The Best Literary Sex Scenes To Get You All Hot And Bothered

In the week Ben Okri was awarded the award for bad sex writing, here's some sex scenes from books that are actually good


by Alexandra Heminsley |
Published on

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

Without wishing to get too spoilery about things, the central relationship in Sarah Waters’ between-the-wars must-read of the year, had to be epic in order to justify the actions that the protagonists go on to take. So when the two central characters fall in love, they really really fall. In a knee-buckling, life-changing, convention-defying way. Yes, they’re women, and yes, the most intense of the sex scenes does involve one of them coming up gasping and wiping her chin. But that’s why it’s so great: it feels real, it feels filthy and it feels urgent. It’s the pivot on which the rest of the tension turns, and it works a treat.


How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

Sometimes the greatest sex scenes – in life as much as in literature – are sex scenes for one. So when fictional (but very Moran-like) Johanna discovers herself, it’s a love as great as any other. It is of little consequence that that discovery is aided by first a hairbrush, and then an old-fashioned bottle of Mum roll-on deodorant – what matters is the sense that it’s fantastic sex. Johanna’s cheerful tone in describing masturbation – and the very real relief it provides in an otherwise dreary time for her – isn’t laced in the doom-laden or euphemistic waftiness that is so common in such scenes. It just lets the reader know that the best orgasms aren’t always shared.


The Lemon Grove – Helen Walsh

Yeah, so it was on the actual Bad Sex Award shortlist, too, but we love this one. Jenn is married to an older academic and is slightly exhausted by his ego, his money worries and his daughter Emma. When they all head to Mallorca for a holiday aimed at healing these increasing tensions, Emma’s boyfriend Nathan turns up. And what a sort he is. Jenn, painfully aware of what a disaster acting on her feelings for him would be, goes for it anyway, and unapologetically. The way she entirely abandons herself to someone so clearly a bad decision makes this not just a filthy read, but a fabulously feminist one, too. In years to come, all copies will fall open on ‘the bit by the pool’. Refreshing, in all sorts of ways.


Riders – Jilly Cooper

Should you ever need to, you could probably silence any woman over 35 with a passing reference to Billy Lloyd-Foxe’s rural shag with journalist Janey, who’s been sent down from London to interview him. The lunchtime interview goes on until dusk, when they take a walk which ends up in her being stung by nettles and him making creative use of dock leaves to woo her. Yeah, it sounds gross – but it crackles with sexual tension as its told from both perspectives. He’s terrified she’s too good for him and she’s gobsmacked by how fit this athletic lad is after years of dating London office boys. Anyone who’s sat at a desk and found their imagination wandering could do worse than to store this one in the wank bank.


The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

The sexiest scene in Eugenides’ debut doesn’t actually involve full sex, merely a life-changing kiss. When ultimate high school hottie, Trip, spots Lux Lisbon – the oldest of the neighbourhood’s mysteriously appealing and not-a-little creepy Lisbon sisters – he is smitten for the first time in his life. He attempts to ‘woo’ her by going round to her parents for an awe-inspiringly awkward evening of watching TV. On returning to his car, he thinks he’s blown it. Until Lux reappears in the passenger seat and plants a huge kiss on him: one that oozes potential, possession and (probably) a lot of static electricity from her nightie.

4th Estate

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Follow Alex on Twitter @Hemmo

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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