What is the Sexiest Passage in Literary History? A Winner Has Been Declared!

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This from The Guardian, who alert us to an honest-to-god “sexy writing” tournament held by Literary Hub to “reward the best erotic passages from literature.” They had real legitimate judges—Roxane Gay, Candace Bushnell and John Ashbery—and looked at passages from books written in the past 200 years.

But enough preamble—you want to know who WON. What’s the sexiest piece of writing in history? Drum roll please…

James Baldwin, Giovvani’s Room! As the Guardian notes, this 1956 novel is about “David, a young American in Paris, who has just proposed to his girlfriend but is drawn to bartender Giovanni while she is away on a trip. The winning extract deals with narrator David’s early homosexual encounter with his friend Joey.”

The winning passage (WARNING: Sexy, sexy content):

“He looked at me with his mouth open and his dark eyes very big. It was as though he had just discovered that I was an expert on bedbugs. I laughed and grabbed his head as I had done God knows how many times before, when I was playing with him or when he had annoyed me. But this time when I touched him something happened in him and in me which made this touch different from any touch either of us had ever known. And he did not resist, as he usually did, but lay where I had pulled him, against my chest. And I realized that my heart was beating in an awful way and that Joey was trembling against me and the light in the room was very bright and hot. I started to move and to make some kind of joke but Joey mumbled something and I put my head down to hear. Joey raised his head as I lowered mine and we kissed, as it were, by accident. Then, for the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body, of another person’s smell. We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find. I was very frightened; I am sure he was frightened too, and we shut our eyes. To remember it so clearly, so painfully tonight tells me that I have never for an instant truly forgotten it. I feel in myself now a faint, a dreadful stirring of what so overwhelmingly stirred in me then, great thirsty heat, and trembling, and tenderness so painful I thought my heart would burst. But out of this astounding, intolerable pain came joy; we gave each other joy that night. It seemed, then, that a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love.”

The winner was announced this morning, and the runner-up came from Jeannette Winterson’s book Written on the Body:

“she smells of the sea. She smells of rockpools when I was a child. She keeps a starfish in there. I crouch down to taste the salt, to run my fingers around the rim. She opens and shuts like a sea anemone. She’s refilled each day with fresh tides of longing.”

The tournament itself is interesting in its own right. There are four “regions” in the bracket, from pre-Ulysses (1922 and earlier), 1922-1955 (Lolita), 55-80s, and 80s-present. It was eventually reduced to a “Sexy Sixteen,” featuring Henry Miller, Annie Proulx, Erica Jong, Kate Chopin, and Zora Neale Hurston. Then came the “Erotic Eight,” and finally my favorite round: “The Final Four of F*cking.”

Check out LitHub’s post on the championship round, with links to the earlier rounds, here.

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