WORST SEX SCENE IN A MODERN NOVEL – A Special, Rotting Post Competition

Just how horrible can a sex scene in a contemporary novel get?

This is the critical question we at The Rotting Post intend to answer.   We will offer two of the worst descriptions of sex ever recorded in a serious novel as our finalists.  And you the reader can choose for the winner!

worst sex 2


Needless to say, there are many ways to write a bad sex scene.  Before we get to our more current examples, let’s see how David Guterson did it way back in 1994, in his hugely successful, “Snow Falling On Cedars”:

He held her tightly in the curves of her waist, and after a while lower, at her hips…

Then his hands left her hips and traced the line of her waist and traveled along up under her dress to  the clasp of her bra…He undid the clasp without struggling and pulled the shoulder straps down…

His hands traveled down her body, coming out from the dress to hold her neck under her hair, and then her shoulder blades…Ishmael kissed the front of her austelle dress and then began, from just below the embroidered collar, to undo its eleven buttons…

Whew.  Just a sec.  Gotta cool off.

There, I’m back.

I cannot speak for others, but for me this scene had all the thrill of an Ikea Chair assembly manual.  “Tighten Phalange Nut over Jowel Screw at (A).   Next, insert Bevel Joist (see figure 7) into Slot (E) at…”.   Do we really need to know the exact route of travel of our protagonist’s hands?  Or the number of buttons that required unbuttoning?  Are we going to be tested on this?  Still, clumsy as this scene is, it is possible, as we will see, to do far worse.

Our next approach to writing a bad sex scene is the one chosen by Tom Wolfe in his most recent, “Back to Blood”:  Apply your famous writing style of repetitions and rhythms completely mindlessly where it does not belong.   Then, most important of all, do not reread what you have written, because you are a genius and there is no need.

From “Back to Blood”:

His body impinged on hers, and his hand was stroking her here…and there…and there and there and there, and she despaired.   She was a whore for the Korolyov Museum of Art in the body of an oligarch…

Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swalloing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw – all this without a word…

He seemed to be able to last forever, so long that sounds finally came from her lips…”Ah…ah…ahh…ahhh…Ahhhhhh”.

Math Question:  Consider the series of ‘Ah’s above.   How many ‘h’s would be in the next ‘ah’ in the series?

a)  9
b)  2(ah)^4
c)  4a/(h+2)
d)  twelve…Twelve….TWELVE….

Now, apart from the ‘ah’s, we have a couple of issues.   To begin with, what, exactly, is a ‘big generative jockey’?   We’re not getting it.  Aren’t jockeys really small?   And how are they generative?  Shouldn’t it be ‘his small, non-generative jockey was inside her…’.  Also, where would a saddle’s maw and lips be exactly?  We’re just not swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it.   Call me crazy here, but wouldn’t the galloping steed itself be a better symbol symbol symbol for the guy’s equipment equipment equipment than the jockey?

Our next finalist (and I will admit that I am really rooting for this one) comes from, “The Portable Veblen,” by Elizabeth Mckenzie – a former fiction editor at The Atlantic.  This book is fresh off the presses, and has garnered loads of attention, rave reviews in the Timeses (LA and New York), and a starred Kirkus review.   I have two issues with this book, which, to be fair, has its virtues.  The first issue is that it gets kind of slow in the middle.  You know where it is going and it takes a long time to get there.  The second issue is page 293.  Did everyone else miss this page?   This is a flashback scene, where we find the young, virginal Millie undressing her young, virginal lover, Paul:

And there it was, there it was.  A silky-skinned penis so much larger than a dog’s, and so much more colorful!  It was purple on one side, with green stripes and red stripes and small black paisleys around the base, and shiny and shapely, like a tall ride at Tomorrowland.

Okay, is Paul wearing some sort of Christmas-themed penis-stocking?  Because otherwise…we at The Rotting Post are rather confused.  Is young Millie tripping?  Also, do we really need the dog penis comparison?  I mean…how should I say this?  It’s not like the dog penis was a potential object of desire.  Or was it?  Definitely, I would have remembered my first time a lot better if my girlfriend had said to me, “Wow, yours is way bigger than a dog’s!”   Amazingly, we have not yet gotten to the horrible part.  A couple of sentences later we get things from Paul Paisley-Penis’s perspective:

She began to giggle, and he felt the vestigial remains of his baby fat in her hands, and saw himself as a master Tillamook Cheddar Log, Millie as the pliant grater beneath, a Cheddar who wanted to be grated, a grater who wanted to be Cheddared, and even still he managed it, until he was melting all over her as Cheddar will do…


Where to begin…

Graters, in general?  Not very pliant.  A pliant grater?  Against a man’s….cheddar?  Sounds painful.  Very very very painful.   Trust me on this one, Elizabeth.  I know you sport an MFA from Stanford, and I’m an alumni of Taco Bell, but I feel confident in what I am saying here:  A cheese grater is a very bad symbol for the female genital.  Very, very, very bad.  Only thing worse would be a chainsaw.

Okay, now about the whole Cheddar thing?  Cheddar is not a verb, Elizabeth.  A cheese grater cannot get Cheddared.  Not even a really hot and bothered cheese grater can.

Next, dappled-dick Paul felt like, “A master Tillamook Cheddar Log”?   Huh?  What does that feel like?  Did he brag to his buddies after,  “Oh man!  I felt like a Cheddar Log!” “A what?”  “Like a master Tillamook Cheddar Log!”  “Dude, are you sure you did it right?” “She was, like, totally Cheddared”.  “Huh?”

And one more thing, Lizzie hon.  What exactly makes a Tillamook Cheddar Log a “master” one?   Is it intellect?  Genius?   Physical skill?   Stamina?   Personally I find most Cheddar logs to be about equal in terms of brain-power and athletic ability.  But maybe it’s just me.

Well, we are done reading…readingREADING.  And we are feeling nothing in our big, generative jockey (so much larger than a dog’s).

READERS:   Please vote on Worst Sex Scene in the comments section.    Results will be published, along with results from our Worst Sentences competition.

And now, for your FINAL EXAM:

Reading Comprehension.   Consider the images below.  Choose which ones represent which genital – male or female.  Draw a line from Each image to each symbol.

worst sex 3


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  1. I don’t know which is more impressive. How hilarious this is, or how fearless you are when it comes to making powerful literary enemies. And now I am done commenting… commenting.. COMMENTING.

  2. Even though I really like the math problem (the answer is 12– add up all the previous H’s and then subtract one, because who can accurately count when climaxing?), I have to go with the second one. That one is just nuts. And I loved your Christmas stocking comment. Great piece. Thanks for the laugh.

  3. I really, really wanted to go with Verblen . . . I mean, green stripes and red stripes and small black paisleys. I do think she had to have been tripping; that’s the only possible explanation unless you believe there may be a malevolent mad tattoo artist at large. Whatever, it’s a masterfully awful bit of prose.

    But I just couldn’t get past the big generative jockey. I realized it had to win when I couldn’t find anything, anything at all to say that could possibly make sense of it! It is a reluctant vote because it is Tom Wolfe. Really, he’s gotten lots of awards – – what the hell does he need with one more? But regardless of what I may think about the merits of his other prizes, I could only conclude that he’d earned this one, fair and square.

  4. Wonderful cheer this morning – made it quite worth getting out of bed to read this blog. Tricky choice though. I was greatly tempted to award Wolfe the prize for such an exciting depiction of the sex act created entirely by simple simple simple words and an impressive lack of imagery. But in the end I had to plump for the cheese grater image – far superior to Vagina Dentata – and the paisley image deeply appealed. So my vote is for Mckenzie. Should make her day too.

  5. I would vote for the “degenerative” jockey, but the combination of dog parts and cheese grating girl parts is completely unnecessary. If this is a feminist interpretation of the power of the vagina, I think it has missed the target, much like I would suspect a young, virginal Paul would….

  6. “You are one funny guy”, the reader typed, breathlessly. Then added: “Funny…funny… FUNNY” unable to resist that little meme-let, which was racing through the Rotting Post’s comment section, like a racehorse around a track, wearing jockey shorts on her cheddar saddle.
    Slowly, he eased his hilarious Rotting Post into the reader’s receptive mind, until the reader burst into explosive laughter, and subsided in a big pulsating paisley puddle.

  7. I will vote for #2, although it’s a tough choice. The grater did me in. Although I find your quiz unfair to people from my neck of the woods, where I don’t think we have Tillamook products. And I want to give a fine wordsmith shout-out to “impinged.” Impinged????

  8. Ah ah ah aaahhhhhh! Oh my Tillamook cheddar log! I long for you to wrap your hands around my waist……….oh my holy bleeding Jesus this was your best one yet!!! I just snarfed some wine out my nose laughing! Well done sir, WELL DONE#

  9. The Tillamook cheddaring wins hands down for me:

    1. Ew.
    2. No.
    3. Tillamook is an inferior cheddar.
    4. He didn’t specified how long it had aged.
    5. Have you ever observed how cheddar melts?

    On the last point, the lumpy glop that cheddar produced is what drove the Kraft folk to create Velveeta. The grater is bad, yes, and a painful thing to contemplate; but, to end with melted cheddar is simply disgusting. I am only thankful that he didn’t go in to describe round two in terms of some kind of quasi-Faustian descent into hellish nachos.

  10. By the time I got to the boast in your commentary about being a cheddar log, I could barely see see see! Frankly, hard to choose. First, I would never picture a man’s genitalia as a jockey. The man, yes. His apparatus…? Generative? Surely an abstraction if I ever heard one, and not particularly apt unless there was baby-making in mind. I am lost in imagining how the saddle could swallow itself, and kept flipping between two equally absurd images… But no way a virginal Paul would likely be sporting fancy decor on his parts. Nor would a virginal Paul likely be a master cheddar log. He hasn’t likely mastered anything yet. But I think it is the cheese grater that puts Veblen into first place contention. Despite the fact that Wolfe should be better than here and here and here… So The Portable Veblen scene gets my vote.

  11. 🙂 Thanks much (and thanks for the retweet). Would be nice to give it to Wolfe, because of his prominence, but i think he may have been outdone. Hard to top the amorous cheese grater.

  12. I cannot believe I have not discovered your blog before. If your other posts are as funny as this one, I am going to have a fantastic time reading through them all 🙂
    My vote has to go to Mckenzie. It really makes you wonder if those were the images running through her mind when she lost her virginity…
    I’m going to share this. You are way too much fun to keep to myself.

    • Hey, thanks and welcome! Please spread the word! As for other posts…everyone likes different things, but i’m sure some will get some laughs. The ‘Worst Sentences’ piece, in a similar vein, was also one of the most popular.

  13. This is the first time I have happened upon your blog as well but it will not be the last. I have not laughed that hard in days. Wolfe’s images to me were of the WTF variety; the cheese grater and the Tillamook log, though, passed WTF by completely, soaring into some unexplored galaxy of bizarreness that should only be visited while extremely high. Do you suppose Veblen was flashing back to a bad LSD trip? Or does she just have a thing for niche cheeses?

  14. One would think these were submissions in some sort of “Dark and Stormy Night” spin-off, except that they’re evidently not intended tongue-in-…er…-cheek. Or saddle, or whatever. It’s very hard to choose, but I think Wolfe’s metaphor takes the cake. Or cheese log, or whatever.

  15. Number one, by far! Tom Wolfe is always that same grating (no pun intended) writing style. His books would be much shorter if he had better editors.
    But #1 has nothing there. It isn’t that there is no there there, the there has left the planet.

  16. Elizabeth’s was the worst. As bad as Wolfe’s was, at least it seemed to have something to do with sex. (But I’m sure I’ll be disappointed for the rest of my life every time I have occasion to ride in a saddle.)

  17. I am torn, like a bursting wet Christmas cracker. Haha what a way to get turned off, but the cheese grater thing…ouch!

  18. Well, if you ever decide to run a contest to select the worst verse that offers the kind of advice that eluded Masters & Johnson, I suggest this:

    If having sex is great
    There is something that’s greater—
    Wresting your willy’s fate
    From the teeth of a grater!

  19. If he is cheese, and he melts, doesn’t that call for medication? Also, anyone who has ever cooked nachos knows that cheddar does not melt well. So, if anyone is the cheese, it should be Millie, and she should be mozzarella. Fresh, silky, salty mozzarella, straight from her warm water bath. So delicious and soft that he whispers, “Casa Della,” as he drizzles his olive oil from his firm plum tomato onto her basil leaves, making beautiful Caprese together.

    Sorry, I haven’t had breakfast yet.

  20. Your blog was listed as “related reading” on another blog I follow, and I just had to read this post. I laughed so loud that I nearly spit my Cheerios all over my laptop. All three examples you gave were terrible for different reasons. My vote is for Mckenzie. I don’t know what was the tipping point for me — the kaleidoscopic penis, the dog reference or the cheese grater (seriously, ouch!). I’m an avid reader and envy people for whom creative writing comes easy. Reading passages like these reminds me that even published writers struggle at times. Thanks for the laugh!

  21. Ouch. Blech. Ouch! Blech! OUCH!! BLECH!! If I could burn those pixels from my memory, I would. Suffice it to say that all three shriveled my shaft and gave me an unwanted visceral understanding of turtle anatomy.

  22. Actually, in cheesemaking, “cheddaring” IS a verb! It is the process of piling the slabs of curds on top of each other to press down and form firm lblocks of what ever kind of cheese you are making.

  23. After reading this post I subscribed to “The Rotting Post”. My vote goes to the misuse of Cheddar – because I love cheese and don’t like seeing it ill-treated like this.

  24. OMG – Tillamook cheddar will never be the same for me. (I actually really love Tillamook cheddar) The cheese and grater win hands down in my opinion. Also BTW WTF happened to Tom Wolfe? Could the Wolfe possibly contracted rabies?

    • i think M. Wolfe has just gotten old and lazy and suffers from overpraise. :(. i skimmed through that book and it seemed like a mindless highlight reel of every Wolfe cliche, none of them done as well as in his earlier books. thanks for the comment!

  25. Hilarious article, I laughed out loud at work! A little point though, cheddar or cheddaring can be a verb. It actually comes from the process by which cheddar is made. So maybe the author knew what she was talking about, or maybe not. Just thought you should know because yay knowledge and stuff.

  26. Wolf deserves the ding on this one. Do men really get to be that old without understanding how to bring their women to orgasm? For God’s sake, man, at least plagiarize a romance novel for the sake of the humanities. As for the dog cheese melt, they get a pass for being virgins, although I think he lied about being a virgin because it sounds like he’s got an STD.

  27. As an alternative to the Christmas sock and acid trip theories, I’d like to add the possibility that Paul is a humanoid from the soon-to-be-announced earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.

  28. I’m a new writer and I write sex scenes (good ones) and I’ve never read ANYTHING as bad as those examples -or as funny. I laughed til I cried -not exactly the effect you want from your readership, is it?

  29. So… in order to sell tons and tons of books and make tons and tons of money (see what I’ve done here? I’m taking advice from those authors) I’ll have to write rubbish-like drivel-filled sex scenes instead of something that will actually get another person turned on and full of desire?

    • hmmm….i wouldn’t go quite that far. not sure elizabeth mackenzie is making tons and tons of money. and of course, the vast majority of people who write bad sex scenes (or no sex scenes, or great sex scenes) make no money. kind of the state of the industry, sadly. thanks.

  30. My vote is for Wolfe. Lazy, limp and ludicrous. The phrase “all this without a word” implies the character’s previous partners unleashed a ceaseless stream of patter along the lines of “Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh,” “Wake me up when you’re finished,” “If I were you, I’d head over to the Korolyov Sex Center for some remedial work,” “Have you ever done this before?” and “What the hell is that thing?” (Oops, sorry, I slipped down to the Mckenzie piece.)

  31. My vote is for “The Portable Veblen.” “Back To Blood”‘s scene may be dreadful, but at least it’s physically possible and doesn’t imply that the protagonist has fucked a dog and the love interest is slowly dying of genital rot. Plus, just… /cheese grater?/ Smh, Elizabeth Mckenzie, smh.

  32. Reblogged this on Candace Vianna Writes and commented:
    In fairness to Ms. McKenzie, Rotting Post’s update on her win.

    “Out of a welling sense of guilt, I emailed the author and asked if she wanted to comment on winning the award. Her reply was both funny and deserved.

    Elizabeth McKenzie’s response :

    “Winning the Worst Sex Scene in a Modern Novel competition is truly a great honor. I would like to thank my parents, my wonderful agent and editor, my first boyfriend, his dealer, and mostly, all who read the scene out of context and were thus unable to determine that the hideous, burlesque hallucinations rose out of an accidental acid trip visited on the youths by Paul’s hippie parents!”

    Ugh! Mrs. Post read this and started giving me that horrible “tsk, tsk” look. So, mea cupla! And good luck to you, Ms. McKenzie, with, “The Portable Veblen and all your future writing endeavors.”

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