Some things get to me. One of those things is the label “clean” which is used to refer to books that lack any sexual content. Why? Because per definition, the antonym to clean is dirty, ergo all books that do have sexual content are soiled and tawdry. I also find it interesting that there is a perceived need to label lovestories as clean – sex-free – but should such novels contain violence, even brutal death, that’s okay. Readers, apparently, are more disturbed by explicit depictions of love-making than they are of murders.
Hmm. My books have sex in them – my protagonists are consenting adults in loving relationships, and in my experience such relationships tend to include sex. Do I perceive my books as dirty? Absolutely not – they are an attempt at depicting the complexities in life, spiced up with time travelling, historical events, evil brothers, rogues and ruffians, religious persecution, conflicts with Native Americans, the hardships of colonising new land, indentured servitude – and love. My leading couple would not have survived all that life throws in their way had they not had each other, and yes, they take great comfort and pleasure in each other.
Personally, I am not a major fan of these so called “clean reads”. He kissed her passionately, took her by the hand and led her to the waiting bed. “Tonight you shall be mine” he said. Turn the page and they’re having breakfast – a classic dot, dot, dot moment. I do, however, fully respect that some people don’t want more detail than this (and yes, books with plenty of sex but without an emotional context tend to be devastatingly tedious – and sort of sad). My gripe is with the label as such. I also find it somewhat amusing when “clean” is suddenly equated with “Christian”. What, so Christian people don’t have sex? Poor them… (Plus, I must hasten to add, I have several lovely Christian people among my friends who would never presume to judge – or are all that thrilled by the idea of “clean” books.)
My books have – among all the other stuff listed above – a strong spiritual theme. My 20th century time traveller is plunged into the confusing and downright frightening world of the 17th century, where she encounters people for whom God is a given, and what religion you belong to is the difference between being persecuted or being a persecuter. My Alex is not religious – she is the product of an agnostic upbringing and initially she finds all this God stuff weird and amusing. But as time passes, as she is forced to come to terms with her new, substantially harsher, environment, something happens. Alex Graham, born Lind and raised as a hard-nosed realist, develops a personal, if unconventional, faith in God.
Of course, seeing as my books don’t fall into the “clean” category, chances are no “Christian” readers will ever read about Alex and her relationship with God. As if God would object to people having sex…Ha! I’m thinking there’s a lot of stuff out there that He finds far less palatable – such as all the violence perpetrated in His name.
“Wait, wait”, some people will say, “the clean label is really useful to ensure teenagers don’t read too much of the really hot and steamy stuff.” I’m not sure how to break this to all those concerned parents, but teenagers generally read what they want to read anyway – or watch explicit videos on youtube, or discover things for themselves when all those hormones brewing in their bodies take over. IMO, teenagers don’t need to be protected from sex. They need to be taught to set a high value on their bodies and on intimacy, so as to ensure they never do anything they don’t want to do.
I recently read a book in which there was a lot of violence. People died left, right and centre, and some of these killing machines wore crucifixes and prayed before dispatching some more baddies to hell. It was a good, complex read, and there was even some lovemaking – albeit more of the dot dot dot type. This book could, potentially, be labelled as borderline “clean” – despite all that death. Makes my head spin. I for one would prefer to have my teenage daughter reading Diana Gabaldon’s fantastic if explicit sex scenes to having her read about people having their heads shot off. But that may just be me…
I fully appreciate that some people DON’T want to read about sex. At all. Just as I don’t want to read about zombies. At all. But can we please change the label to something that, per definition, isn’t derrogatory to all the other books? How about “non-explicit”? Or why not “dot dot dot”? And as for me, I will continue devouring books in which love – all aspects of love – are depicted. Dirty? Not at all – in fact, it’s very, very beautiful.