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Story’s Love Affair w/Sex or Talk of Censorship

Romantic Feet

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!

Sex Comments

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 Adult 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 adult writers. It’s not censorship. It’s good sense. Leave my beloved YA fiction alone!

Are you turned on or turned off by sex in stories? How do you feel about sex in YA fiction? Are you a reader of the new adult genre? Is reality a defining feature you look for when reading a book? Or is it whether you relate to the character’s situation…and emotions?

Thanks for reading, XOXO

Dani Signature

5 thoughts on “Story’s Love Affair w/Sex or Talk of Censorship”

  1. My first response is that I like your voice and agree with your opinion. So much of adolescence is the interest in what sex is, not in actually doing it. So many times, especially in society today where sex is thrown in a child’s face so blatantly, teens think sex is the answer, so they want to find out more. So they are interested in sex, they wonder at it, like a an animal at the zoo. They want to know how it works, what it’s like, how it affects one’s life. But they don’t necessarily want to do it. Like observing a Lion through the bars at the Zoo, they see it’s full mane, swishing tail and wonder what it would be like to pet it, they wonder what it eats and how violent it could get, but if the zoo keeper were to start taking the bars down the teenager starts to freak out. They are on the precipice of adulthood and so much of life is theoretical.

    So should the “reality” of sex be included in YA genre, no, I don’t think so. The “reality” of sex, like you talked about in your post is not important. Especially the “reality” of it, like a menstrual cycle. Some romanticize the menstrual cycle as evidence of a woman’s ability to create life, of her sacrifice, of the giving of her own blood, but the “reality” of it is messy, boring and tedious. Sex is also romanticized, and at times it IS a romantic thing, but at times it can be messy, boring and tedious. So I agree with you that it’s unimportant to the YA genre unless it directly effects the story.

    I do not think abstinence is crazy. That is my reality. And I think that’s what you were trying to say when you brought up Twilight, that Meyer explored sex in a YA book according to her reality. Women mature earlier and are interested in learning about sex earlier than boys and that’s a “reality” about sex across the board, and I think it’s great that this reality is addressed in YA genre. It’s good for girls to know about and to be able to relate to other girls’ interest in sex. But like I said, at their age it is all theoretical, when it comes to actually doing it, they are scared and freaked out.

    Their goal is closeness and intimacy in general, not sexual intimacy, and it’s healthier for everyone if teens learn other forms of intimacy and closeness through family relationships and friendships before learning about sexually intimate relationships. I could go on and on about the harm it causes a child to be exposed too early to sexual things, before learning other forms of intimacy, but I won’t, it would take too long. 🙂

    This whole thing comes down to an understanding of “reality”. And I think it’s great that you are putting your voice out there and saying that abstinence before marriage is a reality too. The more we spread the word the more young people out there know that there are more options out there, not just sex.

    1. You are obviously a mother and I love hearing your opinion of how it affects children. I feel like the single gals who read YA Fiction – if they had children too they might understand the no-to-little stance I’ve taken on sex in this genre. Cheers.

  2. I do like your points about reality – and how too much reality is a bad thing. But the crazy abstinence thing in, say, The Hunger Games is just unrealistic.

    And I wouldn’t say that Twilight has a realistic portrayal of sex at all. Pre-marriage we have Bella desiring to both have sex and become a vampire and Edward as the abstinent ‘old fashioned’ one. I think that Stephanie Meyer’s religion plays a role in these stories as well. Then! When they are married and sex finally happened, It is violent,.she immediately gets pregnant and then, subsequently, dies – a good enough warning in and of itself. And again, the abstinence thing – on the part of the guy, have you noticed it is often female desire and male abstinence in these stories for girls?

    I think you are right to point out that we don’t want sex in these stories, we are reading them because we just want fiction. I just think it’s in error to portray it as dangerous, negative or incredibly unrealistically.

    1. It took me a really long time to respond to your comment. I apologize but wanted to do some research on it so I felt competent in my answer. Yes, it took me this long! As for the reality of abstinence in stories I feel like I addressed my stance on that with this post. So now I want to talk Twilight.

      Was the sex [in the Twilight series] violent? It kind of depends on what you think of as violent sex. The sex was passionate, but not given in detail the way romance books portray it. The only violent part I think was the fact that Edward had to hold back because of his super-human strength so has not to hurt Bella. So head boards were broken, pillows destroyed, and Bella woke up the next morning with bruises. Passion, even physical harm, is sometimes a reality of sex. But Bella never says she felt any pain (even though pain is sometimes a reality of sex too). It also emphasizes the differences of their races a valid and important aspect of their characters.

      Did she get pregnant then die? Bella got pregnant right away and the pregnancy progressed at an accelerated rate due to, again, Edward’s super-human-ness. His child was half vampire, so grew super fast. Technically Bella died, due to a number of reasons. First, due to the baby’s accelerated growth rate it was harming Bella’s health and Bella didn’t realize till further in the pregnancy that the baby wanted her to drink blood rather than “human food”. I don’t quite understand the scientific explanations of this one, I know that baby’s sometimes respond to the amount of sugar a mother eats because it affects the sugar levels in her blood and can therefore affect the baby, but I don’t know how drinking blood would be different than eating a steak as far as the baby was concerned. But in any case, Bella’s health was significantly compromised due to the pregnancy. If she were healthier, if she had started drinking blood from the beginning, perhaps she would have survived the delivery. The second cause of Bella’s death, was the trauma of the unexpected delivery. The delivery was caused by Bella turning too sharply to catch a falling cup and her placenta detached, causing the blood flow to the baby to stop. I don’t know how medically sound this is, but if the delivery had been planned, with a doctor present, they could have given her blood to replace what she lost while she was surgically and precisely cut open rather than violently ripped open to save the baby. (Thinking about it this way, it’s childbirth that is so violent! Not the sex in Twilight.) And if they had the help they needed during the delivery then the placenta could have been removed entirely with the baby still in and Bella sewn back up with a full recovery. But instead, Edward had to cut open the placenta with his teeth because they were the only thing strong enough to get the baby out and everyone sat there looking at the baby rather than helping Bella. It didn’t help that they were at a house full of vampires that were reacting to the smell of her blood. But it was at that point, when Edward saw that Bella was on the verge of death, that he injected his venom inside her heart and bit her repeatedly to transform her into a vampire so she wouldn’t die. So technically yes, she did die, right before being transformed, but it had nothing to do with the sex in the book. Again it emphasizes the differences of their races, as a writer myself I understand another writer’s desire to stay true to the characters she’s created.

      Is the sex portrayed in a dangerous, negative or incredibly unrealistically way? The pregnancy is the only thing that was life-threatening. Meyer did not describe the sex in enough detail to know if it was dangerous. The only negative part was that Edward felt so bad about bruising Bella and destroying the bedroom furniture that he stopped having sex with her so he wouldn’t “hurt her.” Again, I think that that is reality, for the man to be so concerned about his wife that he would put her comfort, even if it’s only his perception of her comfort, before his own desires. We are the readers have to give Edward the benefit of the doubt that point of view could be his view of reality, it’s your opinion that it is “unrealistic” and “crazy”.

      Rape Culture is sometimes used as an excuse to hate on other people’s point of views. The fact of the matter is bigotry is defined as the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. A book’s purpose is to portray different and various point of views. As readers we can decide how to take that point of view and can learn just as easily from negative portrayals as positive ones. We also are smart enough to take circumstances in the context they are presented: Bella is a human and Edward is a vampire and their physical differences might cause her danger and harm as Edward always worried it might.

      The lesson here is: It’s hard to know the sweet of life if we never know the bitter.

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