ANNA BELFRAGE

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Adult content, anyone?

Lucas Cranach P-1947-LF-77-tif-10575In a post I wrote several years ago, I expressed my frustration over the use of “clean” when designating sex-free romance—mostly because the antonym to “clean” is “dirty”, and IMO there is nothing dirty about sex, definitely not when the participants are consenting adults.

I notice that quite a few books on Amazon come with the warning label ADULT CONTENT. As far as I can make out, adult content in this context is almost always equal to explicit sex, all the way from the passionate embrace between a husband & wife to the substantially more edgy sexual activities involving restraints and other implements.

Now, labelling a book ADULT CONTENT may not necessarily dissuade a curious reader, but fine, I can understand why those readers who want to steer clear of anything beyond the “Yes,” she sighed happily, “yes, please make me yours.” He smiled down at her and lowered his mouth to claim hers. THE END may feel they need such a label. What I don’t understand is why it is considered necessary to label books with sex in them, but not books with blood, gore and vicious death.

Assuming the label has as its purpose to shield the more innocent among us from the seedier sides of life, I find it sad that sex, apparently, is very seedy, while violence is not. What does it say about modern man that we take depictions of torture and pain in our stride, no matter if in written form or on the screen, but still have people screeching in protest when confronted with a scene in which a lover kisses a breast, slides down to kiss a navel, a mons, a vagina?

Personally, I’d like it if books that contain gratuitous violence, where I risk reading scenes involving torture, debasement, mutilation, death, blood, gore also came with a warning label. I may be wrongly wired, but I get far more upset reading about a character I’ve bonded with being subjected to inhuman pain than I do when the same character has hot and wild sex—well, any kind of sex (as long as it is consensual). I must be in minority as otherwise I suppose there would have been a warning sticker on such books as well. I guess the major problem would be that so many books would require such a warning: after all, there is far more blood spatter among the pages of various books I read than there is sex.

In general, we have become gradually desensitised to violence. I remember the first time I saw Die Hard and poor Bruce Willis staggered about covered in blood and bruises. I alternated between feeling shocked and wondering how on earth he could survive all that. These days, the beatings Bruce survives in that movie don’t elicit much of a reaction (As to how he survives, there is rarely a “get real” demand on crime & thrillers. Come to think of it, there probably isn’t one on steamy books either. How else to explain the plethora of well-hung men with testosterone levels through the roof that abound in such books? Neither here nor there—I think)

I have on occasion walked out of movies (one of the recent James Bond movies comes to mind) because I just couldn’t stand the violence and had no desire to subject myself to seeing things that I believe will, somehow, affect my boundaries. There are very many books where I have either just stopped reading or skimmed through some chapters, finding little purpose to the detailed descriptions of brutality. Yes, I get it that if you’re writing about a bloody battle, things have to be bloody, but from there to wallow in details of entrails and brain matter, to submerge the reader (or viewer) in a red sea of pain—no.

Frederic_William_Burton_-_Hellelil_and_Hildebrand_or_The_Meeting_on_the_Turret_StairsObviously, some of the people reading this post will retort that if I have problems with violence, they have problems with sex. “I just can’t read a book with explicit sex in them,” someone once told me, going on to say that they could therefore not read my books. Not that my books are 400 pages of constant sex, I hasten to add. I have sex scenes because I write about love and in general adults who fall in love like to have sex. I also have some scenes with violence—albeit not too graphic. Why? Because I’m writing about times steeped in unrest and in general such times are defined by surges of violent behaviour as the various contenders jockey for power. Never has one of my would-be readers come back to me to say “I just couldn’t read this book because the violence in chapter 18 turned my stomach.” I find it interesting that the person obliged to set my book aside due to sex happily reads some pretty gruesome violent stuff—but to each their own, hey?

love 17th century rubensMy books don’t come with an ADULT CONTENT label as I’ve always felt that sex between married people or people in love is pretty much par for the course. Plus, I don’t write pages and pages of it. (I want to sometimes. Dear BFF and Beta-reader extraordinaire is pretty harsh on me when I do…) So yes, for those of a sensitive nature my books may cause some squirming. Sadly, not because vulnerable people are hurt or abused, but because leading man & 17th century hunk Matthew (ditto my medieval knight Adam de Guirande) loves his time-travelling wife Alex to bits (As Adam loves his lady wife Kit, who is more than delighted at not being a time-traveller) and makes sure he shows her just how much he worships her in bed—and out of it.

People who write (and read) about love and romance and add sex into the mixture are often dismissed as being writers (or readers) of smut—usually by peeps who have never read the books in question. Smut, dear peeps, is not something we should want to read (or write) Smut is a derogatory term, usually used by smirking individuals who believe things like love and sex are mundane. I guess they are. But they are also a major component in the lives of most of us, whether it be because we are fortunate enough to have both love and heat in our lives or because we’re hoping to find it.

I don’t write smut. I don’t write “dirty” books. I don’t even think I write books with ADULT CONTENT. I write books about love, about people willing to do what it takes to save their loved ones from whatever predicament they may find themselves in. Some call that romance. If so, I am a proud writer (and reader) of romance. And yes, some romance books definitely qualify for that ADULT CONTENT label. But so do many, many crime novels and thrillers – oh, right, I forgot: ADULT CONTENT has nothing to do with depictions of human cruelty (unless it is sexual in nature). What can I say? It’s a strange and sad world when sex scenes have people tying themselves up in knots while they won’t bat an eye at a vivid description of violence. Very, very strange, IMO!

Dot, dot, dot – the difference between clean and dirty?

800px-Amor_Vincet_Omnia

Caravaggio: Amor vincit Omnia

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.

Perrault_Leon_Jean_Basile_Cupids_ArrowsPersonally, 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.

Love Image-François_Pascal_Simon_Gérard_006“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.

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