Like nearly all firsts, I think it's safe to say we each remember the first sex scene in books we read. For me, I was in eighth grade, dutifully reading classics when I decided to try How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I don't remember much, except that it was the story of a Welsh man recounting his childhood in a mining community, and that there was a particular scene that made me blush.
Looking back, the sex scene in question isn't even that sexy by conventional standards. It's very literary and abstract, and back then, I only understood I had, in fact, read a sex scene when I reached the last line of the final paragraph of the scene, which caused me to nearly slam the book shut:
"Then the tight-drawn branch is weak, for the strong has sung its song, and breath comes back to empty lungs and a trembling to the limbs. Your eyes see plainly. The trees are green, just the same they were. No change has come. No bolts of fire. No angels with a flaming sword. Yet this it was that left the Garden to weeds. I had eaten of the Tree. Eve was still warm under me."
See what I mean? It's an unexpected moment in a novel that most concerns itself with family drama and the unraveling of a community.
Half the fun of reading a titillating scene is when it is unexpected. Of course, you could always pick up a romance novel where you are guaranteed to encounter a few sexy scenes. But there is a particular sort of delight in reading a book dubbed a classic of literary fiction, or even a work of critical theory, and finding a hot scene. It's an upheaval in expectations, and a much-needed one at that. Enjoying sex (and reading about it) is nothing to feel shy about or ashamed of, as much as society and snobby literary circles may say otherwise.
1. "She say, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she haul off and kiss me on the mouth. Um, she say, like she surprise. I kiss back, say, um, too. Us kiss and kiss till us can't hardly kiss no more. Then us touch each other."
— Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Trapped in an abusive marriage, Celie's life is difficult, and while it does take time for things to change, it is ultimately her relationship with Shug, her husband's on-and-off mistress, that teaches her self-love and acceptance. The gentle uncertainty between Celie and Shug results in a scene both hot and joy-filled, as the two women discover pleasure together.
2. "I remember nothing else — how Sarah looked the first time or what we did, except that we were both nervous and made love badly. It didn't matter. We had started — that was the point. There was the whole life to look forward to then."
— Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
Allusions to sex scenes are peppered throughout Graham Greene's novel, often in the jealous memories of Maurice as he recalls his affair with the married Sarah. And while the scenes themselves aren't necessarily the world's sexiest, I dare you not to feel something once you get to the section with Sarah's diary.
3. "Instead the words I love you come tumbling out of my mouth in an incantation the first time you fuck me in the ass, my face smashed against the cement floor of your dank and charming bachelor pad. You had Molloy by your bedside and a stack of cocks in a shadowy unused shower stall. Does it get any better? What's your pleasure? you asked, then stuck around for an answer."
— Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
Real life meets critical theory in Maggie Nelson's memoir of queer family-making, proving that the theories of your college literary classes can be sexy. As she breaks down societal binaries, Nelson reminds us of the essential sexiness of intimately knowing another individual.
4. "They lost their sense of reality, the notion of time, the rhythm of daily habits. They closed the doors and windows again so as not to waste time getting undressed and they walked about the house as Remdios the Beauty had wanted to do and they would roll around naked in the mud of the courtyard, and one afternoon they almost drowned as they made love in the cistern."
— Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Spanning generations in the Buendía family, true, ecstatic love is difficult to find. And while the affair between Aureliano Babilonia and Amaranta Úrsula is doomed, their unexpected bond is all-consuming.
5. "I sank to my knees in the mosaic-tiled hall, my face in the curtain of her gown, the salt taste of these fingers in her mouth. We were a strange statue, the two of us, before we began to unlock our hunger. Her fingers scratching against the sand in my thinning hair. Cairo and all her deserts around us."
— Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
A novel of quiet despair and evasive minimalism, The English Patient conveys the devastation of WWII upon the inhabitants an of abandoned Italian villa, each with their own story of trauma. In this context, the recollection of the passionate affair between the unnamed patient and his lover Katherine unfolds with surprising intensity.
6. "Georgie kissed Joe tenderly on the forehead, cheeks, and finally her mouth, and eventually they moved onto the bed. Georgie had never been the aggressor, but she pushed Joe onto her back and pinned her wrists down, straddling her, biting her neck and shoulders."
— Megan Mayhew Bergman, Almost Famous Women
History is filled with the stories of women we will never know of, and in her short story collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman begins to remedy that. In "The Siege at Whale Cay," the most memorable of the collection, she weaves to perfection the tension found in the relationships and liaisons of M.B. "Joe" Carstairs with unknown and famous.
7. "And how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
— James Joyce, Ulysses
Don't let the length of James Joyce's epic scare you off. Molly's simmering stream of consciousness is worth it. Originally ruled obscene in the United States, Molly's bold ruminations on sex and love certainly contributed to that decision.