Good Sex, Bad Sex and HBO Style Sex

While following a link to something else, I came across this neat blogpost from July 2010: Nicola Griffith wonders why good sex in fiction is often considered unrealistic.

Now I have read descriptions of mindblowingly great sex that did strike me as over the top – it happens on occasion if you read romance. But I still find it stunning that so many people seem to have problems believing that sex and and indeed should be good and fun. It’s just like when I read about women who claim never to have had an orgasm in their whole lives. I read it, shake my head and think, “Lady, unless you’re really having medical issues, you’re doing it wrong. Or your partner is.”

Not that there isn’t a place for awkward sex in fiction. Awkward or even downright bad sex can provide a great contrast to good sex after all. And if one is going to use sex as a characterization tool (which it is, outside the erotica genre), one sometimes needs to write awkward sex or sex gone wrong.

However, it seems as if there is a specifically American type of bad sex, namely the sex scenes found in American TV shows broadcast on cable pay-TV channels like HBO and their ilk. Since those channels are not subject to broadcasting regulations and advertiser whims, their shows usually contain a lot of fairly explicit (by TV standards) sex. And yet the producers and directors of those shows seem determined to portray sex as unarousing and unappealing as possible. It’s fairly explicit, yes, but also incredibly joyless.

Recently, I was making another attempt to watch True Blood. I should theoretically watch it, because it ties in to my PhD subject, but every time I tried I bounced off the show hard in the first thirty minutes of episode 1 or so. The bad Southern accents are part of the reason why, but the prevalence of joyless HBO sex and constant drug references are another. But now that True Blood is actually available in German, I couldn’t even use the bad Southern accents as an excuse anymore. So I forced myself to watch the first two episodes and invited a friend to share the misery. Turns out True Blood actually gets better after the thirty minute mark, but the first half hour of the show is frontloaded with lots of HBO style sex. And it’s unappealing as expected.

At one point, while Jason Stackhouse was doing it with Whatshername who gets murdered, my friend and I looked at each other. “Do you think Americans really do it like that?”, my friend, who has seen more than her share of HBO type shows and their brand of sex, asked, “Cause that looks extremely unpleasant.”

“No idea”, I said, “But it would explain a lot.”

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