Yesterday I read a post from the wonderfully smart girls over at The Book Wars. Here she talks about dystopian fiction which is predominately found as a sub-genre of YA fiction. She made a really great case about how dystopian stories were less dystopian and more romance. What I found most disturbing was an assertation that YA fiction ought to portray sex more consistently and realistically in the pages of their stories. And that if sex was not added more to YA fiction its censorship!
This isn’t the first time I’m hearing about this “need” for more realistic and thus consistent inclusion of sex in YA stories and that is why it is so disturbing. To top it off I don’t like powerful words like censorship thrown around when talking about what should and shouldn’t be included in a specific genre. There is plenty of LGBT literature out there and more up and coming as publishers fulfill the desire for more. No one is strangling the YA genre from exploring sex either. The Twilight series, hated though many profess to do, explored the idea of premarital sex in a very real way that was true to the author’s morale. Good or bad as you may think it, nothing is being censored here.
On The Book Wars post I commented as seen below and you can read from her reply that she totally missed my point!
If a woman wants to read a story about the love life of a woman and it have sex then said woman has plenty to choose from – its called the romance section. There is now a full range of stories from paranormal (the equivalent of YA fiction with sex) to erotica to historical to the newly added New Age genre. All the many thoughts, feelings and explorations having to do with sex is delved into among these pages.
One of the reasons I enjoy the YA fiction books I read is that there is no sex. No talk of sex. No exploration of sex. No reality of sex. No consistency of sex. This is for one fundamental reason – sex adds nothing to a relationship unless a plot twist has direct bearing on the thrust of the story. Now let me clarify right away what form these plot twists take: pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, rape, cheating, S&M and the many variations on those. I may have missed one or two, but you get my point.
Unless the main crux of the story is some sex derived emotional trauma then we need not hear about sex, read about sex or see sex. Before you throw me under the bus, that every time a person has sex it must have emotional bearing on the persons involved let me finish making my case.
In her post/comment The Book Wars’ point seemed to me to be that she wanted sex portrayed in a real manner as befitting what sort of sexual activity happens in reality. The key word here is reality. Now lets take out the rather sensational topic of sex and replace it with just as real a topic as intercourse but one with a little less glamorous feel…say a woman’s menstruation cycle. In this way we can better understand the role reality has to play in story.
Now I can safely say most YA stories have a female protagonist or at the very least a female secondary character or love interest.
Have you even read once about a woman using a tampon? No.
How about cramping terribly? Probably not.
Or having a bloody mess she had to clean up because she inconveniently started her period while trying not to be killed by the antagonist? Definitely not.
Why not? Because it adds nothing to the story! Would it be emotionally traumatizing to cramp or have a mess in front of the hot love interest? Yes. Yes it would. BUT WE DON’T NEED THAT MUCH REALITY! (I know that I am yelling. Please excuse my passion and keep reading. I promise I’ll complete the thought.)
It’s a fact that writers, even female writers, don’t allude to the female menstruation cycle. We aren’t given hints or sly references of any kind. The matter isn’t addressed (even when it’s a flaw in the plot – I’m looking at you The Hunt!) or talked about even. Everyone pretends menstruation doesn’t happen in story worlds. For good reason! The same can be said for sex (except for the above noted exceptions.)
Do teens have sex? Yes. Do college kids have sex? Yes. Do adults have sex? Yes. Does it happen before marriage? Yes. Do people do it for more than just procreation? Hopefully. More than likely you do it too in the privacy of your home. So we know what it’s about and it’s well established that sex happens in reality. The simple fact is we don’t need to read about it. We don’t need to address the issues of it.
(Whatever your definition of maturity is,) if two consenting adults whether in a story or in reality want to have sex then that is their decision and based upon the emotions they are feeling. We simply don’t read for reality, otherwise how is dystopian the genre of the moment? No, it’s emotions we relate to, it’s emotions we read for, not topics. Not sex. Not reality. Not menstruation.
If sex is at the crux of a YA story then by all means let the author, in a tasteful, un-erotica, character driven way, incorporate talk of sex into the story. Otherwise, no matter how unrealistic, leave sexually explicit scenes and talk to the romance/erotic/new age writers. It’s not censorship. It’s good sense. Leave my beloved YA fiction alone!