I read a review of “It Takes Two” yesterday (by someone I don’t know called Ryan), which runs, in part:
I liked the prose in general, but there are a few descriptive passages that feel like generic erotica (i.e., the sex has to be super-awesome and mind blowing). I’m not sure this sort of idealized fantasy sexuality has any place in a story that wants to examine human relationships in a serious way.
This is not the first time, or even the hundred-and-first time, a reviewer has said that the kind of sex I write is fantastical in the unrealistic sense.
A few years ago I was on a panel with two or three other writers and the talk turned to sex in literature. It turned out everyone on the panel (except me) thought all fictional depictions of people having good sex were ridiculous because sex was never, ever super-awesome and mind blowing. No, they said, sex was comical and self-conscious; sex was fumbling and clumsy; sex was embarrassing. Sex, everyone (except me) agreed, never went right the first time, so why did writers insist on writing as though it did?
I didn’t say much on that panel because I was shocked by the notion that so many people thought and felt this way. I’m older now. I’ve heard this supposition many times. I’m tired of it.
In my experience, sex really is super-awesome and mind blowing. It really is astonishing, transporting, and ecstatic. It really is the closest thing on this earth that we’ll come to swimming in a tide of light and magic. If it’s not that way for you, maybe you’re doing it wrong.
I understand you might not agree, that this might not be your experience. But it is mine. The very first time I got completely naked with a woman and had sex it wasn’t miserable or difficult or tense. It was better than anything I could possibly have imagined. Better than anything I’ve ever read in a book. I write about the best sex possible and, frankly, it doesn’t come close to the tearing brilliance of the real thing.
Yes, sex can be bad (and I’ve written about that, too) but that just makes it bad sex, the same way having a bad job is just having a bad job. Does that mean there’s no such thing as a great job, or that anyone who writes about someone having a great job (or drinking the perfect glass of wine, or weeping at an uplifting piece of music) is writing idealised fantasy?
Sex is about the body. A by-product of our bodily design is the urge to seek out and luxuriate in the things that are good for us: sex and sunshine, food and cool, clean water. These things of the body–the seeking and finding and satiating, then the weighing of same–are exactly the lenses through which I want to examine the human animal.
So don’t tell me my experience isn’t valid, don’t tell me great sex isn’t a worthy subject for serious literature. Get over your Puritanical dualist crap and admit the world is a big place, full of difference. Open your arms to it, feel it on your skin.