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Christian Fiction’s “Non-Erogenous Zone”

It used to be said that the only acceptable form of sex in Christian fiction was that which occurred within marriage. But apparently even sex between a husband and wife is… edgy.

Catherine Richmond’s Spring for Susanna, a historical romance published by Thomas Nelson, has been getting some great reviews. And then there are Amazon reviewers like these who had an issue with the novel’s portrayal of sex:

J.Gossert: “There are some sexual references like nothing I have ever experienced in a ‘Christian’ novel before. Nothing overt or anything that made me uncomfortable – just different from anything I’ve read before. That said, I’m not sure this is a book for younger girls.”

F. Murrell: “Also as a note to parents – if you don’t want your young girls reading about sex after marriage then don’t let them read this book. If you want them to know what goes on between a married couple than this book will be fine. I was rather surprised about the descriptiveness of this area of marriage. Most Christian fiction tends to lean on the prudish side. This book does not.”

momof2: “…there was a lot of sexual references. Nothing inappropriate, but I wouldn’t feel free recommending the book to a friend who was single.”

leftyjewel: “I could have overlooked [the novel’s weaknesses] had it not been for the sexual descriptions throughout the book. I found them to be inappropriate for The Christian fiction market. I choose to read Christian fiction because I want to read a satisfying love story with wholesome values. Many will probably not find anything wrong with this book; however I would not recommend it for young unmarried women. We have enough explicit detail in the secular market.”

Frankly, I’m not sure whether to applaud Thomas Nelson and Ms. Richmond for pushing a much-needed envelope, or uncork a rant about those readers who want sterilized fiction.

In fairness, some of the reviewers above, though not offended by the story’s sexual references, recognize its potential to fluster others. I believe cautioning readers is a responsible thing to do. What I don’t get are those who assert that sex — even sex between a married couple — is somehow inappropriate for the Christian market.

Sex within marriage is a core value for many evangelicals. So why can’t we celebrate and write about that value in our stories?

Thankfully, there are other reader / reviewers who push back.

Deborah at Books, Movies and Chinese Food says it well in her Book Review: Spring for Susanna:

I’ve been reading some reviews where people are offended or uncomfortable with the sexual content in this book. Ok, I’m going to be straightforward honest here. As someone who reads both general market AND Christian fiction, this book is extremely tame. What I got from this book was a husband and wife, who are newly married, started to enjoy all the benefits of marriage. They don’t even consummate their marriage for several weeks. And when they do, they both discover that they enjoy it. What a foreign concept, a married couple who enjoys sex with each other! Seriously, it’s actually quite refreshing to see a husband and wife love each other and enjoy being with each other. It’s wonderful to see the passion out on display.

…If I hadn’t seen those reviews beforehand (or actually even afterward as well), I honestly would have never thought twice about those scenes in this book. To me, they are normal. To readers of non Christian fiction, they are very tame.

By general market standards, Deborah suggests this novel is “tame.” And perhaps that’s the real problem: Many Christian readers do not read in the mainstream. We are so insulated in our reading that sex — even sex portrayed between married couples — is scandalous. 

Are we really at the point where NO SEX is the only acceptable form of sex in Christian fiction?

Anyway, props to Catherine Richmond and Thomas Nelson for taking a risk on Spring for Susannah. I just hope Christian readers will plan on catching up sometime soon.

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{ 66 comments… add one }
  • David Anderson September 3, 2014, 6:57 PM

    Thanks, Mike, for posting this. I just found this from an Internet search. This issue is important to me because I’ve written a manuscript for a novel about Christians being persecuted in ancient Rome. I hesitate to call it “Christian fiction,” however. Among the reasons are that it has a sex scene. I know the disapproval some Christians will have of it, because I used to have many of the same objections. I was not sure how graphic to make it, but I knew I had to write it for the story. I decided if I was going to write it, there could be no holds barred. I could edit later. Even after editing, it is pretty graphic. It was right for the characters and the story, though, and that is what authors should be allowed to do, whether Christian or secular. It is all these rules and constraints that make a lot of Christian fiction sound like Sunday School lessons with a plot rather than real stories about real people.
    One of my writing instructors told me he takes the reader to the point where their clothes hit the floor. He does not go into the details after that. His reasons were not moral but artistic. He said when authors try to write the “action” in these scenes, they often end up sounding ridiculous. Another thing he taught me was whether a scene is pornographic or not is not about how graphic it is. It’s about whether or not it is gratuitous. If it does not advance the story or reveal character, then it is gratuitous. As the author, I know my novel’s sex scene was not gratuitous.
    Some people will think it’s too graphic, I know. But there are aspects of how these characters faced death and cruel masters that I would not have been able to see if I had not written that scene the way I did. I don’t want to be told I have to write sex scenes. I don’t want to be told I can’t, either. And that is not me rebelling against God. I take the gift He has given me seriously. As a Christian, I consider carefully whether the story or the characters need a sex scene here or there. A husband and wife who know this is going to be their last night together ever, what do you think they would do? Am I serving God by hiding that from the reader? I don’t think so.

    • David Anderson September 23, 2014, 7:46 AM

      Now that I look at this comment again, I think it sounds more defiant than I intended. I did not mean to say that if a writer chooses not to show a sex scene, they are not serving God. I only meant as the author, it was my choice to show it, and I think it was appropriate. As a Christian and a writer, I don’t believe showing a sex scene is automatically a contradiction of my faith. You have to consider the context, the story, the characters, and whether or not it is gratuitous. To paraphrase Paul, if you are doing it in faith, it is not a sin.

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