In 1992, Zondervan published a book that in various editions has been called Faithful and True (a title vague enough that it might have been describing a particularly loyal golden retriever) and The Secret Sin, which was more to the purpose but still unclear. In fact, the book was a clarion call to avoid pornography and sexual sin. When Zondervan repackaged the book last year, it had a bold new title: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. It also contained added sections on Internet pornography and sexual addiction among women, topics that were rarely discussed just a decade ago. This kind of in-your-face openness and willingness to face the dark side of sexuality among Christians has quietly transformed the face of evangelical publishing.
It's not that CBA publishers have never addressed sex. In fact, three foundational Christian books on sex were published as early as the 1970s—The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye (Zondervan, 1976), Sex for Christiansby Lewis Smedes (Eerdmans, 1976) and Intended for Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat (Revell, 1977).
Although sex as a general topic is not new to the CBA, today's offerings are not your parents' sex books. They are more personal, even confessional, and often quite candid about their authors' own failings. What's more, they are increasingly open to discussing specific topics that just a decade ago were mostly taboo.
The Changing Marketplace
To some extent, the new openness is the direct result of the proliferation of Christian products into the wider marketplace. Christian retail stores have traditionally been nervous about carrying books with explicit content. "When I was an owner/manager of a [Logos] bookstore from 1983 to 1993, books by Ed Wheat and particularly Lewis Smedes dealt in very forthright, authentic ways with human sexuality. But they were often controversial with our customers, who wanted a bit more sanitized discussion," says Jeff Crosby, sales and marketing director for InterVarsity Press. Crosby believes that publishers and Christian stores are now "willing to tackle issues of sexual intimacy and brokenness in a more direct, authentic manner." He also has observed that some of IVP's more explicit or controversial titles, such as Russell Willingham's 1999 book, Breaking Free,have a higher percentage of online sales than IVP's other titles. "The reason may be as simple as what we call the 'airplane test,' " Crosby explains. "Will consumers be willing to buy and read a book with this title, on this subject, on a flight during which they're scrunched between two people?" Some titles, he says, "are more likely to be bought and read in private."
Some book consumers may feel more comfortable buying these books in an ABA store—where more Christian product is carried than ever before—than in their neighborhood Christian retail store. "In some ways, the lines between evangelical and nonevangelical culture are less fixed than they once were," says Jon Pott, editor-in-chief at Eerdmans. "There's been a kind of opening up."
The New Confessionalism
One of the hallmarks of the CBA's more recent sex books has been their no-holds-barred willingness to reveal skeletons in the authors' own closets. Lauren Winner's April book Real Sex: The Naked Truth on Chastity (Brazos), which has been featured in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune as well as in the Christian media, deals candidly with the difficulties of remaining chaste when more Christians are staying single into their 30s and beyond. While commending marital sex as "real" sex, Winner (an occasional PW contributor) freely admits that she fooled around some in her single days, even after she converted to Christianity in her early 20s. "There has been a shift in where we as religious readers find authority," Winner observes. "Of course, there's still very much a place for books by pastors and Ph.D.s. But my book may be appealing to people in their 20s or 30s precisely because I've struggled with this issue so much myself, not because I'm any kind of professional ethicist."
Winner says she has been surprised by the response in the media (including television interviews on Good Morning America and The O'Reilly Factor), since she deliberately turned down offers from various trade publishers in favor of the then new venture Brazos Press, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group. Rodney Clapp, editor and founder of Brazos, says the book is a much needed corrective to both the wider culture's wanton promiscuity and evangelical Christianity's past reluctance to speak openly about sexual struggles.
Other CBA books that adopt a personal, confessional tone deal unflinchingly with the darker side of sexuality. In Unfaithful: Rebuilding Trust After Infidelity, Gary and Mona Shriver tell the story of how Gary's long-standing affair with Mona's best friend almost destroyed their marriage (Cook, May). "Ten years later, they're now helping other couples," says Jeff Pederson, Cook's director of marketing. Some of the CBA's new books on sexual addiction (in the form of pornography, cybersex, phone sex, prostitution, etc.) assume a similar tone, with authors speaking from their own experiences in order to help others. "In case you're wondering, yes, I've been there, done that," writes counselor Joe Dallas in the introduction to his book The Game Plan: The Men's 30-Day Strategy for Attaining Sexual Integrity (W, July 21). He describes his sexual downfall in detail before guiding readers through a process of repentance and resistance to sin.
Dallas's book is one of many that address sexual addiction among Christians, primarily men. The floodgates for discussing this topic opened in the late 1990s, when Fred Stoeker's Focus on the Family magazine article elicited a wide response from readers. Stoeker joined with Stephen Arterburn to write Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time (WaterBrook, 2000). In the book, Stoeker describes his own struggles with pornography and promiscuity, while Arterburn tells how he once crashed his Mercedes when craning his neck to ogle a female jogger. "There was an initial fear of how this subject matter, in such a transparent format, would be received in the Christian marketplace," says Joel Kneedler, publicity manager. "There has been a great need in the church to talk about these taboo subjects that affect all of us in some way." Sales figures attest to that need: the series (which also includes titles for women, young men and young women) has sold an astonishing 1.5 million copies to date, and the original title, Every Man's Battle, is about to go back to press for another 100,000 copies.
The Next Generation
Just as the Every Man series has branched out to include books for teens and for parents who want to teach their preteens about sex, so, too, have other Christian publishers realized the need for solid information for younger readers. Possibly the hippest and most hilarious of these books is Justin Lookadoo's The Dirt on Sex(Revell), which is both graphic (explicit) and graphic (designed to appeal visually to the comic book generation).
"CBA is realizing that instead of trying to keep teens in a safe box and protect them from a sexed-up world, they need to press them to make educated choices based on all the facts about sex," says Jennifer Leep, acquisitions editor at Revell. "A couple of years ago, we could not have imagined that The Dirt on Sex, a book that talks specifically about oral sex, would be selected as a finalist for an ECPA Gold Medallion Award. That speaks volumes about how much CBA has grown."