Monday, March 12, 2012

INSPIRING PASSION: Love Scenes in Christian Romances

by Margaret Birth

"The woman of all Clay Lazarus’ lustful fantasies had just entered the room.” Words out of a racy romance novel? Think again. This is the opening sentence from my novelette MAN OVERBOARD—a Christian romance story.

Anyone who’s unfamiliar with the Christian or inspirational romance subgenre might imagine descriptions of love that are so sanitized and toned down as to lack any sense of passion or physical desire—but they’d be wrong. Yes, Christian romances “keep the bedroom door closed” (as some writers and editors put it), but innuendo is still allowed and there’s a lot of desire that can be shown between characters who are fully clothed.

So, this is the first point I’d like to make: A love scene in a story doesn’t need to be a sex scene—just as not every sex scene is a love scene. If you read or write romance fiction, you know: These are love stories; hot or sweet, love is the basis of every romance story.

Inspirational romance has continued to grow in popularity; according to an article by Lyn Cote at, between 2005 and 2008, the share of Christian romances among all romance novel sales in all subgenres grew by 30%. And, as the market has grown, it has also continued to push the boundaries of what is “acceptable” in stories labeled as “Christian” or “inspirational.” Readers can now find books that run the gamut from squeaky-clean G-rated romance to grittier depictions of characters who struggle to keep their basest weaknesses and desires under control—and maybe don’t always succeed at that.

How can a love scene communicate passion if it doesn’t show a hero and heroine sharing physical intimacy? I’ve heard that question before. But I’d turn that question around: How can a love scene communicate any kind of intimacy if its primary focus is the physical rather than the emotional? This is the second point I’d like to make: Deep, lasting intimacy (the kind that results in happily-ever-after) results from developing trust and feeling cherished—emotional stuff.

Love scenes in inspirational love stories focus on the emotional part of romance. The characters’ physical longing for each other is always within the context of their emotional connection; spiritual connection may also be a part of their closeness, but when it comes to a love scene, that spiritual connection is likely to be shown as part of the complexity of their emotional connection. Some love scenes even culminate with the suggestion that the hero and heroine have some kind of physical dimension to their relationship; usually, physicality is reserved between a husband and wife, but in so-called edgy inspirational romances, it’s sometimes even suggested as a physical temptation between single characters. But it’s never described in an action play-by-play; these are love scenes—not lust scenes.

MAN OVERBOARD’s hero, Clay Lazarus, may have boarded the cruise ship with the agenda of seducing a beautiful woman—but, as he learns, lust is just a hollow yearning . . . without the emotion and the spirit of love.♥

Margaret Birth is a Christian writer who has been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry, both in the U.S. and abroad; in addition to working as a freelance writer, she's spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor. Margaret has short stories coming out in True Story (March) and True Confessions (March and April).


  1. After switching from contemporary romance that seriously sizzled to Christian romance, I totally love the challenges offered in writing passion without the sex. It has really pushed my writing in a positive way, and gives me a product that I can present without being embarrassed by some scenes that may be in the story.

    Great article - thank you.


  2. I love romance in books, but I want to keep sex out of my writing, so I found this to be a great post. Thank you :-)

  3. Hallee and Rachel, I'm glad this article struck a chord with you--thanks for your kind words! Yes, Hallee, I too enjoy finding ways to express my characters' love and passion for one another without adding an erotic element. And I often think that the more we can challenge ourselves as writers, the better our writing becomes.