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Tue, Feb 17 2009

Should Christian fiction have sex in it? If so, how much? And what kind?

The topic of sex in Christian fiction works its way into quite a few conversations I've had with other writers. Christian writers know that good writing is one of the first considerations of any fiction. We also know that much of today's fiction contains at least some references to sex. Sex is part of life and it's a little hard to leave out any mention of something that is the very method for our existence.

Christian writers seem to have no trouble writing, or reading, murder mysteries. I know plenty of folks who find that delving into a good whodunnit gives them as much refreshing as a rousing chorus of "Blessed Assurance". Murder is a topic of one of the Ten Commandments and so is sex. The former is set upon by Christian writers and readers with a gleam in their eye and a thirst for justice. There are, after all, whole volumes of non-fiction written that argue about when life begins and ends and whether or not it is ever appropriate to slow things down or speed things up at any point between those two mystical moments.

As for the latter, where does sex begin and end? Like murder, sex begins with a thought. And physiological responses in our bodies depend on the brain to drive them. If we had the thought of killing we could choose not to follow through with the act. The same is true of sex. We can nurture the thought or we can starve the thought. Why do Christian writers and readers relish in the idea of including murder, which ends life, in their wordplay, while shunning the idea of including sex, which often is the beginning to a new life?

Biblical references to sex don't really seem to help the Christian writer's quandry, because so many tales in the Bible depend on the idea of sex as a metaphor. Babylon is called the Great Whore. Jerusalem is called a bride. We read that one biblical character "knew" another biblical character. (Most of us presume that's not talking about chatting with a neighbor over the back fence.) There are those places in biblical literature where things of a sexual nature are mentioned, but are not always explained in their social, or historical, context. Those ten virgins in the parable were all referred to as virgins. What five of them did wrong had nothing to do with having sex with someone. They were all what we would now call bridesmaids. And there's the whole sensitive topic of a virgin birth when it comes to Jesus. Whether we like it or not, that includes something about sex. Joseph was probably the laughing stock of his peers when they found out he was marrying a "pregnant virgin". If we leave the whole virgin birth element out of the story when we retell it, we leave out a very important detail. Should our fiction writing be any less underlined with truth?

Sexual beings sometimes move outside the realm of what is considered acceptable in society. And what is acceptable has changed a great deal over time when it comes to society in general. Sex outside a marriage covenant has been considered sinful at times and considered acceptable and even favorable at other times. Homosexual relationships have been considered sinful at times and considered acceptable at other times. When we tell a story that includes sexual beings, we might sometimes be called upon to at least acknowledge the existence of these things in order not to sound as though we're writing from some other universe. (Of course, if you write science fiction and fantasy you can make your own rules, but I suspect your readers will still want enough of a hint of human sexuality in there to identify with at least one character.

How much to say is also a difficulty. Do we use cute euphemisms, graphic descriptions, close the door on the bedroom or build a story with no bedroom at all? Some of us have family trees that woud rival the details in any erotic novel. When we explain to people how we came to be part of our family tree we have to tell the story in such a way that it tells the truth, makes sense to us is understood by our listener(s). I would hold that good fiction, including good Christian fiction, should do much the same. We have to be true to our Lord and true to our voice as a storyteller without coming across as a preacher. Thinking about why sex matters in the larger picture of a novel or other story will help us frame our words in such a way that we try to fool neither our readers nor our Lord. That might be simple, but it isn't always easy.

GoodWordEditing.com has a blog post discussing further the discomfort that comes with writing Christian fiction for a publishing industry that sometimes seems to ask us all to write our fiction as though our characters were asexual beings.

posted at: 07:56 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry



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