This post was inspired by my Facebook friend and talented author Sherri Giddens, who brought up the topic. Sherri, who is committed to making all her books clean and family friendly, has been told that she is missing out on a whole lot of sales by keeping sex and swear words out of her writing.
In my fantasy books, which were influenced by George Martin, I did allow a glimpse of nudity (though never explicit sex) and a swear word now and then. But as I grow and mature as a writer, I become more and more convinced that this is quite unnecessary - putting aside my own standards of family friendly reading as an Orthodox Jewish author, I am now of the opinion that it is in better style, more sophisticated, and far less vulgar to describe passion - whether it is love or hate - in subtle, understated shades. A glance, a movement, a few words can show just as much emotion as the steamiest bedroom scene, and villains don't need to assert their evil nature by cursing - there are plenty of other, more sinister ways to do that.
Do I pretend to say that writers should work in whatever way they see fit, disregarding their audience and whatever anyone may think about their books? Not really; none of us writes in a vacuum, and I suppose that many of us ask ourselves, "Will I be comfortable with my preteen children reading this? Or my mom?" Some of us choose pen names and separate social networks for our author selves, preferring to be someone as writers who we can't be in our personal life.
By the way, it's not just about making a book suitable for all audiences, but also about avoiding prose that is like chopping wood with a blunt axe. I have a dislike for tacky scenes in general. I like to convey love without having my characters say "I love you". I avoid breakup scenes with shouting, tears and protracted conversations in the "we need to talk" style. Subtlety and delicate shades are what I seek in my writing these days.
Ultimately, of course, it's all a matter of style and personal choices, and about staying true to one's own self. I don't believe writers should include sex or profanity in their work if they feel uncomfortable about it, or simply don't like it, just as I don't think authors should write in a genre they don't like to gain sales. Yes, sex sells. So what? A lot of books sell without any such added spice. It's all about about a good story, told in a captivating manner - and there are endless ways to do that.