Writing about sex…

Venky Vembu

…is, well, like “dancing about architecture” (to borrow a phrase from the superb scriptwriter of the romatic comedy Playing By Heart: you can watch the opening sequence from the film, where a bewitchingly beautiful Angelina Jolie, tossing her head sensuously, wraps her honeyed lips around that phrase in another context, here).

It’s not easy to write engagingly about sex (or – as I attempted to do here – about masturbation), for all the reasons that this blogger cites. Which is why there’s even a Bad Sex Award given out each year by the publishing industry, for which Indian writers, it’s been argued, qualify particularly well.

The award is given “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” This year, somewhat bizarrely, former British prime minister Tony Blair’s autobiography, in which he writes artlessly about how he “devoured” like “an animal” the love his wife Cherie gave, has been nominated for the prize.

And although this is one prize that writers find humiliating to win – to the point where they’ve now become coy and sex has disappeared from British novels – they’re required, by the stiff-upper-lip rules of the club, to maintain a jolly manner when they are called upon to receive the trophy: a semi-abstract statue which depicts a naked woman draped over an open book. Occasionally, they suffer an additional humiliation when – as happened to this Indian winner – strangers walk up to them and ask, tongue-in-cheek, if their real-life sex is as ‘interesting’ as their flaccid narration of it!

Best-selling novelist Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal (among other spy thrillers), recalls in this recent interview that when he wrote Jackal, he assumed – because he “knew nothing about writing” – that he was supposed to put sex scenes in it.
“I did,” he recalls. “But it was awful because it was unlikely and not very stimulating. My publisher said, ‘Well, keep them in, but don’t do it again.’” Since then, he says, “I haven’t put sex into any of my other novels, and it doesn’t seem to have done any harm to the sales whatsoever.”


Yet, although Forsyth’s publishers might have taken the moral high ground, the unvarnished truth is that sex (even if it’s bad sex) sells – in the publishing industry and in the media. As this blog post notes, and as this blogger seconds, a ‘sexy’ headline can get readers to click on a headline – even if the article relates to, say, the margins of science. And as this post points out, media websites routinely bait readers with a dash of ‘sex’ in their headline just to reel them in…

That just might also account for why you clicked on the headline to read this post… 🙂


From the Archives
For some of my earlier exertions on the subject of sexuality, check out:

1. Save our Savita Bhabhi
2. The sexual revolution in small-town India
3. The Twitter Diva (about Mallika Sherawat)

Catch me on Twitter


About Venky

Journalist, blogger, amused observer of worldly goings-on... More about me here.
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