Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Writing About Sex without Compromising Your Values or Offending Your Audience

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Intimacy and sex are part of life. These experiences have a profound impact on characters in story, often defining why a character does what they do. How does an author include sex in story?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a masterful tale popular for generations, focuses on memorable characters in a multi-level plot, experiencing sensational settings and speaking quotable dialog.

On film, the story takes place over six full-length feature movies. In book and film, there is no profanity and no sex scenes.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  • The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The original manuscripts, totaling 9,250 pages and preserved in the J. R. R. Tolkien Collection at Wisconsin’s Marquette University, were initially published in three volumes. Tolkien considered his work a heroic romance. 

Tolkien’s Aragorn and Arwen remain true to one another despite separations caused by the oppressive threat of the growing power of Sauron. Their moments together are beautifully romantic, penned in a fashion that children can read. In the final film, Aragorn and Arwen are reunited as Aragorn takes his place as king. In a sweet and very public moment, as their faces almost touch, we know they will spend the rest of their lives together.

In story, as in life, intimacy shows up in many forms from friendship to romantic relationships to events completely unloving. 

Explicit scenes and erotica have an audience. There are readers looking for such content. Authors who tell a story and include romance and encounters in a wholesome fashion have a broader audience as the story is appropriate to younger ages and to those who prefer to focus on plot and character development while allowing the character’s bedroom to remain private. 

In the film, Gone With The Wind, Rhett Butler carries his wife, Scarlett O’Hara, up the curving staircase.

Similarly, at the end of Chasing Sunrise, Michael Northington lifts his bride into his arms and carries her into their future. 

Sometimes the sexual encounter is far from romantic. 
  • The Chosen portrayed this well in Season 1, Episode 1 when a Roman soldier brutalizes Mary Magdalene. Pushing her onto the bed, as his shadow falls across her face, the scene ends. The viewer is aware of what happened without needing details. 
  • In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, the protagonist gives a brief view of a bully overpowering a boy. The protagonist turns away yet the reader understands how the violence imprints on both the protagonist and the victim. Later, we learn the unexplained treatment of the two boys by the father is because the boys are half-brothers. 
  • The Slave Across the Street is the riveting true story of an upscale Detroit teenager trafficked for two years. We wanted the book to provide awareness to youth who are targeted, and to those who work with children and teens. The reader accompanies Theresa as she is taken into a room with men waiting. Then the scene ends. There is no reason to describe anything more. 

As a writer, where can you creatively show intimacy and allude to sex while staying family-friendly to reach a wider audience? 

World’s End of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series wraps up with Elizabeth Swann wearing one of Will Turner’s boots. In the two-and-a-half-minute beach scene, the viewer understands that after three movies packed with action, adventure, and seemingly impossible odds that kept the two apart, the married lovers have at last spent a single day together. 

When penning intimacy and sex in a story, consider your goals. Who is your audience? What is your genre? What is your reader trusting you to write? Is sex critical to the story? Is the scene more powerful when hinted at, alluded to, or done off-stage? How can you best tell the story in a way that best honors the tale, your reader, and yourself as an author?


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells


  1. PeggySue, thank you for providing clarity and direction on a tricky topic.

    1. Chris, the other Wells :) the topic is such a part of life. As faith-based authors, we have the opportunity to talk about all the topics.