Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast

194. Closing the Door at the Intersection of Religion and Sex: An Interview with Dr. Kristen Nielsen Donnelly

Sarah interviews Dr. Kristen Nielsen Donnelly, who studies women and religion in Northern Ireland, as well as religion in popular culture like video games and romance novels. She’s currently conducting sociological research into the intersection between romance novels and sex. This project began after many conversations with her mother about the sex scenes she does – or does not – like reading. We also discuss growing into and out of religious communities, and the portrayal of religious people and people of faith in the romance genre. Plus, Kristen has a ton of recommendations for readers who are looking for romance and fiction set in contemporary Ireland. Her husband is Irish and they’ve recently moved back to the US after living there, so she’s got a bunch of recommendations if Irish-set fiction is your jam.

You can find a link to the survey she’s running – and yes, she would be delighted to have you complete it, though you’re certainly not obligated – in the show notes for this episode.

Read the transcript

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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

First, and most importantly, you can find the survey online if you’d like to take it – and thank you from Kristen if you do!

You can find Kristen at her blog Beverages and Books and her Twitter for reviews is @bevsandbooks. Her twitter for her other/researcher life is @klndonnelly.

She also mentioned:

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Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Peatbog Fairies Blackhouse, a glowing ball in a very old foundation for a house by a small body of water

Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater each week. This is the Peatbog Faeries brand new album Blackhouse. This track is called “The Chatham Lassies.”

You can find their new album at Amazon, at iTunes, or wherever you like to buy your fine music.

Podcast Sponsor

Good Girl

The podcast this month is sponsored by Loveswept, publishers of Good Girl by bestselling author Lauren Layne. In this steamy novel, country music’s favorite good girl hides away from the world—and finds herself bunking with a guy who makes her want to be a little bad.

Jenny Dawson moved to Nashville to write music, not get famous. But when her latest record goes double platinum, Jenny’s suddenly one of the town’s biggest stars—and the center of a tabloid scandal connecting her with a pop star she’s barely even met. With paparazzi tracking her every move, Jenny flees to a remote mansion in Louisiana to write her next album. The only hiccup is the unexpected presence of a brooding young caretaker named Noah, whose foul mouth and snap judgments lead to constant bickering—and serious heat.

Noah really should tell Jenny that he’s Preston Noah Maxwell Walcott, the owner of the estate where the feisty country singer has made her spoiled self at home. But the charade gives Noah a much-needed break from his own troubles, and before long, their verbal sparring is indistinguishable from foreplay. But as sizzling nights give way to quiet pillow talk, Noah begins to realize that Jenny’s almost as complicated as he is. To fit into each other’s lives, they’ll need the courage to face their problems together—before the outside world catches up to them.

You can find Good Girl by Lauren Layne on sale May 17th wherever ebooks are sold. 


Click to view the transcript

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Transcript Sponsor

Everything Under the Heavens

The podcast transcript this month is sponsored by Everything Under the Heavens, Book I of Silk and Song by Dana Stabenow.

Raised in a prosperous family of 14th century Chinese merchants, Wu Johanna has grown up on camelback, in bustling city marketplaces, and in the cool, shaded depths of Silk Road caravanserai. Hers is a world of spice merchants and pearl divers, bandits and troubadours, servants and sheikhs. A world in which trust is more valuable than gold, and the right name can unlock a network of contacts from Japan to North Africa. Johanna is, after all, the granddaughter of Marco Polo.

In the wake of her father’s death, however, Johanna finds that lineage counts for little amid the disintegrating court of the Khan. Dynastic loyalties are shifting, petty jealousies lead to cold-blooded murders, and the long knives are coming out. If Johanna is to find a future for herself, she’ll have to rely on her wits, the vagaries of fortune, and a close-knit circle of friends and traveling companions. Her destiny—if she has one—lies more than a continent away, at the very edge of the known world.

Everything Under the Heavens is currently free on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes and 99 cents at Barnes & Noble.

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Add Your Comment →

  1. Tiffany says:

    OMG Six Flags over Jesus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My sister-in-law and brother-in-law got married there. It was INSANE. No church vestibule should have an alternate use as an aircraft hangar!

    I’m still listening, but this episode has made me really think about my religion, sexuality, and my reading habits. I totally filled out your survey and would love to talk.

  2. Lammie says:

    Touching on your discussion of the lack of books that involve religions other than evangelical Christianity: I am not a religious person, but I was raised Presbyterian, so my experience of non-Christian religion is mainly through books and movies (I did not grow up in a very diverse community). Inspirational books are not really my thing, but I am one of those people who will try reading anything. I really enjoyed reading Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker (which is a BDSM erotic romance). The best parts were the heroine’s religious journey into becoming an Orthodox Jew. I would love to read more books like this, of any heat level (i.e. chaste all the way up to erotic).

  3. TheoLibrarian says:

    As a seminary professor who loves romance, I am so thrilled to hear about this! I have definitely noticed a difference in the way I talk about what I read with my current colleagues vs. my previous colleagues at a state university. So excited to see where this goes!

  4. Sharon says:

    I’m laughing so hard as I’m listening to their talk about TV shows, because YES, yes, I so completely agree. For me, that show that broke it’s “contract” with me was Downton Abbey; that’s why for me, that show ended mid-season 3: Sybil and Branson are raising that beautiful baby and having more

  5. bookworm1990 says:

    Omg Six Flags Over Jesus. I’m dying.

    I love this podcast so much. I grew up Baptist, but we all pretty much identify with nondenominational Christianity now (which I swear is actually a denomination). I read more closed-door in my private high school days, but I really didn’t hide anything I read. My mother has never penalized me for what I’ve read. She’s never been much of a reader (when she did, it was beach-appropriate chick lit), but she grew up around books thanks to my aunt, her extremely smart older sister, who literally has an exclusively romance mini library in her house. I had a conversation with my mom in the late teen years about how my classmates mocked my friend and I for reading Margaret Moore’s Gwyneth and the Thief, and her response was, “I don’t know why it matters what you read. I was always jealous of people who read a lot because to me that means they’re smart.” So I never felt ashamed until college when I compared myself with other English and theatre majors who only read death and depression while I was hiding Toni Blake and Nora Robert’s on my Nook (because B&N recommended some open door romances and I was hooked).

    But back to religion, I also have a hard time with inspirational. I always give it a chance because my faith is important to me, but they’re frequently just so artificial and preachy. I have only found three total I would recommend, all Harlequin Love Inspired. And I am the only person I know who has even read inspirational romance, and am far from the only religious person I know.

    Also I totally am on the same page as you Sarah on TV. I realized this when I watched Season 1 of Scandal (three seasons were out at the time) and it hit me that the love story could suffer from too many seasons; so I decided to let it go because Season 1 was perfect and reevaluate when the series actually ends. Now I only watch shows that have ended already so I can look up the basic plot and how it ends so that I know if the journey is worth binging.

  6. HollyG says:

    Loved this episode – although I come from a different angle – not particularly religious but like all sorts of novels – almost every genre (and sub-genre) in romance. However, no one around me reads and it is a pretty conservative environment – so they only admit to history/nonfiction books. So I definitely don’t talk in depth about my reading habits at work or with friends – they don’t get it. Especially when I got hooked, on both erotic, paranormal and and m/m So when I tell people that I read instead of watching TV (totally with you Sarah). I tell people I read – romance, sci-fi, and some mystery and history. There eyebrows normally raise at the romance and If they want details I explain that frankly you can learn a lot about people, cultures and dealing with situations from all kinds of novels and besides I prefer to get away from work with reading – it’s an escape. Then I tell them – if they don’t have time or want to read – they might want to consider audiobooks and can download them from the library and show how on my iPhone. I’m just so happy for blogs, podcasts and Twitter – so I can feel a part of the community and know there are others out there like me.

  7. SB Sarah says:

    @HollyG: I’m glad you’re part of our community. I know how isolating it is to be the only one in your environment who reads, and reads a wide variety of genres, many of which are dismissed and denigrated by others.

    Also, I’m so glad I’m not alone in terms of being mistrustful of television writing!!!

  8. Kareni says:

    What an enjoyable interview. Thanks for posting the transcript.

  9. Anne says:

    I really enjoyed this podcast. I never thought much about how my faith affected my reading. I will say that although my reading is eclectic, as I have gotten older, I tend to prefer sex scenes with dialogue that seem to advance the plot If it is too clinical (tab A, slot B), I skim through it.

    I especially appreciated the book recs. Coming from a very Catholic family (with an uncle who is a priest and cousins who are very involved in church activities), I have heard many stories about parish meetings and parish staff. Despite my hefty TBR shelves (and Kindle folder), the description of Key Change made that book a one click for me and I intend to start reading as soon as I finish this comment.

    Loved the 6 Flags Over Jesus story. When I was young (in the 70s) my family church was very modern (built in early 1960s). My uncle (the priest) used to say that it looked like an A & P (a supermarket chain that was pretty common in upstate NY during that time period). My parents were appalled — but looking back, I have to agree.

    I hope that Dr. Nielsen Donnelly will be a return guest when she has findings from her research to report.

  10. cecilia says:

    LOVED this episode! It was the kind of episode where you get weird looks on the subway, because you’re laughing out loud!!

    Of course right after It was over I went to fill Dr. Donnelly’s questionnaire, and I found it very interesting that as an italian catholic the ONLY genre i don’t read is inspirational. To me it says A LOT. As a both an italian, a catholic and someone in her mid 20’s, I have all the feels and the opinions on the depiction of religious people, especially heroines (I loved Amanda’s podcast on tinder!) But don’t even get me started on italian heroes!

    Also, of all the people in my life I’m the only one reading romance, not necessarily because it talks about sex, but because romance novels are viewed (especially from my mom) as lesser quality. There is shame to it, but it’s more like admitting out loud that you love the Kardashian kind of shame. When she asks me what I’m reading I usually tell her a subdued version of the plot, which is a LOT of fun to do, especially with the weirder and kinkier books.

  11. Melissa says:

    Great episode. Although I don’t identify as religious now, I do think my upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church does rear itself in the romance books I read and the level of sex I can handle. I’m more of a closed door sex kind of reader, with the occasional dips into inspirational (usually Harlequin’s Love Inspired historical line). Erotica and steamier contemporary romances don’t really do anything for me personally.

  12. Lisa says:

    You definitely see this showing up in certain romance reviews where you sometimes see complaints about there being sex scenes in books. An online friend and I have had long (aggravated) conversations about no sex romances being labeled ‘clean’. The ‘unclean’ thing about sex bothered me. I’m totally okay with someone not caring to read sex scenes. Everyone has preferences. But the implied judgement of ‘unclean’ in the ‘not clean!!!!’ 1 star romance reviews bugs. Seriously bugs.

  13. Kim says:

    I am late to the party because I’m catching up on podcasts (you can tell how long it’s been since I’ve done my long walks by how many podcasts I have in the queue) but I LOVED this! So many things I wanted to jump in on–we also have a mega church in the area we call SFOJ and it actually has the same shuttles that amusement parks have to take people from the parking lots to the church…and I swear that the people who go there are a colony of androids (hey…there’s a book series right there). One series that I really like is Noelle Adams Willow Park, set in NC in a conservative Presbyterian congregation but NOT inspie. It’s open door all the way, but very much about how the characters live their faith and how it affects their relationships. I’m always looking for books that reflect me, which can probably be summed up by one of my favorite t-shirts–“I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”

    And, finally, I randomly sat at the breakfast table with Jen and Joanna at RWA in NYC last summer and I have to say that was probably one of the most exciting things that happened the whole week. I don’t squee and fangirl over authors so much, but I thought it was pretty cool to meet them.

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