I don’t like most mainstream porn. I don’t need to see every ingrown hair on an enthusiastically waxed vulva. Skin tags on testicles don’t do it for me. Close ups just aren’t sexy. They leave nothing to the imagination. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching sex on the screen–in fact, there are scenes from Sexo y Lucia that are my go-to “entertainment” (ahem) when the kids are sleeping on Saturday afternoons. (And now you know.) It’s just that when the camera zooms in and I can practically screen the guy for testicular cancer or see the girl’s cervix, the whole thing becomes an anatomy lesson. So. Not. Sexy. (Unless Dr. House shows up. I’m just saying.)
Look. It cums down to this: I’m a big picture kind of girl who enjoys using her imagination. I like when we don’t see everything. In other words, pull the camera back a little and show me two–or three, or four or 10 or 100 or whatever–naked bodies writhing in ecstasy, and I’ll watch. Again and again.
So this is why I love reading about sex. Yeah, sure, requisite words like “throbbing” and “pulsating” and “quivering” are (very) descriptive, but they still offer something to the imagination. They allow me that creative license to take that fantasy and have my way with it. Which I do.
And I’ll admit, I do have 50 Shades of Grey on my Kindle. And I’ve even read it. Twice. And I’ve read some parts more than twice. Again and again. (Oh my.) But afterwards, I’m always left with a sense of self-loathing. Like that feeling you get when you wake up too sticky after a long night you can’t quite remember next to that waaaaaaay too obvious guy from the club who still smells like Vodka, sweat, and Axe Body Spray.
I like other stuff:
Up until middle school, the closest I had ever gotten toward reading about sex was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. But while I loved Judy Blume’s coming of age story, without the aforementioned words “throbbing,” “pulsating,” and “quivering,” it left me a little dry. And so, when I found a (very) well-worn copy of Flowers in the Attic behind the bleachers at Marvista Park, the scene where Chris and Cathy are thrashing together on the mat in the attic made me “quiver.” I felt my loins start to “pulsate.” There was a “throbbing,” ache deep deep deep in my… you get the idea. It wasn’t just the sex. It was the twisted taboo that tethered the erotic moments to the narrative. (Sorry. Comp Lit Nerd Alert.) Anyway. Suffice it to say, by the end of 8th grade, my copy of Flowers in the Attic had been read so often the pages were kind of moldy.
In high school, I got off on Candide. By Voltaire. And no, not the torture scene (although after reading 50 Shades, maybe I should revisit that). But there’s this one part in the beginning where Pangloss is hooking up with the chamber maid, and… you know what? Just download it. Read it now, thank me later.
In college, James Patterson did it for me. Set against a backdrop of suspicion and intrigue, Detective Alex Cross would have a star-crossed roll in the hay. Until it turned out that his lover was the next victim. Or the killer.
So 50 Shades just pales in comparison.
I guess it’s because I like books where the erotic elements shock you–I like books that are greater than the sum of their sex scenes. I like when there’s a narrative arc that matters–whether it’s coming of age, or escaping captivity, or trying to catch a killer who ends up seducing you, I am sucked into the plot. And the sex scenes in these books come almost out of nowhere. They take you from behind. You’re wanting it–hell, you’re practically aching for it–but you don’t know when it’s coming for you.
It’s a great escape.
But real life is different. It’s hard to find that balance off the page. It’s hard to find those erotically charged moments with your partner (says the woman going through divorce). Between power struggles over bedtime, between scraping dried prunes off the floor, between the hormone freefall and becoming someone new who I wasn’t sure I even liked, between “pulsating” stress headaches, and “throbbing” nipple pain that made me “quiver,” between forgetting that my breasts belonged to me and not my kids, and that I once shared them happily with my partner, between ditching the hooker boots for Crocs, between not having time to shower or to even wipe thoroughly, the idea of sleep becomes way more arousing–and surprising!–than sex.
And somehow, I went from being the girl who couldn’t keep it in her pants to the girl who wore (stained) granny panties. Because here’s what happened: I got lost in the details of the minutes and seconds–I got so stuck on the graphic close ups of those exhausting moments, that I missed the bigger picture.
And now, for the 50 books that have sex scenes even sexier than all those shades of grey, drumroll please…
2. Any Henry Miller book
3. Ditto, Anais Nin. (Especially Henry and June)
4. Flowers in the Attic (VC Andrews)
5. Petals on the Wind (VC Andrews — even better, btw)
6. Candide (Voltaire. Nerd Alert.)
7. Kiss the Girls (James Patterson)
8. Roses are Red (James Paterson)
9. Other Side of Midnight (Sidney Sheldon)
10. Memories of Midnight (Sidney Sheldon)
12. Girls will be Girls (Lesléa Newman)
13. The Gilboa Iris (Zahava Englard)
14. English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
15. Wifey (Blume)
16. Summer Sisters (Blume)
17. Praying for Sleep (Jeffrey Deaver)
19. Interview with a Vampire (Anne Rice. See above.)
20. Lolita (Vladimir Nabakov)
21. Jepthe’s Daughter (Naomi Ragen. Who says Jews don’t have sex?)
22. The Next Best Thing (Jennifer Weiner)
23. Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner)
24. Gentlemen Callers (Nancy Lamb)
25. Rules for Virgins (Amy Tan)
26. The Lover (AB Yehoshua)
27. Monster (Christopher Pike)
28. 1984 (George Orwell)
29. The Unbareable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
30. Addicted (Zane)
31. Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
32. Going Down (Jennifer Belle)
33. Disclosure (Michael Crichton)
35. Troilus and Criseyde (Chaucer)
36. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
37. My Daughter’s Keeper (Ayelet Waldman)
38. The Story of O (Pauline Reage – a pseudonym, right?)
39. Couples (John Updike)
40. The Folding Star (Alan Hollinghurst)
41. The Heart of the Matter (Emily Giffin)
42. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
43. Interest of Justice (Nancy Taylor Rosenberg)
44. Still Life with Woodpecker (Tom Robbins)
45. Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
46. Lady Chatterly’s Lover (DH Lawrence)
47. Peyton Amberg (Tama Janowitz)
48. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
49. Song of Songs
50. Last Exit to Brooklyn (Hubert Selby Jr.)