Saturday, May 26, 2012

Writing about sex

Sex (In A Book) — how much is too much?

That’s what Russell Blake, author of Geronimo Beach and other action novels, asks in his guest blog post on the World Literary Café.

When is everyone’s favourite passtime in page form too much, whatever that is? I'll admit I don't read bodice rippers or erotica, so that's not what I'm talking about. I'm asking the open question: when does spice stop being seasoning, and instead overpower the main dish in general fiction?

As you can imagine, the post sparked a debate. When you’re finished with this post, read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted in my home town, Ottawa over Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology.

The exhibit was designed by the Science Centre in Montreal, where it ran to great success but no controversy. It has also been shown in Regina, Saskatchewan, again without eliciting a lot of opposition.

But once it came to Ottawa—in fact, even before it opened to the public — it encountered loud opposition. The federal (Conservative) Heritage Minister, James Moore said it was “insulting” to taxpayers. In an email to the museum’s director, Moore’s assistant quoted the Minister as saying it was “inappropriate for young children.”

The Museum of Science and Technology describes the exhibit this way:
It is an award-winning educational exhibition that answers the main questions young people have about sexuality. It imparts what science has to say on the topic, conveys a positive image of sexuality and, ultimately, helps young people hone their judgment skills so they can make responsible and informed decisions.
Image courtesy
(Luc Robitaille/Montreal Science Centre)
I haven’t seen it, but I plan to soon. And I’ll be taking my teenage son. The vast majority of comments about it, on the Museum’s website, in the mainstream media and elsewhere, are in favour of the exhibit. There are very few opposed to it. Yet the museum caved into the pressure, removing a section on masturbation and raising the age at which children can visit without a parent from 12 to 16.

The trouble with the latter change is that children whose parents will not take them to the exhibit at age 14 are exactly the ones who need accurate, unbiased information the most.

Discouraging opposition
The opposition to the exhibit is, unfortunately, easily predictable. Before you read some of the comments I gleaned from some easily accessible websites, try to imagine what they might be.

From Peter Baklinski, commenting on the Museum’s website:
I must inform you that me and my four children will not visit the museum again while the sex exhibition is running.

The sex exhibition is a travesty to the majority of Canadians who believe that sexual activity is reserved for spouses within the context of marriage.

Thank you for telling all of us how to have sex, Peter. 

From Ken Quick on Sun Media’s web page:
Perversion masquerading as "science" and "education". Your tax dollar at work.

The only reason I give more attention to idiotic comments like Quick's is that we need to understand the full range of opinion. 

I stress that the overwhelming majority of comments on all media (except maybe for Sun Media’s website—but remember that fora like these are moderated, so the published comments do not necessarily reflect the range of comments submitted) are positive. People in Ottawa generally support the exhibit.

From Cathy Payne, who commented on the CBC’s website:
The “insult to taxpayers" argument was rejected as an "attack on freedom" when the Heritage issue was championing the sport where two men go into a cage and try to kick one another to death.

That level of violence had no opponents from the "family values" champions. But while viewing an inanimate art exhibition they see vile sex.

Well said, Ms. Payne!

Your turn to weigh in:
What do you think? How should we talk about sex? From my point of view, sex is a complete normal, and wonderful thing. However, we learned very early that we’re supposed to be embarrassed by it. It’s something kept behind closed doors, under covers — literally. “Wheresmycountry,” a commenter on CBC’s web page, put it perfectly:

The more taboo and forbidden a subject is, the more fascinating it becomes. If you want to foster increased interest about sex among curious young minds, tell them it is something they are too young to know about. Works every time!

Please readers, share your thoughts. How can we talk about sex, write about sex, teach children about it so they don’t have shame, guilt and deeper problems with it? Write whatever you want. However, I will give you one warning: I will have no hesitation in tearing apart the argument that “sex education should be left to parents.” The empirical evidence is incontrovertible: that strategy has never worked.


  1. I once listened to an interview (circa 1980-something) with a high school exchange student from Greece. He found American girls too aggressive. Truth is, had he been a girl, he/she might have said the same thing about the boys. We attempt to "protect" them from sex when their hormones are raging. (I remember!) He related that his uncles had sat him down at a young age and explained the "facts" of life - not only what's what, but also the proper technique of "romancing" a woman. The bottom line is that is seemed better adjusted as regards sex than any American teenager I ever knew among adolescents of the 1950s or in any other time.

  2. I think this exhibit is a fabulous idea. My mom sat me down at 11 to educate me. She also made it so comfortable to talk about anything with her that the 1st time I had sex, I went home after and told her how much it sucked in detail. *grin* I really believe that our early education and easy to talk with parents are the reason none of my 4 siblings and I ended up with a teen pregnancy. I hope my son will feel like he can talk to us about anything. I know he'll have a good sex ed BEFORE he decides to try to find out on his own.

  3. My parents gave me the "Where Did I Come From?" book and I studied it thoroughly. My own kids are only 6 and 8, but when they ask questions I tell them the absolute scientific truth. As the old song said, blind them with science.

    1. Do you think you would come to the Museum of Science and Technology to see this exhibit? Would you bring your children to it if the exhibit came to a town close to you?

  4. My ten year old asked about sex and I felt too uncomfortable to answer. He told me that if I didn't he would ask someone else. Maybe this might help open communication lines.

    P.S. I like sex in novels. Women fantasy.

  5. Anonymous8:45 PM

    I'm 14, so maybe I can give the teen perspective.

    I was terrified of sex, specifically STD's. I had so many questions, but I was too afraid to find answers. And it got even more complicated when I connected sex with being gay.

    I just think sex should become a topic that is discussed casually. It should'nt be "scary sex-ed week" because when sex becomes scary and embarrassing to talk about, questions are left unanswered.

    1. Thanks for your frank comment, Spencer. And I am quite impressed with the honesty on your blog.

      The terror we feel in talking or writing about sex is exactly the problem. And there are so many people who put themselves out as experts in morality and public propriety who try to scare us more about sex. And it becomes a public health problem - as you say, when questions are left unanswered because people are too afraid of public censure and rebuke to ask them, then they have to go on without the knowledge - which could be something that not even the most self-righteous could advocate censoring, like preventing STDs.

      Thank you, Spencer!

  6. Anonymous8:42 PM

    I can't believe we're still uptight talking about sex.
    I had my kids in the '80 and never had 'the talk' with them because I thought they were getting sex ed at school. We did eventually communicate with the kids about sex, but looking back, if I had to do it over again, I'd try to cover the subject thoroughly.
    I don't know if the kids picked up on my discomfort with the subject, or if it was the way kids behaved at the time, but I remember they didn't want to talk about sex and would make a big fuss if I brought up the subject.
    I was raised in ages so dark I'm not comfortable writing sex scenes. There's an awkward one coming up in the story I'm working on, and I've decided to damn the torpedoes and just write it.
    But I thought the rest of the world had gotten over this.
    If I had children today and the exhibition was on, I don't know if I Would take them if they were underage, but I know that I Should take them. I think I would be more embarassed than anything else. Especially if the kids were teens. If they were young, I think it would be easier.
    It seems like some Canadians are still inhibited about sex. I thought younger people were a little more open about it than in days past.
    With STDs, AIDs, teenage pregnancies and homosexuality causing people problems through ignorance and misconceptions, it's time we loosened up.
    I agree with Spencer that sex should be discussed casually.
    Reading this article and seeing the comments has made me realize that it's important to write and include sex scenes integral to the story.
    Louise Sorensen
    louise3anne twitter