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The Perils and Pleasures of Reading Sex Scenes in Public

Melody Schreiber

Staff Writer

Melody Schreiber is at work on a nonfiction anthology of premature birth. As a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., she has reported from nearly every continent. Her articles, essays, and reviews have been published by The Washington Post, Wired, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, NPR, The Toast, Catapult, and others. She received her bachelor’s in English and linguistics at Georgetown University and her master’s in writing at the Johns Hopkins University. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @m_scribe.

This post was originally published at Panels, our sister site about all things comics! Check out more from them here.



Halfway through a recent flight, I scrounged around in my carry-on and realized, with mounting horror, that I’d made a newbie mistake: With two hours of empty time ahead of me, I’d brought only one trade paperback.

Okay, deep breaths, don’t freak out. Just take plenty of time poring over the comic you did bring. I pulled it out of my bag.

Sex Criminals vol 2Sex Criminals.

I was, of course, sitting in a middle seat next to a complete stranger. I know it’s very American/Puritan of me to find the art of Sex Crimz scandalous, but so be it. I am the product of a strict upbringing, and I still battle against prudish tendencies.

But nothing comes between me and my comics. So I spent the entire trip laughing out loud, remembering where I was, and burning brighter than a redhead at the beach. I tried every angle I could to hide the art, but that only made the cover more prominent. In the end I just gave up and embraced it. After all, I reasoned, maybe my seatmate needed to learn about contraception options!

I wish I could say that was the last time I was embarrassed to find myself unexpectedly reading sexy scenes in public places. Alas, I seem to have a knack for bringing the most scandalous reading on planes, trains, and buses—and each time, I get absorbed in the narrative, turning page after page until a graphic layout leaves my cheeks aflame.

And I mean graphic literally. At least when I’m reading a steamy romance novel on the train, I only run the risk of someone reading the text over my shoulder. With comics, those spreads are out there for anyone to see— drawn with unambiguous sexuality.

bitch planetSome, like Sex Criminals, I can see coming. Other sexy scenes have caught me by surprise: the shower scene in a recent issue of Bitch Planet, the self-serving dragon in Saga. I usually react with all the grace of an epileptic giraffe, jerking upright in my seat, half-closing the book, and reading as quickly as possible.

But on another level, I take pleasure in reading sexy comics in public. (Not THAT kind of pleasure!) There’s a part of me that enjoys probing my own discomfort. Why should I be embarrassed to see two consenting adults in intimate situations? What’s wrong with a little bit of flesh?

My conservative upbringing notwithstanding, I believe sex is a beautiful act meant to be shared with whomever you choose (or with yourself, as is the case with Saga’s dragon). And I believe we—readers, creators, lovers of art and entertainment—shouldn’t censor ourselves when it comes to showing, and enjoying, scenes that are an undeniably important (and awesome!) part of life.

sagaThat’s why I keep reading sexy scenes in public. In fact, now I hold up every issue of Bitch Planet and other envelope-pushing comics proudly, defiantly. I want to be seen as the girl who DGAF—even when it means fighting against my inherent prudish tendencies.

Holding such comics aloft can also serve as beacon to other readers. After I decided to keep reading that issue of Saga that initially made me want to hide in a corner, another commuter walked up to me and said, “I saw you reading Saga!” I immediately started to blush and stammer, but she just smiled. “Isn’t it great?” Sometimes, I’m learning, people don’t judge you the way you fear.

When it comes to reading the comics that push you outside your safety zone, above all you’ve got to own it. It’s unlikely that anyone even notices, and if they do… who cares? Let your freak(y) flag fly.