A man is riding a bike on a hill.
Search
Close this search box.
A watercolor illustration of a typewriter with a note on it.

Do We Really Need More Portrayal of Sexual Subjects in Christian Romance?

by Kellyn Roth |
July 10, 2024

Today, as promised in last week’s post, I’m talking about a rather interesting subject: the portrayal of sexual subjects in Christian romance. And specifically, do we need to talk about it? In Christian romance or any Christian sub-genre? What about on our author platforms? What about in “real life”?

Convictions Matter, Of Course!

Now, before I get into this, let me clarify to points: first, I am not talking about explicit portrayal of sexual subjects (in any facet) in Christian fiction.

Second, I don’t believe every author needs to write on this topic  or every reader needs to consume it! Some people, for whatever reason, are not interested in writing about or reading about these subjects, and that’s up to them. Follow your convictions, always! Though be willing to grow and mature, too, as we can’t be stuck “stumbling” over something as basic as sexuality forever.

And … please don’t follow the general populous if your convictions don’t match up. The “we can’t discuss sexual relations in Christian fiction, let alone sexual sin!” crowd are more than welcome to make their own calls, but only God and you can make a firm decision on where His leading is in your life.

This is the leading I’m following. For a variety of reasons and just because sometimes God says “do this!” and you have to do it, I feel I have been led by the Lord to discuss a few more controversial topics in my Christian fiction books … primarily, surrounding both healthy, godly sexuality and sexual sins.

How God is Leading Me

God didn’t lead me to do this because He wants me to write smut or “as close to smut as a Christian writer can get without anyone noticing.”

In fact, compared to many Christian authors, I’m just not great at writing those passionate kissing scenes that some conservative Christians will call “soft porn.” (I don’t really agree with that take, at least in most cases, but it’s up to the individual author and reader to discern what they personally believe.)

That said, my personal reason for choosing to write about godly sexuality in my novels is simple: I believe it’s worth talking about.

In the Christian community, there has been a lot of “we can’t discuss that!” which has led to … problems. Purity culture has turned what should be a simple submission of our body to God to a set of unbelievably strict rules which have led to men and women feeling ashamed of their natural desires and simultaneously not having the right tools to control said desires.

Now, I had my own struggles with sexual sin. For years, I couldn’t even talk about it, and the constant “sex is so taboo!” messaging from Christian romance authors (particularly of the indie category) did nothing to help me with the crushing shame I experienced. In fact, it worsened it to a dangerous degree.

The truth is, I needed to be ashamed—and I was. But I didn’t need to get hopelessly stuck in that shame when one of the things Christ does is lift us from our shame and restore us to Him via grace. And we Christians should reflect that grace, too.

Yeah, I knew about grace, but I felt like if I were to reach out, no one would offer it to me. I was convinced I would be basically deplatformed as an author if anyone knew the “real me” (past me, but whatever—I was convinced my sins would be with me until I died because I’m dramatic).

And you know what? I don’t ever want another young woman to experience that.

And they will. I can’t control that.

But if I can say to even one young woman, “There is a future and hope for you through Christ!” or even, “Yes, these are important conversations to have!” …

Well, it’ll be worth it.

But doesn’t that just encourage more sexual sin?

… no.

Because I’m not writing anything deliberately arousing, and I assume that any Christian author would take responsibility for their writing in every area and not write something that is in itself sinful.

That said, neither is it the responsibility of the author to prevent an adult reader from sinning. Everyone’s limits and boundaries and convictions are different (this applies to both authors and readers) – and though of course, with time, Christians led by the Holy Spirit are going to mature and grow and hopefully work past these triggers, it is the responsibility of the individual to avoid materials that will tempt them to sin.

The main responsibility of the author, therefore, is to not sin themselves. That means not going against their convictions and following God’s leading, as well as, of course, all the normal stuff: staying grounded in the Bible, prayer, and Christian fellowship.

That said, I find this concept that to write God-honoring fiction, we must simply avoid all subjects that could involve sexuality in any way, and especially those which involve sexual sin, or else we’re “leading readers to sin” and “putting impure thoughts in their minds.”

Ignorance is not the same as purity. If a reader feels your story put impure thoughts in their mind, at the end of the day … those impure thoughts (and any action they made because of it) are not your responsibility. If you stay close to God and follow His leading, as well as hold tight to Biblical truths, it’s probably more true that your reader is dealing with sexual sin than that you have crossed a line. I think a lot of people have hidden sins in this area in particular, and you have to trust the Lord to convict them in His timing. You can’t be a part of that.

If you’d like to hear a little more on my takes about this sort of stuff, especially in the context of Christian romance, here are a couple posts:

Anyways, a lot of my perspective on this topic echoes the thoughts I shared in those posts about Christian romance.

I also describe a little of my perspective on tackling tough topics with tact here, so I just want to quote that article to explain my perspective on what I write:

My novels are not “clean for all audiences.” Sure, I write “clean fiction” if you mean “no sex scenes, no graphic violence, no cussing,” but not in the sense of “no references to sexuality,” “no adult-only topics covered,” “no darkness whatsoever.”

The Bible is meant to be read by all audiences, yes, but all audiences shouldn’t be encouraged to deeply dive into, for instance, sexual ethics based entirely on Biblical understanding. And the Bible is great, because you can totally read and understand it as a child … and then go back as a teenager and get something more out of it … and then go back as an adult and get even more out of it.

But we are not God, and we are not writing the Bible! That is an unrealistic expectation. As a married adult, I am both able to read the Bible in a way that deeply digs into what it says about, for instance, sexuality … and then portray these factors that in my books and in my characters’ relationships …

WITHOUT showing sexual scenes, writing in such a way that the reader’s mind will feel dirty or their thoughts and feelings edge toward sexual arousal (which is the main purpose of smut – it is meant to arouse, to create sexual feelings outside of marriage, which is wrong), or dishonoring God.

Yet that does not mean my book is literally the Bible. Some topics in my books are not kid-safe because I confess I am writing for adults. The Bible is written for everyone. But the Bible literally has power, and if you believe you can mimic that power, dear author … well, I can’t convince you otherwise, but I personally am afraid I can’t mimic that power. I’m just me, not God, and the gifts He has given me do, um, not lend toward Bible-writing, somehow.

And really, what’s happened to me is, God has said, “Kellyn, I want you to write for specific people. Leave the audiences you can’t reach for me. You aren’t everything to everyone. You are THIS AUTHOR for THESE PEOPLE.”

The key is ALWAYS balance … and audience. I wouldn’t hand Like a Ship on the Sea to anyone under 16 because it does briefly and tastefully discuss some sexual topics, and there is an obvious undertone of attraction between my main leads, especially after they are married. It’s not explicit. In fact, because of my personal tastes, it’s “cleaner” than most of the Christian romances out there in terms of “how much is described.” (I’m not really opposed to a higher level of kissin’, and most of my favorite authors write more. But I just … am an awkward kiss-writer. I get the point across other ways.)

So Should We Write About Sex?

Not all of us should! We’re all led differently. Therefore, this section is only addressed to those readers, like myself, who feel that they should, for whatever reason, portray healthy attraction, hint at (respectfully) healthy sexual relationships, and address sexual sins head-on.

If you feel led to write about something, you write about it. It’s as simple as that.

Now, yes, this is one of the topics that, in my personal opinion and based on my personal convictions, requires a gentle hand. It’s not only a complex issue, but it is one that, whether because of the repression a lot of Christians experiences or the sins that a lot of Christians experience (which often go in hand), is controversial.

Even if all of this is true, sex is very private and intimate. It’s not a secret, exactly, but it is one of those things that is supposed to stay between one man and one woman and to be enjoyed solely by them.

So I’m not suggesting we write sex scenes or even sexually-charged scenes. I don’t personally feel comfortable writing what is essentially foreplay – it’s not my style, even if it could be argued that anything “closed door” is permissible.

I’m also not suggesting that talking about sexual sins should be explicit, either. That said, tactfully and carefully, with God’s guidance every step of the way, there are so many ways the Christian audience can benefit from less tiptoeing around these subjects as well as more intentionality when they are discussed.

I argue that not only can we talk about these things, but the way we talk about them should be entirely different than the way the world does. We don’t write these scenes to titillate or to prove a point or to thumb our noses at propriety but to inform, encourage, and point toward God as the Creator of not only man and woman, but marriage, sex, and sexual pleasure.

A few ways I think greater transparency AND greater tact could be used when it comes to this discussion:

  • To encourage those who have struggled with sexual sin or sexual trauma, both by showing them what healthy sexuality looks like and by showing them hope in the midst of sin or trauma.
  • To help people who have friends, family members, or acquaintances who they have judged or misunderstood while they were dealing with sexual sin or sexual trauma.
  • To show people who have, whether because of Christian or secular influences, have a negative or repressed view of sex be open to these conversations.

I will say that I don’t believe fiction is a good tool for sex education (or any kind of education), but it can start conversations and make people think and God can definitely work through fictional stories. I would never set out to “educate” someone through a fictional novel – just to tell a good story with whatever inspiration God gives me. What God does with said story is His problem. 😛

Should We Talk About It Online, Though?

Yes, but in different ways.

I always find that I come off worse online than in my books. I find it easier to communicate my thoughts in story form, and I have to be very aware that this is true of me. I come off strong in these kinds of posts … while in my books, I know exactly how to communicate these complex ideas in a caring, delicate, but truthful way.

In blog posts like this one, I am always concerned about being misunderstood or saying something I shouldn’t have. I’ve definitely done so in the past.

That said, we should be talking about its impact on the Christian market (and general market as written by Christians), and of course, the professionals should talk about their areas of expertise in whatever way they have available to them. Thankfully, I’m not a marriage counselor or anything like that, so that responsibility doesn’t lie with me.

What About in “Real Life”?

Absolutely.

In appropriate environments, with people it is appropriate to have these discussions with.

I cannot tell you how invaluable it was for me to have these discussions with trusted friends and adults.

Too many Christians have told me their parents never had a conversation about sex with them, or if they did, that the conversation was a one-time stilted, awkward affair that gave no real information. As I am not currently a parent, that’s not my area to discuss, but I will say that making these topics taboo helps no one.

My morals on the subject, as well as smaller things, are largely the result of (serious, respectful) discussion with friends. The same goes for other issues that are underdiscussed, in my opinion, such as menstrual cycles.

Suffice to say, though I am not for Christians becoming story-swappers who excel in crude jokes, there is a lot of valuable in discussion on these topics. Traditionally, women have exchanged information on these topics (as well as on things like their health, pregnancy, childbirth) because the medical field and men in general have not provided ample or accurate information, and …

Yeah, actually, that’s still true, but in some ways, for different reasons. Don’t get me started on modern childbirth …

How Sex is Discussed in My Novels

… because why not talk about this?

Honestly, this needs divided into two categories: the thought and research I’ve poured into this to make sure I’m not messing anything up, and what actually makes it into the stories, which is further divided into “what I state” and “what I imply.”

So there is that.

I’ll try to clarify this, but for those of you who haven’t read anything I’ve written, I write pretty squeaky clean. That includes, in general, keeping my discussions of sexual topics somewhat vague in 90% of situations.

I also decided to be a little more cautious in some stories than others.

For instance, The Dressmaker’s Secret (The Chronicles of Alice & Ivy, Book 1) is pretty vague about anything that could be considered remotely sexual. Like, it’s all situational (e.g. because a child exists, it’s implied that sex happened, but that’s … true of all stories, technically).

Anyways, just wanted to put that little disclaimer in there before discussing this.

The Chronicles of Alice & Ivy

Despite a few topics lightly brushed upon (mostly because of the implications made by society & the past sexual assault in book 1), the first couple books are free of these topics, but once I hit Alice and Ivy’s adult years, this changed as they matured.

After all, books 3 and 4 are romances!

Alice’s Story

In At Her Fingertips, I imply that Alice is uncomfortable with sexual topics and yet intrigued by those “rake” types. Enough to give in and marry one? Well, spoilers, but noooo. I actually wanted her to have a chance at happiness. Plus she’s Alice. Even if he wasn’t horrible, he wouldn’t have made her happy.

In book 5, A Prayer Unanswered (and also in the spin-off, Like a Ship on the Sea), I touch upon Alice feeling torn about intimacy in her marriage, swinging from viewing it as something good and holy to something that feels dirty and dysfunctional. I wanted to talk a little about how mental health affects every aspect of your life, yes, but there’s a lot more to it, from Alice’s inability to ask questions (your independence exhausts me, Alice, and yet it is one of the traits we share) to a childhood of seeing woman harmed to the way she has a need to maintain moral superiority over literally everyone because otherwise she’ll be the Wicked Creation Society Thinks She Is (or at least that’s what she’s internalized) …

But yeah, I like to think she’s with the fellow who’s most likely to patiently love her through it all!

With Alice, I have a fun opportunity to show a woman gradually becoming comfortable with herself and her relationship with her husband, as well as the freedom she can find in grace (see what I did there).

I’m really excited for Time of Grief and then Steps Into Grace, as Alice and her husband having a healthy relationship is 10/10 my favorite thing.

Speaking of which …

Ivy’s Story

In Beyond Her Calling, Ivy is kind of … oblivious … to that side of things. I mean, she’s attracted to her guy, but it’s a lot more emotional. Because this is Ivy we’re talking about. That said, the story does discuss a past of sexual sin and the ramifications of lust in the present and past. I wanted to show a hero who showed genuine repentance, yes … but I didn’t want it to be a basic portrayal of the pure Christian woman and her reformed rake. I hope I did bring a bit more nuance to it, because I hate the “she saved him from sexual sin!” trope that often shows up in Christian romance.

I also found it to be an important opportunity to discuss the way guilt can accelerate an issue – even after you’ve repented. Some people are all repentance and no salvation, and Ivy’s husband is one of those people.

Which brings us to After Our Castle.

… Ivy’s husband is STILL one of those people.

And honestly, part of what I wanted to talk about with him is something I myself experienced: guilt can really eat you alive and keep you from experiencing happiness in other areas of life as well as cause an issue Christ has fully cleansed you of to keep going. It’s like a boil he refuses to lance – that perhaps, some people believe he never will lance, but they’re not the people who matter … and they’re not God, either.

Speaking of Ivy herself, I did want to show a healthy amount of attraction and (after they’re married!) sexual activity, but I won’t go on about that because it’s fairly self-explanatory and it’s vague for a reason. That reason being because, as I’m sure most of us will agree, we don’t really want to hover outside their bedroom door, let alone in the room itself.

So anyways. The next two books will be Love Once Lost and A Stronghold of Light.

And, um … we’ll see how that continues to develop.

Of course, there are subplots, but I’ll leave that off for now and instead talking about …

The Hilton Legacy

Like a Ship on the Sea

Other than containing a brief discussion of Alice and her husband’s marital issues, I wanted to use Patrick and Cassie’s story as an opportunity to show healthy but not overwhelming attraction and longing, especially as their wedding date approached. (Not really a spoiler, y’all – it’s a romance novel.) It was somewhat minimal, and yet it’s definitely there.

In truth, though, that’s not really sexual so much as it is “we’ve both felt very alone for many years so now we’re touch-starved.” Still. Their post-story relationship is one of my favorites. They’re both just so happy!!!

Like the Air After Rain

Though not released yet, I thought it was worth discussing because this novel is a marriage of convenience with a couple who actually acts like a couple of their era in a marriage of convenience would act (they have sex).

And Lorelei, for all her flaws, has a primarily healthy sexual relationship with her husband. Oh, they’re both bringing their baggage to every aspect of their marriage, of course, but I enjoyed writing a relationship where that aspect came easily to them …

And honestly, that’s nothing groundbreaking, because that’s always how it is in fiction, and it’s not often like that in real life*, but hey. Let me do want I want to do with this couple. It took me long enough to write it without having one thing I could enjoy crafting.

*whoops, sometimes I write self-inserts, what can I say?

In Conclusion

I do think we need books that discuss healthy, Biblical sexuality – and sexual sin from a Biblical perspective.

We also need books that don’t. But that doesn’t negate us needing books that do.

What’s your take?

TTFN!

~Kell~

Are you interested in getting to know me & my books better? Join my email list!

What do you think of my thoughts?

What do you think of my thoughts?

Follow my blog

Want to receive notifications of new posts? Let\'s make this happen!

Join 1,617 other subscribers