Let’s talk about writing sex.
Specifically, let’s talk about writing sex … from a Christian perspective.
Don’t pretend, as a writer, this isn’t something you struggle with, or think about, because it is. Writers write stories about human beings and their emotions, which means inevitably, sex is going to come up.
Some authors choose not to deal with it at all, and some readers prefer not to read it at all. Some writers choose to deal with it a lot, and some readers want to read it. Christians tend to fall in-between. I have read Christian novels without a whiff if intimacy even between a married couple, and a few that made me blush and stow the book under my pillow, in case my mother wandered in and wanted to read it. In terms of gratuitousness and in comparison to what we can see on primetime television now, that book was “tame” but for a thirteen year old, it was extremely racy.
I sometimes deal with sex in my books, for several reasons. Firstly, sex is significant, it forms bonds, and it is part of the human condition, and any relationship developing that does not involve sexual attraction I feel is inauthentic. I do not believe in adding sex for no reason, nor in being graphic, but I can’t write a novel about a married couple without touching on intimacy. Nor can I write a novel about flawed human beings who are attracted to each other without involving temptation. My heroine never gives in, but then it becomes an issue of faith overwhelming physical desire. Sex inside of marriage is a huge deal and a major portion of a relationship. Secondly, I also think Christians need to find middle ground on sex. It seems to be “all or none” a lot of the time, which is not healthy either for our thought life or our relationships. It is better to have a healthy view of sex as a natural, beautiful part of God’s plan for married life and to encounter it in tasteful moderation than to either be so sheltered that the idea of an undone cravat turns you on, or to be reading erotica to get your fix.
Writing sex is complicated. There are so many valid opinions out there, and so many people whose tastes are varied. I could sit a group of godly women down in a circle, ask them about sex in books, and get a bunch of different answers. One will tell me that she doesn’t want to read it, or even an implication of it. One gentle kiss and a closed bedroom door is all she wants. Another will tell me that the emotional fulfillment of a relationship is often found through marital love, and that she likes to see the tension manifested in a love scene. Another might tell me that sex is nothing to be ashamed of and that she doesn’t mind it in books.
So, how do we write it? What do we do?
Our Biblical presidents are clear – we are not to lead others into temptation or become a stumbling block for them. This presumably means that we should write nothing that would cause others to have impure thoughts, which is why so many Christian authors avoid sex altogether in their books. Perhaps they are right, but I am not that kind of a writer. I deal with all things equally – religion, violence, betrayal, sex, in a tasteful manner but to challenge my reader and make them think. I am careful, but I still want to touch on all of these things and different things can be stumbling blocks to different people. I am far more turned on by a man in a suit than with his shirt off, and emotional repression to me is sexier than a couple getting hot and bothered. I cannot blame others for my thought life. I have to own it, and take responsibility for it. I do my best not to lead others into temptation but ultimately, we are all “turned on” by different things.
The unspoken rule is to avoid graphic descriptions but personally, I have found that emotional intimacy can be way more erotic than graphic descriptions. One of my favorite on-screen love scenes is in The Painted Veil, when Kitty and Walter finally overcome all their anger and forgive one another. He puts aside her affair, and takes her in his arms. It’s a beautiful scene, because it is lovemaking – not graphic, though passionate, and full of intense emotional meaning. There is nothing carnal about it. It is an emotional high point in their marriage.
That, I think, if we choose to write about sex, is what we should aim for – not the physicality of it, but the emotional significance of it. Our hearts yearn for emotional intimacy between characters, so we do not need physical representations so much as emotional arcs. A simple solution would be not to deal with sex at all and not face the anxiety of getting it right, but … for me, at least, there is a sense of fulfillment in a beautifully written, tasteful love scene.
What about you? What do you prefer? The absence of love scenes? Tasteful love scenes? What are your struggles in writing love scenes?