When in polite company, the old saying goes, you don’t discuss religion or politics. That’s the way I was raised, and there was a very good reason for that. There have been many times since when I wished people would obey this rule and mind their own business about who they were voting for or what the Bible says. That goes especially for relatives when you don’t have many choices; you have to tolerate their choice in president because they are your sibling.
But the flip side of that goes as well. There are many times when we don’t talk about things that do need discussing. Sometimes it’s a matter of being polite, but often it’s because we just aren’t brave enough to broach the subject. When it comes to writing and journalism–seemingly related, I would think–these are areas that are fertile ground for discussion.
We had a talk yesterday in class about the value of a hypothetical sex and relationship column in the student newspaper/magazine, and how it might be handled. Our textbook is of course directed at students at public universities, so the audience is a bit different. One student volunteered that he wasn’t a virgin anymore and that he had learned the hard way that when one said “it’s no big deal” to lose one’s virginity, you unfortunately find out that very thing. What should be a very big deal loses its significance. I thought his statement was a solid argument for others to hold out until marriage, and told him that if he had the courage, he should write it up. I don’t know if he ever will, but that’s that kind of information that often doesn’t get shared, but should.
I don’t know about you, but I learned about sex from friends, not from my parents. When it came time to teach me something, I found them so embarrassed that I gave them a pass, and they seemed relieved to know they didn’t have to teach me. My father, of course, was old school, and felt like I would learn one way or another eventually. But I feel bad that my mother was so embarrassed, and I tried to talk to my kids regularly about it. Trouble was, kids don’t want to hear about sex from their parents either. Even now, my kids cringe at the thought of their 60-something parents still having sex. Eww!
I really think the purpose of novels is to explore the human experience, and sex is part of that. But that goes far beyond just describing the physical act. It’s about what goes on between the ears as well. And that’s what escapes a lot of first-time writers.
So write about those taboo subjects, but use some tact and put some thought into your words. Maybe you can help someone.