Friday, 27 March 2015

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby! (Part 1)

By Andrea Grigg


Sex. 





One of the most controversial topics within Christian fiction, especially in my favourite genre, romance.

I get the feeling some Christians would like to remove sex from fiction altogether. I suspect they might even consider it sinful to read Christian fiction in the first place!

Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum, although I’m not sure what it looks like. I haven’t gone searching for Christian books with explicit sex scenes in them but they could be out there. If they are, I suspect they’re in the self-published section.

When I was writing A Simple Mistake I had a very interesting conversation with a friend. She encouraged me to ‘keep my writing real’ and then related a story about a girl she knew personally who needed counselling because her marriage relationship hadn’t turned out like the ones in the Christian romances she’d read.

My first thought was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ and my second, ‘What on earth has she been reading? Even though it sounds far-fetched, the story is true and it has stayed with me. Keeping it real is something I think about all the time as I write.

But just how real should we get? Nicki Edwards discussed this question in a blogpost in Christian Writers Downunder. You can read her thoughts here

Unresolved Sexual Tension (or URST) is a must in romance novels. In a Christian world-view story, that’s how it stays – unresolved – at least until the wedding night and then the door is firmly closed. Usually. Francine Rivers has left it wide open in her book, Bridge to Haven. And what a furore that has caused! We might have a discussion on that in my next post.

Here’s something else to consider. Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, Christians have sex outside of marriage. But should we write stories about it?

One of the answers I’ve been given is an emphatic ‘No, because sex outside of marriage doesn’t glorify God.’ Now while that’s true, a lot of what our characters do doesn’t glorify God either. They might lie, occasionally get a speeding fine or say harsh and unloving words. However, sexual indiscretion is given a much greater sin value than those things.

So what kind of attention should we give it?

There are readers who need reassurance they are forgiven, no matter how many times they fall. And isn’t one of our aims to give hope to our readers? Camy Tang’s Only Uni is a great example of a book which does this. Trish is desperate to clean up her act despite stumbling and falling repeatedly. There are no sex scenes but it’s clear what has gone on. Camy Tang isn’t afraid to use the word ‘fornication’ and she does it in context and without condemnation. Believe me, her character Trish is her own judge and jury – she doesn’t need any help to feel bad.

Another book which has impressed me greatly is Sway, by Amy Matayo. My review is scheduled for June 4 so I won’t give too much away except to say a portion of what I loved about the story is Caleb’s honesty concerning his thoughts about Kate. Straight from the gut and God-honouring, as well as an eye opener as to how a guy’s mind works.

Teenage girls (and older) would benefit greatly from these messages. Many of them don’t ‘get’ that what they’re wearing or how they’re behaving really affects a guy, even though they may (or may not) have heard it from the pulpit or home.

As writers, can we not address these issues in a story that tells it like it is and then offer hope and encouragement?

There’s not time to go into everything I’d like to say this time around, so keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 and maybe even a Part 3.

I’ll leave you with something to ponder: When is realistic too much?

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.



 Andrea Grigg lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland, and is a writer of contemporary Christian romance. Her first book, ‘A Simple Mistake’ was a finalist in the 2012 CALEB awards. Her second novel, ‘Too Pretty’ was released in August 2014.

Twitter:  @andreagrigg https://twitter.com/andreagrigg

55 comments:

  1. As an Inspirational Romance writer. I have to deal with how much is too much. I had my character fall (pre-marital sex) before the book. He has repented and turned his life around and back to God. Now i am dealing with a girl that was raped and i needed to show a little, but i am hoping that I didn't go too far.
    Sex is part of a God fulfilling marriage. I think a marriage bed is sacred and if we enter there some women might feel they have failed if their life with their husband isn't exactly as we say it is, or should be. I think you have to trust God to direct your fingers and thoughts in the right way

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    1. Good points, Melanie. I can see you identify with my dilemma!

      'Some women might feel they have failed if their life with their husband isn't exactly as we say it is, or should be'... that's my beef about keeping our writing real. But as we both say, just exactly how real?

      Yep, we have to keep our ears attuned to God as we write for sure, and that includes all genres not just romance. Thanks for you comments :)

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    2. I read a Christian novel once which had a rape scene which turned the stomach (I did not read it in its entirely , could not stand to- I just skimmed it) and mentioned it in my review.
      One reader actually thanked me for this- saying that none of the other reviewers had mentioned it, as she would have found it upsetting.

      On looking at reviews, it seemed a number of this author's works included such content. Now I believe it realism, but I do think rape for the sake of rape, or just to create drama and tension is uncessesary.

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    3. Medieval Girl I agree I know of one author who has this in several of her books and have stopped reading due to this fact. While the situation is dealt with the graphic nature of the description also turned my stomach. I think authors also need to be mindful these scenes can bring back painful memories for victims.

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    4. Very good point, Jenny. And yes, Medieval Girl, I'm not impressed when reality appears as sensationalism either.

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  2. Great thought provoking post, Andrea. I agree its a tricky one, but I also believe in keeping it real. We want to show redemption, the power of our God to heal - but so many need healing in an area that is always behind a closed door - sex! I'm not saying we should describe everything, but perhaps with prayer we can tackle the spirit man, the emotional (soul) realms of our characters, and show our God cares. We can show He approves of healthy sex (He invented it!) and He wants to bless His people in this area and heal those who don't come to the marriage bed without baggage.

    In saying that, some things I believe should not be described lest we stir up what should not be stirred up and thus cause our readers to fall. Clever writing craft, and careful prayer. That will be my approach. :)

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    1. Hi Cat -

      Yes, I'd love to read (and maybe write!) women's fiction concerning the ramifications of the baggage brought by a couple into their marriage. I suspect Karen Kingsbury may write using this theme but I can't think of a specific example.

      I'm also with you about not stirring up what shouldn't be. Again though, where I draw the line may be a completely different place to where another author would. It's an interesting discussion point. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  3. I always think Christian novels should be the same as secular novels when it comes to real, flesh and blood people dealing with real, honest temptations. Trying to sanitise Christian novels may keep us from rocking the boat and upsetting the sensibilities of some readers. Yet it would be sad if doing this keeps other readers feeling frustrated and guilty, if they feel that Christian novels never delve into their personal feelings, struggles and secrets.

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    1. I like your thinking, Paula!

      However, while sanitised novels don't appeal to me in the least, they will to others so I think there is definitely a place for them. I much prefer stories which address the grittier, less spoken about issues. They can be a challenge to write but so worth it if it helps and gives hope.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

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  4. I have had an interesting discussion with my mentor this week. I'm writing a general fiction novel and she said it would be unrealistic if some of the characters weren't having sex or didn't swear.

    So, what do I do? In an inspirational/Christian book I wouldn't write in detail, but may intimate 'things have been happening', but the value system around this would imply that sex outside marriage is wrong and in marriage is good. However, life isn't black and white, even in the Christian world.

    It may be black and white in principles and beliefs, but in practice people get themselves in all sorts of pickles!

    I'll be aiming for realism and hopefully use language well enough to write without being graphic or use profanity just because I can or feel I should because 'that's how people speak.'

    I agree with Paula, people are people, no matter their religious beliefs and reflecting the struggles is one way of connecting with people of faith and those without. We all struggle with all sorts of issues and to not discuss them is remiss of us.

    I've just finished working on a novel about a girl struggling with her sexual identity and I'm scared to put it out there as I know just writing about the issue will polarise people. I'll be too straight, religious for some and too liberal for others, but I wanted to write about and acknowledge the struggle.

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    1. Hi Elaine -

      Your first paragraph brings up a topic I'd like to discuss next time. How do Christians write for the general market? It's a very good question and I'm sure you and I will have a great discussion at the next conference! Btw, Nicholas Sparks refuses to use profanity in his novels, and it doesn't compromise his characterisation in my opinion.

      Good on you for writing your latest manuscript. We need brave Christian writers like you. Your story will be a lifeline for someone :)

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    2. 'Realism' is something I think can be hard to define. I remarked in a comment below that in a lot of Medieval Romance pulp-fiction type stories, rape and wanton unpunished abuse of women is almost a trope of the genre.
      Many people just accept this as 'realistic'- but actually its not- noblewomen were protected at this time. Lords could not just randomly go around having thier wicked way with them and get away with it. When King John behaved in such a way with the wives and daughters of his nobles, many ended up rebelling!

      I guess what we think is realistic is not always.

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    3. Goes to show how important it is to research our subject matter. Thanks for your comment :)

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  5. I think more realistic is better. You want to show true to life characters with true to life issues and sex is no different to financial dishonesty... if your characters are not at least tempted sexually readers will assume that when they are tempted in their own lives, it is sinful...it would also make any conversions ring hollow for the more sceptical readers...the more gritty the better.

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    1. "If your characters are not at least tempted sexually readers will assume that when they are tempted in their own lives, it is sinful" ...

      Excellent point Julia. Hadn't thought about it like that before. Thanks for commenting :)

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  6. There is a market for both books. I am a reader who some of you may call naïve or insulated but I don't want open sex scenes or profanity of any sort in my books. I do love Camy Tang's Sushi books and Trish and I don't mind how she handled the situation as its prebook. We don't have the bedroom scenes. I have read a few books that went too far in my opinion and they made me so uncomfortable I don't really want to read more from that author. While I don't want to read them I know there would be others who do.

    I just want to say not everyone swears. I don't I know others who don't and I don't hang around with others who swear either. I do hear it but try to avoid it and have asked others to not swear around me. I also know Christians have sex outside marriage as we are not perfect but I would prefer no to read it in a Christian book. Which is why I say there is a market for both types of books but people like myself need to not be knocked for wanting clean books. Not that you are doing that Andrea but I have had other authors make comments.

    There is a place for both types of authors just as there is a place for both types of readers.

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    1. Totally agree with you Jenny :)

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    2. In regards to swearing, I don't swear and the close circle of family and friends don't either, however, I work with people who do. I'm writing stories where it would be laughable if my characters didn't swear. It wouldn't be plausible. But I've gotten around that by writing (example): Kate swore softly under breath. "He's not going to make it is he?" OR, Mackenzie swore loudly when she arrived at the scene and saw the mess.

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  7. Excellent topic and discussion, Andrea. When I couldn't get a contract for my first inspirational romance, Search For Tomorrow, this avid sweet romance reader wrote another book aimed at the general market - Mills & Boon medical line. I knew romance readers of even "sweet" stories without explicit sex scenes still did want 'sexual tension" in their books, so had it in all of those M&B novels.I wanted "real" characters in "real" situations. So, I there and then had to face this very dilemma. However, in my first single title, Return to Baragula, I've been told (by US readers) that the prologue, where the teenage Christian yields to temptation, put it in the classification of "edgy Christian fiction". As Jenny has written, both kinds of books are for different kinds of readers. My guide has always been, "How does the Bible deal with sex scenes?" We can tell about rape as Tamar's story in the Old Testament is told, but not "show" it actually happening in any explicit way - just as we are not shown in the scriptures. We also need to show the effect of the misuse of this special gift God has given us. That is sure shown in Tamar's story too! Well, anyway,that's been my working principle and what I've tried to do in all my books.

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    1. Hi Mary - I knew you'd appreciate this discussion :)

      I have a feeling that 'sweet' general market romances today have a different sexual standard than they did twenty years ago in much the same way PG movies are more liberal than they used to be.

      I also think that generally speaking, Australian Christian audiences are less conservative than those in the U.S.A. which is what you're saying concerning 'Return to Baragula'.

      I hear what you're saying about the way the Bible deals with sex scenes, but I also note the explicitness of the Song of Solomon. I realise it parallels the love of a man for a woman with the love of God for his people, but I have to admit, it's quite frank! A discussion point for the next post :)

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    2. So true, Andrea. Song of Solomon sure is explicit - especially for those who study it carefully and understand the language and meanings. However, it sure isn't offensively explicit like many of today's romance books.

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  8. I think if we are to write realistic stories, sex is an issue we can't avoid. However, I also think we need to always be respectful of our readers' expectations and standards. We also need to be careful not to create lust or longing as we don't want to cause anyone to stumble. We need to show that it is not part of God's best plan to have sex outside of marriage, but that it is a beautiful part of His creation. We have to ask ourselves why we are putting it in. My last novel deals with the issue of a Christian falling into temptation and I admit I was very scared to write it. However, even conservative Christians have been moved by it and I couldn't have shown the power of God's love and the wonder of His grace as effectively without it. I think it's an issue most YA authors need to face head on at some stage in their novels. I know I got to a point where I couldn't walk around it anymore. So I prayerfully faced it. Respectfully and carefully.

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    1. Hi Jenny - I agree: sex is a very real issue in YA fiction.

      I hear what you're saying about being respectful of our readers' expectations and standards but I'm not sure we can ever get that 100% right - everyone has their own standard of what's acceptable and what isn't. Approaching what we write prayerfully and respectfully is the way to go as you say, but we'll still upset someone. It's just the way it is.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

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    2. I agree, Andrea. We will always upset someone. I don't enjoy that side of being fallible and human very much : ) I guess that's why we have to search our own hearts and try to please God, not people. It's also why I try to be upfront about the type of books I write and their content, without giving away spoilers.

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    3. Just a thought...Jesus didn't walk on earth without upsetting people.

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    4. Yes, I guess I didn't put that very well - up too late at night. I didn't mean that if we live as Jesus did we won't upset people, but rather that we will make mistakes, or other people will, and because we are human we will not all see things the same. And I am appreciating the thoughtful and profound comments people are putting up. Thanks for bringing up this important issue, Andrea.

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  9. Great post, Andrea. I totally agree that we need realistic characters in realistic situations (as unpretty as they may be). So if it would be authentic for your characters to be having sex because they aren't Christians or it's an important part of their journey or whatever then they should be but, like Mary says, there are a variety of ways that can be shown without anything graphic being on the page.

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    1. Hi Kara -

      I agree with you on both counts: authenticity is the key and being graphic isn't necessary.We're creative people - we can think of ways around it I'm sure!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

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  10. 50 Shades of my goodness me! As always you address the tricky subjects. Thanks for the discussion. I know it's a tough topic and getting tougher as society charges headlong into complete sexual 'freedom'. Just watched a modern romance and said to my husband- here is the new fairy tale. Multiple sexual encounters, happily ever after, and all the pain of broken relationship magically disappears! Somebody has to write real? Not sure about explicit!

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    1. Hi Meredith - and thanks for the 50 shades comment, lol.

      I think we can write real without being explicit. And I agree - it's frightening what's going on the world sexually. That means there are going to be more and more relationship-damaged girls/women who come to know God and won't relate to a sweet romance novel. They need to read about characters like themselves who struggle with things many of us have never even thought about! We're going to need to be brave. Sounds like Elaine Fraser is going down that track which is terrific.

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    2. 50 shades - shudder. I can't even bring myself to read it "research" purposes. I don't want to fill my mind with things like that, just as I don't like watching sex scenes in movies. Once seen, it can't be removed.

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  11. Hi Andrea, great question! Reader expectations are important and I think the answer depends on your target audience. Many readers are drawn to Christian fiction because they want a clean read. On the other hand, Christians writing general market romances will have readers who will expect sex scenes in the story. These authors will need to consider their own comfort zone in this area and how far they're prepared to go in terms of explicit content. Contemporary romances tend to reflect the values of our society. If the characters aren't Christian, it's harder for the author to provide believable motivations to explain and justify why the characters aren't intimate during the story.

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    1. So agree with you, Narelle. Once our target audience for our current book is fixed in our heads then it frees us up to get the story written.

      Christians writing general market romances is something I plan to raise next time. Yet another hard topic but this is a great forum in which to discuss it. Thanks for commenting :)

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    2. Great point Narelle: "consider your own comfort zone" when writing. I've been questioning whether I even want to write skin on skin contact (eg. hand caressing a back/abdomen or whether I keep clothes well and truly on! In one scene my hero and heroine are in their underwear in a pool and kissing. Bit hard to do that without skin to skin contact!

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  12. Rotten blogger ate my comment - again. Here is another cut and paste attempt ��.
    Great post about a very 'touchy' subject. Pardon the pun - I'm very tired ��. How real is too real? I think it depends on the author, the audience and the story. As authors we should be comfortable with what we are writing about, understand our audience and be true to the story we are crafting. If we do that we'll probably find the right balance. Sex isn't evil, it's a gift from God, and you do have to show hopelessness before you can show hope...
    I think that as Christians we should strive to make a beautiful work and pour our heart into that work and pray that the heart of God is manifest through that work. The range of these works are as limitless as our God. The stories that a sex worker in Amsterdam would relate to might be different from those a housewife in the US Bible Belt would appreciate but I think there is room for them all. If we do decide to write an open door sex scene the main rule is (I think) is that it must serve the story and develop the characters and not just be there to excite. If we want to write a sex scene we need to know 'why'.
    Personally I appreciate realism in relation to character development. If I sense something has been falsely sanitised I will lose interest pretty quickly. And note that if we are brave enough to write YA, they will smell something fake a mile away ��.

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    1. Glad your post made it on here, Sue!

      I really appreciate your comments and agree with you whole-heartedly. And yes, there is definitely room for all kinds of stories for all kinds of people.

      Thanks for stopping by even though you were so tired! :)

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. My comment was repeated. Who knows why??? Grrr

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  13. Wow!!! So glad you brought up this topic and I thoroughly enjoyed what your thoughts were on this, plus what others had to say on the matter.

    Again, many have already said it, but there is a big difference between keeping it real and being explicit and I think that again, there are definitely ways to keep unresolved sexual tension in our work without being explicit, but still keeping everything real. I mean, there is sooooo much paralanguage that can be explored that will more than suffice for a scene without opening up doorways to allow the reader to fall by being explicit.

    Thank you for being brave enough to open this can of worms Andrea, as Paula said above, often Christian fiction becomes quite sanitised and to be honest, that invites too many readers to skim, and even put the book down. It's got to be real and finding that line is the art that we all are striving to perfect.

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    1. Thanks Skye. It appears that many of us are on the same wavelength doesn't it? Thank you for sharing your thoughts :)

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  14. In answer to your initial question Andrea, "When is realistic too much?" I personally think when we start describing the fondling of men's and women's body parts, describing the effect this fondling is having on the characters and then taking it further and describing an entire sex/lovemaking scene, that, in my opinion, is when a writer has crossed the line into erotica. Maybe I should call it what I believe it is: Written pornography.In my opinion, it's too much and it's not necessary for the storyline. It's sensationalism because everyone knows sex sells books. Unfortunately it seems to be what a vast majority of romance readers want. So the authors keep writing. Can you blame them? BUT, not all readers want sex. I've been thrilled to have people read Intensive Care who are not Christians but have said they enjoyed reading a book with no sex! So maybe sex doesn't always sell?
    Personally I get frustrated when I'm reading an absolutely fabulous romance and I know the storyline is building up to a sexual encounter but I dread turning each page wondering whether the scene is going to be an open or closed doors sex scene. More often than not when the door is left open I'm shocked by the explicit nature of these sex scenes - sometimes page after page of description from foreplay to orgasm. Is it necessary? I don't believe it is.
    I don't have a problem with reading a romance book where the main characters are coming together and you know they are going to sleep together because of the build up of sexual tension, but I DON'T enjoy reading a description of them (excuse the expression) "folding slot A into slot B". In my opinion it's not necessary and I believe that crosses the line into pornography. But it's just my opinion and I know many others do not share that opinion.
    In my latest two work in progresses, my main characters DO sleep together. But it's behind closed doors. No description. They walk into the bedroom and the door is closed.
    If you're reading my comments, please bear in mind I'm writing secular romance for the mainstream market and for my book to succeed alongside others in its genre, it needs to be marketable and sellable so I have, after much prayer, decided to include behind closed doors sex scenes which I did not do in my first book "Intensive Care".
    On another note, I belong to a group of rural romance writers and we have a website where all our books are marketed under the "rural" genre. I suggested a "heat" ranking beside everyone's books so readers knew whether they were reading "sweet" or "spicy." My suggestion was rejected 100%.
    Andrea I applaud you for opening this can of worms. I don't think there will ever be total agreement on what is right or wrong because we are all from different view points, but at least we can agree that God must be glorified in whatever we do. And at the end of the day, each one of us will stand in front of Him and give an account for what we have done (or written).

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    1. Love your term written pornography. Well said.

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    2. I think we should call it for what it is. We think of pornography as images. Well as far as I'm concerned, when I'm reading a sex scene, if it's well written, the image is there for me to see, even when I'm reading it!

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    3. It sure is a huge topic, Nicki. Some of what you've said will be discussed next post so I won't comment on it now except to say I agree with you! Especially the last paragraph. Thank you for sharing your ideas :)

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    4. I don't believe its necessary. I like books set in the Medieval period, but I tend to steer clear of many secular ones, because many can be so full of sex sex and more sex. (its like they think Medieval people didn't do anything except have sex and cut people up with swords).
      Yet I often find a lot of Christian Medieval less than satisfactory for other reasons- usually accuracy or realism, or cliche ridden. Sometimes its hard to find a balance- but I really do think a good author does not have to fill thier books with sex, and give a 'blow by blow' account of what happens in the bedroom. Most readers are smart enough to work it out for themselves.....

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  15. Great discussion. There is such an opportunity here for Christian writers to speak and educate our readers. For example why not tell your YA readers that the hurried sexual encounter behind the school shed may have relieved the boy, but left the girl hurt and empty? Why not show (don't tell) the reader why God made the rules...so it will bring them happiness, not because he is a kill joy! Why not deal with the problem of frigidity in marriage, show the heart ache and find the root cause. Our novels can bring healing to many. Thanks Andrea....love you

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    1. Amen Jo. Yes, yes, yes. I applaud Christian writers if you can tackle these types of things.

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    2. I hear you, Jo! Love you too :)

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  16. Late to this - Sorry.

    As I have characters who drink to much, take up stripping for a living, and become pregnant before marriage (and that's just the girls), I think everyone will know which side of this argument my writing falls on. I like to keep it real, or as real as fiction allows. If I tried to sterilize my writing I would consider that I was pleasing others - not the Lord. There will always be two good arguments for and against when it comes to this topic, but at the end of the day isn't it every Christian author's greatest desire to write to please the Lord? And if it is written for His purpose, can He not use both 'clean' and 'redemptive' stories?
    I reckon He can. :-)

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    1. Rose reading yours you may have had these issues but I didn't feel uncomfortable reading the books. There wasn't sex scenes. I struggle with some of the books that have sex scenes and especially rape scenes which get quite graphic and I have read some in Christian books that I would rather have not. I felt they didn't need to go into so much detail about the rape to let the reader know what has happened.

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    2. I reckon He can too, Rose :)

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    3. Jenny, I absolutely agree. I don't believe that detail is at all necessary when it comes to sex scenes, and certainly not rape scenes. Why would that be vital to a story line? Redemptive stories are important, but there still needs to be a balance between showing God's grace and love and protecting our eyes and ears.
      I am very encouraged by your words about my work. I put a lot of thought and prayer into my stories. :-)

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  17. On a related, but not the same subject, I'm finding a big deal with me in Christian Fiction esp Historical romance is rape. I've noticed that a lot of Medieval Romance novels depict the wanton abuse of women by men as almost a normal, commonplace thing, and something that was not punished. Its like Medieval has to include a brutal wife-beater, evil abusive father, or rape/kidnapping and general mistreatment of women in all its forms.

    Yet it seems to me Christian fiction novels in any other time period are also featuring rape/attempted rape scenes without punishment or consequences for the perpetrator. I for one don't find it realistic, yes I suppose the upper classes could ill-use servants, but to go around raping women of thier own class? I don't think so.
    Frankly, I also think that (depending on how its presented) the frequent use of such content can be distasteful and is even potentially trivialising something that is extremely traumatic and unpleasant.

    There are other ways of creating realism and tension IMO than populating the past with predetory men and helpless women.....

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    1. I agree with you, Medieval Girl - no way should something like rape become trivialised. And yes, there are plenty of ways of creating tension and realism so let's use them :)

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