The late stage and screen actress Shelley Winters had this to say about on-stage nudity,
I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience.
In other words, when it comes to nudity and sex in any artistic form, as my dad always told me, “Everything is relative.”
It’s a reader’s point-of-view that dictates whether sex in a story is “artistically valid” and appropriate. If you’re of my ilk and POV, you have to go pretty far to offend and yet there were a bunch of folks who decided the popular children’s show Telletubbies was sexually inappropriate on a grand scale. With that kind of disparity in perception, what’s a writer to do?
After reading all of the very good advice from the rest of the Liars, the only conclusion I can come to is to trust your own sensibilities and sense of truth. You know when your “sense of truth” is talking. We choose to ignore it at times but we usually know what it’s saying.
All of us that interpret the world through some art form, be it words, paint, stone, or stage, must be honest in our interpretation. So the truth is that good, honest work might offend some portion of those folks interpreting our interpretation. As Marie points out, it’s wise to understand the sensibilities of the demographic that supports your book in terms of sales; however, in the end, we must respond to our own sense of truth.
So sex in our work can enliven, enrich, titillate, taunt, tease, and offend some or all of our readers. If we’re good, it will do all of these things at the same time, which sounds like the right kind of sex to me.
Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series. He is co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.