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Let’s Talk About Sex

Authors shouldn’t fear writing about sex any more than they should fear writing about violence or the occult. There is a place for all of those things in fiction.
| May 11, 2018 | 16 comments |

Sex is a difficult topic in the Christian book community. A lot of readers demand pure, PG or even G rated content, and understandably so. But does sex have no place in Christian-authored work?

Often, Christian readers come out with pitchforks when the topic of sex is remotely broached in fiction.

I read a book where a male character in a female’s bedroom was described as shirtless, as a protagonist walked in on his girlfriend at some stage of the act of cheating on him. There were no lewd acts described, but the implication was clear. It was also clear that the fornication was a negative thing. The cheating girlfriend was villainous, the protagonist was hurt and scarred by what was going on—it was in many ways a lesson that fidelity is crucial. What happened? The book received numerous scathing reviews because the mere topic of sex was broached, though in a way that could be seen in any PG-rated film.

In science fiction and fantasy, books are often more concept-driven than character relationship-driven, which means that as authors, we can avoid the subject by relying on plots that steer far away from sex as possible. The readers tend to expect more of us as Christians in the speculative genre, as evidenced by the incident above. But as sex is a very human condition, sometimes it can’t be danced around. What are we supposed to do?

As Christian authors, we not only have to tell great stories, but we have a secondary duty to present characters and conflicts as a moral alternative to secular culture. Presenting heroes who value chastity is certainly one aspect of this, but the vast majority of humans on the planet, from Adam and Eve to now, were certainly not chaste, or we wouldn’t be alive to discuss this topic.

As Christian readers, we want to fill our minds with what is right, and what is good. In the context of science fiction and fantasy, however, we can get into a number of concepts that, if we were to open that can of worms to its full and logical conclusion, we would have to throw away almost every book we’ve ever read—Christian or not. Most genre books have something creepy, magical spellcraft, or, at the very least, violence. Even the Bible has some pretty graphic violence and strange sexual scenarios. Genesis 19 still gives me the creeps to this day whenever I read it. With that being in one of the opening chapters of the Bible, I find it hard to believe that God’s intention is for us to wholly ignore human intimacy in our reading.

So why are we so afraid of examples like the above?

It’s more of a psychological backlash to current modern secular culture, and readers perhaps being overly-aggressive toward Christian authors in warning them not to become like their secular counterparts. It’s understandable that we as Christians don’t want our literature to look like Game Of Thrones, but by putting limits on authors like the example at the beginning of this article, we are potentially shaming authors into not taking risks with their art—which in turn creates works that feel cheesy, subpar, and watered down. And that’s because, often times, the works are watered down intentionally as to not risk offending sensitive readers.

Authors need to be able to be free to write the story calling to them. Now this is not advocating for the same in children’s books, as I wouldn’t let my child read either Game of Thrones or Genesis 19, but for adults who understand the world. Authors shouldn’t fear writing about sex any more than they should fear writing about violence or the occult. There is a place for all of those things in fiction.

I tackled the sex topic in my most recent novel, The Stars Entwined. There’s a heavy romantic component to it (spoilers), and actually, the sex in the book is so crucial to the plot and concept, it actually can’t be removed without heavily detracting from the book. I made a twist around it, though—-which is an alien culture where fornication and divorce are biologically impossible. Sex was intended by God to be an act of pure intimacy and love between husband and wife, and that is all that can possibly exist in this culture that did not have such matters corrupted by Satan and human sin. The result is both a compelling science fiction concept and highly-charged romance for readers to relate to characters’ very real human conditions as characters become besotted with one another.

Several people told me they wouldn’t read the book because there was sex in it, and they didn’t want that as Christians. It’s not a complaint, as that’s a reader’s right, but I still think it’s important to present alternatives to secular culture that can show a God-designed function in our lives as it was intended, as a juxtaposition to its debased and loveless depiction in much secular work. The sex in my book is born out of a covenant of eternal love between two people, which is what we as Christians want to promote for our society.

Some people will always be opposed to any reference to sex in works, but hopefully some adults will read this and consider with an open mind as Christian authors do their best to realistically portray human conditions and create compelling fiction we can read without feeling like we ourselves sinned.


Jon Del Arroz is the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction. He is a multi-award nominated author, popular blogger, and journalist. He contributes to The Federalist and Milo Yiannopoulos’ Dangerous.com. In the summer of 2017, Superversive Press released his YA Steampunk novel, For Steam And Country, to critical and reader acclaim. His most recent novella, “Gravity of the Game” is an exploration of baseball’s future as humanity expands to the stars. His triumphant return to Military Science Fiction comes on March 20th, 2018, with the release of his new interstellar war epic, The Stars Entwined. He releases monthly short fiction and more on his Patreon.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found at his website and at Twitter .

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Elisabeth Wheatley
Guest

We definitely need to normalize the concept of godly sexuality! The psalmists, the Song of Songs, and numerous other places in the Word celebrate the joy, delight, and holiness of sex sanctified by marriage. Let’s bring that to fiction!

Parker J. Cole
Member

OH MY GOSH!! YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ME DISAGREE WITH THIS!! Sex is a VERY good thing. So glad you’re on board with this!

Morgan Busse
Member

The concept of sex within marriage is one of the themes in my new series, Mark of the Raven (namely, that it is good and loving between a husband and wife).

Melinda Viergever Inman
Guest

Well said! All of my novels include romance and human intimacy, of course, tastefully written. This is normal human life. If Christian writers aren’t able to communicate all the lessons learned surrounding this vital part of our humanity, we’re missing out on being able to convey some of the greatest gifts God has given. If we can’t write real stories, we won’t reach the audience we aspire to reach, those who actually need our message.

Allen Steadham
Guest

I agree. I do not avoid the topic in my novels, but it is made clear that sex is for married couples. When it does not happen that way, there are serious consequences.

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

It’s important to discuss real life issues in fiction to help people understand things better, and this goes doubly for Christian fiction. The issue is probably more about how sex is depicted. Is it there just because, or is it a legitimate part of the story world and character arcs? Is it graphic or simply implied? Is it encouraging promiscuity, or simply explaining human behavior and how we should respond to the human behaviors in question?

Usually what I do is imply certain things based on the context. In one of my stories, for instance, two characters met up alone in a camp, and nine months later their child is born, so what happened was pretty obvious, even without saying so. In other cases, I have some characters thinking about their crush constantly in a slightly giddy way that focuses on the crush’s looks. The thoughts the char has about their crush aren’t graphic in the narrative, so a younger reader might not pick up on the possible sexual nature of it, but an adult might read it and understand that the char may actually be thinking other thoughts about their crush that aren’t so innocent, which can be used to influence the character’s arc and maybe, at that point, the story can imply a lesson about not letting crushes and fantasies get too obsessive or something.

notleia
Guest
notleia

It’s kinda sad how often the giddiness gets skipped and the narrative goes straight for obsession. In my experience, a lot of the fun is in that natural chemical high that correlates to the giddiness. I’d much rather be feeling fun rather than the desperation implied by obsession.

Then again, I’ve more or less given up on anything actually changing about the way sex is treated in Christian fiction. Even in these comments, people are quick to bring up the caveats and spend more digital ink on those than the happy nice feelings.

It’s like talking about visiting Australia and even tho it’s a beautiful place there are sharks and crocodiles and jellyfish near the beaches and SO MANY poisonous animals in the interior and also the koalas will claw your face off if you annoy them. You’re totally looking forward to your trip to Australia, right?

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

Lol. Well, I have lots of Christian fiction stories in the works, and I plan on using the giddiness thing a bit because it’s something I’ve noticed in people and see as important to address, so there will be my books at least 😛 Maybe a lot of Christians will dislike my books for some of the stuff I write, but from what I can tell there will still be Christians that will like them. Either way…I don’t know. I care about what other people think, but at the same time I just want to be myself when it comes to my stories, which in this case means trying to depict human relationships in an at least somewhat realistic manner.

There were actually several Christian fiction books I read when I was younger that talked about sex. It wasn’t graphic or anything, but I was in my early teens and it was enough to embarrass me a bit, so not all the CF authors completely dodge the issue. Maybe it was a matter of genre, though. One of the books I recall was a historical fiction, and the other ones were fantasy, so maybe most of the avoidance is more in the realm of sweet prairie romance? I haven’t read enough prairie romance to know for sure, but that’s a guess.

Brie Donning
Guest

Yet Australia is still a safer place to live than many countries.

Not sure how that’s relevant to the topic, but I think it could be. Maybe it’s this: Those sharks and crocodiles can be navigated around, or even seen from a distance without danger. You just need to know not to stick your arm in their mouths.

(perhaps I’m just trying to defend my home)

notleia
Guest
notleia

Lol, that’s my point, more or less. I would totally visit Australia if I had the money to travel. And squee at koalas from a safe distance.

It just makes a handy analogy.

Ann Margaret Lewis
Guest

I try to avoid encouraging prurience (lustful thoughts) in my readers. Being too graphic encourages one’s readers to read about sex for the sake of reading about sex. But, it can be addressed. I do cut-aways usually. But avoid the topic? No. It matters a lot in the next book I’m writing because I have married characters. And as you point out, that matters.

Lela Markham
Guest

Christians who avoid sexual topics apparently have never read the Song of Songs. What exactly do they think is going on in that poetry?

I do address sex in my books, although I don’t do it graphically. It is a part of life and God put Adam and Eve together for having sex and making babies.

Paula Harmon
Guest

Well done for tackling this. I think there is such a difference between graphic and subtle. Sex is a normal part of being human. If Christian writing ignores it as if it’s something ‘dirty’ then that takes away the very beauty of something God given. A book written by a Christian can highlight the beauty of married, faithful loving sex, making a point without being heavy handed about it. Equally it is an opportunity to provide an alternative to negative sexual experiences (some of which can happen within marriage). So far I haven’t published anything with direct sexual references and none of my books are strictly ‘Christian’ in genre, although there is, I hope, a pervading theme of hope and faith. Books I have planned do have a mild sexual element but I do hope to write them with sublety (hinted at rather than described) and only when crucial to the plot.

Francis W. Porretto
Guest

What I’m about to write will strike many other Christians as sinful, possibly even diabolical, but I feel I must express it here, if anywhere. Full disclosure: I’m a practicing Catholic.

Sex belongs in a story where sex must appear for reasons of narrative continuity and characterological consistency. It can be handled tastefully — “Sometimes the most erotic thing you can write is a line space.” (Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers) — but whether it’s implicit or explicit, if the story and the natures of its principal characters demand it, it must be there.

If you present yourself to the world as a storyteller, you have an obligation to serve the story and its characters properly, in all its necessities. If you feel you can’t write a sex scene where the story demands one, then you shouldn’t be writing that story. Perhaps another story would be better suited to your limitations; find it and tell it.

The Commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Adultery is the violation of the marital compact, nothing else. That’s the Authority we’ve been given. Human clerics don’t have authority beyond that. They never have had it, their claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Remember that they’ve tried to forbid many other things that neither Christ nor God the Father ever pronounced on. There’s even a joke: “Q: Why do the Puritans forbid sex standing up? A: Because it might lead to dancing.” But sex, the greatest gift God chose to embed in human nature, has always drawn clerics’ particular envy and hatred, for more reasons than it would be appropriate to enumerate here.

Audie Thacker
Member

–The Commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Adultery is the violation of the marital compact, nothing else.

That’s not correct. Even Jesus said that a man who looked at a woman to lust after her was commiting adultery. So, it might be said that, for example, pornography is a form of adultery.

Sex may be a good gift from God, but calling it God’s greatest gift is a bit overkill. And like all good things we’ve received from God, in our fallen and sinful state we’ve made an unholy mess of it. We are right to be cautious around it, and if we must err, let it be on the side of caution. If your story can’t stand without sex, then maybe and likely the story should be allowed to fall.

But the stories I tell don’t rule me; I rule the stories. I am responsible for their content, whether good or bad. It would be as wrong to claim “the story made me do it” as if I were to claim “the devil made me do it”.

julie dick
Guest
julie dick

I love the one-sentence sex scene in Madeline L’Engle’s A Live Coal in the Sea. “When she had her first orgasm, she ascended like Elijah in a chariot of fire.”
It’s an analogy from known to unknown, from strangeness to mystery, and it’s brilliant.