More Good Bad Sex

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes
[asa left]0312983824[/asa] I’m not sure if men will find this scene funny, but I’m pretty sure most women will. It’s one of those laugh-or-cry situations, and laughter is usually the better option.

This is the story of Tilda, a good woman, an artist from a family of artists and art dealers with a long history of questionable practices. A very long history. Tilda is a seething mass of worries, angers, guilts, and corresponding asthmatic symptoms. In spite of her many worries, her difficult relationship to her (now dead) father, her concern for her mother, she has managed to hang on to the things that make her likable and interesting. She doesn’t get close to people outside the family because she is loyal and honest, two things that don’t really go together well in her situation. Which means she is also lonely, though she doesn’t see it that way.

Enter Davy Dempsey, who is also from a family known for its less than amiable relationship with the law. He’s attracted to Tilda, she’s attracted to him, but her fear has definitely got the upper hand. When they embark on this first sexual encounter, she’s so worried about her asthma, a missing painting, and the possibility that they may lose the family business that there’s really no way for her to relax, and thus things are doomed from the start.

A few notes: the references to her inner Louise have to do with her attempt to model herself on her sister, who is able to have a fulfilling sex life because she compartmentalizes successfully. When she’s out on the town, she’s Louise. Tilda would like to have access to an inner Louise. Steve is her dog.

Faking It. Copyright Jennifer Crusie.

She began to move with him, trying to pick up his rhythm, which was hard because she kept slipping down the couch. Oh, hell, she thought, and moved her hand to brace herself on the back of the couch and caught him across the nose.
Don’t have a nosebleed, she thought, please don’t have a nosebleed, but he just said, “Ouch,” and kept going.

Single-minded, she thought. Okay, there is no Louise, Louise is like the Easter Bunny, so just breathe heavy and get this over with and never go near this man again.

She took deep breaths, not even trying to match his because they were never going to be in sync, and once she stopped trying and started breathing, things got better. He picked up speed, and Tilda tried to imagine the tightening of her muscles and did a damn good job with those moans as the minutes passed and her pulse picked up. Then he shifted against her and hit something good, and she sucked in her breath and thought, Wait a minute, this could–but even as she had the thought, he shuddered in her arms and that was it. Just hell, she thought, and finished off with an oh-my-god-that-was-good moan-sigh combo.

So much for channeling her inner Louise. He was semi-mindless on top of her now, so she held him, patting him on the back while he caught his breath and Pippy Shannon sang “I Pretend” on the jukebox. Our song, Tilda thought.

Steve dozed on the rug beside the couch, oblivious to both of them. He had the right idea. She should have taken a nap instead.

Then Davy pushed himself up on one arm and looked in her eyes, nose to nose. “So what was that?” he said, still breathing hard, looking mad. “A fake or a forgery?”

Jenny’s trademark witty banter is here, though it’s limited to interior monologue. Which is one sign that things aren’t going well — if you remember the scene from Welcome to Temptation, when things are good, her characters are quite chatty. In her panic and distress, Tilda is intellectual. She’s trying to figure out how to handle the situation; she’s worried about Davy’s reaction, about what she should be doing, about how to make everything okay. It doesn’t occur to say to him, hold up, bub, this about as exciting as a televised golf game. She’s the fixer in the family, and she’s trying to figure out how to do that here, as well; the only option that occurs to her is — well, faking it.

Most women and I assume, most men can think of times when things have gone Very Wrong much like this. The scene in Welcome to Temptation starts like this — the encounter isn’t working for Sophie, but Phin takes things in hand and turns them around. Here Davy seems not to notice that Tilda is mentally absent and physically unresponsive. She’s pretty sure she’s fooling him, at any rate, and thus it comes as a surprise to her when he makes it clear that he was indeed paying attention, and he doesn’t like what happened. The line “A fake or a forgery?” summarizes the theme of the whole novel, which is lovingly complex and carefully constructed and really worth reading.

It’s very hard to write bad sex well. Scott Spencer did it by subtle revelation of David Axelrod’s inner demons in his first person observations of less than erotic details. Jenny does it with humor and also with sympathy. Tilda is funny, but she’s also tragic in ways that take time to make themselves clear.

I’m coming to the end of my examination of sex scenes. I may drag out one or two more, and then wind things up. In a week’s time I’m off to Europe until the end of the month, but I’ll see what interesting bits might be hanging around between now and then.

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6 Replies to “More Good Bad Sex”

  1. I love his line because it also illustrates that he paid attention earlier when she explained the difference between a fake and a forgery. Davy is always paying attention to her.

    It’s worth noting that in most of Jenny’s books, great sex is a constant and the emotional attachment either develops or reveals itself along the way. Here Tilda and Davy can’t get it right until they’re both pretty certain of their feelings (though as I recall they haven’t quite admitted it yet), which of course has a lot to do with Tilda letting go of her various fears.

  2. Great observation about Jenny’s work. I could take a dozen different scenes of hers to examine because they work so well, but that would probably be overdoing it. Probably.

  3. This series of posts is a wonderful selection of scenes that relay how difficult it can be to “show” emotion and action with reference to a somewhat touchy subject. Your discussion shows how the actions and dialogs in the sex scenes need to have a purpose in the overall story and need to be realistic in regards to the characters involved in those scenes.

    Thanks for discussing this. (Plus I found a few more novels to add to the reading list!)

  4. Another example of VERY well-written bad sex, this time in the context of an abusive marriage, occurs very near the beginning of Lois McMaster Bujold’s _Komarr_. For purposes of understanding that relationship, you don’t need to have read the other books in the series (both members of the marriage are new characters with this book).

  5. maybe it’s not being 14 and freshly exposed to the lady and the gamekeeper and their luscious deconstruction of the british class system, but i don’t find any of these examples erotic in the least.

    as befit the times we circumnavigate, these examples are about psychology, neurosis, and the bright line where the shock of sexual actuality collides with whatever flavours of repression and asensuality the individuals have as baggage, and thus more socio-anthropology documents than erotic fiction .

    as someone who also experiences orgasm as loud hilarity as well as powerful genital and relationship pleasure, and being highly interested in the common grounds of ecstasy, shamanism, sex and magic, the best examples for me were the ones that involved those aspects.

    i’m a guy, so can’t say how authentic paolo’s take on femininity might be, yet his was the one that most directly played on sexuality and immanence, so while not erotic (bit too macro), it was not unerotic, because it in my view nobly tried to resonate on a spiritual level.

    sex is funny and makes for a good ingredient in comic writing, but true eroticism has to make me very horny, an atmosphere sometimes too implicitly and strangely tense (in the musical sense of the word) to allow for too much matter of factness.

    a pinch of melodrama, i confess, less is more, but seriousness has to feature, if only to explode or surrender later with more release.

    so as examples of sex-writing and an exercise in cogent criticism, this has been a good series, thankyou.

    my sympathies for the spam attacks, what a f+++ing drag.

  6. Michael, thanks for jumping into the discussion. A male’s perspective on these scenes is quite useful.

    I suppose I don’t automatically equate erotic=well done in terms of writing sex scenes. I find the scene from Endless Love distinctly distasteful and not in the least erotic, but it is masterfully done, if you look at it in context. Of course, just my take.

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