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Thursday, April 24, 2008


Some sex scenes that I like

To return to sex from talking about violence, here's a way of writing sex scenes that I'm fond of: using metaphors and/or similes. By this, I don't mean the Cleland-ish kind, maypole way, though the man certainly deserves credit for his achievements on that score. But there are certain kinds of sex scene that are tremendously evocative without being at all graphic. Here are some examples:

From Maxine Clair's Rattlebone:

I had never talked the talk for hours on the telephone with him, never drank a single Nehi with him at Nettie's Dinette. He had never been past the front door of my house, or seen me dressed up for church, never even heard of Al Hibbler and 'Unchained Melody.' We had never slow-danced.

'It's all right,' he said. Inside his truck, on a bed of soft rags, we took off our clothes. Without light to see by, he touched me as if, slowly and gently, he were shaping my body into a woman. He opened door after door. This was the slow-dance I had wanted to learn. I found the steps awkward, but he was a born dancer. Instinctively, he set a rhythm and unchained us both.

From Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride (relevant details are that Tony is extremely small and has been self-conscious about it all her life, and West is so broken-hearted about the flight of his previous girlfriend that Tony has been worrying he'll kill himself):

One afternoon she goes over to West's place to do his accumulated mildewed dishes and take him out for his walk, and finds him asleep on his bed. His eyelids are curved and pure, like those on carved tombstone saints; one arm is thrown up over his head. Breath goes into him, breath goes out: she is so grateful that he is still, as yet, alive. His hair - uncut for weeks - is ragged on his head. He looks so sad lying there, so deserted, so lacking in threat, that she sits carefully down beside him, bends gingerly over, and gives him a kiss on the forehead.

West doesn't open his eyes, but his armscome around her. 'You're so warm,' he murmurs into her hair. 'You're so kind to me.'

Nobody has ever called Tony warm and kind before. No man has ever put his arms around her. While she is still getting used to it, West begins to kiss her. He gives her small kisses, all over her face. His eyes are still closed. 'Don't go away,' he whispers. 'Don't move.'

Tony can't move anyway, because she is paralyzed with apprehension. She is dismayed by her own lack of bravery, and also by the sheer magnitude of West's body, now that she's so close to it. She can actually see the stubs of whiskers coming out of his chin! Usually they're too high up for that. It's like seeing the ants on a falling boulder, just before it crushes you. She feels acutely menaced.

But West is very gradual. He slides off her glasses; then he undoes one button at a time, fumbling as if his fingers are asleep, and pulls his raspy blanket over her, and smooths her as if she's a velvet cushion, and though it does indeed hurt, as the books have said, it's less like being torn apart by wild beasts than she'd supposed, given all that growling that used to go on with Zenia, and more like falling into a river, because West is what other people call him, a long drink of water, and Tony is so thirsty, she's parched, she's been wandering in the desert all of these years, and now at last somebody truly needs her for something, and in the end she discovers what she's always wanted to know: she is bigger inside than out.

From Craig Thompson's Blankets. Now, this is a graphic novel, and words alone can't convey the beautiful effect when combined with the images - Blankets is possibly the best graphic novel I've ever read - but to give some background: Craig is in bed with his girlfriend Raina, both of them are teenagers raised to be fundamentalist Christians, and are sleeping in the same bed without having sex. Craig shared a bed with his little brother as a child, and has told Raina a story about how he and his brother used to pretend their bed was a ship caught in a storm; Raina suggests they play 'shipwreck'. I'm going to put in slashes to indicate panel breaks, and double slashes for page breaks, as rhythm is important:

Her lips tarried at mine. / Baiting each other with the warmth of our breath / Barely grazing / Detouring / Then connecting // I tried to hide my erection, arching my mid-section away from hers, / But then she pulled her torso in my direction - - - flattening her tummy tight against my abdomen. / Swarms of electrons swam back and forth between our bodies as if contained within the same cage, // (and then they broke free.) / The blankets churned and splashed - - - and the wind tore down our sails.

All beautifully written, using imagery with tremendous rhythm and grace to convey experience far better than plain description could. It's interesting that all these scenes involve loss of virginity (or early sexual experience, as the couple in Blankets are kissing and caressing rather than having intercourse): there's something about such moments that's well conveyed by metaphors, the new combinations of sensation evoked by new combinations of images.

Those are some of my favourites. What are yours?

Current favourite, from Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. Hero and his girlfriend are waiting for an online press conference he is giving, and start making out. It's really sweet, believably teenaged and yet bot hot and loving:

I opened my eyes and stared into her big brown eyes behind her glasses. They were round and liquid and expressive. She could make them bug out when she wanted to make me laugh, or make them soft and sad, or lazy and sleepy in a way that made me melt into a puddle of horniness.

That's what she was doing right now.

I sat up slowly and hugged her. She hugged me back. We kissed. She was an amazing kisser. I know I've already said that, but it bears repeating. We kissed a lot, but for one reason or another we always stopped before it got too heavy.

Now I wanted to go farther. I found the hem of her t-shirt and tugged. She put her hands over her head and pulled back a few inches. I knew that she'd do that. I'd known since the night in the park. Maybe that's why we hadn't gone farther -- I knew I couldn't rely on her to back off, which scared me a little.

But I wasn't scared then. The impending press-conference, the fights with my parents, the international attention, the sense that there was a movement that was careening around the city like a wild pinball -- it made my skin tingle and my blood sing.

And she was beautiful, and smart, and clever and funny, and I was falling in love with her.

Her shirt slid off, her arching her back to help me get it over her shoulders. She reached behind her and did something and her bra fell away. I stared goggle-eyed, motionless and breathless, and then she grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head, grabbing me and pulling my bare chest to hers.

We rolled on the bed and touched each other and ground our bodies together and groaned. She kissed all over my chest and I did the same to her. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think, I could only move and kiss and lick and touch.

We dared each other to go forward. I undid her jeans. She undid mine. I lowered her zipper, she did mine, and tugged my jeans off. I tugged off hers. A moment later we were both naked, except for my socks, which I peeled off with my toes.

It was then that I caught sight of the bedside clock, which had long ago rolled onto the floor and lay there, glowing up at us.

"Crap!" I yelped. "It starts in two minutes!" I couldn't freaking believe that I was about to stop what I was about to stop doing, when I was about to stop doing it. I mean, if you'd asked me, "Marcus, you are about to get laid for the firstest time EVAR, will you stop if I let off this nuclear bomb in the same room as you?" the answer would have been a resounding and unequivical NO.

And yet we stopped for this.

She grabbed me and pulled my face to hers and kissed me until I thought I would pass out, then we both grabbed our clothes and more or less dressed, grabbing our keyboards and mice and heading for Patcheye Pete's.

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