Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Erotica in Christian Fiction? Ahem ....





Ahem. Well, this is awkward. My past blog posts have tended to write themselves; an idea presents itself and takes me over for a week or two until the piece is written to my satisfaction. This time it’s different. The idea has presented itself, certainly, but as I sit here with only two days left before I’m due to post, I’m still skirting around the subject, procrastinating about where to start, let alone how to finish.

I keep telling myself that almost any other ‘suitable’ topic would do nicely and I really should stop trying to wrestle with the angels on this one. Yet, the question of whether or not erotica has a place in Christian fiction simply won’t let me go. I know there are Christians who include sex in their stories. I believe they’d defend their positions admirably and I hope to engage some healthy debate on this delicate yet important subject.

My personal view is that pornography is not only able to be viewed on a screen and in glossy magazines that contain more photographs than words, but can also be partaken of via the written word. To me, there is little difference between an image viewed with our physical eyes and an image created within our mind’s inner eye. In a spiritual sense, I would argue, they are one and the same. If that image is not of one’s spouse, we’re walking on some pretty shaky ground according to scripture. In the words of fellow Christian blogger, Sheila Wray Gregoire:
‘When we read, we take part in creating the story because we have to participate in picturing it and putting images to the words. Thus, we become really emotionally engaged in a book, often more than we would in a movie.’ (To love, honour and vacuum)
And according to Jesus himself, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matthew 5:27-28

God’s word makes it very clear that sex is a sacred gift to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage. As writers, we need to look within ourselves and ask some revealing questions. If we were to write a sex scene, is it our own spouse we are imagining as we write? Is it a scene from our own experience within that marriage? If we can answer an unequivocal yes to this self-enquiry then we may be tempted to argue that we’re not actually overstepping God’s boundaries. However, as a writer I can vouch for the fact that when we’re writing about our characters, we’re thinking about those characters, not about ourselves. Hmmm. It can probably safely be said then, that few writers could answer my first question with an honest yes.

But let’s consider that hypothetical situation briefly. That is, let’s say you’ve written a sex scene that emanated from your imaginings of yourself and your spouse. No harm done then? Let me ask a further question – Do you believe the majority of your readers will be imagining their own marriages when reading your erotic description? Or will they be seeing the characters co-created by a combination of your words and their own imaginations? I would argue that in virtually 100% of cases, the latter will be the truth.

Scripturally, I believe, there is no doubt. Jesus said to his disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.’ Mark 9:42

To me, that’s the end of the story. No more questions need to be asked. We can portray love and passion with our literary skill ... and yet leave it at the bedroom door. But that’s just me.
Are you prepared to be a stumbling block? I welcome all questions and comments.

Melinda Jensen
(A mother and grandmother. A lover of, and believer in, Jesus Christ. A writer. An advocate for the disadvantaged. A campaigner for equality in all its forms. A pusher of boundaries while respecting the same.)

22 comments:

  1. Well done Melinda on an excellent post on a difficult subject. Thank you for asking those awkward questions. Ahem indeed. :) Personally I am not a fan of erotica so I don't read fiction with erotica. I don't think bedroom scenes are needed in Christian fiction. Often a message is far more powerful without them. But that's me!

    Interested to hear the discussion that's bound to follow your post. Thank you for making us think further on a delicate subject!

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    1. Thanks Anusha. I felt it did need to be talked about. In fact, it was something Nola said at an Omega Writers afternoon workshop that prompted it. We were talking about whether fantasy is a suitable genre for Christian writers and she mentioned that there are Christian writers of Erotica too. You and I think very much alike on this one. :)

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  2. Thanks for tackling such a provocative subject. I don't like erotica as a genre because I believe it sets out to arouse and excite. That's not what I want to be on about.. However I don't think open door sex scenes are necessarily erotica. One author I follow writes beautiful sex scenes where she focuses on the emotion involved - not on the particular bits of the anatomy - and this emotion is necessary for the rest of the story. I find most of those scenes beautiful rather than titilating. Could I write such a scene? Would I want to? The honest answer is that I don't know. It would depend on the story I wanted to tell and the audience I was writing for. But I don't think it's always wrong to present intimate sexual love in titerary form. The Bible is full of erotic imagery presented in a way that tells His story of love and redemption ��. God bless, Melinda, and thanks again for being brave enough to start this conversation.

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    1. Thank you, Sue, for your perspective. I truly struggled with this post as I'm so aware of the love passages in the bible - at least in the Old Testament. In the end, I decided to focus on the New Testament and try to discern as best I could from the scriptures it contains. I was hoping to open up a dialogue and just learn a little from our different points of view. My mother always says, 'In the end, it's between God and me.' We do our best to live ... and to write ... the way we believe God wants us to. Bless you too!

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  3. Thanks for being brave enough to tackle this issue Melinda and you've raised a really good point about who we're imagining when we write or read such scenes. I think you've raised some really important questions to consider. I don't think it's necessary to get into the nitty gritty when writing about sex, and is usually more romantic when we don't. But it would be interesting to hear how others have dealt with intimate moments in their stories. I'm still just coping with my characters having a kiss, so I'm probably not the right person to ask. But I do take Sue's point. Would be interesting to hear what others have to say. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. There's been some great feedback with some differing perspectives. I personally prefer to err on the side of caution ... and can easily imagine you having trouble with your characters kissing. :)

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    2. Thanks for tackling such a touchy (unintended pun, but it works) subject, Melinda. And yes, Sue, Song of Solomon could be considered R rated in places. And I do pay tribute to the brave Jo Wanmer who doesn't flinch from tough topics.

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  4. Hi Melinda,
    Your post reminds me of a session several of us attended at the Christian Writers Conference last year. It was run by the brave Jo Wanmer, and as I remember, only females attended :) It's a topic which can spark off never-ending discussion, so thanks for getting it started here. Any genre clearly called 'erotica' is draped with red flags, but I'm not against sensitively portrayed sex scenes which leave enough out to protect the characters' privacy. They may be fictional, but they deserve this respect as much as anyone else. Loving relationships between spouses are gifts from God, and I don't mind seeing them sensitively portrayed in the pages of novels if it's done in a tactful way, without the excessive detail we expect from 'erotica'. When we read novels, we do so with the understanding that we're entering the lives of the point of view characters for a time, and if they have loving, healthy relationships with their spouses, I don't mind this coming out. However, individuals who have had trouble with erotica and pornography may decide to avoid even this, just as others steer clear of alcohol or junk food completely. Thanks again, it's really interesting to read your post and the comments.

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    1. Hi Paula! I wish I'd been a the Christian Writers Conference last year. My hope and my goal is that I'll make it this year. What a brave soul Jo Wanmer is. I have come across a very thoughtful post by a Christian blogger who is also a movie critique/reviewer ... who reflects your sentiments. That is, that she herself (a dedicated Christian)is not particularly offended by sex scenes and violence in movies - yet she cautions those who do have issues in this area to take responsibility and stay away from such things. It's wise advice. Avoidance is sometimes a very healthy mechanism. Bless you.

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  5. Thanks Melinda for an interesting, and difficult post. I've recently released my first novel and in this early stage I'm relying largely on my family, friends and work colleagues to support me. Most of them have never read 'Christian Fiction' or stories of love without sex. A surprising discussion occurred at work where some colleagues stated that they didn't really like books with lots of sex. Surprising because the discussion went on to compare this one with the infamous 'Fifty shades of Grey.' and from what I gathered, the one without the sex won hands down. The feeling was that readers are entertained by the developing relationships and not what happens between them in private. I'm with you Melinda; we can create a romantic love story and leave the sex out

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  6. Thanks Melinda for an interesting, and difficult post. I've recently released my first novel and in this early stage I'm relying largely on my family, friends and work colleagues to support me. Most of them have never read 'Christian Fiction' or stories of love without sex. A surprising discussion occurred at work where some colleagues stated that they didn't really like books with lots of sex. Surprising because the discussion went on to compare this one with the infamous 'Fifty shades of Grey.' and from what I gathered, the one without the sex won hands down. The feeling was that readers are entertained by the developing relationships and not what happens between them in private. I'm with you Melinda; we can create a romantic love story and leave the sex out

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    1. Hi Susanne. Thanks so much for your perspective and also a huge ... HUGE! ... congratulations on your first novel being released. Wow!

      It's interesting ... but not particularly surprising that many, if not most, people, prefer the romance and depth of character/plot to the overt sex in Fifty Shades of Grey. And that's among non- Christians as well as Christians. Again ... I'm not surprised. We are satiated with too much sexual imagery these days and it doesn't add to our experience. It diminishes it. What I found most frustrating when researching this topic is the somewhat humourous fact that when you google 'Christian writing, erotica' - about four pages come up with 'Fifty Shades Of Grey!', lol. Because apparently, one of the main characters is called 'Christian'. Lordy ... I did a lot of blushing before I found what I was looking for. Bless you.

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  7. Great post. When I saw the title I nearly fell over because I thought you were going to say there's a place for erotic in Christian fiction. If that was where you were heading, I would have jumped up and down and loudly said no! At least not the erotica I've heard of. I'm a christian and I write general market. My (non christian) characters have sex but these scenes are totally behind closed doors where, as far as my writing is concerned, they should say.
    You made another really interesting point about whether writers imagine their husband when they're writing particular scenes. I hadn't even realised, but that's exactly what I do! I picture how my husband would hold my hand, or touch my arm, or kiss me tenderly and I use those images to portray them onto my characters.
    As I said, I don't write sex scenes so I don't even have to imagine them in my head. My characters close the door and don't open it until much later. It works for me, and I hope, the readers I'm targeting - readers who aren't looking for Christian romance, but who are looking for clean/sweet romance.
    If anyone is interested (and yes, this is a plug), my first book is currently FREE online, my second book is just $1 and my third book was released today. All sweet romances set in Australia.
    Thanks again Melinda for facilitating this discussion. I too love the romance, but like to leave the sex out.

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  8. Sorry for typos - I forgot you can't edit a post in blogger!

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    1. Aren't you just gorgeous, Nicki?! Congratulations on your publications. I am so downloading them tomorrow! I wrote this post in fear and trepidation ... expecting to be shot down in flames. Instead, I have had such edification - from both sides of the equation. There are those who think like me ... and those who beg to differ ... and offer some truly thought provoking concepts to dwell upon. Sorry the title of my post was a bit confronting. God bless.

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  10. You are very brave to tackle this topic, Melinda. I admit I prefer reading about the emotional development in a relationship, rather than the physical. And I think you raise an interesting point that most people would not be thinking of their spouse when they read 'sex scenes' in a book. Many people read books for escapism, and I wonder if 'perfect' relationships in novels can lead them to view their own lives with discontent. Food for thought!

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  11. Brave topic, Melinda. I'm one who likes to leave things at the bedroom door and leave it to people to imagine what comes next. It's not like people can't fill in the blanks. I've just almost finished a book, not Christian but just general market fiction, and one of the comments I plan to make is that it would have been better without the sex scenes. They were the bits I skipped. They added nothing to the story.

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  12. Just want to add that I am on Goodreads and it is not only Christians who would rather writers left the sex behind a closed door, but a number of other readers as well.

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    1. And thanks for all your reviews on Goodreads, Dale. Can I urge other authors to support fellow writers there. Feel free to friend me and let me know if you'd like a free copy of any of my books for review.

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  13. This is a very late comment and i wonder if it will be read but I missed this completely.
    Let me say this. No no no to erotica. But that is different to writing sex. I write sex, carefully, prayerfully, so I can point to God's healing grace in this very important area of our lives. Every reader is sexual, has sexual experiences, sexual pains.
    I hope my writing brings wholeness not stimulation. I write with the help of the Holy Spirit. I read my work aloud to God and to friends. If I'm not comfortable doing that it goes.
    Thanks Miss Min for opening this topic again.

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  14. Love this thread. So pleased that there is a united and Godly stance here and I love your opening blog Melinda, especially that you back it up with scripture. I wouldn't watch or listen to somebody else having sex, so certainly feel as much discomfort when it is portrayed in movies or books. I feel shocked and saddened that the words erotica and Christian are used in the same sentence and that there are Christians out there who want to water down faith like this. Write what you like, but don't call it something it isn't. Call a spade a spade - and keep sex behind closed doors is where it belongs. There is a huge difference between writing romance and writing sex.

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