Most sex writing is terrible. Most scholarly sex writing is even worse. It’s a problem that stems from the unimaginative academic universe, a world that indoctrinates grad students out of creative prose, that Scientologizes away all sense of originality so that all papers sound as if they could have been written by the same chunky, black glasses-wearing, latte-sipping, theorist-name-dropping late 20s humanities Ph.D. Academic writing is the antithesis of sexy. It’s dry and clinical, jargon-filled and plodding. Reading it is like decoding a text whose message, when revealed, is frequently not worth the effort. Even if it is worth the effort, it’s still a frustrating endeavor. Writing about sex needs to be wet and messy and passionate and dirty. Academics have even managed to sanitize the word body, to jargonize it, to make it the opposite of what the body is, a flatulent, oozing, prickly thing that brings us sloppy, messy joy.
Sex writing needs to evolve away from a clinical, Kinseyian style. Since he was writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kinsey’s clinical style made sense. It was appropriate. It was a way to give sex studies legitimacy. But we’re over a half a century beyond that. Even though the sex-studies stigma still exists, that doesn’t mean that we have to be overly scientific to the point of impenetrability in response. Stigmas about sexuality will always exist. Scholars shouldn’t respond to criticism by making their work innocuous and boring. Instead, they should fight critics with provocative prose full of stimulating ideas. Here’s a 3-step plan to improve academic sex writing.
First, academics need to stop pretending that they don’t have sex. Why is there an insistence that to be an intellectual means that you have risen above the corporeal? In the words of Us Weekly: Academics are just like us! They watch porn, masturbate, and have sex just like the rest of the rabble. They don’t copulate while wearing a monocle and a top hat. They don’t bring test tubes and statistical software to their assignations. They fuck. But for some reason intellectuals like to write about sex as if it’s something that happens to other people. Continue reading