The Dreaded Sex Scene

So…I have a good example of internal conflict for you today.

Something funny happened this weekend.

My father, as some of you know, was a Baptist preacher for 25 years of my life. An old days Baptist preacher, mind you. I spent much of my childhood with my butt glued to a pew or visiting other churches for revivals, tent meetings, and gospel singings. I even had to use an outhouse or two (or ten). We were taught biblical morals and raised by them.

The point? Well…in our house, there were some things you just did not do.

Like use bad words. Or…speak the word “sex.” 

This weekend, I visited my childhood church to hear my parents sing. This was a huge feat, since my mother has Alzheimers. I was proud of them and wanted to support them.

So I’m sitting there, praying I don’t cry, hoping this won’t be a disaster…when my dad begins their introduction. The part that nearly made me fall out of my pew was this:

“After our kids moved away, we had lots of time to do things we’d never done before. And I don’t mean making love.”

Yes…he got a laugh and my face turned beet red, but more importantly I couldn’t help but think of the irony in it all. I’ve spent two years worried to death about disappointing my family by writing a sex scene, and then my father, so nonchalantly, gets up on a stage and makes me feel like an idiot for ever caring what other people think in the first place.

I do believe the reason my parents couldn’t talk about sex when we were younger was more because it was a taboo topic when they were kids than the fact that my dad was a preacher. Their parents didn’t talk to them about it, so the discomfort of talking to us was eased by just ignoring the topic. I honestly think it simply freaked them out. Sex was for marriage only, so you just didn’t mention it.

Enter my conflict. I’m a writer. My characters have sex. Some of them do bad things. I have characters who are amazing people but who definitely don’t live the life that, as a child, I was taught we’re supposed to live.

There are many people in this world that don’t live up to the expectations that were always impressed upon me. Heck, I didn’t live up to them. People are not perfect. They have flaws.

As a writer, it’s my job to show those flaws.

People have different morals and beliefs.

It’s my job to make sure that fact is evident in my characters. If everyone believes the same, it will be a very boring book.

And…people have sex.

Can I write a book without a sex scene? Of course. Am I going to leave the sex scene out of my novel? NO.

Two years ago I couldn’t have answered that question so easily. I was scared to death of what my family would think if I produced a novel with visualized sex and characters who say the F word.

The internal conflict was monstrous. I was prepared to be ostracized. So…I made it Young Adult. I thought those boundaries would save me.


All it did was limit my characters. As many of you know, I felt as if I were trying to fit this novel into a skin in which it did not belong.

So I took away the limits. I let the characters be who they are without any restriction from me. And BAM. A mediocre story became a great one. Two dimensional characters ballooned and changed and became fully rounded people with desires, conflicts, flaws, and fears.

As I sat there Sunday still reeling from my father’s verbal stunner, I couldn’t help but laugh inside. This was by far the first time he’d embarrassed me, but hey…he was laughing. It didn’t bother him in the least.

The lesson I came away with? I’m glad I stopped caring more about what other people think of me than being true to myself.

If we spend all our time trying to please others, everyone will be happy except us.

So…if you are like I was…scared to write the Dreaded Love Scene…stop worrying about what people will think and just go write it.

I. Swear. The world will not end 🙂

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  1. SO true! I was terrified when I put my book out about what my family would say about 'the scene'.
    Turns out…nobody mentioned it. Except my sister in law. And only because she's pretty sure my brother won't read the book because he knows there's a sex scene in it. ha ha

  2. This is an excellent post, Charissa.

    Our own internal conflicts do affect our characters. These conflicts, as you have pointed out in your story, do limit characters.

    If you were raised Baptist, then you know the Bible well. We all know that there are characters in the Bible who did some pretty awful things…but they are there to show the truth. Without them, there is no real story.

    I've set a rule of thumb for myself. I don't write anything that I wouldn't let my kids read. Granted, my kids are older (college age) but they are my kids.

  3. Great post, Charissa! Always a learning process, always. And you learned a biggie. I can't say I've hesitated because of what family and friends would think as per sex/language, but more in thinking of how it goes to character. It is interesting how we change and grow as writers, constantly finding new bits and pieces within ourselves. Such a journey!