Navel-Gazing

Bring Back Literary Sex Scenes

Are today’s male novelists “too cool for sex”? In an essay in The New York Times, Katie Roiphe makes the case for appreciation of novelists like John Updike and Philip Roth, who pioneered explicit sex scenes in their novels, as compared to their 21st-century counterparts who she deems “boys too busy gazing at themselves in the mirror to think much about girls.” Though they were derided by feminists, Roiphe writes, earlier writers “were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection,” and by comparison, their literary descendents (think Dave Eggers) are “so self-conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses.” According to Roiphe, these de-sexed modern writers, in spite of their “almost puritanical disapproval” of their predecessors, are guilty of a “new narcissism,” and though they shy away from explicit scenes are no more progressive than the originals, perhaps even less so.