Sometime during high school, I read Nathaniel by John Saul. Roughly twenty-five years later, I can tell you nothing about the plot. Nothing. Not. A. Thing. However, the book contained a single sex scene, observed by a teen from a barn with a bedroom view. I can recall that scene in detail.
I’ve heard of people who can skim and skip explicit scenes in novels. The vast majority of times, such details can be passed over without diminishing the reader’s knowledge of the plot. In other words, they are gratuitous.
I skim news articles, blog posts, email messages, newsletters, and magazines. But not books. In order for me to skim or skip a part of a book, it must be horribly written. And in that case, I’m not skipping, I’m just setting the book aside. It’s likely my personality type that requires me to read from beginning to end with no skips or detours. Whatever the reason, it means if there’s an explicit scene in the book I’m reading, I’m going to read it. And most times it will live on in my imagination long after the book itself is forgotten.
Why skip those scenes in the first place? Aren’t they fun? Is it wrong to sneak a peek in a fictional character’s bed?
Assuming the explicit nature of the scenes are gratuitous, meaning their detailed description is intended not to inform but to arouse, here’s why I choose to avoid them:
Unlike in video pornography, no actual humans are portrayed in mere fictional words, yet these scenes still remove the intimacy of sex from loving partners. They can distract me from real-life intimacy and cause me to objectify persons and actions by removing them from the context in which they are meant to be enjoyed. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2354)
Each of us has different proclivities, temptations, and tolerance levels. I speak here of my own weaknesses, which I know well. My intention is not to insinuate that if you read novels with explicit sex scenes you are an evil, sex-crazed monster bound for Hell.
But, if you profess a faith, particularly Christianity, and this has been niggling your conscience or you have witnessed detrimental effects to your real-life romantic relationships, then perhaps reading such fare is something to reconsider.
Practically speaking, if you enjoy reading, particularly romance, how can you be sure you’re getting a “clean read”? (You can be a romance lover without becoming a porn aficionado. I wonder sometimes if people know that’s true.)
A cover is often the best indicator of what type of romance you’re going to get, from sweet to sexy. These days, however, you can read your Bible or erotica behind the cover of your ereader, and no one but you will know the difference.
My go-to method for determining whether a romance is the kind I want to read is to search the reviews on Amazon.com using keywords such as “sex,” “steamy,” “clean,” or “sweet.” Most times, I generate results that enable me to make a quick decision.
Keisha Page, who writes hotter than I read, put together a helpful guide in discerning “Heat Levels in Romance Novels” and was gracious enough to share it with me.
You can also look for recommendations from sources you know and trust. Earlier in the year, I posted some of my own recommendations for good, clean reads. I enjoy reading and writing on the edgy end of inspirational fiction, but that may not suit every reader.
Christian author Tricia Goyer shares a lovely reflection on the spiritual implications of what we read in the post “Spiritual Life of a Reader.” I especially love her Reader’s Prayer at the end. Here’s a snippet:
” . . . help me to realize even more that the stories I choose to read impact my heart and my soul. Today and tomorrow, as I pick up a novel, help me to choose wisely.”
Can you skip scenes – sexual or otherwise – that bother or offend you? Do you have any tips for determining a book’s heat level?
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