I received a message from another writer last week that said, “I am an author in the first round of edits with my publishing company. Luckily, they aren’t pushing for an erotic, yucky smut scene between my characters. I want Christian love scenes — your blogs and posts have inspired me to move forward. Thank you for your boldness.”
My new release, Sweet William, which should be available in June 2016, is the first book I’ve written where both of the main characters are virgins. Most of my books are second chance at romance stories, and it’s no secret that I have steamy scenes in several – or that said love scenes co-exist alongside a Christian world view and struggles of faith. I don’t call any of my books Christian Fiction, but they are in every way Fiction by a Christian. Some who know me are fine with my integration of faith and the nitty gritty of life, including sex, when it is part of the story. Others are uncomfortable and think, as a Christian and a pastor’s wife, I should keep the bedroom door tightly shut. I was told by the owner of a Christian bookstore that my characters shouldn’t even think about sex.
The note I received got me thinking about the term Christian love scenes. Is there such a thing?
Love, and yes, sex, are two of the greatest motivators in life. Biological urge, temptation, taboo, obsession, pleasure, joy, disappointment, regret, – make no mistake that making love (or not) is a prime mover in the stories of our lives. Why wouldn’t it be included in the stories that we read? Before you write me off completely, take your Bible, turn to 2 Samuel 11, and read about the love triangle between David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite. Then go to Psalms and Proverbs and think about some of the emotional and physical repercussions of their actions. It’s the stuff stories – and life – are made of.
Writing realistic fiction is important to me. If a story is too far-fetched, out there, or unbelievable, I’m done. I can believe that there are a few people in the world who for whatever reason are not actively thinking about the desire to be held, the need to experience a physical manifestation of love, and enjoy the physical pleasures of making love. Most people have it on their radar. If I read a book that doesn’t acknowledge this basic fact of life, and the way it influences the things we do, the decisions we make, and the manner in which we act, you’ve lost me. It’s too important, too meaningful to be ignored. In my humble opinion, to pretend sex doesn’t exist casts an unrealistic aura over the whole book and lessons the believability of the characters to the point where it’s hard to bond with or care about them.
Before I go any further, I want to make a disclaimer. Just because I write about sex and lovemaking does not mean that I endorse it in every time and circumstance that it occurs in my books. Authors write about murders, burglaries, terrorism, betrayals, lies, and all sorts of evil – the fact that these acts and occurrences are described through the eyes of a character, or pertinent to the plot in no way means that these authors endorse violence or deceitful acts, or recommend that you do them.
Teenagers and single men and women – please don’t have casual sex. There’s really no such thing. Sex is always serious, life-changing, and most-importantly, wrong when it’s done outside of a marital relationship. Save yourself for your wedding night. It’s the best and most beautiful form of lovemaking. Once you give yourself to someone, you can’t take it back. You can be forgiven and loved in the present, but the past is always there. I’ve never written about an adulterous affair, but again, I’ll go on record, in case it’s not already obvious – bad idea. Very bad. Don’t do it.
That brings me to my next point. How are love scenes written from a Christian perspective different from sex scenes written from a worldly point of view? Specifically, what can you expect from the love scenes that my characters participate in?
- The scenes are there for a reason. The love scenes in my book speak to the main characters worst fears, vulnerabilities, Achilles heels, and flaws. They progress the plot, derail or complicate a relationship, cause chaos, guilt, or confusion. They aren’t just a fun romp in the hay. They’re not there for no reason. They’re not inserted just for the sake of having sex.
- There are repercussions and consequences to making love. Giving our bodies to one another in an intimate setting is not a light matter. It changes us in both wonderful and detrimental ways depending on the person and the timing.
- My love scenes are respectful, tender, and considerate. There’s no foul language. They’re a thing of beauty, and appropriate to the character’s personality and issues. I was once told that a Christian writer should never glorify sex, murder, rape, or any kind of sin. Sex can be a sin, but it’s also one of the most glorious things in the world. Just like life, the trouble comes in sorting out when it’s right and when it’s not, and how far you can go without betraying your conscience. It’s a complex, often confusing, sometimes tender and sometimes heartbreaking matter, and one I try to deal with candidly and honestly.
- My love scenes often teach lessons. It’s sometimes subtle, but they have a point. Some of them end badly. Some seem wonderful on the surface but culminate in disaster at a later date. And some are just plain wonderful, done at the right time, for the right reasons. And no matter how things start out, or why, everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end – another very Biblical perspective.
Are love scenes compatible with fiction written by people of faith with a Christian perspective? I think they are. We’re human. We were designed for lovemaking. I also realize that all of us, regardless of our faith, have differing preferences for how explicit we like our sex scenes. I have readers who love some of my books because they have no love scenes. Others don’t care for those same books because they like things a little spicy. And there are some who hate love scenes but read my books anyway because they like everything else about them. (Thank you!) I don’t want to lose readers because they’re afraid they’ll encounter a steamy scene. I don’t want readers to pass up a great book because they think it’s lacking in a component they enjoy.
I could do as many authors do, and make sure I include a specific number of sex scenes in each book, or conversely, guarantee that there will be absolutely no sex scenes in any of my books, so readers know exactly what to expect. I don’t feel that would be fair to me and particularly to my characters, all of whom are unique.
I write honest fiction with honest characters, each of whom has a different personality. My stories aren’t cookie cutter. They go in different directions. They’re character driven. Characters do what they will, which often means they go in a direction I would never go. I write my stories to be faithful to the story as it unfolds and the psyche of my characters. Does that mean that God is in only some of my stories and not others? No. He’s there, in every word, and every outcome, just as He is present in my life, all the time, every moment, even when I’m running away from something (maybe even Him), or in deep denial, on the wrong track or doing something completely idiotic.
Sex is an integral part of the human condition. God created us to be sexual beings. Lovemaking scenes can be beautiful and powerful, or heartbreaking and misguided. That’s why I love to explore this complex facet of our beings in my writing. For those who don’t feel the same way I do, here’s a handy guide to where each of my books fits on the steaminess scale.
Night and Day: A few steamy scenes. Mild by today’s standards.
Stormy Weather: I’m told it’s one of my steamiest.
Water Lily: Mildly steamy in a tender, beautiful way.
Merry Go Round: Mildly steamy. Adult subject matter and strong Christian themes which clash and cause an extreme amount of tension.
Love Notes: They don’t do it, but they (well, one of them) thinks about it and wishes they were. Strong Christian themes and adult themes set against a very wholesome, yet sometimes warped backdrop – all mixed together, just like life.
Thistle Down: Totally tame except for one boyfriend who’s a jerk.
Wild Rose: Adult subject matter, including sexual temptation and sex gone wrong. Strong Christian themes. One extremely mild lovemaking scene between husband and wife.
Blue Belle: One of my very steamiest and best. Creepy bad guys.
Shy Violet: So deliciously steamy that it makes you want to cry when it doesn’t end the way you want it to.
Sweet William: No sex, but not for lack of wanting it. A wonderfully patient and chivalrous hero you will love.
I want to end by saying that I don’t wish to in any way offend those Christian writers who have made the decision to keep the bedroom door closed. I have read and loved many of your books and respect the way you handle romance in your writing – just as I hope you will respect and show understanding for mine. Nor do I wish to offend those of my colleagues who write more explicitly erotic scenes than I. We’re not all the same, and I don’t mean to imply that we should be. I like some of your books, too.
While I’m at it, please don’t dishonor me and other authors who include steamy scenes in their novels by categorizing our literary achievements as cheap, bodice-rippers, porn or smut. There are well-written, thoughtful, smart books that include sex, and horribly written books that don’t. Please don’t generalize.
Finally, a special thank you to my readers – no matter what your stance on this issue – for your enthusiasm and support for my endeavors to write in a way that glorifies God, yet is true to the world as I see it and the way He created me.