Sex Scenes in Visual Novels

It seems like just yesterday that the localization of visual novels was primarily a fan based effort. Yet, recent official localization projects have surprised many – from the 10 year old but very beloved Clannad to the incredibly popular but supposed “lost cause” Muv Luv Alternative. Higurashi is well underway, with Umineko close behind. Beyond localizations, both Key and Frontwing have plans to release English visual novels before the Japanese release, indicating very strong interest in the market outside Japan (with age joining the party, that really only leaves Type-Moon as the final boss). What is most striking is that many of these novels have chosen to release their product on Steam, which as I said before, means we are getting the all-ages versions over the R-18 versions. As a Christian, that is all well and good in my biased view, but I simultaneously realize that this is not the end of sex in the medium. Far from it, the discussion of censorship in localization is a hotly debated topic even among those who don’t share my beliefs. However, one thing is certain: visual novels are becoming a bigger and bigger thing in the West, even if it’s still a tiny niche. As both a Christian and a fan of the medium, I think it’s important that we as Christians can approach a medium that is so rife with sex without being overly biased.

Now, Japes recently wrote a post in regards to how a Christian may personally approaching reading VNs. However, this post will be taking a different approach and digest how a Christian should be approaching the medium in a broader sense, how to think about the existence of sex scenes in VNs, and some of the mindsets of those who are in favor of their inclusion. I’m not going to tell you how to think; that’s your decision to make. However, I think you should be both informed about the medium and the works involved before jumping to conclusions, as well as understand some of the arguments in favor of them to help understand what I think is the maturity of the other side. Furthermore, I will be discussing arguments I feel have merit but do not necessarily agree with personally. Please do not take everything in this post as my opinion or that of Beneath the Tangles, but merely as “an existing opinion,” and consider things fairly to help us foster a more open and understanding dialogue on this subject that is normally pushed under the rug.

Harmonia, Key's English-first VN release
Harmonia, Key’s English-first VN release

To begin, let’s clarify something that even I misunderstood long ago. In the context of sex, there are three kinds of visual novels: nukige, eroge, and everything else, and they are very different. Japes previously talked about “porn games,” but he did not make an important distinction between nukige and eroge. Nukige is probably the one the most uninformed people are familiar with. They are what the clichéd “Japanese tentacle porn games” fall under as games whose main point is having a lot of sex in it. The plot is secondary, and if you’re playing these, it is almost certainly for the porn. Maybe you could argue something like you want to laugh at how dumb the plot is, but you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone of much more. In some ways, this is similar to the “all anime is hentai” misunderstanding that plagues anime fans but in this case, sexual content is actually pretty common in VNs so it kind of holds more merit. The third one of everything else consists of novels which have zero sexual content. They might have other graphic content, but in terms of sex scenes, there are none. Thus, it is completely wrong to say all visual novels have sex; in fact, many are child friendly (a small number, but they exist nonetheless)! That leaves the middle one: eroge. These contain some sex. It could be as little as one scene in a 50 hour novel. Generally, you can expect one or two per route but it is still a very small part of the story. It is this category where the debate takes place. Yes, there are sex scenes, but unlike nukige, it’s not right to judge the entire novel based off the presence of a few scenes. Do you like it when people judge the Bible for a tiny excerpt from the Old Testament regarding some ancient law? Indeed, there are some pretty amazing and philosophically intriguing stories out there…they just have some sex in them too.

This brings us to the main argument of sex in visual novels. No matter how evil or immoral you may view sex scenes to be, eroge have entire stories that have very little to do with the sex. These stories may sometimes include very Christian themes such as forgiveness, salvation, and unconditional love. Think of your most favorite story. If a sex scene was added, would it invalidate the greatness of the story? I could see it lowering the value, but surely it wouldn’t erase the value entirely. The moral and themes of the story would not change. In reality, it would just be a very strange and distasteful addition to an otherwise great story. Indeed, this is a common opinion of sex scenes in visual novels. Unfortunately, eroge have sex scenes in them whether we want them or not. Even if we don’t judge the stories due to this small but serious issue, the sex scenes really need to be removed for morality’s sake. Or do they?

Just because we don’t judge eroge as a whole, doesn’t mean we can’t judge sex scenes as a whole. After all, what merit could sex scenes possible have? Indeed, I will admit that the majority serve no purpose in the story. Considering the main consumer of eroge and that many of these scenes are very shoe-horned into the story (sometimes so badly, even the porn loving Japanese fans criticize it for this), as a means of increasing sales, it is true that they do nothing more than temporarily satisfy sexual cravings. But once again, this doesn’t cover 100% of them. Or at least, we should not assume it does. The most important question to ask is one I have already hinted at: does this scene serve any purpose to the story?

MLA had a grand total of 1 sex scene in 50 hours of reading, but the fan reactions to it were quite mixed.
MuvLuv Alternative had a grand total of 1 sex scene in 50 hours of reading, but the fan reactions to it were quite mixed.

Surely there are Christians who will say something like, “Even if it helps the story, I don’t want any of that in my novels! The mere existence is a dangerous temptation that shouldn’t be there.” This is only natural. But firstly we must remember that temptations of all kinds exist everywhere; something that tempts you is not inherently evil. If reading Bible stories about sinners tempts you to replicate those sins, does that make the Bible evil? No, but I would understand if you avoided certain passages for that reason. So perhaps the real issue here is the degree of temptation–that a full blown sex scene is too much. But probably there exists a small subset of people who do not find even this to be tempting. Disgusting,  immoral, or distasteful, perhaps, but not tempting. If it is okay for such people to watch these scenes, then maybe the scenes in question aren’t inherently evil. So let’s try another approach: that this has transcended into the realm of pornography–it is not just about the sex but about how the sex is portrayed. There is a reason I have been avoiding the word pornography until now, and that is because a major foundation of the argument in favor of sex scenes is that they are not necessarily porn. Probably, no almost certainly, this is not the case. But maybe, just maybe there exist examples where this is false. After all, a biology textbook can describe sexual acts without being immoral. If there are examples that are sexual but not pornographic, then perhaps such scenes would be acceptable in a fictional story.

So how can a sex scene help a story without being sexual fan service, porn? There are two main approaches. The first is the idea that the sex scene adds to the theme of the story by exploring the characters’ personalities, be it mentally, emotionally, or even physically. I once wrote about Saya no Uta, a brilliant piece of work I praised despite its numerous sex scenes. However, the scenes weren’t about the sex so much as they were about the protagonist’s decaying mental state. If such graphic depictions of sex disgust you, then perfect, because, thematically, those scenes are supposed to disgust you. They exist to illustrate depravity in its most graphic, gruesome form and portray the protagonist’s loss of humanity. Could such a story be told without sex? Absolutely. Did the scenes in question make the themes of the story even more visceral? I think so. If sex scenes are not treated by the writers as porn, but rather as an event with which to depict very serious and internal behaviors of the characters, it can be said that they serve a real purpose to the story. A sex scene could show the moment a character overcame the PTSD of sexual assault. It could show the acceptance of a partner who suffers from low self-esteem. Conversely, it could show the mindset of a madman or give insight into the mentality of a rapist. If treated respectfully, there are many kinds of psychological and emotional narratives that can be advanced with a sex scene. Is the sex absolutely necessary? Maybe not. But there is certainly something very unique about sex that can give insight into a person’s deep consciousness, and that’s the kind of argument being presented here.

The second argument is that the sex scene is not there as a form of fan service or for the purpose of being an object of lust. Simply put, sex in relationships is normal, so a romance story having a sex scene is normal too, as long as the text is actually furthering their relationship in a meaningful way. It is difficult to argue that the scene in its entirety accomplishes this. After all, these scenes aren’t exactly short, and they tend to be quite graphic in nature. Those who know me would know I read quite a number of eroge, and as a result, I encounter sex scenes in all of these. I can say this without much embarrassment because my experience of them is that they are annoyingly invasive–I want to read the story and these sex scenes are preventing me from reading an interesting and/or thought-provoking story. I normally skip them, but sometimes I notice the text is actually saying something of value as it might include plot relevant information that has nothing to do with what the characters are doing. However, rarely, there is a scene that isn’t explicitly about the sex: it’s about the protagonists. It’s about the characters becoming closer and more intimate, and I mean this emotionally and mentally. The characters open up to each other on the deepest level possible, and there is a certain amount of respect between them that comes from mutual love rather than lust. If sex scenes are wrong because they inspire lust, then what does that make a scene which inspires happiness in me for the characters I had grown attached to? Much like we might celebrate when a couple finally kisses, we could also celebrate when they finally have sex. If our culture was able to respectfully discuss sex the way it deserves to be, then is it possible that sex scenes would be viewed less as pornography and more as simply another event in the life of a romantic couple?

The romantic build up to the sex in Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou was honestly incredibly well done.
The romantic build up to the sex in Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou was honestly incredibly well done.

There is something that excellent and tasteful writing can convey that brings life to the story and relationship of the characters. Biblically, sex is actually praised if done right. Is it possible for ideal and mature writing to depict this kind of wonderful and Biblical sex? Or is it inherently corrupted once it’s put onto display for readers? Perhaps human nature prevents writers from being able to give it the complete respect it deserves? Wouldn’t it be great if there were sex scenes that actually properly portrayed sex the way God meant it? Can you imagine if media celebrated Biblical but graphic sex scenes and what sort of weirdly moral impact that would have on society? If you can admit the potential is there for a mature but proper sex scene, then are people who appreciate the “immature” form any different than us who appreciate Christian themes in “immature” anime that are so often filled with other, more improper ideas?  I don’t know the answer to these questions, but some people believe that sex scenes in VNs have the potential to portray sex in the beautiful manner it is meant to be. Most people will agree the current state of VNs is still far removed from such an ideal but claim the potential and foundation is there; others claim they are pleased with rare examples and feel a form of romantic appreciation for sex scenes rather than lust at cheap porn. Are these people lying? Lying to themselves even? Or maybe there really is something here that we are afraid to admit.

So perhaps some may be convinced that sex scenes can serve a purpose, however exceptional. A mature audience can read a meaningful sex scene and appreciate it for what it is trying to say without being tempted into lustful sin. Certainly, it is not something anyone can do, but it is also not a great evil that must be wiped from existence. On the other hand, surely some are not so convinced and still hold an opinion that all sex scenes in fiction are wrong. Regardless, let’s remember the purpose of this exercise: understanding the medium as a Christian. That is, this is not an argument for or against their existence but only how we should think about its (inevitable?) existence in conversation with others. It is safe to say the majority of eroge readers are not Christians. Many of them enjoy the sex exactly because it’s porn, but as always, this does not apply to everyone. If we want to have meaningful and productive discussion on the issue, we must be willing to listen to the arguments on the other side and give proper thought and consideration.

In conclusion, sex scenes in visual novels and the people who defend them are okay. Not okay? Evil? Morally righteous? You decide for yourself. However, I hope you will find that at worst, there is no real catchall judgment you can make regarding these sex scenes as there is actually quite a large spectrum in what they attempt to do. As the visual novel medium continues to grow in the West, the amount of people who read eroge grows proportionally. Whether you are a fellow reader, a purely anime watcher, or a parent who is just trying to understand your child, it is important to be informed before immediately making judgments about others and the stories they love. Today, there are still those who denounce anime as the spawn of Satan. I shudder to imagine how the greater public would react to the visual novel medium. If visual novels continue to grow in popularity, uninformed Christians are going to take notice of it, and when they do, I hope there will be a community of Christians who can give them unbiased, informed, and mature instruction on a topic that is practically begging for hate.

14 thoughts on “Sex Scenes in Visual Novels

  1. Ah, Harmonia…I wish it would come out already. It kind of seems like a gender-swapped version of Planetarian so far, but I’m interested to see more regardless.

    The idea of a tasteful sex scene is not impossible, but seems so rare in practice as to be almost nonexistent, even more so in the world of visual novels. The best to be hoped for, I believe, is the kind of story/character-advancing sex scene you describe (though I tend to avoid even those, for my own sake).

    At any rate, nice food for thought here. And it’s true that it’s a conversation we’ll need to have more often if visual novels continue to grow in the West.

  2. Very well written. It’s certainly a “grey” topic of discussion, but your article brings up an objective argument. A Christian needs to be “fully persuaded in his own mind” on things such as this, but you are certainly right that “there is no real catchall judgment you can make regarding [this]”. I would be interested to see others’ comments on it as well!

    1. Kaze, thanks for yet another thought provoking article.

      There is a reason why it is called “gratuitous sex.” I am glad you highlighted the times it served no purpose in advancing the story and was an annoyance.

      The intent of the author/director/producer should always be taken into account. Was the sexual act intended to titillate and entice? Was it to show depravity and ugliness of sinful hearts? Was it to show the wholesomeness and best that God wants for us? Was it to display the depth of true Biblical love of eros/agape/phileo?

      Oh how awesome it would be if we had that type of redemption of intent in everything we read or watch!

      Thanks for bringing some of the objectivity on how we should perceive and receive some of these elements. Especially as we conduct ourselves in light of Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (HCSB).

  3. Your article really made me do a double take yesterday and blew my mind with your new perspective to the matter. All I’ve heard from Christians on this is that “sex in media is evil” when in reality the sinful distortion of sex in media is the true evil.

    One question that I do have is that isn’t sex supposed to be an act only done by a husband and wife, where the two are the only ones present? Counter arguments for your claims could be that having a third party (the viewer) sitting in on a sex scene between two characters in a visual novel is breaking God’s ultimate design for sex and thus make it less justifiable.

    I’m not saying that viewing sinful material is sinful because I understand that Christians in our society watch violent TV shows yet do not acquire violent tendencies; I think that the same can be true for watching unholy sex. However, I am saying that it may be immoral to watch sex scenes in Visual Novels, Biblical scenes or not, simply because we are the ones watching them.

    I don’t have a concrete opinion yet but they are ideas about the argument that I simply enjoy to entertain.

    1. Interesting reply here, neighborhoodotaku! Coming at this from a Christian perspective is definitely interesting, and it’s good that Beneath the Tangles has been willing to concretely discuss sex when most Christian outlets reject it outright. As to your thought here:

      “One question that I do have is that isn’t sex supposed to be an act only done by a husband and wife, where the two are the only ones present? Counter arguments for your claims could be that having a third party (the viewer) sitting in on a sex scene between two characters in a visual novel is breaking God’s ultimate design for sex and thus make it less justifiable.”

      Well….good question. One of the major problems a lot of the commenters have discussed is the issue of intent versus action when determining whether the depiction of a sexual act is sinful. Is the problem the actual sex, or the fact that we keep using sex and depicting sex to pleasure ourselves rather than using it the way it was meant to be used? Your argument here basically goes, “The problem is that we’re seeing something that wasn’t meant to be seen by a third party to begin with.” I think that’s right, and that this issue’s really complicated….and also that I’d almost prefer some vague nakedness. Sex is kinda gross. XD

      But is not the grandeur of fantasy precisely that we are learning something about our own lives through the lens of metaphor? Humans model good behavior— I think we could actually use some good examples of sex. As it is we’re tempted toward it partially because people keep making it mysterious and forbidding it. Imagine what would happen if we said things in popular culture like, “Sex is when a married man and woman find that they can’t bear being so far away and make their bodies one as well as their minds. Fulfilling physically what they’ve chosen to do mentally, for all eternity. It is beautiful, but it’s sacred so you should only do it if you mean what you’re saying with it.”

      “A sex scene could show the moment a character overcame the PTSD of sexual assault. It could show the acceptance of a partner who suffers from low self-esteem. Conversely, it could show the mindset of a madman or give insight into the mentality of a rapist.”

      I often use sex in Roleplays to show something about the sort of person who is having it. I have both made very cruel use of it to show a villain’s depravity and nastiness, and made very profoundly warming uses of it to show the bond between two characters. In at least one incarnation, it was used to show that two characters lusted after one another and might have loved one another but did it selfishly, with disregard for the people around them. In another instance it was a husband and wife desperately trying to conceive a child to carry on an ancient and dangerous, maybe heartless legacy.

      I think the biggest mistake we make is depicting it when it doesn’t mean anything, because it always should mean something.

      1. I completely understand that the interpretation and intention of the sex depicted in visual novels can determine if they are sinful or not, but just the fact that we as the viewer are watching them is what confuses me. I have not found anything Biblically that supports this and it kind of explains why there are no Christian sex tapes that explain how intercourse with one’s wife works. This may be an exaggerated example but it thus proves the point that I’m trying to get across.

        1. “I have not found anything Biblically that supports this”

          See my view is things go the other way. You can’t condemn something unless The Bile explicitly condemns it, or it breaks the Golden Rule.

          Genesis 3 shows that Satan wants to make God seem stricter then he really is.

    2. So one thing I’ve heard countering that – and I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about this – is that in the olden days, kids slept with their parents for a number of years because it just wasn’t feasible for them to all have their own rooms/tents (makes sense right?). And since it was common to have many children that means…well the parents made new kids while the other kids were around. Were these 2-6 year old kids sinning by witnessing this? Were the parents sinning by “allowing” their kids to watch? I don’t know but if I were to hazard a guess, I would say no.

      I think, like many things, a key element is intent. A large part of this is intent of the writers, as others have pointed out. But as sin is a very personal thing, it also includes intent of our viewing. Do we watch the sex for the sex, out of lust? I think a completely pure and sinless, well-intended sex scene can be sinful if we as the viewer insert our sinful desires into it. The flipside, however, is that if we truly have innocent intent (which is very hard to honestly say we are 100% not having sinful thoughts) then maybe it would be fine if our reason for watching is out of Biblical celebration for the act. Like you, I don’t have a concrete opinion that I would strongly defend on this, but am just giving out some thoughts on the matter.

    3. I disagree with that assumption , that idea that Sex is only between a Man and Wife comes from Plato not The Bible. But the Pharisees have twisted The Bible to support their false doctrine.

      I suggest you check out my SolaScripturaChristianLiberty blog where I talk about various sexual issues.

      1. Throughout Scripture, it is affirmed in Genesis and in the New Testament that sex is between a man and a woman in marriage. There is no way to get around that. Jesus even supported it, which is not the Pharisees twisting the Bible to false doctrine.

        I’m sorry that you disagree with God’s design. You will have an interesting conversation with Him when you see Him when you die.

        Grace and peace to you. Have a wonderful day.

        1. What Jesus said did not rule out Sex Outside Marriage.

          The Song of Solomon explicitly depicts oral Sex between Shulamith and the Beloved before they are married at the end of Chapter 4.

  4. There is nothing Un-Christian about Sex Scenes in fiction. Our Bible has The Song of Solomon after all.

    The only porn I’m at all morally worried about is Live Action porn, which arguably requires literal Prostution to create (The Green word for Portustion is where Porn comes from, Pronea, translated misleadingly as “Fornication” in the KJV and “Sexual Immorality” in the NIV). But 2D Erotica is not an issue to me.

    I am firmly against Auginstine’s Platonic atitude toward Sex.

    1. I’d highly recommend you check out this video from GamerFaith and learn about how 2D erotica and live action erotica are the exact same thing. They are both forms of pornography and are both morally wrong if you use them for your own pleasure through viewing, thought, masturbation, etc.

      If you are firmly against the attitude of sex that says its between a man and a woman, you are against God Himself. The Bible says that those who practice sexual immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God; I would pray and ask God to show you the truth. I would be concerned for your soul if you believe that sex is something you can mess with. Sex is one of the greatest gifts God gave people and it is not to be used simply for your own pleasure for your own ends.

      “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)

      Grace and peace to you. Have a wonderful day.

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