Of all the different types of content that has been ‘banned’ from being included in Christian fiction, I think the most controversial is sexual content. I think the main reason for this is that many worry putting sexual content in Christian fiction will endanger readers of Christian fiction by eliciting sexual thoughts/tendencies.
As much as I understand where many people are coming from with this very legitimate attitude, I think if sexual content is placed in Christian fiction in a responsible manner, it can add to the story and reveal deeper truths about sin and possibly lead to redemption.
In reality, how many of us struggle with sex, either in regards to behavior or thoughts? Sex is a natural, God-given gift, and it is one that is constantly abused and misunderstood by both Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m sure that all of us have someone in our circle of influence who is struggling with their own sexual vices. Whether we know of these struggles is a different story, but I guarantee you that sexual sin and the consequences of it reach more people than many of us know.
Lately, I’ve noticed society becoming a little more upfront (than usual) about sexuality. Sexual vices, orientations, and habits are being broadcast far and wide across social media in particular for reasons I don’t always understand. As disturbed as I am by this trend, I think it presents a unique opportunity for Christian fiction, in some ways supporting the argument that sexual content should – if it is warranted within the story – be approached in Christian fiction.
We address sin within the church. We address sin in our own families. We address sin in the lives of our friends. Why shouldn’t we be able to address sin in our fiction? Including sexual content in Christian fiction has the potential to help readers relate to certain characters, to the temptations these characters face, and help the reader move past these areas by bringing the issues out in the open.
From a writer’s standpoint, it gives the characters and storyline more realism – if used responsibly. Please do not get me started on Fifty Shades of Crap. Sexual content can bring a realism to the story that can help with character development and even plot. Writing about some of these issues can help build out a character and give them different facets that they might not have had otherwise.
When I published the first volume of my Black Earth series, End of the Innocence, I had critics scolding me because of the rape scene that appears in the first chapter with one of my main characters, Cynthia Ruin. It was – at the time - the most challenging scene I had ever written, but when all was said and done, Cynthia’s first time on stage gave my novel more weight and added incredible dimension to the storyline of the Black Earth series. The rape scene served to reveal much about Cynthia’s character, including her vices, her attitude toward life, and the way she reacts to crisis. The rape scene served a valuable purpose and lent legitimacy to her character.
When a family member called me up to tell me how disappointed they were with my decision to have a rape scene in the novel, it was tough to listen to this individual’s diatribe, but at the same time I felt proud knowing I had grown as an individual and as a writer. I had broken out of convention and pushed the boundaries of Christian fiction and the realities that Christian fiction could portray. I didn't write the rape scene to be 'edgy', but the rape scene wrote itself when Cynthia came onto the page.
Once Cynthia is raped in the story, she is a different person. She has a new perspective of her life. It even seemed the rape caused her to head down the path of redemption. And while many have given me good reviews and comments in regards to the story itself and to how the rape scene was handled in particular, there are still those who don’t think sexual content – especially in large doses – belongs in Christian fiction at all.
In an interesting review posted for Black Earth: End of the Innocence, Contemporary Christian author Candy Little stated -
To be clear, I really appreciate the fact that Candy took the time to read/review my book. But the comment she made in regards to the sexual content reveals the attitude that many Christians have in regards to the inclusion of sexual content in books containing the Christian fiction label. It seems to be, according to the review, that I took things too far with Cynthia having a history of sexual relations with women as well as men.
Cynthia is a broken individual. She doesn’t know what she wants, no clue as to the purpose of her life. And she experiments, manipulates, and uses sex to gain approval, recognition, even power. It is the one thing she knows she is good at, the one thing she is familiar with. To show Cynthia in any other light, to water down her past, to hide away the true feelings she has toward people as sexual objects, would be a travesty. It would require her character to be veiled in generalizations until there is just a two dimensional girl who is mentioned as having sexual tendencies. Sometimes the nitty gritty has to be brought to the page – both to create realism in the story, authenticity with the character, and recognition with those struggling with the same sin/behavior.
I’ve had a reader write me and tell me that they themselves were raped at one point in their past and that they appreciated how I approached such a ‘taboo’ topic in a Christian fiction novel. Not everyone is going to have this reaction. In fact, there are many who are incredibly sensitive and/or easily tempted by sexual content in general, and to these I say there is nothing wrong with abstaining from fiction that may contain this type of content.
Writing sexual content into a ‘Christian fiction’ novel is never easy. Like any ‘edgy’ content, it can serve as a minefield that needs to be carefully traversed so that the heart of the story is not drowned in needless boundary-pushing content. This is why I always have a second (or third or fourth) set of eyes look over my work. There are many times my own editor has instructed me that I took a scene too far or had content that just didn’t seem relevant to the story. It served as accountability, but it didn’t serve to stop me from approaching the content in general.
I believe many elements that have been left out of a lot of Christian fiction can really help to draw people into the story, and can help the reader sort out their own experiences and struggles. Sexual content in Christian fiction can act as a ministry of sorts, and it can reveal truths to the world that would otherwise never be discussed in the public arena.
Writers, have you ever struggled with sexual content in your own fiction? Readers, do you appreciate books that are genuine in the way they portray this type of content?