It's time to revisit the topic of sensual scenes in fiction, but not for the usual "one of my readers is offended by graphic sex in my books" reason.
A few days ago, I received a sincere and thoughtful email from a woman who recently discovered my books and is really enjoying them. She wishes she could share them with her thirteen-year-old daughter who, as an advanced reader, wants to move on to adult books. The emailer thinks my books, with their themes of mothers and daughters, would be great for her own daughter -- except for the occasional explicit sex scene, something that makes her daughter extremely uncomfortable. The writer wishes I would "soften" those scenes and makes a persuasive argument that doing so would open my books up to a whole new generation. She made it clear that as an adult, she has no problem with the scenes.
Here is, in part, how I responded to my reader:
I really appreciate your taking the time to write, and I'm so glad you're enjoying my books. I had to chuckle over your concern, though, because my more recent books, such as the three you've read, are not nearly as sexually explicit as my early books.
My books are definitely written for an adult audience, however I've found that most moms seem to pick age 14 to allow their daughters to start reading me. To me, 14 seems about a year too young. I allowed my own stepdaughter to read my books when she just turned fifteen and she had no problem with them at all then (even if I squirmed as she read them!).
Here is the rule I've set for myself with regard to writing sexual scenes: I won't write a gratuitous sex scene any more than I would write a gratuitous violent scene. However, sex and sensuality are such an important part of my characters' lives, and if the scene will help with character development or advance the story, I'll write it. For example, with CeeCee, her lack of an orgasm with Tim seemed important to mention, because it showed her insecurity with him, her sense of not measuring up and her fear of losing him to a more experienced woman. Also, when she finally had a sexual relationship with Jack and was orgasmic with him, it provided a contrast and showed a more comfortable, loving and mature relationship. I always take into account my readers' concerns as I write. For example, my current books have far less "cussing" in them than my earlier books because I listened to reader feedback. But when it's warranted, I allow my characters to be who they really are. I appreciate a reasoned sort of email like yours, unlike the absolutely rabid, almost threatening sort I receive sometimes. So rest assured your words will be with me as I write my current work in progress. (Warning: I'm afraid you will simply freak out when you read the sequel to Before the Storm! It's written in part from the point of view of a very angry, hormonal 17 year old boy who is pretty graphic in both words and deeds. I cringed myself as I wrote about him, but he is a true, honest character.)
So, thank you again, _______. It sounds like you have an amazing daughter who will be able to enjoy my books in a couple of years. They'll still be there waiting for her."
So now, dear blog readers, what are your thoughts on this subject?