Thursday, February 5, 2015

Blurred Lines - Let's talk about SEX!

At my heart, I'm a pretty black-and-white kinda person. There are rights and wrongs and goods and bads and grey is just not a color I usually see often. I've always backed this mental point of view up with the Bible when it talks about God spitting the lukewarm out of his mouth.

But the older I get, the more I see that while God isn't a fan of lukewarm Christians who think they can straddle the fence and have the best of both worlds, not all issues in the world are super clear. There are lines that have been blurred by culture and society that we have to figure out how to deal with in our fiction. How do we write fiction that remains relevant to our current culture yet still pleases Jesus?

And let me just say there. That is one line that, for me, is NOT blurred. Regardless of your content or audience, if you are a follower of Christ, your first goal should ALWAYS be to honor Christ in all you do, writing included.

Over my next few posts on Thursdays, I'll talk about some of these blurred lines and give some suggestions on how to handle and deal with the blurred lines of today.

With the release of a certain should-be-X-rated-movie to theaters next week (which I will NOT be seeing, by the way), I thought a good place to start would be to have a little chat about sex and books.

This is a tough subject, one that some think should be a no-brainer for Christians and fiction, but in reality, has a LOT of varying opinions on the matter.

~Should characters have sex in our books?
~What about non-married characters? Christians aren't perfect, right? Can't we show reality?
~Just WHEN should we shut the door to give our characters privacy, and furthermore, should we?
~How much sexual tension is too much? How much is too little?
~How do we do with real topics such as rape, sex trafficking, molesting, and abortion?

My broad answer to all these questions is... IT DEPENDS!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. That helps a WHOLE TON.

But seriously. Each of us come from, presumably, a Christian world-view when we are writing, but that world-view has been shaded different arrays of colors by our parents, our spouses, the churches we've attended, the schools we've gone to, etc.

While it is a clear line to me that sex should not be "open door" in a book by a Christian, for others, that line is not so clear. I read Francine River's A Bridge to Haven and was super surprised to have a "sex scene" portrayed, door wide open. She handled it so respectfully and showed the beauty of what the intimate act between a husband and wife could be, as opposed to the horror the heroine had experienced in her past. It made me take a hard look at the line and see that while it is a clear line for MY fiction that I write--I'll never write an open-door sex scene in my books--I can see how an author can handle it with tact and glorify God through it. I could see how someone who was broken and thought sex was a "job" or was used to being used and abused, could have their eyes opened and see the beauty that God meant it to be. I don't think a closed door would have had the same effect for that hurting person.

Yet I know that book will not be for everyone. There will also be others who find it disturbing for its more graphic details, one Amazon reviewer noting, " The story of this book was good until she got explicit in bedroom scenes" and another noted how even reviewing the book made her feel dirty.

The thing is, those are super valid opinions only. I respect those people so much because at one point in my life, I was exactly like them. They have had their own set of life experiences that made the book hard for them to read, and their opinion should NOT be ripped on or thrown aside as short-sited.

The thing is.... all types of books are needed, even in the CBA. There are a variety of preferences among readers, some who feel that a romance without sexual tension falls flat and creates an unrealistic view of sex and relationships, and others who feel that adding sexual tension creates unneeded desires.

My suggestion as you write....

Go to Jesus. Readers will ALWAYS have various opinions but the one whose opinion matters the most is God. Ask God to show you where HIS line is for you. This may or may not be where you thought it would be. But at the end of the day, my goal is always to please Jesus, and if I can't stand before him proudly with my book, then I've crossed over a line.

Just remember, sex is not a bad thing. God created it, and it was, and SHOULD, be good. It is the world and culture that perverts it to something disgusting. Regardless of where you see your line in the sand on this issue... I urge you not to go there. We have been called to live in this world but not be OF the world. To be a LIGHT in the world not to fade and blend into the darkness.

Oh, and one last note.

Please, don't use the explicit Song of Solomon as an excuse to put sex in your book. Pretty please. It just... you're not the Bible. That was not fiction. There is no comparison. If you're gonna go there, we'd also need to say, "Go ahead, give your hero a gazillion wives and mistresses, Solomon had them!" If you have another good reason? Go ahead and share it. Just not this one!

Discussion: So where is your line? You'll not get any judgement here, just a frank discussion about a really important issue in our culture and fiction.

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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romanceand A Side of Faith. She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.
(picture above courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)




16 comments:

Mary Vee said...

Good points on a hot topic. Thanks Krista!

Sylvia said...

I agree with most of what you have said on here.

One thing I wish publishers would consider doing is putting a type of rating on the book cover. I don't know what that could be, but so many Christian publishers are now including things in their books that they wouldn't have touched years ago. I haven't read the Francine Rivers book, but for the sake of the people who wouldn't feel comfortable reading that I wish there could be a rating symbol or something. Even something to show how much tension is there. This symbol could be universally known in the CBA, so even indie authors would use it on their books too. I don't read Harlequin novels, but I'm sure the people that do read them understand all of Harlequin's different categories. They come to the book knowing how much graphic detail to expect just by the markings on the cover.

A little off topic, but I like descriptive kisses in novels. What I dislike it when the bad-boy rival gets lots of page time giving the heroine descriptive kisses. The hero, good guy, gets one sentence at the end of the book that's something like, "They grinned, leaned toward each other and shared a sweet kiss." That's the extent of a kiss that we get from the real hero. No wonder some good girls go after bad boys if the bad boys are the ones played up, bowed down to, and given all the page time and heart-stopping kisses. The hero needs to come out ahead in character, as well as, kisses. A few years ago, I plowed through a 400 page book, stayed up until 3:00 am, and that was all the reader got. I was dumbfounded.

Krista Phillips said...

Thanks, Mare!

Krista Phillips said...

Sylvia, thanks so much for sharing your opinion!!!

I'm not 100% sure how I feel about ratings... I'll have to think on that. The problem is, even ratings are subjective. There are some who have told me my books are unacceptable for Christian fiction, but they are tamer than others and definitely don't have an open door concept. So a rating system would mean that we all agree with the rating, and that is not so much.

I think the key is to know your authors, too. Francine was a former main-stream romance author before she came to know Jesus, and her books are known to stretch the line more than some.

and I'll also say, the scene I'm talking about is NOT raunchy at all. There are no part names and sweat or any of the other stuff that mainstream romance is full of. It is very tastefully done, and actually made me cry it was so sweet.

And that book you mentioned does NOT sound like one I would like.

I'm actually a fan of reformed bad-boys myself... because badboys can definitely find redemption :-)

Ashley Clark said...

Krista, great job on this post! I absolutely agree with you! I think the answer is there is no real answer. I've heard author friends, for instance, say that we need to be relevant and realistic if we want to reach the real world. On the one hand, I agree with that. As someone who appreciates deeper levels in fiction, I want CBA to be full of books that deal with real issues-- sex trafficking, recovering from abuse, low self-image, etc. Just think of Redeeming Love! One of the most explicit CBA books I've read on some levels, and yet also one of the most "Christian"-- the Gospel just seeps through those pages. But on the other hand, I think it's perfectly fine-- and perhaps to even be encouraged-- that CBA also includes "overly conservative," safe books as well, for example, for audiences less mature. For instance, I plowed through Robin Jones Gunn's Christy Miller books as a young teen, and while they make occasional mention of secondary characters making poor sexual choices, it's always pretty far in the background of the book. The main characters are a little goodie-two-shoes, and personally, that was JUST what I needed at that time in my life as a 14 year old who had never been kissed, never been on a date, and had seemingly no prospects of that changing for a long time (try five more years!). There's something to be said about preserving innocence of young kids/teens, and perhaps also elderly adults, for example.

I feel like at the end of the day, diversity is important. Listening to God's voice and using discernment is the most important. But I also think we must be careful not to make people stumble in the name of "being realistic"-- sure, we can't cater to every single person (bring in the yoga pants debate!), and people are bound to get mad over silly things. BUT, as a whole, we should not be using sex as a means of catching our audience's attention or driving their imaginations too far-- and I think if we do, we bear some responsibility in leading them astray. Now, what does that look like in reality? I think it just depends on the story and the storyteller. As you mentioned, someone like Francine Rivers has proven it's not so much about what is said as it is about how it's said. And that will look different from author to author, and perhaps even book to book.

I will say I once had an agent reject a proposal because the character had a child out of wedlock (even though that'd happened before the book began), and I knew that agent was not for me.

Great post!

Ashley Clark said...

By the way, Sylvia, I LOVE what you said. That is SO true. I think authors need to be more intentional about the big picture image they're portraying rather than just ramping up romantic tension on a page-by-page basis. I also love the rating idea!

Becky Dempsey said...

If it's going to be there between married couples, I'm a "fade to black" type of reader. I don't need to be invited into the bedroom, thank you very much! At this point, I don't see myself including even those type of scenes in my books. BUT I have a pair of characters that are trying to get me to write their story and they came to know each other through a sexual assault. At this point, I'm fighting them, but I'll have to pray some more about it.

Alicia G. Ruggieri said...

"Go to Jesus. Readers will ALWAYS have various opinions but the one whose opinion matters the most is God. Ask God to show you where HIS line is for you. This may or may not be where you thought it would be. But at the end of the day, my goal is always to please Jesus, and if I can't stand before him proudly with my book, then I've crossed over a line." So, so true, and something I pray to remember each time I put fingers to keyboard. Thanks for the reminder!

I agree with you - Song of Solomon probably shouldn't be used to justify open-door scenes. Maybe a better use of it as a writer is to allow God to continually reshape our vision of sex into the redeemed, beautiful expression of love that it should be - and that will influence our writing... and our reading.

I haven't read Bridge to Haven, but what Rivers does in that sounds similar to what Liz Curtis Higgs does in her Scottish Lowlands series - showing fairly explicit intimacy within a deeply loving relationship as beautiful and redemptive.

Robin Mason said...

my MC [who is not a Christian] has a moment where she questions her best friend about why this new guy hasn't bedded her yet. the bestie responds that "he's a keeper."
my experience, even as a Christian, was pretty ugly; I "knew better" but felt it a "small price to pay" for the attention and affection it afforded me. I share this only for the viewpoint it provides because it colors my writing. I know there is no "gray" in who should have sex, there is, some leeway for our characters, however, because of life experience. I was so broken I was willing to accept whatever attention I could get; Tessa [my character] however, just didn't know any different.

Cristine Eastin said...

Thanks for this post, Krista. I agree, sex is both something to include and to avoid in our Christian writing—it depends. In my own novel I included a couple "sex" scenes that were pertinent to the MC's grieving the death of her husband. In my view, they make the reader ache for the MC. But I did the cutaway.

I recently saw the movie "American Sniper" and was relieved and heartened when the couple literally closed the door behind them, shutting the viewer out. That's unusual for Hollywood.

It's a gift, it's a motivator, it's something we humans both enjoy and mess up, it can be an area fraught with baggage—the writer's grist to use in God-honoring ways.

Krista Phillips said...

Thanks everyone for all your great comments on this sometimes tough subject! I really appreciate your honesty and input!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So very good! And so relevant! I agree that orbitals depends on the message you are trying to portray. Sex was never meant to be seen as dirty. It's a beautiful act, especially when used as as gift in marriage the way God intended it for true intimacy. I have pushed boundaries on sexual tension and temptation but not just to throw in some sort of titillation for the reader. If it's there, it has a purpose. It's meant to reach someone who has struggled, who is hurting, who is looking for healing.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Good grief! Auto correct is ridiculous! That was supposed to say " it totally depends" not "orbitals"... Shew! Great post Krista!

Krista Phillips said...

MUHAHAHAHA! I was trying to figure out what orbitals meant in that context.... LOL

Bethany Kaczmarek said...

Whew! Do I love this conversation. I'm a fan of diversity in the CBA as well. There have been times in my life that I've needed sweetness and kisses and no more. And then I went through a season that broke me and taught me love wasn't worth believing in. I used that experience as a launching point for my own ms (Inspirational New Adult), and it hits on several of those tougher issues. Can we be honest and discuss the fact that YAs and 20- to 30-somethings in our church families are crossing lines that most of us don't want to read about. Not judging...just wishing the CBA had something in the New Adult genre to offer them. There are so few books out there that could be considered NA--simply because of a lack of shelf space in the bookstores. I am SO burdened for our young people. With Fifty Shades of Grey crying, "This is liberation!" my heart bleeds. The protag of that lie is a 21-year-old college student, a virgin--the target reader for both E.L. James and for me (and other believing but struggling writers). We need books to put in the hands of our 20- and 30-somethings that don't blur any more lines. If the church is silent when broken girls are brave enough to say, "My boyfriend raped me," we fail utterly. All that's left for them to hear is the culture echoing, "But that's sort of hot, right?" No. Wrong. It's all kinds of wrong. #TruthHeals #HisNameIsJesus

Krista Phillips said...

Bethany.

Yes.
That.

My first book I would consider NA (although that wasn't a term back in 2012... amazing how things change in 2 short years!)

But dealing with hard issues is a passion of mine. Not all my books will... because God doesn't always call me to in some books, but shame on us if we pass over a topic because of our own sensibilities when God is calling us to tackle it.