BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Sex writing is often a separate conversation from that of craft. I myself have taught Poetics of Sex but have always questioned the segregation of sex writing. Most successful writing is vulnerable and authentic - qualities that often seem intangible and subjective - so why would sex somehow fall outside those confines?
Sex is part of the human experience, and if we take time to write the human experience well, sex would be like anything else: ordinary, as a cup of tea. It's the presentation of that truth that matters. Below, we compiled four incredibly honest, very human and beautifully written excerpts we loved. They may not be comfortable, but they are true to condition of wanting, lusting, desiring and even sinning.
Anais Nin once said she was “conscious of a difference between the masculine and feminine treatment of sexual experience," which is one way of exploring sexuality - its dynamics, its fragility, its physical differences.
In Playboy, Nabokov explains Lolita, perhaps the most difficult of these books to digest:
I love what Nabakov has to say because he diminishes the critic's obsession with finding the author's sin and instead says that whatever truth is within a person is going to manifest no matter what, even if the plot changes. That, to me, is letting the honesty run through the work, and I think the below excerpts showcase this duende and unbridled exploration of desire perfectly (not necessarily healthy desire or sex, per se, as Lolita is a story of both desire and non-consent or rape, to some).
While Nabokov's novel is slightly different in that our lead is the step-father sexually objectifies his young daughter, his writing still explores those nether-realms where the true human condition, no matter how disgusting, is written about with honesty and clarity.
LOLITA, VLADIMIR NABOKOV
“I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her –after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred–I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever–for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation)–and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again–and 'oh, no,' Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure–all would be shattered.”
THE LOVER, MARGUERITE DURAS
Hélène Lagonelle’s body is heavy, innocent still, her skin’s as soft as that of certain fruits, you almost can’t grasp her, she’s almost illusory, it’s too much. She makes you want to kill her, she conjures up a marvelous dream of putting her to death with your own hands. Those flour-white shapes, she bears them unknowingly, and offers them for hands to knead, for lips to eat, without holding them back, without any knowledge of them and without any knowledge of their fabulous power. I’d like to eat Hélène Lagonelle’s breasts as he eats mine in the room in the Chinese town where I go every night to increase my knowledge of God. I’d like to devour and be devoured by those flour-white breasts of hers.
I am worn out with desire for Hélène Lagonelle.
I am worn out with desire.
I want to take Hélène Lagonelle with me to where every evening, my eyes shut, I have imparted to me the pleasure that makes you cry out. I’d like to give Hélène Lagonelle to the man who does that to me, so he may do it in turn to her. I want it to happen in my presence, I want her to do it as I wish, I want her to give herself where I give myself. It’s via Hélène Lagonelle’s body, through it, that the ultimate pleasure would pass from him to me.
A pleasure unto death.”
TROPIC OF CANCER, HENRY MILLER
“When I look down into this fucked-out cunt of a whore I feel the whole world beneath me, a world tottering and crumbling, a world used up and polished like a leper's skull. If there were a man who dared to say all that he thought of this world there would not be left him a square foot of ground to stand on. When a man appears the world bears down on him and breaks his back. There are always too many rotten pillars left standing, too much festering humanity for man to bloom. The superstructure is a lie and the foundation is a huge quaking fear. If at intervals of centuries there does appear a man with a desperate, hungry look in his eye, a man that would turn the world upside down in order to create a new race, the love that he brings to the world is turned to bile and he becomes a scourge. If now and then we encounter pages that explode, pages that wound and sear, that wring groans and tears and curses, know that they come from a man with his back up, a man whose only defenses left are his words and his words are always stronger than the lying, crushing weight of the world, stronger than all the racks and wheels which the cowardly invent to crush out the miracle of personality. If any man ever dared to translate all that is in his heart, to put down what is really his experience, what is truly his truth, I think then the world would go to smash, that it would be blown to smithereens and no god, no accident, no will could ever again assemble the pieces, the atoms, the indestructible elements that have gone to make up the world.”
DELTA OF VENUS, ANAIS NIN
“How do I look to him?" she asked herself. She got up and brought a long mirror towards the window. She stood it on the floor against a chair. Then she sat down in front of it on the rug and, facing it, slowly opened her legs. The sight was enchanting. The skin was flawless, the vulva, roseate and full. She thought it was like the gum plant leaf with its secret milk that the pressure of the finger could bring out, the odorous moisture that came like the moisture of the sea shells. So was Venus born of the sea with this little kernel of salty honey in her, which only caresses could bring out of the hidden recesses of her body.”