another kind of love story: sex and writing

When I was twenty-two I attended a writing workshop with Percival Everett, who asked us to write a sex scene. It would take longer than we thought, he warned, so we were all to head back to our rooms and get started. The next day in workshop we would read them aloud.

I spent that entire afternoon holed up in a white-tiled, airconditioned dorm room in the flattest part of Texas, staring blankly at my computer and willing my fingers to type something. Every sentence I found myself fighting off weird analogies and echoes of bodice-ripping romance novels.

Everett bellowed his deep, echo-y laugh whenever someone’s writing amused him, and I made it my goal to make him laugh. If I could make him laugh, I reasoned, the class might not notice how my face had turned beet red because I was reading a sex scene. That I wrote. Which meant I knew something about sex (which was better, I guessed, than knowing nothing). But I was twenty-two and from a rigorously-puritanical part of the world, where people didn’t talk about sex in private much less in public. I was also the youngest, whitest, most apparently-vanilla person in an otherwise diverse group. If I’d been able to hide how much I felt out of my league before the assignment, I was sure it’d become apparent quite quickly after.

Eventually I realized my problem: I was trying to write a love scene, not a sex scene. Once I took love out of the equation, writing about sex became a lot more do-able, and even fun.

I am thinking about this now because I spent the weekend trying to write a description of a man’s body. Not a sex scene, but a kind of inventory of another person. I wanted to articulate the physical-ness of him, the topography of his skin, the way you can love someone simply for how they exist in space. But it was a disaster. Saccharine and flowery and utterly un-subtle.

I’m a firm believer in attempting to eff the ineffable. After all, that’s why we created metaphor. But some things, like sex and love and the body, will always be kind of elusive. My friend Lee posted this video on facebook. I haven’t seen the entire movie, but I was charmed by this clip–a fairly SFW sex scene–and inspired to keep eff-ing:

1 thought on “another kind of love story: sex and writing

  1. Did you make him laugh?

    Anyway -this is really interesting. I happened upon an article ( the other day, which talked about pregnancy in Morocco. The basic idea is that talking about pregnancy is sort of shameful because it essentially makes the woman sexualized. So, even though having babies is not shameful, perse, showing your belly, talking about the pregnancy process, all becomes a public conversation about sex. Anyway – your blogpost reminded me of this. But then I was thinking about when you were here and we saw that woman nursing in public — an act which is not so odd here, but in America is like serving sex and awkwardness on a plate at a conservative dinner party.

    Also, I took a sex writing workshop once and the writer suggested the key to writing a good sex scene was the same as writing anything else – letting character and conflict drive the sex and the details you focus on.

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