This is kind of a difficult topic to talk about because I honestly think my viewpoint might be contradictory to a lot of other bloggers out there – at least partially. And this might be one of those cases where I’m showing my age, making myself look old-fashioned. I’m aware that my views on sex are more conservative than a lot of other people’s and that affects my perspective on this topic. But I decided to jump in anyway. It’s been a while since I’ve tackled a tough topic!
I recently read a YA book where the main character is basically made to feel bad for being sexually inexperienced. (The book was The Loose Ends List, and you might want to click over to my review to see in detail why I was frustrated with the book before you keep reading this.) Everyone in the main character’s life seemed to think it was ridiculous that, at 17, she hadn’t slept with anyone yet, and they all treated her like she was obviously missing out on the most important of life experiences – like she was naive and childish. (Shannon over at It Starts at Midnight actually coined the phrase “celibacy shaming” in her comment on my review, and I thought it fit perfectly.) This was an extreme example of an underlying message I feel like I’ve seen more and more of in YA books lately that honestly disturbs me just a little bit.
I kind of feel like, in our mad rush to avoid slut shaming, a lot of books have swung in the other direction, and the message is being portrayed that sex really should be casual – that it’s more fun or somehow better that way. That waiting to have sex until you’re really sure of your feelings about someone is a bit passé – you shouldn’t have to be sure of your feelings because feelings aren’t necessary for sex (which is obviously true in some ways), and (girls especially) should own their sexuality in this new way by not really worrying too much about that.
Similarly, I feel like sex is being portrayed like it’s absolutely expected most of the time. It’s the obvious next step as soon as our protagonists actually get together. So often, I feel like I read a YA book and this is the progression:
- Kate and Aiden obviously like each other. (I hope they end up together!)
- Kate and Aiden finally kiss. (Yay!)
- Kate and Aiden have sex. (Oh, wow! Already? Wasn’t that first kiss just yesterday? Or last week? Or ten minutes ago?)
This sounds like an exaggeration, but I’ve actually read plenty of books like this. Often in YA books today there seem to be almost no steps between that first kiss and sex.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to move back to where sex is stigmatized and people (girls especially) are made to feel bad about it. I don’t want to point fingers at people who have sex with multiple partners and say that they’re morally bad people. But I DO worry a bit that our culture’s message has swung a little too far in the other direction – celebrate sexuality and don’t mention that there could be ramifications of having multiple partners because the mere mention of those possible consequences (or the thought that many partners might not be ideal) is slut shaming.
I don’t want this to be a post listing random facts about the possible consequences of sex. But I do want to point out that they exist, and that, maybe, a stance of caution when it comes to sex as a teen (not shame but caution) isn’t so horrible. I’d like to see more YA characters approach this step with some thought rather than just jumping into it. And I certainly don’t want YA books that give the message that it’s okay to make someone feel bad or somehow less for choosing not to take that step right away.
I’m definitely not saying that I think all YA books are like this. I DO know there are some YA books that portray sex really well and incredibly positively, where the protagonists actually date for a while before jumping into it. Or books where the characters really think about the choice and talk about it. But, looking through my Goodreads list, they’re definitely fewer and farther between than I’d wish for.
I know that many people will disagree with my stance on some or all of this, and I respect that. Feel free to tell me so in the comments (nicely, please!).