Embracing Explicit Literature: Sex, Drugs and Everything We Need to Talk About

by Rachel Cameron-Potter

“I’m always embarrassed to include things, but I write them down thinking I will never publish them and then after about a day they don’t embarrass me anymore. It’s the cheapest kind of therapy.”

So says Hera Lindsay Bird to Lisa Allardice in her interview for The Guardian. The notorious Insta-poet discusses the more explicit work in her collection, most notably ‘Having Sex in a Field in 2013’ and ‘Keats is Dead so Fuck Me from Behind’. Bird’s initial embarrassment is easy to relate to, a sort of truth-or-dare, where confessing your sins to the judgemental public gives rise to an element of shame for the confessor and awkwardness for the receiver.

Claiming that she “forgot about the sex in [her] book until [she] read it aloud”, Bird describes her work as deliberately comical, but there’s a serious point to be made about her queasy sexual humour and its importance for modern society.

Sex is everywhere, and in the age of internet dating it’s more prominent than ever. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had a one-night stand with a Tinder match, drunkenly kissed someone in a club (and later regretted it), or even surreptitiously flirted with that cutie at work.

Following the rise in internet-enabled sexual encounters comes a whole host of questions and complications that come with it, often remaining unaddressed thanks to the societal awkwardness surrounding casual sex, perhaps a hangover from the prudish attitudes of the 19th century. While we are becoming more comfortable with addressing sex, we still seem to forget about the other issues that can follow, from the serious matters of STIs and unplanned pregnancies, to the underrepresented experiences of  the LGBTQ+ community, and even the emotional attachments that can develop following a single encounter.

Literature may have come late to the discussion on these more explicit matters, but we have come a long way from the watershed trial in 1960 of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In her eponymous book Bird has provided a platform to kickstart the discussion of sex-related complications, covering promiscuous behaviour, bisexuality and broken-heartedness. Perhaps though, her book is only the beginning. In recent years literature has unabashedly broken down barriers to start tackling fundamental issues about sex that might often only be mentioned in passing, as part of a spiteful rumour or a distasteful joke. By addressing them, we are becoming more open to exploring sex as a human experience rather than a token of shame, re-evaluating the explicit experiences that features in Bird’s book, and taking a closer look at our own.

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