99. How Can Christians Discern Sensual Scenes on the Printed Page? | with Parker J. Cole
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Happy Valentine’s Day! ‘Tis the season for love, in reality and in fiction. This means we can enter “safe” and “family-friendly” territory, right? Well, in fact, romance tales raise all kinds of controversies and temptations. For example, a certain new movie sought to offer onscreen sensual content in a “redemptive” way. We’ve already talked about the problems with exploiting actors for visual stories. But what about sensual stuff on the page, not the screen? We have an inside agent in the romance industry, our previous guest Parker J. Cole, who’s able to explore both mail-order brides and monster myths. Today she rejoins Fantastical Truth to help us waltz right into these slippery issues of sensuality in stories.
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Reintroducing Parker J. Cole
Parker J. Cole is an author, speaker, and radio show host with a fanatical obsession with the Lord, Star Trek, K-dramas, anime, romance books, old movies, speculative fiction, and knitting. An off-and-on Mountain Dew and marshmallows addict, she writes to fill the void the sugar left behind.
- Parker’s articles at Lorehaven
- Pre-order A Match for Bernadette (releasing March 3)
Concession stand (Valentine’s Day edition)
- Yes. Zack and I are blokes. We’re going to be biased about romantic fiction.
- Still, this may give us advantage when speaking of written sensual scenes.
- Might some men have “natural immunity” to these scenes? (Stephen might.)
- This is a question we’re keeping in mind, again, sticking with generalities.
- Generalities are the name of the game when talking about sex differences.
- Some people over-generalize: “Men = visual, women = sensual”? Not always.
- Same with personality and even ethnic differences about “sensuality” term!
- Yes, we talk romance, as a standalone genre and as fantasy-genre seasoning.
- Also, to be sure, we will likely speak as plainly as possible about these issues.
- Finally, we’re talking about sensual scenes on the page, not on the screen.
- And on a personal note, that makes Stephen nervous. These are sensitive issues.
1. To review, what’s a biblical purpose of romantic fiction at all?
- What’s the purpose of these kinds of stories, for Christians and other fans?
- Parker reminds us that these stories can reflect/endorse good romantic love.
- Classics with romance and even simpler newer stories can all reflect this truth.
- Thomas Umstattd Jr. reminded us about refusing to insult genre readers.
2. What do we mean by sensual scenes? Do they have benefits?
- By “sensual scenes” we mean descriptions of physical attraction and touch.
- This also includes lengthy descriptions (however vague) of sensual response.
- Example: we said The Seventh Sun includes some sensual descriptions, such as:
frequent sensuality, including deep kissing and bare body descriptions, but lust and premarital sexual activity are discouraged.
- Our world is full of evil notions that forbid proper enjoyment of sensuality.
- Some sensual scenes remind us that God made us with real material bodies.
- They remind us that God has given us potential for attraction, love, marriage.
- Even Scripture includes some sensual moments: Genesis 2; Song of Solomon.
- Healthy sensual portrayals can help us heal from corruptions of sensuality.
- For example, we might see real committed couples holding hands or kissing.
3. What are the potential pitfalls of sensual scenes?
- These scenes (like other printed content) may make readers legit stumble.
- That goes double when this content is directed to children and immature readers.
In the Bible, sensuality is usually listed with other evils that include sexual promiscuity and perversion. Also known as “lewdness” or “debauchery,” sensuality can be defined as “devotion to gratifying bodily appetites; free indulgence in carnal pleasures.” The word sensuality comes from the root word sense, which pertains to our five senses. The Greek word most often translated as “sensuality” means “outrageous conduct, shocking to public decency; wanton violence.” Sensuality is a total devotion to the gratification of the senses, to the exclusion of soul and spirit.
—From “What does the Bible say about sensuality?” at GotQuestions.org
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.”
—Song of Solomon 8:4
- Song of Solomon had informal “age limits,” and this seems a wise choice.
- Readers “strong” in these areas must know that many others are vulnerable.
- Sexual sin has deeply harmed people. Even our healed wounds may still sting.
- Sensual scenes may endorse struggles with loneliness or escapist fantasies.
- Many stories do not portray healthy relationships with sensual scenes.
- Some scenes may stray into written pornography, actively tempting to lust.
- Unlike real porn, no actor was actually exploited—but the reader might be.
- Pornographic content, visual and otherwise, reshapes a person’s physiology.
- Instead of blessing readers with beauty, scenes can provoke temptations.
- And from a biblical vantage, Scripture encourages us to flee temptations.
- Episode 98, Should Christian Creators Abandon Secular Fiction Markets? brought much discussion.
Michael H. replied on Stephen’s social media page:
Many Christian publishers don’t understand fiction and once you are published Christian it is very difficult to break out.
Toni M. replied in like fashion:
Christian publishing just does not promote creativity and hobbles the craft of fiction writing. I didn’t mind it when I was working on my last MS., but my current work will be harder to sell because I want my fiction characters to have real adversity. They will be angry and struggle with sexual issues. I have seen people take apart a movie and actually list how many times people got undressed OFF SCREEN or how many times they kissed. They will go into a coma over what I am working on.
Next on Fantastical Truth
“You’re about to travel to a place of wonder, excitement, and discovery …” If those words just gave you some nostalgic chills, you’re in for a treat; and if you didn’t recognize them, you might find a secret history of Christian discipleship through a fantastical drama you never knew. We will next explore a top-tier, formative Christian-made audio adventure series full of fantasy, sci-fi, time travel, mystery, romance, spy thriller—and a small town with big personalities that has been delighting and teaching generations of fans since 1987. Joining us will be none other than this fiction franchise’s co-creator himself: Phil Lollar. “Welcome to: Adventures in Odyssey,” for episode 100 of Fantastical Truth.
Explore the best Christian-made fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond, and apply these stories' meanings in the real world Jesus calls us to serve.
Growing up, I never had a crush, and during my teens I didn’t fully understand the hold that sexual temptation had on others. Sure, I kind of understood it in concept and could acknowledge the addictive nature of sex and such, but it was easy for me to be a little too dismissive when it came to why people might have a harder time having self control in certain instances.
Reading stories with sensuality in them kind of helped fix that, because when I read I am constantly analyzing the human nature aspects that are at play. I started to actually be able to see and visualize the hold that people’s sexual inclinations had on them. It helped me be able to truly understand, contemplate and engage with the issue instead of merely acknowledging it on a superficial level.
From that standpoint, discussing sensuality and sexual issues is important, even in fiction. Sex is an aspect of life that a lot of people struggle with and it’s made worse when people are not willing to talk about it honestly. Or, when people do talk about it, they do so in a toxic manner. It’s hard because, although sex shouldn’t be a completely taboo topic, that doesn’t mean that people should sit there and marinate in sexual content either, especially not at a young age. Not nearly everyone needs to talk about sex or discuss it in their stories, but it is important that some people are willing to do so on occasion.
I don’t write actual sex scenes, but there is some sensuality in my stories that takes an honest look at what the characters go through and how it affects their decision making. It isn’t there to encourage promiscuity, it’s there to address the reality of what people do and why. And then it also explores the consequences of people’s decisions and how they cope with them. I feel like this is important since the age group I will be targeting is adults, and although I don’t want to write porn, I do want to address topics that at least some of my readers might be dealing with.
As far as men being visual and women being based more in sweet poetic words and stuff, I’m glad you address that myth. Women are very visual. And if the relational/verbal stuff didn’t matter to men, then the communication they have with women online or over text wouldn’t make a difference to them. But it DOES make a difference, even when there’s no photos being shared or direct sexual references being made. Matthew Hussey has entire tutorials for women based on how they can get a guy’s attention through text and quite a few of those don’t have anything to do with sex. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it seems like a lot of his advice would work on at least certain types of men. So when we look at visual, verbal, relational, etc. aspects, these affect everyone in some way, regardless of gender.
Thank you so much for your always, well thought out response. I really can’t add anything but an ‘Amen!’
Thanks Parker 🙂 As usual, I really enjoyed listening to your conversation/interview 🙂
I feel that, I was also a late bloomer. It absolutely didn’t help that I grew up in the sort of culture that treated the subject as radioactive, it wasn’t until I was more on the internet where I found people who could approach it as a real subject and not as some kind of fantasy — which isn’t easy even on the internet, because fantasy sells. A possible snag is that I found that real-subject treatment in circles among exvangelicals or ex-Christians entirely (with some assorted neo-pagans thrown in for flavor).
I still think Christian subculture isn’t good at talking about sex, even if some of them have realized that treating the subject as radioactive isn’t helpful. Bless their hearts, they haven’t figured out how to thread the needle to be non-radioactive yet still fall within the subjectively Christian parameters. Which, to be fair, may be an impossible task. For example, Stephen’s written policy on the topic, as needing redemption through the potential for childbearing, is basically incompatible with even the blandest, generic sex-positivity, because that is how you treat a necessary evil (which is also surprisingly Catholic of him — not necessarily bad, but surprising for a Calvinist/Reformer dude).
But as for how to get a dude’s attention in text: it’s usually as easy as them attention in text, but the context for Auntie Notleia’s experience is in chatting with dudes on OKCupid about a million years ago (according to the internet fossil record, about 5 years in real time). Shy nerd dudes on the dating apps are very happy to talk to girls who initiate chats. Your mileage may vary if your type is not, in fact, shy nerd dudes on the internet.
Bonus tangential linky, because of course I have one: https://going-medieval.com/2020/12/16/on-treating-sex-with-the-utmost-reverence/