All sex writing isn't the same

I received a letter the other day from an older woman, a mother and grandmother, expressing her disappointment at the ‘explicit descriptions of sensual activities’ in my book, The Yearning. Apparently she had picked it up in a library and was surprised at how a book with such sexual content got into a public arena where young ones could read it. She likened the sexual chapters to porn and appealed to me as a mother, earnestly begging me to ‘write something that could inspire young ones and not embarrass your child.’

The letter closed on a positive note, she wished me well and hoped I would consider her views so I could be a writer young people could look up to. Unfortunately she left no return address, so I couldn’t respond. But it was the second time that week my writing had been labeled ‘porn’ (the other was by a reviewer who described Being Jade as ‘soft porn’ – frankly I think she needs to get out more).

There’s an awful lot of talk about sex in Western culture. And very little of it is respectful or positive. Sex writing tends to be lumped in one big shameful basket, but there is a big difference between pornographic writing and erotic writing in the context of a larger story. It saddens me that our culture is so sex-negative that any sexual writing can so easily be dismissed as inappropriate, trashy or even dangerous.

Sex, as a whole, isn’t dangerous – particularly if one is well informed enough to make healthy choices about it. Sex writing is even less so.

To a degree I agree with my correspondent, young children are at risk of being overexposed to the adult world and that’s our fault. We are the ones who let eight year olds watch M rated films. We sexualise everything from reality TV (Get your sexy back) to icecreams. In the context of a world where googling music delivers raunchy video clips and seven year olds are going to Pink concerts and Target sells sexy big girl clothes in tiny sizes, The Yearning is a mere drop in a tidal wave of Western bent-out-of-shape notions of sexuality.

My not writing about sex won’t make an iota of difference to this cultural detritus. (And let’s be honest, The Yearning isn’t the only book in the library with sex in it!) But, my writing positively about women and sex might.

The sex I write in my books is based on empowerment and our human need to connect deeply with another human being. We all want to feel loved through deep pleasure and intimacy with a partner and sharing our sexuality is a pathway to experiencing that. But most of us have no idea how to do it. We all make loads of mistakes: we choose the wrong partners, we humiliate ourselves, or we close ourselves off from pleasure through ignorance or fear.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We are all sexual beings, no matter our gender, ability, age, beliefs. We are born with a sexual Self that is unique to each of us. Sharing that Self is a powerful experience and it should be a positive one. That can only happen if we as individuals shake off our negativity toward sex and our unacknowledged need to control our own and each other’s sexuality.

Understanding sex well will lead us into richer relationships, more fulfilling sexual experiences and a greater understanding of who we are. It requires practice, openness, trust and honesty and it takes a long time. Sexually empowered people are happy people. They are tolerant and loving and empathetic. Why wouldn’t we want a better understanding of our sexuality when that’s what we can gain from it?

I do protect my daughter from explicit sexual content (in any form) because she isn’t mature enough to understand it yet. However, I do want her to grow up with a positive view of sex and an accepting attitude to her own sexuality. If people like me don’t write sex-positive books, if I can’t show empowered female characters unlocking their sexual potential, if everyone else censors any kind of sex writing as porn, we close off an important avenue for change.

We live in a world where women are still told to be careful walking the streets at night, instead of men being told it’s not acceptable to stalk or prey on lone women; where the word ‘slut’ still applies almost exclusively to women; where the mention of sex conjures negative connotations like dirty, lewd, unsavoury, cheap, scandalous and dangerous.

This isn’t the world I want my daughter to live in. We need to change the way we think. All sex writing isn’t the same. And I wish people would stop trying to make it so.


The Yearning ebook will be on sale for $3.99 from mid-September. Read a free chapter of The Yearning here.




Kate, what a great response to the negativity you have encountered. Let me just say that there are far worse books out there. Yours allow us to delve into a different dimension, one in which the subject matter is emotionally, sensitively and sensuously handled - and with substance to boot! Carry on writing your wonderful stories and don't let that self-doubt or negativity hinder your ability to translate what should be a beautiful and satisfying experience.

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Marcia! I absolutely see any negativity for what it is - people who are carrying negative cultural beliefs and values around without questioning them. People who prefer to keep sex and sexuality hidden away as a dangerous or taboo subject. It simply doesn't have to be thought of that way. A simple shift in attitude will make all the difference.

Wow. Where to start?

Firstly, I want to say I completely agree that there needs to be far more sex-positive writing and commentary out there and that I strongly suspect that the letter you received from the reader in question is almost certainly a result of society's ever-prevalent belief that sex and sexual fantasy are somehow 'shameful' and 'wrong'. It never ceases to amaze me that an act that gives pleasure and creates life can be so ... vilified. (Is that the right word?)

The assertion that you're somehow embarrassing your children by writing what you do - and that you're somehow an anti-role model for young readers (if I am interpreting that correctly) makes me both want to laugh and weep at the same time. I'm sorry but, as parents, WE are the ones who're responsible for making sure that what our kids absorb, in any form, is age appropriate. And, for those times that we can't be around, that they are sensitively and accurately educated. For the average *adult*, porn it is a legitimate and healthy outlet for sexual expression/experience. Is it a bad way to educate young people about sex? Absolutely. Should it be watched/read by minors? Hell, no. But if we refuse to talk about sex positively and take a hands-off approach to parenting, taking little interest in what they're doing online or what they're checking out of the library, then guess what's going to happen?

The flip side? I actually think it's kind of cool that this lady wrote to you and expressed her opinion, because unless we are prepared to talk openly and discuss/examine various points of view, we will never break down barriers and stigmas. Unfortunately, it would have been way more cool if she'd given you some way to reply to her directly and thus opened the doors to a healthy discussion and debate.

Jane xxx

KateBelle.X's picture

Jane, I couldn't agree more. I am glad this lady wrote to me, but she clearly felt embarrassed by what she had to say because she did so anonymously. I am all up for a healthy and open discussion on our views around sexuality because it's the only way to shift the judgement and shaming around sex. It speaks volumes she couldn't sign her name to her views.

And it's true that if we continue censoring sex writing in all its forms and labelling sex in art as 'porn', our children won't have access to the great diversity of sexual experience and knowledtge that is required to balance out our cultures preoccupation with pornographic styles of sexual expression. Sex in literature is not just important, it's crucial, because the public discussion around sex and sexuality is still so sadly limited.

Thanks for your comments, Jane - they are wise and constructive.

The sex I write in my books is based on empowerment and our human need to connect deeply with another human being. We all want to feel loved through deep pleasure and intimacy with a partner and sharing our sexuality is a pathway to experiencing that. But most of us have no idea how to do it. We all make loads of mistakes: we choose the wrong partners, we humiliate ourselves, or we close ourselves off from pleasure through ignorance or fear.

Thank you very much for this post Kate. I can so identify with what you say here. Yes, I could 'close the bedroom door' but I choose not to quite deliberately. Our need to connect with another human being at this elemental level is ingrained in us. We need it as much as food, water and shelter. I like to show relationships as they could be - with two flawed individuals who make a decision to walk through life together and who learn they are stronger together as a result. After all, isn't that at the heart of romance?

KateBelle.X's picture

True that, Elizabeth! The heart of romance lives in the loins.

The heart of romance may live between the legs but the spirit of romance lives between the ears. ;)

Anyone would think sex in books is a new thing. It has been a feature of fiction since, well, since the dawn of fiction to be honest. I am in my 40's and I can clearly remember sneaking my Mum's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover off her bookshelf to read. Luckily my parents where fairly liberal and actually had a copy, along with other books. My Mum was the person who bought me Forever by Judy Blume. Reading fiction is such a powerful medium, it is how we learn to fantasies and explore other worlds, emotions, experiences, without actually doing them ourselves. I think the fact that there are books in the library with sexual content in them that young teens etc can read is just as it should be. Hiding sex from kids doesn't work, all it does is shroud it in secrecy and leave them woefully unprepared for adult life. Ignorance is probably the biggest cause of the transmission of STI's and unwanted pregnancy.

In addition this leads directly into the idea that masturbation is somehow bad, that reading these books could lead to you being turned on. We should be encouraging children (as they start to mature sexually) to have a healthy masturbatory life... after all no one got pregnant or caught an STI from reading a book and having a wank!


KateBelle.X's picture

Amen, Molly! No shame in being turned on. If more people were turned on more often perhaps they'd all be a bit happier.

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