Bad Sex makes good reading


By Molly Freedenberg

What’s the worst thing about waiting two hours in the airport for a delayed flight after a long weekend of drinking and subsequent hanging over? Almost everything.

The one redeeming thing? My extra two hours at O’Hare, without a convenient outlet for plugging in my computer, gave me the chance to finish Bad Sex: We Did It, So You Won’t Have To” (Chronicle, 2008), a collection of essays by contributors about funny, embarrassing, ill-advised, and just plain silly sex encounters.


The book, like Nerve itself, is charming, hip (but not trying too hard), entertaining, and extremely readable. It’s also refreshingly multi-generational, containing stories from recent college grads and middle-aged divorcees alike.

Highlights: Monica Drake’s “The Splatter Artist,” about a lover who can’t keep his fluids to himself; David Amsden’s “The Incomplete Triangle,” in which a man discovers the pitfalls of dating a bisexual woman (read: it does not guarantee you a threesome); and Porochista Khakpour’s “The 20-Year-Old Virgin,” which is about small liberal art school culture as much as it is about the boyfriend who believed intercourse was “commercial, pedestrian, and perfunctory.” Though there are some stories too crazy to believe (see the one on vampirism by Kevin Keck), and some about sex so bad it hurts (see “On the Rebound,”), most of these tales are about sex that’s less obviously bad but rather awkward, strange or disappointing in the way most of us have experience less-than-stellar sex. What these it-could-happen-to-me confessions lose in titillation they certainly gain back in relatability and humor.

The format, with stories divided into categories like “College Days,” “Infidelity,” and “Self-Love,” is highly digestible, making this great read-in-one-sitting material. However, I found that after 10 or so stories, I began to tire of the confessional-essay-with-funny-or-ironic-conclusion format each one seemed to take. For this reason, perhaps the essays are better appreciated one or two at a time.

But are they sexy, you ask? Yes and no. This is by no means erotica, but there’s something arousing about frank talk about sex – even bad sex – when it’s so specific and devoid of clichés. If you aren’t turned on by two hundred pages of flesh and fluids (however poorly they combine in these stories), you might be by the images the stories will conjure of your own past experiences – or imagined future ones. In fact, I suspect this book could be a fantastic starting point for discussions and discovery about personal preferences in the bedroom (or backseat, or public park – I ain’t judgin’).

At the very least, though, it’s fun reading by fun writers on a fun topic. Can’t go wrong with that.

Got your own tale about sexual encounters gone awry? Comment on this story, or send 300 words or less to and we’ll post the best ones (i.e. not the ones that are thinly veiled advertisements for Eastern European porn sites).

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