Sex sells books. And I’ve made a study of the sex that sells books. There are two types. Firstly, there are the Boys’ Own Adventure Stories. In these Blockbuster books with embossed gold author’s name above the title, a name which should leap out at you in the airport bookshop shouting ‘buy me, I’m a big, ballsy, blockbuster adventure book. Sshhhhhh!’ That is the sound of testosterone eminating from the hero’s armpits. These books are generally written by blokes for blokes and offer a peep show view of a well-packaged Male Sex Fantasy. In a Boys’ Own Adventure Blockbuster our hero has sensational sex on the second page with, perhaps, a stunningly beautiful nurse in a bi-plane over the trenches in France in the First World War to the accompaniment of a battlefield soundtrack. The sex takes one paragraph before he ressumes his testostrone-feuled life -threatening but heroic adventure, which continues at a clipping pace until his next rapid-fire sexual encounter, probably with a besotted milk-maid in a barn near where his bi-plane recently crashed. This could istart with a hand job. Those milk maids do have rare talents.
Meanwhile, in the Girls’ Own Romance Novel, aimed obviously at the chic-lit aficionado, the Female Sex Fantasy ambles aimlessly over many pages. Our hero and heroine meet in the first chapter and are then tragically separated for the next 17 chapters. They finally meet again in chapter 18, declare their true love and have sex in an historical setting, perhaps in an old castle that our hero, The Earl of Essex, recently inherited among his many estates. But they don’t just jump onto each other’s bones. The sexual tension must build until the air is fraught with anticipation. There will be a small break in the middle of Chapter 18 for a sensual meal with flowing wine, furtive glances and a searing accidental contact of, say, his finger tips brushing her, um, wrist. When the shagging finally takes place it will be in an historical four-poster bed and the process from the first kiss to the Halluhejah chorus will take an entire chapter.
This is, of course, my take on the genres. But I am grateful to Judith Newman for throwing more light on Male vs Female literary sexual fantasies. In her article, Dear Book Club: It’s You, Not Me (MAY 11, 2017) in the New York Times, she told the story of one couples Book Club that came to grief following a discussion of the sex in Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses.” According to book club member Elizabeth St. Clair, a lawyer, “the main character is staying in a bunkhouse, and over the course of several nights a gorgeous strange woman comes to his bed and has sex with him. The men in the group thought this was the most romantic thing ever — dark, anonymous sex with no consequences.” The men in the book club thought this was a very romantic scenario.
The women just roared laughing. ‘Guffawing’ was the term used. No woman, they argued, would turn up to have anonymous sex in the dark with a man they couldn’t see. Was he old? Was he diseased? Does he smell? Was he a psychopath? Moreover, he was in a remote cabin, in a bunk bed. Are you joking? This is not going to happen. Apparently, the men were offended. Arguments ensued. St Clair suggested this set the seed for the end of her relationship.
So there it is. Enjoy reading your blockbuster novel. But try to remember the first Rule of Book Club. The sex discussed in Book Club, stays in Book Club. Or you might find yourself very lonely tonight.