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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Controversy of Sex and Masturbation in YA Fiction

Most people I know are pretty damn fond of sex. I mean, why wouldn't they be? The way two (or, ehem, sometimes more) people come together yearning for passion and togetherness or, the very least, a very good x-rated time. The physical connection or disconnection between two people at orgasm. The plentiful reasons: love, anger, indifference, depression, excitement, bitterness, etc. etc. The many sexual aids: sex toys, alcohol, little blue pills, and various more illegal substances. Rough sex vs sweet sex, fucking vs making love, sexual fetisesh, trying-really-hard-to-have-a-baby-for-months-on-end-until-you-can-barely-stand-it sex... Sex can be so many different things to so many different people, and what it means changes all the time. How f*cking cool is that?

So now for the beginning of the controversial part: Ever since my first sex ed class, I was intruiged by sex. Not because I wanted to have it--I was far too young and far too much of a good girl--but because I just needed to know everything about the above questions. It fascinated me. It made me hot and wet and all of these other things that you're not supposed to talk about when you're in middle school. Sure, they tell you you can masturbate. That it's okay to, but what teenager is going to go home and be like "Mom, Dad my extracurriculars include..."

I started reading and writing erotica when I was about 12. Again, I certainly wasn't having sex. I was far too young. Actually, I found that reading about and learning about sex and all of the things that it meant prevented me from going out and doing it. It wasn't taboo to me at all.

And finally, the controversial part: I read on someone's blog recently that they would never write indepth sexual scenes in a YA book. I don't like the word never, and I'm struggling with the idea. I wonder if it would be better if some older YA books were more indepth sexually. It's not like teens don't go out and find out more about sexy-time anyway. If they don't go out and fool around themselves, they stay in with their favorite hand of choice and perhaps a sock and go online to learn more. Or they find it in erotica or adult romance stories or in chat rooms or whatever.

Now, I obviously have no problems with erotica and my ideas on video pornography are constantly changing, but I just feel that teens shouldn't always have to go out of their way to learn about sex and its benefits and pitfalls. Hell, I never heard "orgasm" as anything more than a clinical term from my health teachers even in highschool. Because parents are afraid of what it will mean if their kids learn sex doesn't totally suck and procreation isn't its only purpose. (Like they haven't figured that out already.) I mean, if at thirteen I could have read an honest romance story with a real sex scene and some deeper purpose than teen angst or petty crushes, I can't even imagine what that would mean. Not erotica even--because I know that brings up all sorts of parental issues--just...passion. Push, the gritty YA section of Scholastic, goes in depth all the time with drugs and violence and even prostition (as long as sex isn't mentioned). So would it really hurt to put a little more sexy time in books?

But then that brings up another issue: Is doing that not okay for more than the idea that teens would be reading it, but because non-teens would be writing. Because people would be concerned about adults writing about underage characters having sex when its more than "and then he pressed up against me, and I felt myself give in. Chapter __, Last night was the best time of my life." Does that cross the line for some people between creativity and pedophilia? (Because I'm sure, a book like this would be banned in quite a few schools and that would be one of the many arguments as to why.)

The more I think about it, the more questions I ask. I'm really interested to see what you think. Please, leave as lengthy of a comment as you need. :-)

<3 Gina Blechman

11 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Gina. I agree with you 100%: never is a strong word, and I certainly think there is a place for sex and sexuality in YA.

    Tastefully done, of course! ;-)

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  2. For religious reasons I personally believe in abstaining from sex until marriage and (by and large) that is reflected in the fiction I write. However, I also grew up in a family that was very open about sexuality, where I was encouraged to ask questions and was given honest answers. Unfortunately, very few teenagers have that luxury. My biggest concern about having sex in YA is the vast age range that YA covers. An tasteful sex scene might be appropriate for a 17 year old but not for an 11 year old. So I guess I end up with more questions than answers as well =)

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  3. You are a writer; write what comes (pun not intended, but hey, it's there. I can't ignore it).
    HOWEVER, I am a parent (of very young children). When they get to that stage and are reading young adult, I do plan to read it first. Mainly to be able to understand and relate to them, but also because I like to think I'll know them well enough to know if they're ready for something sexually explicit. As I think of this now, I pray I will be objective enough not to keep them in a bubble but responsible enough to care about what and how they're learning things. I don't know if that makes sense.
    You may also find yourself working within a strict guideline set by publishers w/in your genre -- or not. Who knows? I'm not in your genre. I do write explicit romance, not erotica, but definitely R rated. And I know that some too-young girl will read it because her Mom has the book. And she will start developing unrealistic expectations about sex... but then again, that young girl is not my intended demographic and beyond my control.
    That was a whole lot of comment. Sorry, I tend to ramble. :)

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  4. Hey Gina- not sure if you meant Jen's post at ATWOP or someone else's. If you did mean Jen's, that's not what she was saying- she actually does have an in-depth scene in her YA and was pondering whether to keep it (if you didn't mean Jen's, she was talking about more or less exactly the same thing you are here :)). You can see her post here if you *haven't* seen it- the discussion was quite good:

    http://alltheworldsourpage.blogspot.com/2011/03/lets-talk-about-sex.html

    I don't have too many thoughts on the topic myself- I'd like to say that it should be the same for any book; if the scene fits the characters, it should stay. But I know it's more complicated than that. You raise an interesting point about the pedophilia aspect- it seems like a strange possibility, but in fact a man was recently convicted of child pornography offences here in Australia for downloading an e-book, published by major house Harper Collins and first written in the 1800s, that featured a sex scene with a girl of 12. Very different story in one major respect because the offending scene featured an adult with a child (though apparently 12 was the age of consent when the story was written), and obviously it was an erotica book and not anything like a YA. But that hypersensitivity to what's appearing on the page now looks a little bit dangerous in places, and it certainly makes me think harder about writing graphic sex between younger characters. Also in Australia (and I believe the US), they're now charging teenagers who "sext", sending each other nude photos of themselves, with child pornography offences.

    There was a newspaper article about the reader case here:

    http://www.news.com.au/national/child-porn-book-the-pearl-still-being-sold-in-australia-after-tasmanian-man-convicted-for-downloading-it/story-e6frfky9-1226015197430

    And another about the sexting row here:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29017808/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/

    I'm not writing YA, but my characters do get together when they're both 15. Hard to know what crosses the line anymore- especially when you add the audience to your considerations. I'm not suggesting that authors who include graphic sex in their YA novels will get in trouble for that, but the current mood certainly does give some food for thought.

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  5. Teen sex in fiction – an emotive and often divisive topic. My current work-in-progress features two teenagers in their first semester of university and I think it would be an unrealistic portrayal if my novel didn’t, at the very least, acknowledge the sexual relationships and exploration that often take place during this window of people’s lives.

    Some of my favourite YA books growing up included sex or intimacy, such as Melina Marchetta’s ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ or John Marsden’s ‘Dear Miffy’ and the ‘Tomorrow Series’. They helped to educate me about relationships and the many complicated emotions that can arise.

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  6. My niece was pregnant at 13. Condoms started appearing in my son's rooms by 14 or 15. My daughter started asking questions about the pleasures of sex by 13.

    Its a topic kids think about and take action on consistently. While I don't think sexual content is appropriate for every YA reader (This is the MOM in me) I do think a lot of teens can and want to handle the intimacy issues. It does take the "taboo" mystery out of it.

    I don't write YA, and I rarely read it, but I'm seeing that their tastes are as varied as Adults. If you have an audience for your subject matter, then you should give them what they want to read. Something geared more to their issues and maturity level than forcing them into the actual adult world too early.

    I think even teens that are actively having sex are not in the same emotional realm adults are, so the writing will be slightly different. The fact that adults are writing the sex scenes about teens doesn't at all enter the realm of pedophilia to me. Adults write books - toddlers, childrens, MG, YA, adult . . Fantasy, erotica, porn, christian, sci-fi, historical - what difference does the content make? I wouldn't know a sprocket from a widget, yet I write about cyborgs and computer hackers.

    Well, that rambled on. The point I'm emphasizing is that if there is an audience, there should be someone who understands their needs enough to write about it.

    ......dhole

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  7. We need a more honest and open society concerning sex. We (adults)need to let teenagers talk about it in a realistic way. Great topic!

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  8. Great post. And yes, as a mother of a teen, I agree, we need to let them read about sex and form their own opinions!

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  9. I think you have a point that the concept of sex is ever changing. AND has a lot to do with personal taste.

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  10. Never is not a word I try to use when writing. Anything is possible and having four tennagers in my home, I can tell you that some of the YA out there is appropriate and some maybe not so much. I think it depends on the maturity level of the teen. Mine vary. A few could handle it and another I wouldn't let read it knowing that they are not mature enough to handle the content. Maybe they will come out with the New Adult sub-genre to where the older teens could read something that is close to adult or adult content for teens. I don't really know how to phrase that. lol

    I think that they will educate themselves the way they want to regardless of what we as parents may say. Just because you may not allow that content into the home does not mean they cannot get their hands on it somewhere else.

    Great post! :)

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