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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Let's RE-Discuss: Sex in YA

Let's RE-Discuss is a post series in which I will revive old discussion posts from the archives of my blog and see if I still agree with myself. 
Spoilers–why so taboo?

I wrote in a post in 2011 on sex in YA, and whether I thought it was appropriate. At the time, I was 16 and far less knowledgable about the ways of the world, if ya know what I mean.
So, let's see what 16 year old Ashley said:
To me, sex in YA isn't bad or taboo at all. On the contrary, I think there could even be a bit more of it. Sex in YA isn't crude or inappropriate, it's realistic. As a high school attending teenager myself, I can honestly say that sex plays a very major role in every single teenager's life. It doesn't mean that every teen is having sex, but a good number of them are. As a parent, there is no possible way to shield your teen from it. Sure, you can monitor what your teen does on the Internet, and what they read, and the movies they watch, but the moment they go to school, guess what? Teens talk. If one has sex, it gets around, and your teen is exposed to it anyway, only now it's worse, because now your teen has the added pressure of looking "cool" when talking about sex. Or maybe you're one of those parents thinking, "Well, my child goes to a Catholic/Christian/private school, so there is less of all that going on." I'm sorry, but all I can do is snort at that. I've been going to Catholic school for 8 years now, and trust me, there is just as much of 'that' going on in a private school as there is anywhere else.
Aaaalll right, let's unpack that, hm? I still agree that sex is realistic and normal for teenagers. I'd go even further to say that, now as a responsible adult that more fully understands cause and effect, if sex is portrayed in YA it should be represented responsibly. There's nothing wrong with safe, consensual sex. And I feel as though in general, the media doesn't expose us to versions of that and we're given this warped view of sensuality and intimacy. We're shown the hot and heavy, rip my clothes off and take me now scenes, and usually those make me cringe. I can't help but yelling at the characters--"but what about STD's?? And YOU'LL GET PREGNANT!" I've been reading a lot more New Adult romance lately, and one thing I've noticed is that most of the first intimate scenes feature a moment in which one of the characters brings up safe sex practices--yes! That's a win! It could just be the authors that I happen to pick, not sure, but I can always get way more immersed into the story with that peace of mind.

I do still agree that teenagers, now more than ever with social media, are absolutely inundated with sex in all its forms. I'm not sure why, but I seem to have targeted that paragraph to parents, as though some were reading my blog ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  I'm going to assume that readers of my blog fall into my own age range, so I'll edit that paragraph and just say that we all know that reading a book with a brief sex mention when we were teens wasn't the most provocative thing we'd ever seen.

Of course, there is a huge difference in how a 13 year old understands sex, compared to how a 17 year old understands it. Just as there is a huge difference between a 17 year old's understanding of it, and a 25 year old's, and so on. I guess that's where the tricky part comes in, because what's to stop a 13 or 14 year old from picking up a novel that is, ideally, meant for older teens? Nothing. Well, there is one way. In Ramona's article, she writes about having a friend who read every novel before she let her daughter's read them, and that worked for her. That is probably the only way, but really, up to what age can you baby your children like that? 15? 16? I guess it's up to the parents to decide, based on the maturity level of their child.

I was always allowed free pick of what I wanted to read, because I've always been very mature for my age. When I was a bit younger, I could always tell what was appropriate for me and what wasn't, so my mom never worried about me. Now I'm at the point where, even if she wanted to, my mom couldn't monitor what I read and what I don't. I'm old enough to make my own decisions, and mature enough to understand what I'm reading and the context that it's in.
Now that I'm older, I see even less reason for a parent to need to screen the books that their kids read. Honestly, if it's a YA book, it's not going to cross any crazy lines. And it's pretty easy to tell the difference between actual erotica, and a YA book. I know there are some very strict parents who wouldn't like that, but I think kids should be exposed to different things. But, I do think that perhaps reading some reviews about the books beforehand could be a good alternative to reading every single book before your kid does.

I will finish off this discussion post with this last piece from Ramona's article:
Sex should be part of YA books, because it’s a part of every young adult’s life, one way or the other. But I think it should be portrayed exactly as it is. A BIG DEAL. Messy. Wonderful. Confusing. Occasionally bearing STDs or unwanted pregnancies. LIFE-CHANGING. True to life.
YES. I agree with this a million times over. I guess my whole point with this long post was to say that YA author's shouldn't be afraid to include sex in their novels. Not pointless, slutty sex, just for the sake of it. That kind if just irritating and makes me instantly hate the book. But include it in there because it adds to the story. It adds to the realness of it. Sex isn't going anywhere--not unless you really want the world to end. So don't hide it because "teens can't handle it." We can, trust me.
Hm. I'd like to unpack some of the slight internalized misogyny my younger self fell into there--"slutty" sex. As I've gotten older and learned the ways of the world, I've realized that "sex for the sake of sex" is perfectly okay. And there's nothing wrong with experiencing that in a safe, consensual way as a teenager. So, I rescind that statement made by my younger self. But, I do truly enjoy when a scene of intimacy gives us deeper understanding into the characters, and by extension, the story.

What do you think? Share your comments below!


  1. Unless you are writing a strictly clean story, then I see nothing wrong with sex in YA. Because yes it is natural for teens in high school to be doing it. Same as with drinking and drugs as unfortunate as that is. With a YA story there doesn't need to be a while amount of dirty details but these kinds of things should be at least be acknowledged.

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