The Best Sex Melissa Broder Has Ever Read

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Courtesy of Publisher

The novelist and poet Melissa Broder, whose new book Milk Fed is out this week, writes sex scenes that are depraved, explicit, and fantastical. In her debut novel, The Pisces, her heroine falls in love with a merman whose tail begins below his dick. An omnivorous reader, Broder had trouble settling on the best sex she’d ever read. The contenders included a fragment of Gertrude Stein’s poetry, a quote from the Catholic saint John of the Cross about the ecstatic love of God within, James Joyce’s “fart letter,” and the scene from the book Call Me By Your Name, in which one man massages the excrement from his lover’s bowels. (“The peach scene is nothing,” she said.) In the end, she chose something more functional: vomit erotica by an anonymous writer on Tumblr. “If you can get off to one story more than ten times,” she said, “that’s a win.”

From emeto-wlw on Tumblr:

“Shhh, don’t try to talk, it’s okay. You’re sick, baby.” Maggie rubbed her back gently, trying to calm her. “Just let yourself burp it up, you’ll feel better…” She unzipped Mira’s dress, knowing her stomach was swollen and the fabric was too tight. Fuck, this is so hot, why is this always so hot…  

Mira was trembling, breathing shallow and fast now, tummy gurgling beneath her unzipped dress. Oh god, that feels better but… oh god… no, no, no… She burped up something acidic and dark-colored - wine-tinted bile, maybe - and spat it out in disgust.  

“That’s it, just like that…” Maggie’s words were murmured, arousal masked by calm reassurance.

Mira trembled, pressing on her stomach gently. Oh, I’m… so bloated… oh.. oh fuck… Her belly clenched and lurched, and suddenly her dinner was in her throat, a gush of undigested food rushing out of her mouth and splashing into the water. She coughed, choking a little, then belched loudly - a strangled, wet sound immediately followed by a productive burp that brought up even more thick liquid. It stopped long enough for her to catch her breath in ragged gasps, eyes watering, nose stuffy. “Oh my god, I’m sorry… that was… oh…”

Maggie kissed her shoulder. She was getting wet, now, very warm and incredibly turned on. Luckily Mira was distracted and facing away from her. “Do you feel better…”

The first time I ever masturbated was to a homemade tape. I’d recorded the sound of myself fake vomiting, then listened to the tape on my Walkman while lying on top of a life-size George Jetson doll. I was 10 years old. Vomit led the way into my sexuality, and for a while, everything was homemade. I would write erotica for myself, I would create the audio and listen to it. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I discovered vomit erotica on the internet.

First, I read it on Geocities, and then, eventually, on Tumblr. Tumblr is where I’ve found the most variety, creativity, and dedication to the craft. When it comes to vomit erotica, there’s such a wide range. There isn’t always sex at all, or typical sex. Of course, on Pornhub, you can find tons of videos of women giving head and forced vomiting. If it’s consensual, I’m not against it, but on a pussy level, it just doesn’t do it for me. Sex is so mysterious, but for me, I’ve narrowed it down. It’s about the total embrace. You’re being forced to be vulnerable; it’s not a choice. Being embraced at your most powerless — at your most vile — that’s where the beauty is. That particular vein of acceptance and embrace is a safety that feels so sexy to me.

I discovered this particular writer, who goes by emeto-wlw, a few years ago, the same way we discover our favorite books — through other writers I like. Well, I also find books through friends, but I’ve never had a friend recommend vomit erotica. It’s a lonely world. BDSM has a whole multi-billion-dollar industry, but there’s no vomit-erotica conference. I can’t go to a hotel — nor do I think I’d even want to. I have no desire to pursue the fetish IRL. I’m not into the smell of vomit. I’ve never made it happen in real life, but I have spent a large quantity of my life thinking, feeling, and fantasizing about this proclivity.

The thing I like about this particular writer is that she is committed to her characters. It’s not just like, “I vomited. I was turned on.” There’s a specific type of vomiting, and a specific type of embrace, that makes it so effective. I’ve gotten off to this story a thousand times because there is something so hot about the self-consciousness of the vomiter. There are a lot of stories where the characters do consummate after the vomiting — there’s one story I was trying to find about a mother and a son who plan a vomit escapade at a hotel, and the son fucks his mother while she’s vomiting. It was so good, but now it’s gone. In this story, the vomit is the sex. It’s also just extra disgusting: Mira burps up wine-tinted bile. Bile is basically come. Ejaculation and vomit have a lot of similarities, but bile is the most interior substance being released into the light, involuntarily laid out for this other person. Mira has no control, she’s completely powerless — and not only does Maggie embrace that, Maggie wants to fuck it.

How do you judge literary merit? Do I want to read it when I’m not horny? No. Maybe. But there is a kind of beautiful honesty to the writing, because it’s written purely in the service of pleasure. There’s writing about sex. And then there’s writing that makes you want to fuck. How powerful is it that certain words can just immediately change our physiological state and get us there? In this passage, the writing is incredibly visceral. “Her belly clenched and lurched.” In a lot of vomit erotica, they’ll literally spell out the sounds, but the writer doesn’t employ that device here. The language is assonant. It’s third-person omniscient, but there’s definitely an interiority to the prose. Each of these women has a character arc. Even though Maggie is not the vomiter, she, too, is experiencing shame — she’s ashamed of being turned on. They’re both self-conscious. Ultimately, through Maggie’s embrace of Mira at her most disgusting, Maggie embraces herself and her own desire.

As a reader, I experience something of a spiritual transformation in reading this story. When I think of the idea of unconditional love, it’s God, right? Maggie could be a substitute for God, or the goddess — a maternal God. Like, You will be beloved, no matter how disgusting you are. We’re all children of God. We’re all forgiven. I don’t know if the writer intended that. I’m going to guess I’m projecting that onto the narrative.

There’s not a lot of intentional vomit erotica in literature, but I do see some echoes of Gertrude Stein here. Probably the hottest fragment of all time is from Stein’s poem “Lifting Belly”: “Lifting belly is so strong / Lifting belly together / Lifting belly oh yes / Lifting belly / Oh yes.” In the act of orgasm, or even the feeling of being turned on, there’s a lot that goes on in the guts and in the belly, a lot of warmth and energy. There’s secretiveness, too, right? The lifting of a curtain. Something covert. “Lifting Belly” is an incantation. In emeto-wlw’s work, there’s not a lot of white space. It’s all out there. The power of “Lifting Belly,” on the other hand, is in what is not said, and what is imagined, and the use of negative capability. Both works employ repetition, though. Repetition is very sexy — like that moment before orgasm, when you repeat the same word over and over again.

I think some people have difficulty writing sex. I have difficulty not writing sex. When I do write sex scenes, my first draft is not for literary merit or transcendence or to convey an intellectual idea, although that can come in the edit. It’s about utilizing language to change a state. And for me, that starts with using language to change my state. Having read a lot of erotica, and having used a lot of erotica, influences the way I approach the craft. This passage on Tumblr is my favorite sex writing because it’s very utilitarian. It’s a product I have used. I don’t really admire it for its beauty, necessarily, but it’s chemical for me. Knowing that words can do that — that’s how I write sex. I always feel very flattered when someone tells me that they jerked off to my book. I’m like, My work here is done.

Milk Fed will be published on February 2 by Scribner.

*A version of this article appears in the February 1, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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The Best Sex Melissa Broder Has Ever Read