Sex in Literature

In a brief survey of sex in twentieth-century writing in English, Natasha Walter argues that for all the effort it took to make sex a part of life in literature, it has become weightless of late. She mentions both male and female writers, gay and straight, from D.H. Lawrence to Doris Lessing, John Updike to Monica Ali, Linda Grant to Alan Hollinghurst, but modern writers in general don’t find favor with her.

This belief in the unparalleled authenticity of sexual love has for two centuries been a distinctive belief of our society; it is part of our aggrandisement of the individual against society and part of modern western culture’s disdain for social structures whenever they come into conflict with individual desire. Yet it is striking how novelists today have moved away from this reliance on sexual intimacy as a source of emotional revelation, and how the search for intimacy is simply no longer the prime motor that it once was for the novel. This goes much, much further than simply disappointment that sex does not live up to expectations – rather, it is a pervasive feeling that sex is not worth making a great fuss about at all. Although sex can be as explicit as you like, it is no longer centrally important to many novelists.