicholas Sparks pens are actually quite PG13 and void of all the important, sexy details. The standard format is kissing, maybe some ear nibbling, then the mention of lovemaking—always “lovemaking”—culminating with a good ‘ol cuddle sesh. It takes maybe a paragraph and as a result, I much prefer the sex scenes in the movie adaptations.
It takes talent to write a truly great sex scene and my favorite is actually the first one that ever really turned me on. I was a senior in high school and had been assigned Ian McEwan’s Atonement in lit class. I remember reading, sprawled out on my parents bed on a lazy Sunday afternoon, because their bed was bigger and their room had more natural light. Then, I got to the brilliantly hot library scene.
Her silky green dress. Her bare back pushed up against the books. Their restraint to keep as quiet as possible in a place where silence is generally mandated. The risk of getting caught.
The scene, detailing the first, built up sexual encounter between two childhood friends, goes on for four tantalizing pages. Here are some of my favorite parts:
But the contact of tongues, alive and slippery muscle, moist flesh on flesh, and the strange sound it drew from her, changed that. This sound seemed to enter him, pierce him down his length so that his whole body opened up and he was able to step out of himself and kiss her freely...the sighing noise she made was greedy and made him greedy too. He pushed her hard into the corner, between the books. As they kissed, she was pulling at his clothes, plucking ineffectually at his waistband. Their heads rolled and turned against one another as their kissing became a gnawing. She bit him on the cheek, not quite playfully. He pulled away, then moved back and she bit him hard on his lower lip. He kissed her throat, forcing back her head against the shelves, she pulled his hair and pushed his face down against her breasts. There was some inexpert fumbling until he found her nipple, tiny and hard, and put his mouth around it. Her spine when rigid, then juddered along its length. For a moment he thought she had passed out.
There was nothing but obliterating sensation, thrilling and swelling, and the sound of fabric on fabric and skin on fabric as their limbs slid across each other in this restless, sensuous wrestling...she was licking his ear, then biting his earlobe. Cumulatively, these bites aroused him and enraged him, goaded him. Under her dress he felt for her buttocks and squeezed hard, and half turned to give her a retaliatory slap, but there wasn’t quite the space…
The moment itself was easy. They held their breath before the membrane parted, and when it did she turned away quickly, but made no sound—it seemed to be a point of pride. They moved closer, deeper and then, for seconds on end, everything stopped. Instead of an ecstatic frenzy, there was stillness…
McEwan found the perfect balance between sex that is passionate and loving, and sex that is primal and animalistic. It’s not too pretty or raunchy. It’s realistic in that sex, especially on the first time, can even be a little bit awkward, as two people make themselves vulnerable and learn each other’s bodies.
Work better with a visual? Atonement is one of the few film adaptations I like (it sticks pretty close to the book) and the library scene with Keira Knightley brings the heat.
What’s your favorite sex scene in literature (or the movies)? Share your recommendations in the comments.
Jessica May is a freelance writer happily living in sin with her boyfriend and vibrator like "Three's Company."