So this is something that has been blogged about and reblogged about by every single person with a blog in the YA industry. However, as far as I can remember, I have never really blogged about my feelings on this issue. So, at the risk of being a massive cliche, I'm going to write here about my feelings regarding teen sex in YA literature - as well as in any form of teen media.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I'm not an expert on this topic. I haven't spent ages researching it the way some of my peers have. But I have written a novel that deals heavily with teen sexuality, and I have read the reactions to this novel as well. I think it is safe to say that the majority of my negative reviews for THE DUFF related directly to the fact that a teenage girl has sex in the novel. Now, the purpose of this post is not to contradict those reviews. Not at all. But the points raised in those reviews made me really think about . . . well, about sex.
When I wrote THE DUFF, I was seventeen. I had no idea it would get published, and I had no intention of being "edgy." I didn't think twice about letting my characters have sex. It was just part of the plot, part of the characters story. It felt natural for that turn to happen. It felt realistic to me.
Realistic. Now, I don't mean to raise hackles here, but let's be frank. Sex does happen in high school. Not for all teenagers, of course. I'll be perfectly honest and say that I never had sex in high school - heck, I graduated before I'd ever even kissed a boy. But some of my friends were sexually active. Many of my friends were, actually. Even in my rather religious small-town community, there were plenty of teens having sex. Not only that, but there were several teens who got pregnant (my thoughts on abstinence only education will be saved for another day). All of this is to say, even those teenagers who are not sexually active are aware of sex.
Random Fact: According to most statistics, the average age of virginity loss in the US is seventeen.
This is why I stand by the decision of writers and filmmakers and television producers to include sexual themes in their teen-targeted shows. Granted, there is a difference between grotesquely unnecessary sex and realistic, plot moving sex. That's another topic entirely, but I felt that fact needed to be acknowledged. But some of my favorite books and movies have dealt with sexual themes in a very realistic way. Juno, Cruel Intentions, plenty of Judy Blume novels. The list goes on forever.
Sexuality in teen-targeted media is almost always controversial, but there is something I have noticed - it seems to be MORE controversial when it is a teenage girl having sex. Since YA seems to target more girls than boys, lets instead focus on movies for a moment.
Look at Superbad and American Pie. Both of these movies are targeted towards boys, featuring male teenage characters who want to get laid. These movies are raunchy and risque, but super successful. And yet, there are no such movies featuring teenage girls in the same circumstance, are there? The closest we have is Juno, which is more about the consequences of sex - aka pregnancy. We have Easy A, about a girl ACCUSED of having sex even when she hasn't.
This is all ironic sense, statistically, girls tend to loose their virginity sooner than boys.
I think Easy A makes some of the best points about this. If you've seen Easy A, then you'll remember how everyone seemed to care when they heard Olive had had sex. It was everyone's business, it was something everyone talked about. And yet, the boys who claimed to have had sex with her? Praised! Made more popular - and in a good way, not infamous kind of way.
Apply this notion to teen media. When a girl in a movie or TV show or book wants to have sex or does have sex, it's a big deal. But when a boy wants to have sex or does have sex, it is normal. It's accepted.
This isn't just unfair to women (though as a feminist, that was the first place my mind went), but it is also unfair to teenage boys. We paint them into this corner, showing them all as sex-obsessed animals. There is more to boys than sex and more to girls than purity. No matter the gender, teenagers are individuals. They have different thoughts, different wants, different emotions, and different opinions on sex.
But there are a lot of different and very valid arguments on the issue of sex in teen media, including YA literature. This is personally just my side. I think that part of the media's job is to be realistic, and realistically, sex is out there. Whether we acknowledge it or not, young adults today are aware of and, sometimes, having sex. Even girls.
So, here in the comments, I welcome you to tell me how you feel on this issue. I only ask that the comments are kept civil. I'd love to have a discussion about this - about sexuality in books, on TV, in movies, and the gender stereotypes that go along with it. So chat away, my friends!