I'm currently writing a book about four friends who meet at a reunion and discover that they are all forty and single. They embark on a contest to see which of them can find a "Keeper"--a man worth marrying--first. The four women are all very different and choose different paths to find their Keeper. One tries online dating, and another tries to track down her first love, for example. In writing this book I've drawn on some of the hilarious dating disasters and misadventures of my real-life friends, and I hope the finished book will be very funny but ultimately life-affirming.*
What it won't be is steamy.
That's actually proving to be a bit of a problem. The more I write, the more I realise that my genre for this book seems to be pure, unadulterated chick-lit - without the adultery. I don't write sex scenes; never have, never will. But readers of this kind of book expect them. They will assume that the four friends in my book are merrily jumping into bed with the men they date, and they may feel a bit short-changed when there is nothing titillating or erotic in the pages. (In fact my women will jump into bed with some of the men, but I will discreetly fade to black long before any clothes get removed.)
With the enormous success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the subsequent huge rise in popularity and availability of erotic fiction, I'm bucking a trend here. But there are many reasons which I will never write (or read) a sex scene, even though not doing so could damage the success of this book.
First, my mother might read my book. So might my children. In fact, I'd die of embarrassment if anyone I knew read a sex scene written by me. For anyone reading this who does write sex scenes, don't you worry that it tells the reader far more than you'd like about your mentality?
Second, I have always said that written erotica is pornography in print. Books are better than television because the pictures are better, and this also goes for steamy "romances". The pictures go directly into our heads, and there they stay. I wouldn't want my husband to read Penthouse, so how could it be acceptable for me to read novels with the same sort of content? This comes from the August edition of The New Era, the church magazine for teenagers and youth:
Making a common display of a sacred intimacy that’s intended to only be part of a marriage relationship is wrong—whether in words or images. If something you’re reading contains explicit sexual descriptions that imprint themselves on your mind and arouse sexual feelings in the same way that looking at pornographic images would, then ... it's pornography.
Third, I have too much respect for my characters. I believe that sexual intimacy is something which is very personal and sacred, and should be kept completely private between the couple involved, even when they're fictional. My fourth book was about a couple on their honeymoon, and I really enjoyed showing the development of their relationship and their growing dependence and trust in each other. But I didn't show their wedding night. Apart from saying that they were quite eager to get to their honeymoon hotel, I didn't even mention it. Their sex life is their business, not mine, and not the reader's.
Sex has a place: its place is in private, between a loving husband and wife. It is not in a pages of a novel which anyone could read for their own perverse gratification.
* In case the book sounds interesting to you, it's going to be called either Finders Keepers, The Husband Hunt or Four Friends. I'd still welcome disastrous dating stories, as well as suggestions on the title.