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Forget sex, let’s cuddle

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 in hookups, Relationships, Self image, Sex/sexuality

I feel sorry for teens nowadays; they can’t break into their parents’ bedroom, riffle through their bookcase and look for the books with the “dirty parts.” Because when they open any magazine, turn on any TV channel, rent almost any DVD, or open their laptop, the “dirty parts” are thrust in their face. Why break a sweat to search for it?

I learned a lot about sex from what I read on
those shelves. What would kids learn now?   

Not much, according to journalist Katie Roiphe, writing in the New York Times Sunday Book Review recently. Cuddling, maybe, as today’s generation of male writers are “too cool for sex.”

You’re not going to get David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon or Jonathan Safran Foer to describe their, uh, member like this: “he felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight.”

Well, maybe that’s a good thing, no offense to the late John Updike, of course.

But, Roiphe does offer an interesting take on how male authors today write about sex versus those of Updike’s era — Norman Mailer, Saul Bellows and Philip Roth (although, as usual, she’s managed to piss off a lot of feminists):

“The younger writers are so self-conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically untoward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life. … we are simply witnessing the flowering of a new narcissism: boys too busy gazing at themselves in the mirror to think much about girls, boys lost in the beautiful vanity of “I was warm and wanted her to be warm,” or the noble purity of being just a tiny bit repelled by the crude advances of the desiring world.”

As for the erotic-charged works of Roth, Mailer, Bellow and Updike:

“In contrast to their cautious, entangled, ambivalent, endlessly ironic heirs, there is something almost romantic in the old guard’s view of sex: it has a mystery and a power, at least. It makes things happen. … These passages are after several things at once — sadness, titillation, beauty, fear, comedy, disappointment, aspiration. The writers were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection.”

We still have sexual conquests — and a lot of sexual loneliness, even as we flaunt hookups and booty calls — but society doesn’t look like it did back in those days; we are inundated with sexual messages, and porn is so ho-hum it has to get weirder to titillate. We live in an age when, as Tina Brown put it, “everything is known and nothing is understood.” It’s almost impossible for us to be shocked by anything sexual, least of all in a book; all you have to do is Google “lonely naked housewives” and see it for yourself.

But, it did get me thinking about who does write well about sex, who “gets” it.

  • Who does it for you?
  • And, are male novelists accurately capturing today’s sexual angst?

Image © Marek Kosmal –

Bring on the comments

  1. Steve says:

    People look at bone skinny fashion models and mistakenly think that is what men like when it is only what fashion designers like.

    In the same way I think it would be a mistake to look to the literati to get an idea of what most men think and feel about sex.

  2. Kat Wilder says:

    New blog posting, Forget sex, let's cuddle –

  3. VJ says:

    As usual dear deluded Katie misses the boat, and the trends. And is oblivious to it all. Again. Say it with me now. ‘Who does write well about sex’? This assumes, what? Readers for such things. Granddads & moms all. We still might enjoy it, but it’s a niche product now, really. Now pretty incidental to most ‘mass marketed’ plots, barely worthy of inclusion when attempted, and mostly certainly unmemorable. A cashew into a banana? Right. No surgery or radioactive ‘errors’ or Frankensteinian syrups or notions involved? And then a skein of yarn? Useful? Not! Please.

    So good writing about sex? Is simply good writing. Decent & memorable literature too. You went back for the ‘dirty bits’ because they were just that good & evocative. Fine description, telling observations, delicious sounding details. Geez, they hardly teach such nonsense in English Lit courses anymore! It’s all ‘post modernism’ & deconstruction this & that.

    No, all this reading has long been surpassed by the ubiquity of the YouTube DYS/Amateur porn & the entire cam gals phenomenon (itself pretty old) to such an extent that the profits have suddenly been drying up.

    You wonder where some of it went? Try the older ‘romance novels’ that used to be pretty common in almost any supermarket. Now that’s almost gone too, for a wave of New Age ‘Christian’ book corners & nooks on how to be ‘the godly wife’, raise the proper child & handle & honor your godly man. Preacher jokes for the masses. That’s where they went!

    But getting back to poor Katie, wondering where all the passion of youth went. They went for the army, the new MRA army that is. She’s missed such stirring romances such as this:

    And those recorded here:

    I’m not certain if all the cites will take. But it’s a sufficient survey to tell the tale. They’re mostly otherwise preoccupied. Waiting & plotting for the revolution. Believe it nor not. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  4. Kat Wilder says:

    Steve — good point.

    VJ — That’s for turning me onto The Spearhead and “Seasons” blogs.

    I should have been clearer, as I’m not asking for authors of erotic books; just books (recent or not) in which people have read a sex scene that spoke to them. Not saying we’ll all agree …

  5. VJ says:

    You can start with the ‘Song of songs’ and work your way up, but this lady’s got the literary side covered reasonably well (American’s Best Erotica) for years, but now she’s just about out of biz on that score too:

    Cheers, ‘VJ’

  6. Mister Ben says:

    I sure did enjoy The Fermata by Nicholson Baker. It’s certainly not feminist, but it’s plenty HOT.

  7. KC says:

    I’ve got a little story for you…
    When I was about 10 yrs old, I HATED reading… my mother, a teacher, just couldn’t make me pick up a book. I was much more into sports, All sports. I was a good test taker but hated homework… and rarely did it.. (that included all the way into high school)
    Anyway, one day, I found a book called ” The Happy Hooker ” I found it in a dumpster while dumpster diving with some buddies. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down… I read that book over and over. I put it under my mattress so no on could find it. Well, one day, my mother was changing the sheets on my bed and found it. I was horrified! I was sure she was going to be VERY angry with me… but to my surprise, she hugged me and said “Thank God, My son is READING” LOL
    I’ll never forget that moment, when I found out about Sex and discovered reading…
    A biblical moment to say the least!
    Happy Sunday!

  8. Kat Wilder says:

    VJ — will do.

    Mr. Ben — Ditto, with pleasure 😉

    KC — now that’s a funny story! Kudos for your mom for handling that with grace and style!