Monday, October 30, 2006

Sexuality and Spirituality

There’s been an interesting discussion lately on several writers’ boards about why inspirational romances and erotic romances are either (depending who you talk to or which list you read) the bestselling romances out there at the moment, or the ones with the fastest growing markets. Either way, booksellers are saying both categories are “flying” off the shelves. There are lots of theories offered as to why this is.

I’ve though a lot about this. Not only because of the recent discussions online, but because many of the not-for-profit organizations I write for are faith-based organizations. And a few of them are, well…a little shocked, let’s say…when they find out I not only write heartfelt pleas for funding for their faith-based community service projects but pretty graphic sex scenes, as well. “How can you?” they ask me. “Aren’t those two things at opposite ends of the spectrum?”

Well, no, actually, they’re not. At least, not in my opinion. I think spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin, and answer the same human needs. Connection. Comfort. Affirmation that life does, indeed, go on.

With the rampant uncertainty in the world today, people (i.e. readers) are searching for those things—and I think they’re finding them in both erotic novels and inspirationals.

What do you think? Am I on to something or have I just blasphemed?


anne frasier said...

great topic, candace!!!

and i really like your theory and the comfort angle.

when i was doing research on rootwork and hoodoo, i discovered that a large percentage of people only believe in it during times of crisis. crisis belief. i think that's what's going on with our bigger shift toward religion. people who didn't go to church before 9/11 are now going. their focus has turned and they are looking for answers and comfort.

Betina Krahn said...

Candace, you are so right! People do need comfort and security and surety.

My theory is that some people under stress turn to the imagined security of former days and ways. This takes the form of devotion to rules and rule-making behavior especially regarding spirituality and sex. A second group nervously pretends to embrace the uncertainty and change and plunge headlong into rule-breaking, rule-defying behavior. They're ends of the same spectrum and both are motivated by anxiety.

((Another way of thinking about it is that humans under stress often revert to orthodoxy to butress themselves-- whether politically or religiously. Everything becomes about unholding the tradition or guarding the purity of the religion or party. A quick look at the middle east will show you how that works. And the consequences for the world if it is allowed to continue unchecked. Under stress, a second group of humans declare all orthodoxy has failed and become directionless and hedonistic. . . concentrate solely on the reality of the pleasure and expediency of the moment.))

Sex and spirituality are both vital and necessary parts of our lives. They open us up. They illuminate us. They define us. And thus far in the publishing world, neither end of the spectrum gets that right.

Helen Brenna said...

I don't read either erotica or inspirationals, Candace, so I probably shouldn't comment, but I don't understand how anyone can think that spirituality is opposite of sexuality. They both seem to me to be completely natural and right human needs, pieces of a whole.

I wonder if some of erotica's popularity doesn't haven't something to do with the shock factor. Our culture seems to need bigger, faster, more, more, more. We're into extremes these days.

Betina Krahn said...

Yes, Helen. . . and Yes, Anne! Loving this insight.

Everything you said. 100%.

And if, like me, you find yourself a moderate in most things. . . even in the sex/spirituality thing. . . what do we do?

Stay the course and wait for the tide to turn yet again?

"Stay the course."

heh, heh.

:) Betina

:) Betina

Debra Dixon said...

I think the two kinds of romance being perceived as "bestselling" and "fastest growing" represent the polarization of the country. We've got bigger chunks of people defining themselves as conservative or not. Seems to stand to reason that those who aren't conservative and don't want to read inspirational or "morally correct" fiction dive into the other end of the fiction spectrum.

My mother now reads inspirational books because she recently became a Baptist and those are pretty much the only books her church allows. She's even lamented the occasional use of hell and damn in our Mossy Creek series from BelleBooks. Also when A DAY IN MOSSY CREEK was recently bought for Thorndike's large print "Clean Reads" line we were asked to change 4 words in the manuscript so as not to offend anyone. One of the words was ass.

Also, if done well I think both types of romance (inspirational & erotic)represent a significant and deeply intimate experience. One is about your soul making a connection on earth and eternal life and the other is about making a connection body&soul and living completely in the now to the fullest extent possible.

Personally I do read erotica and erotic romance, as well as general romance but don't read inspirational romances. I don't get the same romance experience out of an inspirational romance. If I want a spiritual lift, if I want faith inspiration, I'd rather go to a book dealing specifically with that subject matter in a non-fiction way and not fiction.

Okay I've rambled enough!

Loralee said...

Okay, a Southern Baptist P.K. jumping in here with both feet. I've thought long and hard whether to stick those feet in my mouth or not. Here goes.

I'm 71 years old and sex and spirituality are still an important part of my life. I saw the spirituality in my parents as well as the passionate side of their relationship. I'm sure no one loved more deeply than they did.

The Baptist side of me has slowly diminished over the years and I spend more time attending Catholic mass - but that's another story. I believe there is a place for both kinds of books in our readership. I read and enjoy some of the romantica - if there is a plot and a reason for sex scenes in the book. The hard core erotic doesn't appeal to me. But that's just me. It has nothing to do with religion or lack of. I believe in the Holy Trinity, but respect all whose beliefs are different than mine. I also believe that God is a loving God and She loves me. If I include a sensuous love scene in my book because the characters demand it and the reader is moved to believe in that love, then I've done my work well. If I can portray the love without being graphic, that's just fine, too. I think it all depends on the story and the writer's voice. Commitment to the spirit can be as passionate as a commitment of love. A deep and abiding love is a spiritual experience and meaningful sex is a beautiful way of expressing that love. They both fill important needs in our lives. There will always be extremes in both areas. What we read/write is a matter of personal choice. (She gave us a brain also.)

Have I completely stuffed both feet in my mouth? I plead Senior Age Condition.

This is a wonderfully thought-provoking subject. I think my dad, God bless him, would have given a great sermon about it. I know my mom would've smiled.

Betina Krahn said...

Deb-- here, here! I seldom read inspirationals either-- some of the thinking in the one's I've read is just not realistic with regard to faith or romance.

Life is messy and people and people's problems are complicated. If publishers, writers, and readers can't bear to hear a simple "damn" or "hell," how can they possibly believe they can be a voice of love and grace in the real, messy, hurting, complicated world? What does it say that "Purity of Vocabulary" is so high on their list of rules?

And Loralee, She truly did give us brains! Amen, sister! Now if we could just get humanity to use them!

(Oh, and I just gave thanks for your dear Mom and Dad, who must have been something to produce a daughter like you!)

:) Betina

Laura Vivanco said...

"I not only write heartfelt pleas for funding for their faith-based community service projects but pretty graphic sex scenes, as well. “How can you?” they ask me. “Aren’t those two things at opposite ends of the spectrum?” [...] I think spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin"

I agree with you, and I think there is Biblical evidence for this:

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." (Song of Solomon 1:2)

"A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts." (Song of Solomon, 1:13)

"By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not." (Song of Solomon, 3:1)

and so on. There's the metaphor of Christ as the Bridegroom. And The Brick Testament (which admittedly wasn't created with an entirely serious purpose, but nonetheless sticks strictly to the Biblical text) takes many Bible stories and illustrates them through the use of Lego. The words are those of the Bible, and the scenes are rated for nudity, sexual content, violence and cursing. You won't find many scenes that don't contain at least one of these. It's not particularly shocking, because one can't take violence or sex between Lego people particularly seriously, but it does demonstrate quite how much there is of all these things in the Bible. Clearly people who are easily shocked should not read the Scriptures, particularly not the Old Testament.

Helen Brenna said...

I agree, Laura, the Old Testament gets pretty gritty.

Boy, we could really get going on this, couldn't we?