Is Sex too Edgy for the General Market?

Several weeks ago, Mike Duran blogged about Christians and sex. Sex in Christian fiction, that is, and whether or not portraying an intimate scene between husband and wife is too taboo for modern Christian readers. I followed up with my own post, Protecting Christians from the Horrors of Sex. In it, I suppose I poked fun at Christians who can’t handle mild depictions of intimacy between a husband and wife.

If you are not aware, many Christian readers tend to have strong opinions about what should and should not appear in a work of fiction. One side seems to prefer fiction in which the characters are idealized representations of what a Christian should be. On the other side are Christian readers who say Christian fiction isn’t real or edgy enough, arguing that most fiction coming out of the big Christian publishing houses contains too much fluff, too many neat endings, too much “purity”, and not enough truth.

The verdict is still out whether the Christian publishing houses drive the trends in Christian fiction, or whether they simply respond to consumer demand. It’s a prickly subject that often sparks strong reactions from both sides. Perhaps Christian readers (and writers) are a bit prideful about it at times. After all, these types of arguments (or ‘discussions’ if you prefer) emerge because we Christians have a higher purpose. Our high calling requires us to carefully consider every word we speak and every image we allow into our minds. It’s a burden, don’ cha know? 😉

Turns out Christian readers aren’t the only demanding audience. Apparently writers in the general market have to contend with moral policing as well.

Last week, Joe Konrath wrote What’s Wrong with Sex?. In it he writes about the hubbub sex scenes in his own fiction have caused.

When I wrote Timecaster, I knew I wanted to have several sex scenes in it. I knew they would be explicit, and would be funny, and would show what type of person the hero was.

Color me surprised when I began getting bad reviews and hate mail for daring to put explicit sex in a sci-fi novel.

WTF? I thought everyone liked sex.

Next, I wrote Flee with Ann Voss Peterson, and that has a whopper of a sex scene in it. Again, it was essential to the story, revealing a very important aspect of the main character.

More bad reviews and hate mail, calling the book porn.

Huh? Five pages out of three hundred have an erotic element to them, and the book is porn?

He goes on to note that his books contain boatloads of violence, but no one seems to have a problem with that. Sound familiar?

What’s going on here? Have Christians hijacked Konrath’s audience and imposed their moral standards upon it? Or, are Americans, in general, just really confused about sex? I mean, we American’s allow sex to be everywhere. Billboards, magazines, movies, television. We let our young girls play with Bratz dolls, and we encourage them to watch the Disney Channel where every female sitcom actor, no matter the age, is painted up like a pageant queen. And yet, suddenly a steamy scene in a novel is “too much” for our sensitive minds?

Is it because the act of reading fiction is intimate in itself? Therefore any intimate scene within it is magnified, even to the point of pornography? After all, we can look away from the billboard, ignore the magazines, and skip the movies. If we are reasonable parents we can disallow our kids from watching the freakish sitcoms on the Disney Channel.

I don’t have answers, I just find it intriguing that, when it comes to sex, the Christian writer is not alone in their conundrum. (And we thought we were special.)

What do you think about the backlash against Joe Konrath’s sexual scenes? Do you think it’s driven by a general confusion American culture has toward sex, or is it driven by those same Christians who balk when a fictional husband plants a juicy open-mouthed kiss on his fictional wife’s lips?