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Columbia offers students a course in writing ‘effective sex scenes’

‘Close, in class readings of sex scenes’

This semester, Columbia University is giving its students an opportunity to spruce up on their sex scene writing skills in the classroom.

According to the course description, the class will study how to use details, senses and characters effectively in erotica. In order to achieve this, the course description says they will, “do close, in class readings of sex scenes in literary fiction writing from the last fifty years and discuss what elements we feel are working effectively to create images and elicit emotions for readers.”

“These pieces will come from the work of writers of historically underrepresented sexual narratives and relationships (LGBTQIA community, BDSM, asexuality),” the description continues.

The goal of the course is for students to be able to, “write powerfully about sex without use of clichés.” While students will work on improving their own craft in the course with writing assignments–including one about a sexual encounter–they will also read works from erotic novelists and fiction writers. Such authors include: Mary Gaitskill, James Baldwin, Rebecca Schiff, James Salter, Diriye Osman, and Ali Smith, among others.

The College Fix reached out to the course’s instructor Rachel Gilman via email to learn more about the class, including the specific kinds of skills the students would be learning and what exactly makes a sex scene “cliché”.

Gilman responded: “Would you please send a link to your publication?” The Fix provided Gilman with the link; she subsequently did not respond to further queries.

The Fix also contacted Columbia’s School of the Arts to see how many students were enrolled in the course; the school did not respond.

The course is part of Columbia’s Columbia Artists/Teachers Community Classes program. Taught by MFA Writing Program students in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, these are “free, noncredit creative writing seminars and workshops in fiction, poetry, nonfiction and cross-genre” that are “designed to facilitate discussions of literary pieces and provide a space for feedback on student work.”

Other courses offered under this program include “Creative Writing for Justice,” a class designed specifically for formerly incarcerated students.

Another course, “The Black Comedic Voice,” looks to explore black humor, including “the ethics of mining the black experience for comedy.” That course is “open to all racial identities,” the listing state.

MORE: University joins Tinder to teach students about healthy sex

MORE: University offers workshops for ‘kink,’ ‘queer sex’

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About the Author
Tom Joyce -- Emerson College