There's a somewhat-old saw that goes like this : 'Sex is like pizza - even when it's bad, it's good'. But, does this same rule apply to horribly clumsy literary sex scenes? And what makes for a truly tongue-numbing sex scene anyway? Is it maybe a poor choice of metaphor, such as comparing a lush, pulchritudinous woman to both a phone directory and an Archimedean screw? Is redundancy ('In. Out. In. Out.') the key? Or do you merely have to use the unfortunate phrase 'turgid man meat'?

The Literary Review, intrepid periodical that it is, aims to initiate dialogue on what exactly a bad sex scene is, and will yearly hand out an award to the nastiest and most atrocious genital-shrinker of a passage it can find. Since the award's inception in 1993, the awards ceremony have been the home of that peculiar brand of Brit-press cattiness that you just can't find anywhere else. Every offending passage is read aloud to guffaws, often with sideswipes at the author's ability with the pen or ability in the sack. Nominees often do not attend; awards go unclaimed. Superheavyweight novelists are often the target - in 2000, both Roddy Doyle and John Updike are in the crosshairs, and Salman Rushdie is often mentioned on the short-list.

Here's an excerpt from the winner of the 2000 Bad Sex Prize, 'Kissing England' from Sean Thomas. "She is so small and so compact, and yet she has all the necessary features... Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou are more compact and more ... She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa."

And that is positively limpid in comparison to the 1999 winner, one A. A. Gill, whose novel 'Starcrossed' not only features the delectable, scrumptious quotation, "the rash-rubbed thighs clamped cheeks, bits of liverish flesh draped across his nose and coarse hair scraped his chin. There seemed to be such a lot of her...", but also includes a deep-sea encounter between a scuba-diver and a 'genetically-modified, homosexually-inclined giant squid'. (Supposedly, Mr. Gill was angling for this award specifically.)

As you can see, this award clearly serves a need, truly filling a void (filling wetly with his love rod in out in out... oh, sorry...) in all of our lives.

The Bad Sex in Fiction Award is organised by the Literary Review and is awarded for the most embarassingly inept description of sex in a contemporary novel.

It was established in 1993 by the magazine's then editor Auberon Waugh with the assistance of Rhoda Koenig "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it." The objection being not that 'serious' authors sought to spice up their otherwise dull novels with scenes of a graphical sexual nature, but rather that they felt obliged to do so in a self-conciously 'literary' manner.

Past winners include Tom Wolfe in 2004 with a reference to "otorhinolaryngological caverns" and Nicholas Royle who described a female character as making "a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren". The winner receives a trophy which the BBC describes as "a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s" and another source as "an abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s", together with a box of cigars.

The Roll of Shame


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