So, I'm jumping on the "let's talk about sex" bandwagon. After reading lots of different posts and opinions on sex in Young Adult (teen) books, I just feel like I need to say something. Here it is, are you listening? It's amazing:
Just because some parents, teens, and others would prefer less sex in teen books, does NOT mean that they think that teens aren't having sex.
I can't tell you how tired I am of reading/hearing this. I mean, seriously, who ever came up with that? Do you honestly think that we are that blind to the world? Of course we know that teens are having sex! Why do you think we're trying so hard to help our teens make the best decisions possible? If they weren't having sex, hearing about sex, and thinking about sex, we would have nothing to worry about, right? I can't tell you how many times I've read the statement, "Teens are having sex, whether you want to face it or not." If I never heard this again, it would be too soon. NO ONE.....let me repeat......NO ONE thinks that teens aren't having sex/hearing about sex/thinking about sex. We know it's happening. Really.
My thoughts about sex in YA:
I am not a naive person (no matter what the title of this post says). I know that some teens are having sex. What I don't understand is why this means we need to shove sex down their throats at every given opportunity. They see it on TV, they hear it on the radio, they see it in movies, they are pressured by their boyfriends/girlfriends, they are bombarded with sex in every possible form, so why would I want there to be MORE pressure on them to have sex? And yes, when they read book after book after book portraying happy 15/16 year old "soul mates" having sex and living happily ever after, it is pressure. When they read books about girls who just can't stand being "the only virgin left on the planet" it is pressure. When they read books about a girl who has sex with a boy so that he won't do this, that, or the other, (and somehow everything works out magically for her) it is pressure.
So my question is why? Why would anyone want to pressure girls (and boys) into having sex even more than they already are? "Because," you say, "it's real!" Seriously? How many high school couples do you know that lived happily ever after? I know.....um.....yeah....zero. Not saying it doesn't happen, but it is not, for the most part "real". If realism is so important, where are the books about the girls who were crushed because they gave up something so important and the guy ditched them afterwards? Where are the books about all the COUNTLESS numbers of girls and guys that end up with an STD, (even though they used protection) which makes them incapable of having children, or ended up giving them cancer? It makes me crazy that in one breath people can say, "It needs to be real!" And in the next breath say, "It's fiction!" It basically means that there is no accountability what-so-ever.
(Ugh, I can already hear myself getting bashed....but I will go on.)
Where's the line and who gets to draw it?
Something I find interesting is that in all of the posts I read about sex in YA, there's always a line that is drawn. Well, as long as it's not "grotesquely unnecessary" or as long as they're at least 15, or as long as it adds to the story....THEN it's ok. Why? Why do you get to decide that grotesquely unnecessary sex is not ok in teen books? Why do you get to decide that it's not ok to have a teen book about an eleven year old who enjoys having sex with other people. Why do you get to decide it has to add to the story? I guarantee you there are teens having grotesquely unnecessary sex, and yes, there are eleven year olds out there having sex also, so if we're keeping it real......where do you draw the line? And what gives anyone the right to draw that line? Why does one person get to draw the line in one place, but I'm "naive" and "sticking my head in the sand" if I draw the line somewhere else?
Another argument that is made for sex in YA:
Well, guys can have sex in shows, movies, books etc. and they're portrayed as normal, but if a girl has sex, then she's a slut. This is sexism and is unfair.
This is a true statement. So what should we do about it? I know! Let's get those sex-crazed boys back by being every bit as sex-crazed as they are! We'll show them!
Does any halfway decent person look at a guy who is sleeping with multiple girls, belittling sex, and not caring who they hurt along the way, as a good thing? So, why is the solution to try to get girls to behave just as raunchy? Shouldn't our goal be to try to get guys to respect women and sex? Have we lost all faith in guys completely? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em? I just can't get on board with that. I don't even want to get on board with that.
It's in shows and movies and music, why not books?
First of all, I'm not saying it shouldn't be in books. I'm not naive enough to believe teens aren't having sex, and I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that there isn't going to be sex in YA. But comparing YA books to movies, TV shows and the like isn't really fair.
Here's the problem:
Movies with "adult themes" are not made for teens. They are made for people in general. They have a rating (usually R), which gives some sort of guide to what is in them. Although there will be teens that see the movie, the audience is much greater, even in movies that portray teens. If the movie is rated R, teens under 17 aren't even allowed in the theater (yes, I know there are ways around this). So why can an under 17 year old walk into a library or bookstore and read a book that they wouldn't be able to watch the equivalent to? There is no guide what-so-ever to what is in teen books. None. At least not that is in any way easy for a parent to find. Trust me, if I haven't found it, after reading hundreds of YA books, the average parent would have NO idea how to find it. Yes, I know some books say 14+, but this is still no help. There are plenty of 14+ books that have absolutely no questionable material in them, and they sit right next to books that have so much sex in them that they make 30-something-year-old me blush.
And yet another problem:
This one's going to stun you......
NOT ALL TEENS ARE HAVING SEX. Although, from reading all the teen books out there, you'd be hard pressed to find a fictional teen not having sex or "everythingbut". It seems that almost every teen book these days has sex, or at least they're only not having sex because the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet. So, where are the books for the teen who wants to wait? It seems like we only want to be "realistic" to a certain group of teens. Who is speaking up for the ones who actually value sex and think that virginity it isn't just something to get rid of before "I'm the last one on the planet who hasn't had sex?" I feel like authors are afraid to write these books. Just take Twilight for example. I can't believe the number of times I heard it ripped on for being an "advocate for abstinence". First of all.....like it was.....and second of all, WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT THAT??? Even if you think sex is not a big deal, what can you possibly think is wrong with waiting? I'm not even arguing waiting until marriage, that's a moral decision, I'm simply arguing waiting until you're old enough, RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH, to deal with the consequences of your actions when things go wrong.
Another argument for sex in YA:
Teens aren't stupid. They can make their own decisions.
Let me tell you a little bit about my teenage self. I won't go into gory details here, because I'm sure you don't want me to, and it would make my mother have a heart attack. But let me just say that I know about teens and sex and the consequences. I got pregnant my senior year of high school. Having sex at that age was not beautiful and fulfilling, it was stupid. And I was stupid. I knew about safe sex, I knew how to protect myself. My dad was an OBGYN for heaven's sake. But I was a teenager. I was invincible. Getting an STD or becoming pregnant was about as real to me as Santa Clause. Those were things that happened in the abstract. They weren't real. You can talk all you want about what's realistic, and what should or shouldn't teens be exposed to, but try telling that to a girl who just found out that her entire life was going to change forever because of a choice she made as a child. As. A. Child. My life was changed forever. And it wasn't a cute young adult story.
I was lucky, though. I had parents who helped me through those difficult years. But so many girls aren't so lucky. Getting pregnant was easy going compared to what has happened to many of my friends. In their thirties, and finally trying to have children, they're finding out that the STD they got in high school has made it difficult, if not impossible to have a baby.
I say all this to say, sex is not something to be taken lightly. It's not just something to throw into a book because you feel like being "edgy" or whatever. It has consequences. And it can change your life forever. It certainly changed mine.
It's just my opinion
I know that I will probably be bashed for speaking my mind. I know that in the writing/publishing world that I am in the minority. However, I also know, from the many, many comments that we've received, that I am not the only one who feels this way. There are tons of parents, teens, and other people who want to give our kids great literature without adding to the pressure they already feel to have sex before they're ready.
Are you still here?
Let me answer some questions up front because I know they will asked:
- No, I don't think we should ban books.
- No, I don't think we should tell people what they or their kids should read.
- Yes, I think there should be some sort of system that tells parents or other interested people what content is in the book they or their 12 year old is picking up. Maybe not R or PG or whatever, but at least a warning, like "sexual content" or "language". Something. Actually, I think it would be awesome if authors did this themselves, that way they could put the content into context.
- No, I don't think that just because a teen reads about sex in a book, they're going to run off and have sex, though I do think it has the power to influence.
- Yes, I know that if they want to read it, they will find a way.
- Yes, I know that when you were a kid, you went and read all the adult romance novels to read about sex. First, let me say, reading about two adults having sex is very different than reading about teens having sex. Second, there's a difference between sneaking off to read something and it being handed to you as "something everyone is doing."
- No, I'm not talking about "issue" books. I think those are very important!
- And just in case I didn't make myself clear earlier.....Yes, I know teens are having sex.
Leave a comment
I love discussions like this. I think of myself as a pretty open-minded person. I'm not so stuck in my ways that I can no longer be influenced by a good argument. However, I have yet to be persuaded to change my mind by someone who is mean or yelling at me. The bottom line is that people on both sides of this argument love our children and are trying to do what they think is best for them. Please remember that! SO, leave a comment, but be nice. Be nice to me, and be nice to any other commenters....or I will have to evict you :)
With much, much love,
If you want to know what's in YA books before reading them, you can check out ParentalBookReviews.com.
Ok, I left a comment, but I thought I'd put it up here, too because this is my post and I can. Plus, I'm older than all of you and that means you have to listen to me :P
So, when I wrote this I kept thinking how I wanted to include all of my MANY, MANY thoughts on this subject, but I don't want to go on and on forever (even though I did). Of course I forgot to say a couple of things that I meant to.
- There have been a couple of comments from teens (which I love) saying that reading about sex hasn't influenced them.
- I think that is AWESOME!! I love that you're an independent thinker and are mature enough to know that just because it's in a book/movie/show that doesn't mean it's real.
- No, I don't think that all teens are influenced by books. I, in fact, was not influenced by books, as I never read as a teen. I was too busy doing aforementioned and un-aforementioned (?) crazy stuff to be reading.
- Just because you weren't influenced, though, doesn't mean that others aren't. I've read too many stories where teens have said, "This book changed my life!" to agree that books don't have influence. They have the power to change people's lives. This can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing. My mom was an AVID reader as a teen. Although she wasn't influenced to have sex, she was influenced in her view of romance. Needless to say, she was highly disappointed when she found that, in reality, relationships aren't all roses and happiness (sorry Mom).
- Just because a teen IS influenced, it doesn't mean they are stupid or weak, or any other bad thing. It just means they are different, and that they're still learning. That's why each teen should be raised according to the way that they are, not by a set standard. There are many reasons that a teen might be influenced by what they read/see, and none of those reasons are their fault.
- In a way, you're kind of proving my point. Well, at least this point, that not all teens have sex. So, where is their representation? Yes, there are books out there without sex etc, but really, how do you find them?