A set of famous lyrics popped into my head when I wrote the title of this post; however, it’s probably not appropriate for me just to launch into song right now, and shake my booty around my blog post.
But I do want to talk about sex, and in particular, within YA books. I know! This is such a taboo subject, but the more and more I read on it, I’m finding that sex is creeping into a lot these days. Let’s also think about the other side of things. Sex sells. It sells everywhere, whether we realise it or not. So what exactly is the problem?
Is it acceptable that teenagers are reading what should be classed as x-rated literature, or are parents just happy that their teens are reading at all? Hell – Judy Blume was talking about sex back in 1975, and it even sold back then.
Fifty Shades of Grey has a lot to answer for in the common literature world at the moment. I can find teenagers reading that series of books on the bus as I make my way to work…. I cringe. Seriously cringe. Not because of the dominant sex themes within the books, but because I hated the style of writing and the characters. (But that’s my personal opinion, based on 100 pages of reading.) So if teenagers are already reading about sex, BDSM… and all sorts of other experiences and techniques, then why is it such a taboo subject to include sex themes within YA books?
We all know sex happens. Hell, I know 8 years olds who can tell you what sex is, and how it all works. At twelve, it was common for girls to be married back in the day, and yes, even then, the sexual act was performed. Not so very long ago, it was common for 15 years olds to marry. So why are we so damn protective, cautious and ‘politically correct’ about the subject when it comes to teenagers? They ALL know what it is, how it works, and I can guarantee that most of them even know the risks associated with it. Even Jane Austen wrote about it, (as well as a myriad of other things).
I have sex in my YA book that I am currently revising. There are a few places where it is mentioned, and a couple of places where it is implied. But never is the actual act described down to detail. I’m more about the physical and mental tension between two characters. Some of it is manipulative, some emotive. I have two leading protagonists in this series, and one of them could almost be described as a teenage sexual deviant. She’s no angel, that’s for sure… but that doesn’t make her a bad or unlikeable character. She just likes men, and using them to achieve her goals. Because she is a strong independent character with a strong desire for men, does that really mean that my book isn’t appropriate for the teenage market? Or does it just mean that I might have to stamp a ‘Mature’ rating on it before I release? I’m not going to lie about it – my character generally has unhealthy relationships – but answer me this: What teenager doesn’t?
Okay… I better admit that I also have a few swear words. Perhaps the ‘Mature YA’ stamp is becoming a bit more evident. But I only drop the F-bomb a couple of times, it’s not like it’s on every freaking page… Show me a teenager who doesn’t swear, and I’ll show you a teenager who doesn’t know what sex is. Yeah… it’s probably not going to happen.
Most television and movies these days give a lot more exposure to sexual themes than we would like to openly admit, and yet our teenagers are watching it all, and soaking it up. According to The Telegraph – it’s a Rising Trend. And apparently we are also at risk of releasing 50 Shades for YA.
So. What are your thoughts? What is it really that makes sex so frowned upon in YA books?
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Maybe because we want to think our kids are innocent longer than they really are. It’s hard for parents to want their children to get in “trouble”. I’m not putting that well, but I think you understand. Parents have a double standard when it comes to kids. It’s okay for them but not for their kids.
This frowning at sex is a throwback to the Puritans when everything that smacked of fun or frivolity (or felt the least bit good) was labeled as sin. How those same Puritans ever had children is beyond me. Another double standard? Okay for the men, but not okay for the women? They might have labeled it “for procreation” but we all know it wasn’t only that!
So yes, sex sells in books. And our kids want that tiny thrill reading about it from the safety of the couch (or the bus). They know all about it. But I wonder if it’s too much too early. I’d dearly love to shut the barn door and keep the kids sheltered. I think this particular pony has already escaped. Not sure I have a great answer for your question. It’s interesting and I appreciate you posting it. Good work.
Lol – It IS such a throwback, you’re so right! LOL.
I agree about parents not wanting to acknowledge their children’s sexual activity.
It’s really interesting hearings everyones views on this…
Great post. I love it when people broach these types of topics. I’m with you. Some of my characters will have sex, but I’m not going to go into full blown detail. It’s more about the emotion surrounding the act than the actual act.
It makes me a little sad that sex sells 😦 But I guess that’s life. As tempting as it is sometimes, I don’t want to compromise my own standards just to please the market.
It is sad that it sells… I mean there is so much more to life than just sex. But if you think about it, we are born to procreate and carry on our race… so its actually not that much of a surprise that it’s hardwired into our systems.
And I absolutely agree – don’t compromise your standards, or else you’ll never be happy. The reason why I’m writing sex into this trilogy is because it fits my characters and her motivations.
A few days ago my niece got a kindle as a graduation present from my father. She’s 18. I’m aware she knows sex is and honestly, I’m aware she’s more than likely having it. When she asked me to give her suggestions on the smuttiest books I know, I was completely taken aback. Am I supposed to recommend overly sexy books to my niece?! It was all too confusing for me.
I feel that in our society, sex is just so much of a taboo that even though we know these kids are aware of it (and possibly having it) we just don’t want to admit it to ourselves. I did end up suggesting some of the cleaner of the NA books to her, but I did downright refuse to buy her 50 Shades. Not because of the BDSM or sex, but because I agree with the blogger, it was horribly written.
Honestly? I think that some of us just need to relax and realize that there’s nothing that we can do to shelter the YA audience from sex. If it’s not from a book, it’ll just be from a movie or friends. Overall, I think I’d rather have a kid learn from reading. At least at that rate, they may pick up some grammatical skills. =\
I couldn’t agree more – We DO need to relax. Sex has been happening since the inception of the earth… in one way or another. It’s the only way we procreate. So if We write some good emotive scenes, or really show connections between people that are natural, then wont that in turn, teach our YA people that there is often more to sex than just the act? I would prefer my own child to learn from reading as well, instead of movies and friends.
I’m stoked that you didn’t buy your niece 50 Shades though. Poorly written, but a bit of a hit with many around the world. What annoys me most, is that it could have been so much better with a little more effort.
In an odd deviation from my normal work, I don’t actually have any sex in my YA novel, but that’s mostly because it was never appropriate to the story. I honestly think it’s silly to avoid it when it is natural to the character and relationships in the story. Sex happens. Most people discover it as teenagers. Pretending it doesn’t happen and deliberately avoiding it makes a lot of YA work seem stiff and unnatural in my opinion. Your results may vary. 🙂
I think you’re right. If they story requires it, and the inclusion of sex stays true to character, then it should be all right. And its really interesting you mention the blatant absence of sex in some YA novels. (I have to say, that sex was almost absent in my first draft, but now that I am revising, and realising the true motivations and potential behind my character, I can no longer ignore it.)
We all know that in today’s society, while it may be a bit of a taboo subject in terms of teenagers, it still DOES happen. Thanks for commenting, and welcome to Parchment Place 🙂