Love. Romance. Warm fuzzies. Long walks on the beach. Dates at fancy restaurants with tiny, outrageously expensive entrees and wine. Or whatever. Our culture is obsessed with love and sex, and if you didn’t already know this, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock (and that ain’t necessarily a bad thing!). Pick up a book—any book—and I think I can safely bet that the protagonist or someone in the book will have a love interest. Rare is the tale from which love is absent. And including romance isn’t a bad thing! If done correctly, a story of love can be the most beautiful of all (hint: For God so loved the world …).
But. (You knew it was coming.)
Most books that include love, romance, and those entrees and wine also include sex. It seems unfortunately commonplace in literature today to show, often explicitly, what exactly happens what two people do after stumbling back to an apartment while intoxicated both with drink and mutual attraction. First dates often aren’t considered “complete” or worth continuing unless sex is had … and this is true of the real world, too, not just in literature. It’s a sad world we live in, folks, but that’s the way it is, and there’s no getting around it just yet.
So how much is too much?
I feel I can more easily define a line on this subject than I could with my previous topic, drugs and alcohol. Even my usual answer (it depends on the author’s intentions for including said scene) doesn’t apply as strictly in this case. Having personally known people who have been very negatively affected by our culture’s obsession with sex, I want to strongly emphasize the theory that less is more.
I have read lots of books. Some of them were, obviously, better than others. Some of them (i.e. Pillars of the Earth, which I reviewed here) made me want to gouge my eyes out … and sections of my memory, too.
“Why?” you ask.
“Because,” I reply, “after reading some of Follett’s descriptions of copulation and other said activities, I could picture all too well what was happening.” Now, I’m all for excellent description in other areas of writing, but I do not need to know some of the things he included! No one does! The same goes for Outlander—and yes, I read it even though I knew what I was getting into. I have less scathing things to say about Jamie’s and Claire’s relationship because they were married. This is not to say that I approve of Diana Gabaldon’s need to tell us what happened every time Jamie and Claire shut their bedroom door, but I had less of an issue with it because at least they were married and were actually growing to love one another more deeply throughout the novel. In Pillars, however … that didn’t happen. The rape scenes were far more plentiful than any other kind, and that isn’t something that any reader needs to be experiencing vicariously.
Am I now going to point to my favorite books of all time as a great example of acceptable amounts of sex in literature? You bet! Although I do take a few minor issues with Francine Rivers’ The Mark of the Lion trilogy, I have found them to be the best representation (so far) of a godly relationship—whether married or otherwise—that isn’t perfect but is made perfect through the grace of God. It makes sense that secular books wouldn’t include these morals; I’m not expecting them to do so. But as a Christian, my God and I have certain standards of what should and should not enter my mind. And I think even the author’s intentions can’t justify including graphic sex scenes. I debated over this issue for a while before writing this post, but I simply can’t accept the idea that including an explicit sex scene, no matter the intentions, is beneficial. Reading things like that takes your mind to places it shouldn’t be going, particularly if you have struggled in the past with lust or similar desires. Francine Rivers’ books teeter on this line occasionally, but on the whole, I think her books are realistic but not uninhibited.
Because here’s the thing. Reading about sex isn’t the same thing as watching actors pretend to have it, obviously, but for those of us who are more visual, having it described for us in vivid detail can be just as harmful and desensitizing. If you’re not a visual person, good for you; maybe this isn’t such a struggle, and that’s awesome. But I’m the type of person who reads something and can instantly picture it in my mind. Therefore, reading overly graphic descriptions of sex, whether it be actions, body parts, or whatever, is not going to keep my mind and heart pure. Maybe there is a good reason for an author to include an explicit sex scene and I just don’t know what it is. Maybe.
But honestly, I’d rather the characters have their privacy, if you know what I mean. There is something so much more mysterious and wonderful about implication than total exposure. That’s what I loved about Rivers’ books—you knew these married people had great sex, but you didn’t have to “watch” it to know it was great! And that’s the way God intended it, I think (for real life, I mean, though it works for literature, too). People have lost their respect for one another nowadays; they watch sex on television (Game of Thrones, anyone?), read about it in books, see it in video games (I assume; I’m not a gamer), and people reveal waaaaaay too much of their bodies even at the beach … and locker rooms. The stalls are there for a reason, y’all.
Respect for each other and for ourselves, as priceless, unique human beings created by God in his image, has fallen by the wayside.
So how much is too much? I’ll sum it up this way: if you read something that causes you to disrespect anyone (yes, even the fictional character), you shouldn’t be reading it. It’s not worth losing your own self-respect. If you read a book and come away feeling as though you know every little detail about that hot guy or girl, something went wrong. I know it can feel like it doesn’t matter, that nobody knows or cares, but I suggest that anything you feel the need to do in secret (i.e. read a steamy love scene) is not of God, my dear. If ya wouldn’t read it aloud to your mother, ya shouldn’t be readin’ it.
There you have it. My thoughts on how much sex in literature is too much. I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic, too; drop me a comment or send me an email if you’re so inclined, and have a wonderful day, all!