Unhealthy Intercourse in Fiction Award Is Canceled, as 2020 Was Unhealthy Sufficient

For the first time in over a decade, a competition to award the worst sex writing in English will not produce a winner for the public. This is a relief to those readers who are disappointed by the annual selection and the sad news for those who know the world about Cringe.

The Bad Sex in Fiction Award is canceled.

The editors who run the contest announced the decision on Tuesday on their magazine’s Literary Review website, saying 2020 would have been uncomfortable enough without their input.

“The judges believed that the public had been exposed to too many bad things this year to justify exposure to bad sex too,” the statement said. “However, they cautioned that the 2020 pricing cancellation should not be viewed as a license to write bad sex.”

Staff at Literary Review, a British magazine not to be confused with a New Jersey publication of the same name, have been curating horrific sex writing for nearly three decades. The purpose of the award, according to the magazine, is to honor the “extraordinarily horrific scene of sexual description” of the year and to draw attention to “the poorly written, redundant, or downright terrifying passages of sexual description in modern fiction.”

Since the award was launched in 1993 by the critic Rhoda Koenig and the editor Auberon Waugh, the son of Evelyn Waugh, the nominated passages have included a comparison of an orgasm with a “demon eel”, unconventional descriptions of the human body – such as hips, “That could carry a whole range of toothbrushes” – and trips into space together.

The 2013 winner, Manil Suri, compared sex with exploding supernovas, with characters “passing solar systems like superheroes” and “diving through swarms of quarks and atomic nuclei”. Norman Mailer won posthumously in 2007 thanks to his inventive use of the phrase “a bobbin of excrement”. 1997 winner Nicholas Royle described an exclamation “somewhere between a stranded seal and a police siren”.

Recognition…Dave M. Benett / Getty Images

Although the list of winners is dominated by men, some women have claimed the award, including Rachel Johnson, a former editor of the magazine (and the sister of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson) who won in 2008. The judges noted her repeated use of animal images when she compared a character’s fingers to “a moth trapped in a lampshade” and his tongue to “a cat licking a bowl of cream”.

The nominees have brought some of the best-known names into fiction over the past 30 years. In the year of Ms. Johnson’s victory, John Updike received a Lifetime Achievement Award. The shortlisted writers included Salman Rushdie, Stephen King and Haruki Murakami.

Other years, the editors of the Literary Review gather at the In and Out Club in central London to celebrate, read excerpts and award the winner: a plaster cast. Most writers received the award in a good mood, including Ms. Johnson, who called the award an “absolute honor,” and Iain Hollingshead, who said after his 2006 victory, “I hope to win it every year.”

Others have shown themselves to be less interested, including singer Morrissey, who won in 2015 and told Uruguayan newspaper El Observador that it was “best to keep an indifferent distance from these repulsive horrors”. And some critics have called the Price itself misguided and bullying, saying that it might prevent writers from writing about sex at all.

The magazine editors don’t expect such a slowdown, however. On Tuesday, through an unnamed spokesman, they said they “expect a spike in entries in the next year” as the lockdown rules provoke “all kinds of novel sexual practices.”

“The authors are reminded that cybersex and other forms of home entertainment are within the scope of this award,” the spokesman said. “Scenes in fields, in parks or backyards, or indoors with open windows and fewer than six people present are also not excluded from the test.”

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