Writing Love Scenes (with a furious blush)

 I’ve always struggled with the issue of writing love scenes. I remember writing one long ago for a story now abandoned, and found myself feeling mighty uncomfortable, for throughout this process I was asking myself: Is it right or wrong to write love scenes?

I’m an old-fashioned girl. I’m a Victorian lady who reads love-scene-filled-novels [I haven’t come across one novel in my studies of contemporary literature at university that does NOT have love scenes] but felt morally convicted when trying to write one. This is one of the main reasons why I considered writing for the Inspirational market at the suggestion of Agent #1.

O.K. So what exactly is the issue? The issue became quite clear to me when I was reading the reviews for ‘Redeeming Love’ which is a big-time bestselling Inspirational romance that did NOT close the bedroom door. In the 700+ reviews for this novel on Amazon.com there was a debate threading throughout: One side of the argument was that the love scene was appropriate as the hero and heroine were married, and because the love scene was written in a poetical, non-explicit way. The other side of the argument was:

Her Harlequin romance novel style writing is designed to titillate the flesh. I would not consider this book appropriate for unmarried young ladies as intimated in some of the previous reviews. If you are a mom considering this for a teenaged daughter, read the entire book FIRST. Even though the most graphic scenes are between a man and wife, there is far more detail than most young ladies who are desiring to keep their minds as well as their bodies pure before marriage need to know.

So I got no answer while reading through the reviews. I was back at base one: is it right or wrong to write love scenes? I became even more confused when I began reading the works of New York Times Bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros. Her novels had explicit love scenes. What gave me pause was when I learned that she was a Christian, a fact she openly acknowledged in her book. So I wrote her an email asking her about this issue of writing love scenes: What is right, what is wrong? or is it not black and white—is there a grey?

The author replied back with: “…This is such an important question you ask and I answered a very similar one from a Facebook friend just last week” and referred me to the site where she’d answered this question. This answer I read and was totally blown away with:

I GATHER FROM SOME OF YOUR COMMENTS THAT YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. HAVE YOU EVER FELT ANY CONFLICT BETWEEN WRITING EXPLICIT LOVE SCENES AND YOUR FAITH?

After much study on and struggle with this issue, I came to the conclusion that it’s never a sin for an artist to try to depict life as accurately as possible, and that includes the sexual aspects of life. That would be like saying Michelangelo’s David was “dirty and sinful” just because Michelangelo chose to sculpt the human body in all of its naked glory. Love scenes are no different from family scenes or conflict scenes or battle scenes. 

If I’m going to make my readers a part of my characters’ lives, then I don’t feel comfortable showing them all other aspects of that life, then slamming the bedroom door in their faces. Many people who don’t read romances don’t get this, but romances are actually incredibly moral books. The hero and heroine generally have a monogamous relationship that always ends in a lifelong commitment, usually marriage. I’ve probably become a MORE moral person by reading and writing romance. I also don’t feel like art is required to depict a perfect life. Every plot may not lend itself to marrying off the hero and heroine before they do the deed, but you’ll usually find that while they’re still basking in the afterglow, my heroes are already thinking, “Hey! I need to marry me that woman!”

I believe God gave me my talent and I believe he wants me to use it for good. When I recently received a letter from a woman who had just undergone a hysterectomy and was afraid she’d never again feel sexual desire for her husband again…until she read CHARMING THE PRINCE, it simply validated that belief. I will always respect the beliefs of fellow Christians who aren’t comfortable reading or writing explicit love scenes, but I believe romances are beautiful and spiritual books that celebrate the best of what love has to offer and mirrors the love that God has for His children.

In the author’s email to me, she also wrote:

If you should decide you’re not comfortable writing explicit love scenes, there are always other paths like Inspirational romance, women’s fiction, etc. I do know that when I re-read my old books, I’ve never found one that I was ashamed of in retrospect. They seemed just as filled with hope, innocence and love as they did when I wrote them.

I’m still uncertain–I  don’t know on what ground I stand on. I find myself leaning towards the grey zone. I’m thinking that if I must write love scenes, I’ll write a subtle, poetical one. A scene so watered down you wouldn’t even know it was there. Like Mary Balogh, her love scenes are pretty nuanced.

So, dear readers, what’s your take on this issue of writing love scenes? And have you ever struggled writing one yourself?

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37 Comments

Filed under Book & Film, Published Authors & Agents & People who work in the Publishing House, Writing

37 responses to “Writing Love Scenes (with a furious blush)

  1. ah..well..*sigh* this question has been plaguing me since…forever? The one and only sex/love/explicit scene I’ve ever written is in Listening to Love between Ashton and Carina (it’s still posted on FP). But, the thing is I blushed furiously throughout the entire ordeal AND I haven’t reread it since writing it. *I’ll try later*

    Come to think of it..I don’t think Will and Sophia had relations in their whole story o.O *must scour MS*
    I remember reading Medeiros’ Charming the Prince (my first of hers) and I DID read about her struggle between career and religion and I did come to understand the rational. However, in my case…I’m not Christian..I’m Muslim and the problem is I KNOW what the religion says about it: acts between a husband and wife are for the husband and wife only. They should not be discussed outside of the marriage (gossip/bragging) not should they involve other parties.

    So, I kind of have more of a dilemma. Except, I was talking to my cousin a while back – and she knows the religion a lot better than I do – when my hesitance was due to er…a…lack of experience?..and she pointed out I’ve never lived in/experienced historical England so that was a stupid reason. She encouraged me to write the scene anyway..but..I don’t know, like you I still don’t have a stand.

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    • “acts between a husband and wife are for the husband and wife only.” This is actually the reason why I myself hesitate to write love scenes. One side of my mind tells me that the union between man and wife should be left private, that it’s more romantic and sacred that way. But then the other side of me believes that the readers have the right to stalk the characters everywhere, haha.

      You do seem to be in more of a rut than I. I think maybe if you can write a scene that does not “titillate” the flesh, as that reviewer above mentioned, then it’ll be alright? The point is to keep the act sacred by keeping it secret. By writing the scene in such a way that the words itself are like a veil covering the details…. It’s basically like closing the bedroom door.

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  2. To be perfectly honest, I hate writing love scenes. And I usually skip over them when reading a romance novel. I have no problem with the having the bedroom door shut in my face.

    Last summer I wrote a short historical paranormal romance where the hero and herione are already bed partners. A critique partner said the opening scene (I’ve never started a story with sex before, but I wanted to try it) didn’t have enough passion. I’m considering a class on writing sex scenes. But with my NaNo project this year, the hero and heroine get married in the third chapter. And it was a while before I got around to getting them in bed. When I did I didn’t go into detail. I felt the scenes right before the love making and right after were more important.

    I admire Kimberly Killion’s Highland Dragon because the love scenes are short. A page or two at most. No fuss, not a lot of detail. I agree, subtle works.

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    • I’ve always ended up writing stories that didn’t really require love scenes. It just happened like that. So I haven’t really, really struggled with the issue. I only struggle with the thought that I need to write one if I want to write for the romance market (not the inspirational).

      For me, I’m ok with reading them. But I’ve read so many that many are the same to me so I just skim or even sometimes skip or sometimes just stop reading the book–because by the time the hero and heroine do the act the story sometimes spirals downhill from there.

      Though this is outside of the genre, Nabakov’s Lolita is a great example of nuanced love scene writing. Though it’s disturbing (considering that it’s a scnee between a man and a girl), he wrote it in such a flowery way that half the time you’re not really sure what’s happening, but it’s happening all the same.

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  3. M M Bennetts

    I’ve written a couple of blogs myself on this subject because of the sense that I’ve got from so many books that “just add sex” will make the book sell better.

    I don’t agree with the taking of everyone into all of my characters bedrooms. I don’t see that as necessary at all. For heaven’s sake, I have a lot of very close friends but I don’t invite them into my bedroom when I’m with the Beloved. How revolting! Love is not a spectator sport.

    So the rule I stick to is if I can only show this aspect of a character’s development or individuality through a bedroom scene, then okay. If I can do it through some other way forward, I’ll probably chose that.

    And I will NOT write a biology lesson.

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    • I’ll have to find those entries of yours where you discussed a similar issue! And I agree with you that we shouldn’t be barging into the bedroom of every single characters *shiver*.

      Haha, a biology lesson. I read that article you posted on FB about the worst sex scene reward: “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed” Eeeew

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  4. I try to avoid it, too. Hell, I’ve never even discussed it in depth with my own sister.

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  5. Noelle Pierce

    You tagged me on this, but I’m not sure I’m the best one to answer this, as I’m not really religious.

    *ahem* My difficulties writing the sex/love scenes is a lot more shallow than yours, honestly. I don’t have a moral issue with it, but rather difficulties in choosing the right words and images to get the point across without it being a biology lesson, purple prose, or cheap porn. Achieving that is a decidedly horrid experience, and the reason I will probably never write erotica again.

    I’ve found my favorite part of romance novels to be the tension, rather than the love act. If there’s no tension, if there’s no reason for the hero/heroine to stay apart, the love scene falls flat. I think if you have the tension, readers may not notice if you allude to making love without actually giving the details.

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    • I tagged you mainly because your tweet inspired this article–you know, that tweet where you asked me how I was enlightened?

      I was also curious to know your approach to these scenes. I know MM wrote a love scene in May 1812 and then there’s you. But not many other writer friends of mine have written one. So I was curious to know what your issues with this scene would be…and you said it was choosing the right words and images. I think that after reading so many romance novels there are certain words that have been so overused that it’s become ridiculously funny.

      I TOTALLY agree with you that it’s the tension and not so much the act itself.

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  6. I think the question is bigger than ‘do I/can I write a love scene’. It’s, ‘does the story need/want for a love scene’.

    Your characters’ actions are not your own, nor do they even have to be your beliefs or represent them – Like in an interview with the actors in a movie on the special features DVD, ‘these opinions don’t represent those of this company’! You’re the company, and the characters are the actors. You put it out there to be seen, but they aren’t your actions. They aren’t even real actions. They’re speculative actions, representing fictional individuals.

    Consider; If your story called for an axe murderer, you wouldn’t worry over the morals of axe murdering. They’re pretty shady, unless you happen to be an axe murderer too. But the axe murderer is an axe murderer, and chances are that someone’s going to die – sad, but true, and crucial to the story.

    Just because the axe murderer wants to swing a big sharp axe into someone’s head doesn’t mean that you’d go out and do the same, though. That would be silly.

    It’s the same with sex. I mean, we already have Candover – who is a rake, no? Which means that sex already plays a large part in your story. It forms an addiction (since rakes are creatures of addiction), which can take over identity, of one of your characters. But there’s no problem here. That a character can give up his life for immoral neccessities does not cause pause – only if it’s explicitly exemplified. I’m not saying that it SHOULD be. Just that’s it’s interesting.

    Now, a love scene boils down to three parts, just as any other scene: emotional, physical, and mental. I think it’s safe to say that mental is limited (;D Ohoho, I’m such a jokester), and that physical – in fear of writing something along the lines of ‘his fierce dart’ (BLAAH MENTAL IMAGE) or worse in the name of ‘creativity’ – should be limited as well. Which leaves emotional. What any really good scene should be invested it. And what’s wrong in writing about emotions, and writing a scene where, for your characters, those emotions might take an identity-changing turn? If they don’t, that’s fine. But what if they do? What if the character misses that because it wasn’t written?

    You’re asking about love scenes. But you’re treating them like sex scenes. There’s a difference. A sex scene is there for the reader, or because the characters are feeling particularly horny. It’s what characterizes erotica and really horrible romance novels. It’s based on the animal need for pleasure and the ignorance of anything personal between two people. Sex scenes are made up of two people who happen to rub against one another for a while.

    Not particularly endearing.

    But a love scene is about growth and union and promise. I don’t see anything immoral about that, or writing about it, if it’s appropriate. I think the reason that so many stories fall flat AFTER love scenes is that they aren’t love scenes – they’re sex scenes. A love scene should be like any other scene: it should either move the story or character development or both, and otherwise shouldn’t be consequential. Just like marriage (I draw the comparison, because this is another turning point after which things become flat in narrative, somehow), a love scene is a step. A growth. A movement to progress – or, if you want to play around with them a bit, to hinder. It shouldn’t be written to be written, not in the type of story that you want to write.

    Because you want to write elegantly, and delicately, and truthfully. And there’s no reason why a love scene can’t be written that way, when it’s appropriate, needed, and worth something more than two people rubbing against one another.

    But there’s absolutely NO reason that it should be written for any other reason than the story needs it. Just like any other scene. You don’t write how the axe murderer goes around killing people just to write about blood hitting the ground, you write about how he approaches that one specific person that’s crucial to the plot – so do you only write the love scene that’s crucial to the relationship and story.

    If the characters progress without it, that’s great. Jane Austen wrote immortal love stories without even kisses. Not every love story is a love scene story.

    But if they’re intense, passionate, and in the case of the time period both you and currently (kind of, same century xD) I are writing, occasionally foolish people, who wind up blinded by love and desire and ignorant of consequences, and if that love scene is something that arises particularly out of their whims, wants, and choices, then it should be written.

    But that doesn’t have to be the story you have to tell.

    The point is, as I said: It’s not that important. Sex is a social fixation, but it doesn’t have to be your fixation. And so long as your story flows without it, good riddance. If it doesn’t, well, then, it’s just another scene that needs to be written in – but it doesn’t have to be awkwardly blunt. It should be based on the emotional progress of the characters, mixed with a little romantic breath on the shoulder and fingertips on the spine. It’s what’s not said that makes taboo in real life; and it’s the same in your writing. It’s the unsaid that makes the love scene lovely.

    It’s just another scene, that could or couldn’t be in your novel.

    [ WAAAAH~! > A <;; I'M SORRY TO EVERYONE WHO HAS TO SCROLL PAST THIS MONSTER. June, I blame my queer writing class on this bighugemonster of an essay comment. I've been writing about sex/sexuality in literature for months. SO SORRY FOR MAKING YOUR EYES BLEED WITH A WALL OF TEXT. xDD <333 ]

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    • You’re so right. A Love scene does not mean a sex scene. I actually chose to use the term love scene merely to avoid sounding too crude. But while writing this entry I was talking about sex scenes–actually, I thought they were one and the same.

      I know you haven’t read too many romance novels, Madam Fantasy writers 😉 Maybe they write the love scenes more love-focused in those novels? But I’ve read thousands and in these novels I’ve read many in which these scenes had minimal emotional descriptions. Well, the ones I’ve read. There were a few in which emotions covered over the physical activities but often times I found that those scenes were treated almost as a biology lesson. Very detailed. The emotions usually are described after the deed is done.

      Or maybe emotions were mentioned, but the physical activity was put so much into focus that I didn’t get that sense of ‘Love’ being the focus. Like you wrote: “I think the reason that so many stories fall flat AFTER love scenes is that they aren’t love scenes – they’re sex scenes.” Perhaps I was treating love scenes as sex scenes because the latter was the sort of scenes I’ve mainly encountered in romance novels?

      Anyway, thanks so much Kerrie for this comment–which I plan on rereading with more attention now. I just wanted to let you know how I appreciated your insigh. A lightbulb appeared atop my head when you described the emotional element to this scene. Rather than letting flowery words add a veil over the physical act itself, I think I’m now going to use your perspective, and allow the emotions to do that covering act, so it all doesn’t seem like a biology lesson.

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  7. If I were to put my two cents in, I would say, firstly, if you can find the time, you’ll not regret reading both of Bennetts’ books. One has a love scene between a married man and woman, and it’s VERY chaste. The other, not so much, but it is essential to understanding what these two individuals have overcome to be able to love each other. They are both very different, serve entirely different purposes, and are both exquisitely written.

    As for myself, the books I wrote, well…I don’t really touch it. In Of Moths and Butterflies I came the closest. For the heroine, it was a long time getting to that point where she could give herself. If I ever start writing again, I’ll probably have to seriously revisit that, but at the time of my last revision, I thought I was going to go with a Christian publisher.

    I think, for me, sex is a very private experience, and what a character might gain or experience by it is not so much in the physical act but in the emotional and psychological union with another person.

    I used to read a lot of books written in the forties, and they’ve inspired me a lot, dealing with the issue mostly in abstract terms, which oft times gets the point across just as well.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that I too am conflicted. I have never done them, probably will never do them, and unless they serve a real purpose, then I don’t like to read them. In order for them to be “moral” or in good taste, then they have to serve some other purpose than just to excite the reader. If they can take you to a place of healing, or commitment, or fulfillment… Otherwise it’s just trash.

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    • “In order for them to be “moral” or in good taste, then they have to serve some other purpose than just to excite the reader. If they can take you to a place of healing, or commitment, or fulfillment… Otherwise it’s just trash.”

      Now I understand why the other side of the argument are set against books with love scenes in them. Ignorant me was not too sure what the term ‘moral’ meant in regard to the love scene issue. But now I see. If it exists only to titillate then I guess it’s not moral. It needs to serve a far bigger purpose than to merely entertain.

      I agree with you that sex is a private act. And that’s why when I tried writing one once I felt like I was a naughty person peeping into someone’s bedroom and writing down what was going on.

      But then there’s also that desire to know everything about one’s character. And maybe that’s why people write explicit scenes. To draw a reader completely into the character’s life?

      Arg. Yah, it’s hard to side with one side of the argument that I would just rather not stand on any side at all. Just avoid writing the scene completely if it’s possible, in my case.

      Anyhow, that’s an interesting take. Thanks for your comment!

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      • Think, too, what purpose your characters serve. Your characters relationship to you is irrelevant. Your readers’ relationship to your characters is what counts. And yes, they may want to know all about them, but how many of your friends let you into their bedrooms? We may want to go there (I don’t) but it doesn’t mean we have a right to do it. And because your stories offer a moral, thereby making them ‘moralistic’ by definition, you do have to think beyond that. If it calls for it, I think you’ll know. Mine probably demands more than I’ve given it. I can’t remember. But, again, I think there are a hundred ways to say anything, and you have to do what works best for you.

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  8. Oh man, if you’ve ever read some of my, ahem, less glorious works, you’ll see that I think through this ALOT. I’d love to discuss the issue with you in real-life sometime 😀
    I agree very much with Teresa’s views. Art is afterall realistic, and if you want your readers to know your characters inside out, then you’d probably have to give them a glimpse of the sexual side as well, especially if you believe sexual desire is part of romance. What you *do*, and how you approach the sexual side, is what matters.

    Pre-marital sex and lust, though sinful and really touchy from a Christian perspective, are really not that different from other sins in the first place. It all boils down to “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Novels are full of characters who lie, cheat, manipulate, are jealous, proud, etc. – and you need these characteristics to make the characters believable and relatable. So in the end, how is sex different from all the other “bad” things that happen in fictional works? I think the question is not whether or not your characters should be “sinful”, but rather, what they make of it (especially if you’re writing Inspirational/Christian books).

    Besides, you also know your market. People who read romance are prepared to encounter those types of scenes – it’s not like you’re writing for elementary kids’ sunday school!

    I think if you want to look at it from a practical perspective, first examine what message you want to bring out to reader and work from there – don’t be scared of the “moral” issues. eg. Do you want to say that love is sacred and not just lust/gratification? Why not contrast a more explicit scene in the beginning, where the characters feel sort of odd/shameful, with one at the end, where it’s sweet/suble but ultimately fulfilling? (That’s just a suggestion. I’m not experienced with this, haha.) Another good rule of thumb is to make sure that there are no gratuitous scenes. Sex, like dialogue/any other scene, can reveal ALOT about character.
    There’s some erotica out there that’s brilliantly written, and they serve their own purpose, but all you need to do is just focus on yours! 🙂 If you want to get a good look at how sex can be done tastefully, not gratuitously, and with powerful character development,read some of Remittance Girl’s short stories. http://remittancegirl.com/category/shortstories/ I think they’re real eye-openers.

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    • I would definately love to discuss with more with you over coffee when you have time.

      I totally agree with you that “sex” is part of life and lust (in the sinful sense) is also part of life. Christians aren’t immune to it and thus the need to be more open about this subject. Even the most edgy inspirational fiction isn’t very edgy at all–IMO.

      But, I guess as Val was mentioning, an author really has to understand what sort of story she is writing. In my case, it is a story that revolves heavily around morality. And so I need to take this into consideration before I touch upon matters of sexuality.

      However, for TRC, the story turned out to be heavily based on sexuality. So I think I’m going to experiment outside my comfort zone a bit. Because, like you said, ” It all boils down to “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.

      And thanks for the link! I’ll check out the stories when I find time 🙂

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  9. In the end, what goes on between two characters is up to you. You’re the writer afterall. Why force yourself to write something a certain way just because “sex sells”? You know where the limits are, and what’s comfortable with you 😉
    Love scenes aren’t necessarily sex scenes, but both can be skillfully written and convey a lot
    To your readers.

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  10. I`ve never had trouble writing love scenes, though I blushed horribly when I read my first sex scene when I was 12.

    I live in Japan, where sex is pretty open. It`s common to see porn on the streets, and teens are reading manga with sex scenes in them. Sex has never been a topic that I should be ashamed of. In fact, I`m very comfortable with my sexuality and the fact that I`m a complete pervert (I blame the Japanese genes).

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    • Japan, Japan. 😀 Yah, I know how very open this country is to sex. I used to read tons of Japanese manga. And I also used to be crazy about anime! Some of them had pretty mature contents.

      “I`m very comfortable with my sexuality and the fact that I`m a complete pervert” I laughed so hard reading this bit. It makes me curious to read about ’em love scenes in your book ;D

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  11. Jillian

    Oh, gosh. I’ve only tried writing one twice, and it’s so embarrassing. I don’t mind reading them, if they serve a purpose, and, as MM said, aren’t a biology lesson.

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    • I think one of the reasons why writing these scenes are so embarrassing is the fact that….we know others will be reading them. Not to mention ‘others’ as in family members.

      But yah. Same here. I don’t mind reading them.

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  12. I don’t mind writing a sex scene if it’s needed, but it’s not always needed. Often more tension can be created by not going there anyway.
    Experiment with writing the scene but then decide later if it adds to the narrative or not. You can easily delete it.

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    • Yes, I can indeed easily delete it. I think it’ll make for an interesting experience….writing something outside my comfort zone.

      And I do agree with you that the tension is so much more important. One can write a great love scene, but without a proper build up, that scene becomes pretty much ineffective I’ve noticed

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  13. I think our society has been scared to talk about sex ever since the Victorian era. I don’t know why. We treat alcohol in the same way. Both can ruin lives if enjoyed out of their proper contexts–which is why we should be talking about both in positive ways, not shielding our children from either. Sex is not sinful in and of itself, and I wish we would stop thinking that it is.

    BUT!!! Here’s the big warning: NEVER do anything that violates your conscience. It’s not worth it! Sex is not mandatory in books, not even in romances.

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    • I do agree with you. Even though society claims to be very open in society, there is still a sense in which sex is viewed as something to be considered shameful. I guess it’s because it is SUCH a private thing between people… I don’t know. But yah, while I don’t think sex itself is a sin, broaching upon this subject does make me highly uncomfortable haha.

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  14. Really great post, June (sorry it’s taken me so long to read it!). I think much of it boils down to what works for the author and what the book needs. Books as a category do not need sex, but there may be books out there that do need it, for the completion of the story. That doesn’t mean it needs to be explicit, or that it can’t be insinuated. I don’t know that the act itself ever has to be shown–I’m sure some would disagree. But often it seems added in not for the story’s sake, but for the reader, in order to allow the reader to act as voyeur and satiate a more base craving than plot completion.

    For me personally–my take. It’s informed by a couple things–one of which is my historical perspective, the other is being married. I will write sex scenes. I won’t write graphic scenes, and anatomy descriptions will not fill my pages. But I will write love scenes in which sexual intimacy plays a part. First, historically, there are actually very few periods of history in which people were closed-off and prudish about it–to reflect my character’s sensibilities, I can’t have them simpering from it. They embrace it–and well, I must, too.

    Second is being married–it changed my whole perspective on sex. I’ve watched it change friends’ perspective as they marry, too–it’s a sort of range of comfort thing, and realizing it’s not nearly so serious an endeavor as you thought it was. Before I was married (and in the interest of full disclosure, I am Christian and my husband is my one and only), I would not have been comfortable writing something so alien to me as sex. And, I wouldn’t have understood it–it couldn’t have fulfilled a vital piece of the story because I didn’t really understand the place it filled in a marital relationship.

    So there I am. I think as writers our lives inform us–and then we inform our stories. So, there is no reason to include sex in your stories if you aren’t creating stories that need them. And no reason that this might not change and evolve over time–or not.

    OK, I wrote a book here. Sorry about that!!

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    • I totally agree with Rowenna. And even the Victorians weren’t quite the prudes we want to believe them. Victoria wasn’t. Unfortunately it’s not so much about prudery but about male dominance. Men owned women from the moment they married or fathered them. Period. And so it was that men deserved a woman raised in purity and barely educated. It was “what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.” This according to Edith Wharton.

      I think it’s our modern age, however, that makes us too focused on it. Perhaps, after all, I’m the prude, but I think there are more important things in life, one of them being the mastery of self. And THAT’s what I find so sexy about the Victorians. I think any time we write historical novels with a modern attitude toward sexuality, we do them a disservice. All eras before ours treat it more seriously by necessity. If you strip women of rights and the use of contraceptives or even choice, it does, by necessity, become something much more serious. The stakes are much higher.

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      • So true, Val–the stakes are different. At the same time, I think that the reality of “ownership” was less stringent than some writers at the time or some historians now would have us believe. There were actually quite a few legal loopholes that allowed women to own property and manage estates independently of their husbands, despite coverature–just one example of the nuanced reality of history. I think the ordinary, working-class, scraping-by person would be even less inclined to think in terms of ownership instead of partnership–those hard lives demanded cooperation!

        I always think of Martin Luther’s quote about “when I find the Devil tormenting me too much, I just jump in bed with my wife.” They had a sense of humor about sex, and saw it as a dynamic part of a relationship. And fun. Shock–kinda like us! But their jovial attitudes seem to only come after marriage (excepting the rakes)–because then, as you note, it becomes “safe.” They didn’t have the convenience of contraceptives in our sense, but of course that leads to an entirely different discussion about what sort of freedom that’s really given us.

        Sorry for hijacking, June!! I just love chatting with Val 🙂

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      • I can’t say much about the era itself, as I’m still an amature historian, but all I can say is that I totally agree with you, Rowenna. I think approaching such a scene before and after being married makes a great difference. It does make the whole idea of sex safer because one is married.

        Haha, I love how Val and yourself have such interesting insights to share.

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    • “But often it seems added in not for the story’s sake, but for the reader, in order to allow the reader to act as voyeur and satiate a more base craving than plot completion.”

      I totally agree with you on this bit. I think this was my number one reason as to why I was iffy about the thought of writing explicit scenes. I couldn’t pin point the reason until I read this sentence of yours.

      (Oh, and I guess that’s why some people choose to call romance novels “women’s porn”. It is VERY derogatory, I’m sure, to many authors of such genres. But there is this reason you brought forth that might have people to calling the genre such—even though I’m sure there are plenty more arguments against labelling the genre in such a way)

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  15. I’ve missed you, Rowenna!

    I think class does in fact make all the difference. I’ve been reading “Parallel Lives” by Phylis Rose. I don’t agree with all of her points, and she definitely takes up a very interesting argument about just how happy our lives are with all of our supposed “freedoms” especially as regards marriage and sex. I would probably be slated if I didn’t put in about the rakes and how that was safe sex for them in a different way. Culturally it was “acceptable” because it was preferred to making a bad match. And usually, if they were of a certain class, they provided for those women and children. Not always, as we well know, but usually.

    The issues of freedom and marriage were entirely based on class, but also…these arguments were really being fought throughout the social courtrooms from the 1830’s on. And they would, because the most powerful person in Europe at the time was a woman, and a queen. And Victoria and Albert, though there was certainly a power struggle, had a very good relationship and a very healthy love life. As long as a woman was in a good relationship, and they certainly existed, then she had all the freedoms she might extract from her and/or all that he was willing to give her. But if that were not the case, the man had it in his power to make life nothing but a prison for her.

    This book, I highly recommend it. Well, you two aren’t writing in the same era I am, but it’s a very real, and extremely relevant look at marriage and the power struggles involved.

    And how can we bring this back around to June’s original subject? Err… Well, clearly, it’s just WAY more complicated than a romp between the sheets, isn’t it? Especially since, in her latest work, the heroine has been married before, which could open up some interesting opportunities for you, June, if you wanted to explore them. *winks*

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    • “Err… Well, clearly, it’s just WAY more complicated than a romp between the sheets”

      Indeed it is, Val. Indeed it is.

      And yes, with this new work of mine, I think I’ll let myself explore…. *wiggles brow*

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  16. Oh June, I’ve so missed reading your posts! Thank goodness I have time now.

    This was a wonderful debate, one that I frequently struggle with myself. I love reading romance novels but often find myself feeling obliged to skip some parts because of my faith. But then again most time the hero and heroine are married, but then again I am not so should I really be reading something like this never mind WRITE it myself (and I’m not experienced in that area so I have nothing to really base the scene off anyway) and the cycle continues.

    I’m with you in the grey area. I’m still not sure, but I’m glad I’m not the only writer thinking about it:)

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    • I’ve missed you too!!!! I’m guessing you’re back from your travelling? Hmm I should check your blog and find out myself. I’ve been so busy I wasn’t able to keep in touch with bloggers like yourself. Do you have any idea where Lua disappeared to? Her blog was closed when I last checked.

      Yah, I’m really glad I wrote this entry. Before, I was wondering if I was the only person stressing over this issue. It’s nice to read the many other comments from other writers. And after reading those commetns I’ve decided to stick to the grey zone–if I must write a love scene, for the sake of the story, then I will write a nuanced, artsy one

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  17. Totally understand where you’re coming from. In addition to the fact that I just love the genre, it’s one of the reasons I decided to write YA. There is young adult that includes such scenes, but there’s just as much that doesn’t, and it’s OK.

    p.s. sorry haven’t been around for a while

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