From the thrillingly explicit to the oblique, from the heartwarming to the tragic, from the ridiculous to the sublime: fiction’s great scenes of sexual initiation come in many guises. But as the existence of the Bad Sex Awards attests, that doesn’t make them easy to write. ER takes a look at the authors who’ve overcome adversity to produce perfect passages on surrendered virginity, inceptive masturbation, and uncharacteristic abstinence.
Angela Carter – Maker of Lost Maidenheads
If you can think of a striking story of deflowerment, the chances are that Angela Carter has already written it. Narratives of lost virginity are as central to her oeuvre as the interplay of high and low; refined and vulgar. They are sometimes chilling; sometimes comical; and often balancing notions of gain and loss. Each one is in its own way a triumph.
The Bloody Chamber
‘He made me put my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade. With trembling fingers, I fastened the thing about my neck. It was cold as ice and chilled me. He twined my hair into a rope and lifted it off my shoulders so that he could better kiss the downy furrows below my ears; that made me shudder. And he kissed those blazing rubies, too. He kissed them before he kissed my mouth. Rapt, he intoned: “Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.”
A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.’
‘The goose had Nora up against the wall in the alley outside the stage door one foggy night, couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, happily for them. You don’t get fogs like that, these days. It was after the cast Christmas party. I looked round the Green Room but they had gone.
Don’t be sad for her. Don’t run away with the idea that it was a squalid, furtive, miserable thing to make love for the first time on a cold night in a back alley with a married man with strong drink on his breath. He was the one she wanted, warts and all, she would have him, by hook or by crook. She had a passion to know about Life, all its dirty corners, and this is how she started, in at the deep end, for better or worse…’
James Joyce – His Dialectics of Love and Lust
Joyce crafts a narrative of lost virginity – an encounter with a prostitute, no less – without reference to any body part below the neck. The knowledge that here is a boy visiting a brothel: that is our thesis. The romance of the ‘unknown and timid pressure… softer than swoon or odour’: our antithesis. An eroticism fully and beautifully human: that’s Joyce’s synthesis.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
‘- Give me a kiss, she said.
His lip would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.
With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in the frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were a vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.’
Hollinghurst – A New Kind of Magical Realist
One of very few literary authors to deal with the first time from a gay man’s perspective, Hollinghurst writes with courage as well as elegance. Like Joyce, he pens sex that is graphic, gladly displaying its warts and all. And like Joyce, he creates something beautiful. A ‘starlit sense’ of happiness and a glittering arsehole are brought in to tell the most earthly of tales but they leave in their wake a little bit of magic.
The Folding Star
And already it was about to end. I pushed myself back on to my feet, I came out of him for a moment and tugged him back by his haunches, his arsehole glittered and twitched and I thrust straight in, then held it gently, barely moving in the gulping shivery limbo just before the end. I had a high starlit sense of it as the best moment of my life. I stroked the inside of his thighs, stooped forward to lick and breathe the faint rubbery smell of his feet; took his cock out of his fist and worked it unyieldingly for him. I saw his balls clutch up, he said “No, No” and rode on to me as his thrown line of sperm soared into my face, my hair, and again, and then again. So I pushed over the edge myself — I made a grieving moan at the bitterness of it, craving the blessing of his gaze, though his eyes were oddly veiled, fluttering and colourless like some Orst temptress’s.
The Line of Beauty
‘He twisted his own pants down to his knees, and smiled at the liberated bounce of his dick in the cool night air, and kissed his smile into Leo’s sphincter. Then when he fucked Leo, which was what he did next, a sensation as interesting as it was delicious, he couldn’t help laughing quietly. “I’m glad you think it’s funny,” Leo muttered.
“No, it’s not that,” said Nick; but there was something hilarious in the shivers of pleasure that ran up his back and squeezed his neck, and ran down his arms to his fingers – he felt he’d been switched on for the first time, gently gripping Leo’s hips, and then reaching round him to help unbutton his shirt and get it off and hold his naked body against him. It was all so easy. He’d worried a lot the night before that there might be some awful knack to it.’
Milan Kundera – Writing Erotic Reticence
In the sexual kingdom, there is a first time for everything. Some first times are less easy to spot than others because they occur in and through the very nothingness where we expect to see the stains and the pain of initiation but it makes them no less pivotal. It is in writing these pivotal moments of non-occurrence (the ‘first’ striptease that isn’t really a first; the inaugural stand for abstinence by a married woman with a long-term lover) that Kundera excels.
‘The Hitchhiking Game’, Laughable Loves
‘She had never undressed like this before. The shyness, the feeling of inner panic, the dizziness, all that she had always felt when undressing in front of the young man (and she couldn’t hide in the darkness), all this was gone. She was standing in front of him self-confident, insolent, bathed in light, and astonished at her sudden discovery of the gestures, heretofore unknown to her, of a slow provocative striptease.’
‘Litost’, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
‘But when he tried prying apart her thighs for the twenty-fifth time – a particularly brutal attempt – she cam out with “No, please don’t. It would kill me.”
“what?” he said, breathing deeply.
‘It would kill me,” she repeated, giving him another deep kiss and pressing her thighs together tightly.
The student felt a mixture of despair and bliss. On the one hand, he felt a wild need to make love to her; on the other, he could cry for joy at the thought that she loved him as no-one had ever loved him…she loved him so much she was afraid to make love to him…’
Paulo Coelho – Providing Pleasure all Round
Eleven Minutes is brimming with breath-taking sex and it is this, the first foray into pleasure for both text and protagonist, that tips it into tantalising territory. How the clauses are drawn out as they approach and recede from that triumphant, one-word peak! How the narrator switches from active to passive to active to passive again as Maria takes control of her own submission! Maria discovers the pleasure dormant in that gland: we glimpse the pleasure to come from Coelho.
‘Her mother was late coming home, and she had nothing to do; her father had just gone out with a friend, and since there was nothing interesting on the TV, she began examining her own body, in the hope that she might find some unwanted hair which could immediately be tweezered out. To her surprise, she noticed a small gland above her vagina. She began touching it and found that she couldn’t stop; the feelings provoked were so strong and so pleasurable, and her whole body – particularly the part she was touching – became tense. After a while, she began to enter a kind of paradise, the feelings grew in intensity, until she notice that she could no longer see or hear clearly, everything appeared to be tinged with yellow, and then she moaned with pleasure and had her first orgasm. Orgasm! It was like floating up to heaven and then parachuting slowly down to earth again. Her body was drenched in sweat, but she felt complete, fulfilled and full of energy.’
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Taking on the Taboo
Underage prostitution. Incest. Rape. Garcia Marquez presents us with leaps of Faustian faith written so majestic and so free of cliche that we almost forget to feel horrified. Unsettling, it may be. But it keeps the mind racing and the heart pumping and what more can you ask of a book?
100 Years of Solitude
‘He felt the structure of the veins, the pulse of its misfortune, and felt the damp palm with a lifeline cut off at the base of the thumb by the claws of death. Then he realized that this was not the woman he was waiting for, because she did not smell of smoke but of flower lotion, and she had inflated, blind breasts with nipples like. a man’s, a sex as stony and round as a nut, and the chaotic tenderness of excited inexperience. She was a virgin and she had the unlikely name of Santa Sofía de la Piedad. Pilar Ternera had paid her fifty pesos, half of her life savings, to do what she was doing.
‘Come here,” he said. Rebeca obeyed. She stopped beside the hammock in an icy sweat, feeling knots forming in her intestines, while José Arcadio stroked her ankles with the tips of his fingers, then her calves, then her thighs, murmuring: “Oh, little sister, little sister.” She had to make a supernatural effort not to die when a startlingly regulated cyclonic power lifted her up by the waist and despoiled her of her intimacy with three clashes of its claws and quartered her like a little bird. She managed to thank God for having been born before she lost herself in the inconceivable pleasure of that unbearable pain, splashing in the steaming marsh of the hammock which absorbed the explosion of blood like a blotter.’
Love in the Time of Cholera
‘In the darkness he could barely see the naked woman, her ageless body soaked in hot perspiration, her breathing heavy, who pushed him onto the bunk face up, unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his trousers, impaled herself on him as if she were riding horseback, and stripped him, without glory, of his virginity. Both of them fell, in an agony of desire, into the void of a bottomless pit that smelled of a salt marsh full of prawns. Then she lay for a moment on top of him, gasping for breath, and she ceased to exist in the darkness.’