This is an interesting issue that I've been struggling with for awhile now. A lot of the romances that I've read as source material have the main characters having sex. A lot of the ones that seem to do the best also have sex in them somewhere. As I've said in previous posts, we seem to think romance and sex are inextricably linked.
There's nothing wrong with sex. It's a good thing, it's a gift that God has given us in our lives and most particularly in building our marriages. If I'm writing a romance and I want it to be from God's perspective do I leave those things out on principle? Do I say that adding sex makes it immediately "erotica" instead of romance (which I think actually means there's more sex than there is the rest of the story) or do I say one or two scenes for good reason are okay?
We know that 'sex sells', we hear it and see it everywhere we look in advertising (although admittedly you have to sometimes wonder which gender it's actually selling to), often in film and in books as well. There's a sense that in our society sex is immortalized, in fact as I write this I'm betting that I get a record number of hits this week, just because I changed my title. But is sex really needed in a romance and as a christian should I be allowing myself to put it in there.
I'll be honest, I'm still struggling with this issue as I write the romance novel. I usually look at movies or books and come away thinking "well that was completely gratuitous" or unneeded, or any other word saying that scene didn't have to be in the movie and really did nothing for it. Often the writer/director/producer could have easily cut it and that works for books as well. In fact in some cases it might have been better if the scene had been cut.
So I started to ask myself, is there any situation where a movie, or a book absolutely need to have that sex scene in there? I bounced back and forth for awhile, feeling like I didn't want to say no, but I didn't know why. Eventually I surprised myself with the conclusion that I came to.
Sex is a part of life, it's a part that we immortalize in poetry, song, prose, and film. It's precious and special and we abuse it, devalue it, overuse it, cheapen it and in doing so do the same things to ourselves. But it's still a part of us on a deep, intimate level. It's something that will continue, whether we talk about it or not, and I believe that books are, at their core, a reflection of the human condition, whatever genre they are. So romances that have sex in them reflect what we ourselves tend to do in romance, we say it's okay and we have sex. Or we're married and we have sex, or whatever, we like to have sex. I don't think it's something you can entirely remove from a story that is inherently about two people. But I think whatever scene is chosen to stay in the book or to go into the book should be integral to the story. That scene needs to have reason for being shown in detail. If it doesn't, why wasn't it cut? In fantasy novels (I love writing these) we're often told to take out the scenes that don't matter, the ones that don't move the story along. So if I apply this same thought to romances a lot of the sex scenes that are in them could easily be taken out. This isn't true for all of them though.
Like everything else in writing, the purpose of every scene should be clear to the author, even if it's not to the reader. You need to know what's going to happen down the line. I also think that since writing reflects real life, there's never going to be a day where we get away from the issues surrounding it because we as a people like sex too much. Even if it's just talking about it (yeah, I'm included in that, it's fun to talk about things that either make people uncomfortable or is a little bit taboo). But that doesn't mean each scene should be considered for its merit on the rest of the novel too!