Do be advised that it’s going to take some discussion on the topic of sex for me to make my attempt at satisfying the question in this blog post’s title. While I’m sharing my opinions on the matter, I am on the way to arriving at an overall point, here.
Please stay with me.
I’ve heard a number of fellow readers express their thoughts on what romantic storylines in Christian Fiction should or should not contain, and it’s a commonly known standard and expectation that romance in ChristFic books won’t have sexually explicit or gratuitous sensual material. One idea I’ve heard is that a good way to tell if romance in a ChristFic book has crossed the line is to determine if the material is meant to arouse the reader.
To a good extent, I can go with that idea. No matter what genre I’m reading, it’s not my preference to sense an author’s agenda pulling me out of a story to “make me” think or feel something, where the focus moves away from storytelling and toward me, the reader. And that’s not just for sensual themes. While I’m in the middle of a novel, I don’t want to virtually hear the author saying, “Look at all the foreign things the foreign characters are doing. I researched!” or “See how many scriptures the heroine quotes? Are you learning the scriptural lesson here?” or “Did you see the hero wink? Yup, you should be getting warm. More sexy things are about to happen in this sexy scene of my edgy novel!”
I’m exaggerating to get my point across, but you understand.
On the other hand, even without an author using heavy-handed methods, good fiction should indeed make a compelling impact on a reader’s being. ChristFic writers, like any other writers, wish to genuinely connect with the thoughts of the people they’re writing for, to set ideas in motion and to rouse different kinds of feelings, and yet… “Don’t arouse the reader.” Should a ChristFic story impact the reader’s feelings, except if those feelings are sexual ones? If so, why? Are sexual feelings…bad?
It’s my opinion that although many a Christian is aware that sex and sexual feelings aren’t bad, there’s still a sentiment in some circles that says otherwise.
It may not always be plainly expressed, but it still floats around—this unspoken notion that sex is the one dirty thing that God lets Christian people do, once they’re married. No, it isn’t “bad,” per se, but considering what it physically involves, the way it affects people, the way lots of folks talk about it and all, it still must be something that isn’t, well, utterly proper. Right? If so, it’s best for Christian Fiction to leave it alone. Or at least to be as vague as possible about it and anything too closely related to it, if it must be addressed at all. Right?
I was recently in on a conversation among fellow authors about romantic kissing depicted in Christian novels. How much would be too much? One line of thought is that if an author uses the word “tongue” in describing a kiss in a Christian book, he or she has crossed the line. Yet, many Christians are familiar with a book in The Holy Bible called the Song of Solomon, where the author goes on about the beauty of love and romance with much lyrical expression of a sexual nature. When he says, “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue” (Song of Solomon 4:11, KJV), is he not talking about kissing? The sweetness of deep kissing, even? Or has the author crossed the line and gone too far by even mentioning his lover’s tongue in such a manner and context?
The Song of Solomon has much more than that one verse. I suspect that with all of the author’s romantic reflections, whether expressed in plain or metaphorical language, any number of people who read that book in Scripture can hardly do so without a range of their feelings, including their sexual ones, being impacted. And I believe that’s a good thing because I accordingly believe that sexual feelings are natural, that they’re given by God, and that they’re meant to be appreciated.
Of course, not everyone is the same. Some people reading Solomon’s words may think, “Whoo hoo! Exactly! Say more,” and others may think, “Okay…whew. That’s wonderful, but maybe I’d better just flip-flip-flip the pages and concentrate on—oh, look! The book of Acts.” Hey, in either case, it’s okay.
The fact that both readers’ reactions are okay leads to my overall point. Not all authors and readers, even Christian ones, are the same. Therefore, there’s no single, hard and fast romantic heat level that’s suitable for every ChristFic novel.
Sure, there are certain publishers’ standards of what’s allowed and not allowed in the books they publish, and beyond that, I believe there are tasteful and not-so-tasteful ways of handling affectionate or intimate content in a novel. But what might make one reader uncomfortable doesn’t automatically make it inappropriate reading for all. Likewise, just because one person may be perfectly comfortable reading something doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be equally comfortable with it.
One’s conscience, culture, and life experience, not to mention timing, and a myriad of other factors play into what makes a book a fitting read for an individual. Someone who once fought in a war may not be able to sit down and read a war novel. Someone who’s trying to lose weight may not be able to read a novel about a woman opening a bakery. Or a single person with no romantic prospects may be able to read a romance novel, feel some longing, appreciate the story for what it is, and then go on about his or her business just fine.
Christian Fiction books have and will continue to come in different styles and levels of content. There’s no one-size-fits-all-Christians kind of novel out there, and, just perhaps, there never will be.
And that’s absolutely okay.