Sexuality in Christian Fiction

One of the issues that keeps many Christian people from reading a lot of modern fiction is the proliferation of explicit sexual scenes. Yet now I seem to be finding more sexuality in Christian fiction — not full-fledged descriptions, but more of a window into that activity than I really want to read and imagine.

It’s not that I and Christians in general don’t like sex. It was God’s idea, after all: He invented it not only for procreation but also for enjoyment, within the parameters for which He created it (within marriage, to one spouse, between a man and woman.) Enjoyed as He meant it, it is a wonderful expression of love and intimacy.

But as Quilly once so aptly put it, I don’t enjoy sex as a spectator sport. I think it is meant to be private.

I do understand that some Christian authors write sexual scenes to show show how a person could easily get into trouble sexually without meaning to. And I understand that some want to portray sexuality in a normal, healthy, marital way, reasoning that, 1) it is okay to do so since God created it, and 2) if all sexuality in literature is the “wrong” variety (illicit, adulterous, etc.), then that gives readers a warped view of what it is meant to be.

And Song of Solomon is in the Bible after all, as well as graphic verses like Proverbs 5:19. And I am glad they are: they helped immensely when, as a young wife, I had to change my mind set from thinking of sex as something I needed to avoid and resist as an unmarried woman to something I was now free to enjoy. I knew that intellectually, but there were times of going over these passages to assure myself that it really was ok now.

I don’t think I have seen anything as graphic as those passages in Christian fiction, but I have read some passages that made me feel uncomfortable in the sense of feeling aroused or feeling voyeuristic — and that’s not how I want to feel when reading! Especially Christian fiction!

My appeal to any author, Christian or secular, would be to remember the “less is more” principle. A hint in this area is usually better than a full-fledged description. Some of you may remember on the TV sitcom “Happy Days” that occasionally Mrs. Cunningham would head upstairs saying something about “feeling frisky,” and Mr. Cunningham would get a goofy grin on his face and rush upstairs after her. It was cute, it revealed they were happy in that area of their lives, and that was all we needed to know.

By contrast, in one Christian book I just finished, a couple’s wedding night was portrayed step-by-step until they actually got into bed, and though I would say it was tastefully done and not explicit, and it fit naturally into the story, I still didn’t want to be left with the mental image of a man undressing his wife even though in reality it is a normal and wholesome thing.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with the portrayal of Christian married couples as sexual beings in Christian fiction? Is it helpful to portray married Christian sexuality as normal, healthy, and fun? How much is too much? At what point do you close a book or avoid an author (or avoid recommending an author) because of sexual content?

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21 thoughts on “Sexuality in Christian Fiction

  1. Excellent points, Barbara. I actually ran into this years ago, and was very bothered by it. As a result I read very little Christian fiction.

  2. A thought-provoking post, Barbara. I generally just like the sweet type of fiction (like Betty Neels). I haven’t really much Christian fiction lately… but I do agree with you. We don’t need the step-by-step descriptions.

  3. Barbara, I am an aspiring Christian fiction writer, and I truly appreciate your thoughts on this matter. I agree I am seeing more and more explicit love scenes in Christian fiction, and I personally don’t think this glorifies God. I always pray before I write anything because I truly want to glorify Him and lift up His name. A verse I pray is Ps. 26:7. This is my mission in writing – That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. This cannot include explicit love scenes. I think we have to be careful not to incite sexual feelings in our readers. Thanks again.

    • I think those are two good points: 1), that everything glorify God (and I think even sex can within the context of privacy between two married people), and 2), what thoughts and feelings does this arouse in the reader? The Bible handles a lot of sexual material and examples but none in a way that arouses a reader in a wrong sense.

  4. As usual, you have expressed yourself well! I agree with you that less is more. I have completely quit reading a couple of Christian romance authors because of their explicit love scenes. One author especially irritated me with her portrayal of a Christian young man actively pursuing an unsaved woman whom he had known all his life. They ended up in a compromising situation where he had to fight strong temptations to sin with this young woman. I realize that people do get into these situations and make bad choices, and God does redeem lives, but I don’t see the need to glorify and justify these situations. How much better to write of young couples doing things in a godly way, as an example of the right things to do!

    You know I’ve written about this topic on my blog, too, and I could just go on and on about it. Thanks for your well-written thoughts, Barbara!

  5. Thank you, Barbara, for stating this delicate subject so tastefully and yet expressing the very thoughts that many of us have. I agree wholeheartedly and think that this is being done more today to try to keep up with the non-Christian novels that are filled with every detail of sexual relationships

  6. I remember reading Grace Livingston hill books as a teen, and certain things said in those books about kissing or such made it easy for me to stumble in my thought life at that time. I don’t think any author ought to take chances with causing another to stumble.

  7. Honestly, I prefer that sex scenes be kept out of the story altogether. Fabulous stories can be written about day to day life showing the deep love and commitment between man and wife without ever heading into the bedroom. I don’t need it — and I really don’t want it!

  8. When I am reading I want a couple’s sexual exploits to go no further on the written page then a passionate kiss. After that, I’d like them to go into another room and close the door behind them. I am not a prude. I just don’t care to be a spectator to someone else’s intimacy, whether it is real or not.

  9. Less IS definitely more! I don’t want to be left with the mental images and imaginations. I understand that sex in marriage is a good, wholesome and healthy thing but I don’t want to be put in a position where I’m either reading about or having to train my thoughts away from imagining someone ELSE’S relationship in that way. So it would be great if authors would curb that. (Plus, when I come across passages like that in books, I wonder what on earth the author is thinking and imagining as they are penning their story!)

    Good thoughts. Great post! Much needed message!

  10. I agree with you Barbara.
    Sex is a normal, beautiful PRIVATE gift the Lord intended for a married man and women. Since I wouldn’t go around telling others about my intimate time with my husband, why would I want to read about other’s? And you’re talking fiction to boot! Save it for the Christian self-help books at least!
    We, as Christians, are to be set apart from the world, not to get as close as we can without crossing over.
    ’nuff said!

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  12. Sex is a natural part of life that Christian women seem to have a disdain for, from what I’ve read. What is wrong with a loving sex scene between an husband and wife in a Christian novel? It disgusts me to read comments from women who are so prudish they think they’re higher and mightier than women who consider sex between two loving people a beautiful thing. Why wouldn’t we want to read about that? I want realistic fiction, not fairy tales. I have been considering writing Christian fiction novels, but not if I can’t include love and sex scenes. Otherwise it’s not really a romance. It’s hollow.

    • It appears you haven’t read my post very carefully. Check paragraphs 2 and 5. I’m hardly prudish (neither are the people who commented) and do consider sex between two loving (married) people a beautiful thing.

      But I consider it a private thing. I don’t want to read sexual detail in a book any more than I want to watch it on TV or peep into my neighbor’s bedroom. I don’t want to be voyeuristic.

      A hint of such things — a kiss before heading to the bedroom, for instance — is more than enough to convey what’s going to happen without giving us the details. I’ve been reading Christian fiction for over 35 years and have read quite realistic romances without specific sexual scenes or details.

      I hope, if you ever write Christian anything, you’ll also learn a little more about Biblical grace than to be “disgusted” by people who have a different preference than yours.

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  14. Something that I always think about when questions like these are asked: I go to the idea of “confessing” our sins to one another.” It’s true we don’t go into detail about the actions of our sins. It’s okay to generalize. The other person gets the idea. On the other hand, for a person talking with a psychiatrist, they actually might have to go into detail….as comfortably as they feel. However, in fiction, scene setting aside, what if the writer wants to express a certain sin a character has a problem with. Readers won’t get a full sense of that sin and how it’s destroying the characters unless the writer makes it real. The more real the situation, the better the reader can grasp it, and who knows? Because the author has brought it out into the light, someone might be helped, since I figure a Christian author might ultimately strive to do. In contrast, if the Christian author skirts around the scene or development of the character because they don’t feel like it’s right to write stuff like that, well, everything is cheapened. As in, nothing was helped, solved, and time might have been wasted. Characters are supposed to be real people. The real world isn’t righteous. There are ugly things to see everywhere. We can’t walk around with our eyes closed. People are fighting real battles. We can’t be squeamish, or we won’t be able to fight battles with fellow children of God.

    • Characters can be portrayed as real and flawed and having battles to fight without drawing the reader into voyeuristic peeks into their bedrooms. I don’t object to sexual sin being in Christian fiction – that definitely is something people deal with. But I object to nitty gritty details we don’t need to know that put the wrong kinds of scenes or thoughts or desires in our minds as we read.

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