No Dick For Me, Thank You

Shannon Stacey posted an entry on erotic romances on Romancing the Blog, and hoo boy, what an interesting furor. I started posting a comment, and then realized I was really running off at the mouth and was in danger of taking over the entire comment space with what I wanted to say. So I thought, what the hell, might as well run off at the mouth HERE. Let me excerpt some relevant passages here so you can follow my points:

“I detest vampire books, for instance, and Scottish historicals bore me to tears. But I could fairly judge those books on their technical merits. I could also judge (and, in fact, have read quite a few) books that espouse different religions from mine. Erotica is a different matter. I will not betray my moral standards by reading it.”—Brenda Coulter

Then in the comments, a reader named Donna Spago makes this very interesting observation:

I have a question for the inspirational Christian author who says reading erotic romance is breaking God’s laws.

Do you read stories that have murder in them?
Do you read stories with characters who drink alcohol?
Do you read stories with characters who curse?

If you receive any of those books in the contest to judge, what do you do with them, the ones with murders or drug use or alcoholism or swearing?

Is your moral dilemma only in reading books with sex?

To which Brenda Coulter replied:

Donna, there’s a difference between reading stories that portray the realities of life (which may include illicit drug use, killing puppies, having sex outside of marriage, and so on) and reading books primarily for sexual titillation. Let’s be honest. Erotica readers aren’t just looking for good stories. They’re looking for good stories with a lot of SEX in them.

If you haven’t read the whole flap already, I fully encourage you to so you can view the whole thing in context, because I’m just excerpting bits here and there.

So going back to Donna Spago’s comment: I agree with her. Shouldn’t Christian judges abstain from reading most romantic suspense novels? I mean, talk about REALLY building a book based on a squicky premise, which is typically violent death—actually, usually several violent deaths. Take away the death(s), and the book will cease to exist. Oftentimes the hero/heroine won’t even meet. So somehow this is less morally offensive than a book that’s has the doggy-doggy style goin’ on?

But perhaps it’s morally acceptable because the bad guy is caught and punished (read: killed) in the end. That, however, raises other questions: do we go with justice Talion Law-style as expressed in the Old Testament, or do we go with the New Testament and all that “turn the other cheek” business? But then Jesus also said (and I paraphrase) “If thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” so, y’know, ARGH, what to do?

And I really don’t get how a devout Christian can be offended by reading spicy sex scenes but not be offended by books featuring other religions, because the first four commandments are centered around the proper worship of God (and God, upper-case, thinks it’s very, very naughty to even THINK about worshipping any other god, lower-case), and only one commandment explicitly talks about sex, and even then it specifically addresses adultery, with one vague commandment about not coveting your neighbor’s sundry possessions including his wife (which personally I find offensive—I may have a cow-sized ass, but I’m not an actual cow, thankyouverymuch). But the reader isn’t engaging in apostasy when they read a book featuring non-Christian couples, of course. Similarly, neither is the reader engaging in adultery, unless the books inflame the person so much that she runs off to the neighbor and has some hot monkey sex with him.

Which, come to think of it, might be a pretty cool premise for some erotica. Any takers? Make the hero bisexual and throw in his hot poolboy, Andre, and I’ll be all over that book.

What about books featuring protagonists who are witches? “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and all that. Wouldn’t those be morally offensive too?

And then there’s Coulter’s assumption that people who read erotic romances are doing so solely for the tittilation. I won’t lie: I sometimes read them for the sexual tittilation, and I want my tittilation to be well-written too. But I don’t always read romances for the sexy sexy, and I certainly can’t speak for other people. Why does Coulter think her blanket assumption that we read erotic romances solely to get our rocks (nubbins?) off is correct?

Sigh. And then, of course, we open a whole can of worms in terms of associating the reader’s morals with the types of books she enjoys. What kind of emotions and responses are horror novels meant to elicit? Are these emotions and responses somehow more appropriate and less morally outrageous than sexual feelings? Etc.

To be fair to Coulter, she isn’t condemning or trying to prohibit other people from reading erotic romances. And just to be clear: I don’t want her to be forced to read material that she finds distasteful; I respect her right to NOT read something just as I respect her right to read whatever the damn hell she wants. I just find her stance, well, puzzling and inconsistent. She does explain it further by adding this in the comments:

Would we expect a Kosher-keeping Jew to judge the pork dishes in a cooking contest? I don’t think so, because most of us understand that to a practicing Jew, taking even a single bite to demonstrate her “objectivity and professionalism” would be a grave sin.

But that’s not a very good analogy for what she’s doing. She’s picking on erotic romances, and only erotic romances, as morally objectionable, when most other romance novels are built around elements that, from a Biblical standpoint, are even more heinous than the nookie. She’s a Jew who won’t eat bacon, ham or ground pork, but Spam is just fine by her.

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    sarah says:

    The person’s hangups about sex are sadly reflective of the state of religiousness in society as a whole. I meet very observant people who don’t blink at violence on televison or in movies or in video games, but who throw up the red flag of asskicking when it comes to any mention of sex.

    It really should be the other way around. Sex should be celebrated and discussed as human, and violence should be condemned as inhuman.

    And now that I think about it, I take issue with her comparison with Jews and pork. Jews are forbidden unclean foods in Leviticus. Pork is one of them. But is she forbidden from sex? Is she a nun? Is sex in all forms a sin? Is there a specific law that says we aren’t to enjoy sex?

    I’ll have this woman know, in the Old Testament, which is for me The Testament seeing as I am Jewish, there are specific recommendations for sex, including the idea that sex on the Sabbath is a mitzvah (a commandment including but also outside of the original 10. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible) and giving your wife an orgasm on the Sabbath is a double mitzvah.

    And if you’re curious and looking for some mitzvot, the Jewish Sabbath is Friday night to Saturday night. So, you know, grab some erotica and hop to it!

  2. 2
    AngieW says:

    I love you Candy. Will you bear the rest of my children?

    I was saying earlier that I read Brenda’s post early this morning and it haunted me through a nap, a shower, and lunch. Damnit, I don’t want to be thinking about her while I’m naked and munching ;)

    The whole pork analogy totally smoked me. (so now I’m bacon). It was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I don’t care if she doesn’t want to read erotic romance but just say, it’s not my cup of tea, don’t use religion as a front. And, if it’s not a front, than be consistent, like you said, or you just end up looking like an ignorant hypocrite, not a conscientious objector.

  3. 3
    JaciB says:

    I bow before you, oh great one.

    Seriously, the whole thing confuses me. Then again, I’m an erotic romance author and no doubt going to hell for my immorality.

    Though if you ask me there was a helluva lot of begetting goin’ on in the old testament. And I’ve read my bible and I can’t find the reference that says sex is immoral. Perhaps I need to take a course in remedial Christianity?

    Jaci…Catholic girl going to hell in a handbasket

  4. 4

    Canticles:

    Chapter 5

      1. I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered

      2. my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that

      3. knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my

      4. feet; how shall I defile them? My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels

      5. were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh,

      6. and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

    While I’m well aware that the standard Christian interpretation of Canticles, or the Song of Solomon asserts that it is about the church as the bride of Christ, the langauge, metaphors and tropes are from Egyptian and Summerian erotic poetry, and this is an erotic work, however one attempts to allegorize it.

  5. 5
    Shannon says:

    It’s part part of your religion that you get an orgasm every Sunday? Dayum!  Yankee methodists just get a boiled dinner!

    And you guys got me in trouble.  I was holding in the laughter until I got to the word nubbins, then I woke up the husband.  Bad bad bad.

  6. 6
    Meljean says:

    Yes, and yes. Kate Rothwell made a similar point about the violence in a short post on her blog, and I’m still trying to understand how the “pork” thing only seems to refer to explicit sex, and not all sex in romances.

    Like you, I have no problem if someone doesn’t want to read something, but consistency in the reasoning behind it is a must—not on a personal level, because a person can be as hypocritical as they want in their own reading—but this involved judging other people’s work. If erotic romances are offensive, then so should warm romances be, and violent ones, and ones including Atheists/Pagans/Muslims/Whatever…the whole gamut. I just don’t understand the pick-and-choose mentality.

  7. 7
    Candy says:

    Dude. From Sarah’s post, not only does the man get points for nookifying wifey on the Sabbath, he gets DOUBLE BONUS POINTS for giving her an orgasm. Screw those Subway frequent diner cards—I need me a nice Jewish boy!

    Oh wait, I’m married to a lapsed Catholic. Ah, crap.

  8. 8
    Lareign says:

    ::sigh:: I had a conversation with my mother I think it was the other day where she said basically sex on TV/movies bothered her more than violence. And she’s not alone in thinking that. It’s a bit depressing, though maybe since I’m only in my 20s and have no kids, I don’t understand that. I know this is way over simplifying it, but it almost sounds like it’s ok for someone in a book to rape a girl with that logic, but not to have consensual sex with her outside of marriage.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    Angie, you hit the nail on the head (there’s a joke in there somewhere). It’s not enough to just not like explicit sex scenes. One has to make a religious and moral issue out of it, that somehow sex is worse than violence. And that’s where her moral argument pisses me off, because you can’t argue with someone who hides behind God and scripture, because then you’re challenging beliefs and faith, not wonky opinion.

    And a raise a mighty “Hell Yeah” to the Song of Songs. It’s quoted all the way around the border of my ketubah (Jewish marriage contract – specifing what Hubby must give me in order to fulfill our marriage. Traditionally it was sheep and some cows, now they can specify emotional and (ahem) physical needs. It’s my property, the ketubah, lest anyone think I sold myself to him (ha!) but our particular ketubah is all about the Song of songs, especially the part about worshipping the lily.

    And finally, I always want to ask people who aren’t bothered by violence, think of how many people you’ve seen get shot on television shows on at 8pm versus the number of penises you’ve seen in the same time slot (huh huh, I said “slot.”)

  10. 10
    emdee says:

    The way I see it sex is creative and violence is destructive.  It amazes me that violence is more accepted than sex by our culture. I just don’t get it.  Thanks for the great commentary, Candy and to all for your insightful comments.

  11. 11
    Wendy says:

    Hmmmm, I knew there was a reason I dated all those cute Jewish boys in college ;-)

  12. 12
    Giselle says:

    Methinks hubby should convert to judaism ;)
    Thanks for the great post Candy!

  13. 13
    Jen Erik says:

    My uncle’s Jewish and he throws a great Christmas lunch. Suprisingly, he’s not a really terrible person. Real people are puzzling and inconsistent. Real people’s belief systems, religious or not, don’t always make great sense. Why the witch-hunt?

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    Jen Erik: If your Jewish Uncle makes a point about how he finds Christians morally repugnant based on his religion, then throws a Christmas lunch for a select few Christians that he feels are not QUITE as morally repugnant because they only go to church once a year during Christmas instead of every Sunday—that might come close to what Coulter was saying/doing. Which of course wouldn’t necessarily make your Uncle a bad person, just inconsistent and biased.

    And it’s not a witch hunt—at least, I hope not. As Meljean pointed out, people are allowed to be inconsistent and weird and wacky, but in this instance there was a bit more at stake than just, say, a random Chinese girl babbling about what she does and doesn’t like about romance novels on the Internet. This specific instance involved a competition sponsored by a professional organization, hence the flap over consistency, how much sex veers into the “morally repugnant” territory, why pick only on sex, etc.

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