Is Celibacy Shaming a Thing? Let’s Discuss!

Posted June 18, 2016 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 76 Comments


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.

(If you’re interested in some scary statistics on STD prevalence – 50% at age 26 – or unintended pregnancies – almost 50% of all pregnancies – you can click the links.)

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!).



76 responses to “Is Celibacy Shaming a Thing? Let’s Discuss!

  1. I agree with you 100% – there should be a middle ground and respect for different life choices. If someone wishes to have sex in their late teen years, they are perfectly free to do so, provided they know the risks and ramifications. And it is also ok to wait and not jump into bed with everyone that you feel attracted to – teens shuld not feel pressured into sex because ‘everyone else’ is doing it or when drugs of any kind are involved. And yes – I’m so over books where characters are in bed just a few pages after they’ve kissed for the first time. Where’s the romance?

    As you’ve said, we should avoid extremes (slut shaming or celibacy shaming) because they can cause sexual dysfunction and ruin this part of a person’s life for years to come. Romance is complicated enough on its own without dragging in what everyone else thinks.

    What I’d like most is a return of pride and self-respect. Girls shouldn’t be determined by their sex alone but find partners that value them for who they are – body, mind, and soul. Then the sex part will take care of itself when the time is right, without rushing or judging.

  2. Jen

    When it comes to books, I personally don’t want it to be 100% similar to real life. I like watching that progression from first kiss to having sex BUT my favorite is when they’ve known each other for a while and display a hate/hate relationship or a Star-Crossed lovers type of romance and then they progress further after we are a good portion through the book or even in the 2nd book.

    That being said, I don’t like people pushing others into a choice. If they don’t want to have sex or wait till they’re older, fine. If they want to have sex with multiple partners, fine. But in the back of my head, I realize I was raised during the time that AIDs was huge and we all watched The Real World who had a person that was HIV-positive (I loved Pedro!) living in the house. That scared the crap out of me and made me personally super, duper picky who I was with and I refused to sleep with people unless they had been tested first….. although I was usually in multi-year relationships in my teens and early 20s so that question/request definitely wasn’t frequent (sorry, if too personal lol) ?.

    So what I guess I’m trying to say is that I don’t care whether they move fast or slow towards sex, as long as it’s not pressured by anyone and they’re 100% solid in their choice. And if they talk about condoms because of STDs or pregnancy then that’s a huge, huge bonus in my eyes, because that should happen whether in books or real life.

  3. I never really thought about it. When I am reading a book, I assume the character is different then me. I don’t think it is right to shame someone for their celibacy, but I don’t care when characters move really fast either. I do agree that because it is YA we are talking about, it should be portrayed in a realistic way or have some moral ground to stand on.
    Great topic! I don’t think I added anything to this discussion, but I did enjoy your post anyways.

    Karen Blue recently posted: Weekly Wrap Up #91- Busy Week
    • It’s always good to remember that each character is going to have a different perspective than we do when we read. It’s not like I’m always bothered when characters jump into sex quickly – it’s more the trend that’s bothered me. I feel like it happens A LOT in YA, and I guess I just feel like I wish the perspectives were more balanced (again, especially in YA).

  4. Lilly

    I agree with you. I’m a sophomore in college and gasp! have never been on a date, kissed, or had sex with anyone. I personally would like to wait for marriage for that yet finding others like that are rare. I’m now in the minority and that does get a bit frustrating especially reading books – I can only think of one series off the top of my head where the main character waits til marriage for sex – The Sweet Evil trilogy – and I absolutely loved that. So it does get to me sometimes when I read all these books where characters in high school and above decide to have sex and that makes me feel like I’m not normal for my decision not too. But I stand by my decision and I understand that others choose not to wait and that’s their choice. But I do think our society supports sexuality more than celibacy and I do see that more often than not in books.

    • I agree that our society supports sexuality more than celibacy. I think it’s hard for people nowadays who want to wait for marriage because they’re given the message that they’re prudes or something – and, of course, finding a partner who has those same values can be difficult as well. I’m glad that you’re standing by your ideals, even when it’s difficult. Sex is a personal decision that only you can make for yourself – and you know what’s best for you.

  5. Well I 10000% agree with you.? Am I showing my age too?! Ahem, well, I grew up in a very conservative household and I don’t have any regrets about it. I’m totally for YA books having sex in them if the characters are mature and aware of what they’re doing (ie consequences, emotionally and physically) and not doing it for baaaad reasons. And by “bad reason” I mean, having sex so they can skip this shaming! It’s awful! And I have noticed it too. Like books about 17 year old boys who are so ashamed of not having a girlfriend/boyfriend whatever. It’s just kind of sad. 🙁 I don’t think ANYONE should be shamed for any life decision like that. Have romance, don’t. Have sex, don’t. Just let people do what they’re ready to do, omg.

    (Your discussions are always fantastic. AND ON POINT.)

  6. I think this is really interesting! I saw a discussion a while ago (I wish I could remember where) about differentiating between sex positivity and sex neutrality. (I could be wrong about the exact terms.) Both of those things are trying to get rid of sex shaming and sex being stigmatized, but sex positivity does that by going in the complete other direction, saying that sex is good and should be embraced and kind of condemning people who don’t want that for their lives for whatever reason – as you put it, celibacy shaming. Sex neutrality, on the other hand, tries not to treat sex as inherently positive or negative, because that depends on the person and the situation. I never really thought about it as it relates to books, but I can definitely think of a few books where characters who aren’t sexually experienced are singled out for it. Great food for thought!

    Clara @ Lost in My Library recently posted: Hamilton Book Tag
    • That discussion sounds really interesting. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I wrote this – I feel like we’ve definitely moved past sex neutrality to sex positivity in a lot of cases. While I don’t want to shame anyone for having sex, I also don’t think we necessarily need to send the message that everyone should embrace having sex with no strings attached and if you don’t, you’re obviously missing out on something essential.

  7. What a great discussion!

    I agree. In all honesty I don’t think YA books should involve sex at all, and I am not that old, but maybe I am LOL. I never understood the concept of teenagers having sex when I was one myself and even now. They simply don’t understand it or the feelings and emotions that come with it. I was always baffled by it. Even as an adult, it is still difficult at times to understand these feelings and emotions. I just don’t understand.

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  8. I remember you mentioned that book to me, but I’ve never actually thought of the concept of celibacy shaming. I don’t see why anyone would disagree with you though because you’re not saying sex is bad and no book should ever portray teens having sex. You’re just saying that no one should shame anyone for their choice, whether it’s to have sex or to not have sex, and that sex shouldn’t be portrayed as something that’s necessary and expected as soon as characters are in a relationship, and I agree completely. Even in adult books I don’t think it should expected like that. I love it when I find romances with characters who actually take things slow. In some books people just treat people like there’s something wrong with them and they’re a prude if they don’t want to have sex within two weeks of dating. I’m with Cait, why can’t everyone just let people do what they’re comfortable with and worry about their own decisions?

    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted: Book Review: House of Judges (House of Royals Book 4) by Keary Taylor
    • Yeah, I guess the way I ended up explaining it didn’t seem as “controversial” as it might have in my head. I know I read posts a lot about the importance of sex in YA books, and I sometimes feel like my opinion that teens in books are rushing into it goes against that grain. But, I think you’re right that not many people would think it’s okay to shame someone for not having sex (though I was maybe surprised at the number of people who didn’t seem to mind it in the book in question!).

  9. I definitely agree that inexperience about sex shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. I don’t even know why it became a thing. WHY IS IT EVEN A THING?! Oh and I also agree with the way you listed the common plotline of how the main couples in books end up having sex. I’ve basically read that one a gazillion times already. >.< Why can't a YA book have a realistic, slow-burning romance or something where the love builds up more and more before they do it rather than "Oh we kissed so yeah let's have sex now, maybe??" :/ Really great post, Nicole!

    • It’s nice to read the opinion of a younger blogger on this – I tend to wonder if maybe my views are just antiquated because I’m a mom. (I hate to think of my daughter someday just sleeping with every guy she dates, going from first kiss to sex in 30 seconds flat.) Often, in books, the emotions are heightened and everything happens a little faster than in real life (I mean, look at instalove), so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’d just like to see things move more slowly more often.

  10. I agree it seems like the pendulum has shifted the other way. Like if the protag doesn’t have sex casually or is inexperienced what’s their problem? And someone who actually wants to wait a while- does that even happen anymore lol? It probably does and I just don’t know but I wonder… and if so I suspect it’s getting pretty rare. And we are talking YA here- not adult books so that has to be a factor too, at least I think so.

    Everyone’s different I guess- personally I get more out of a YA story if there’s a nice realistic romance but the characters aren’t getting it on immediately or casually. I’d rather see em get to know each other, we’ve all experienced relationships and remember that feeling and it’s fun to see that reflected in stories too.

    Greg recently posted: Sunday Post #147
    • I sometimes wonder if I’m being naive and “hooking up” is just so much the way of the world nowadays that showing sex in another light is old-fashioned or something. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends hadn’t had sex – we didn’t really think much about it one way or the other. I don’t remember thinking negatively about people who had sex OR didn’t – maybe I was just in my own little unrealistic bubble, though!

  11. Yes on this topic because seriously I am tired of seeing sex being portrayed as something everyone should be doing. No! I really dislike seeing virgin-shaming YA books, and it rubs me the wrong way when YA characters jump into sex without even a mention of protection. I think by trying no to make sex seem like the bad thing nobody should be doing, we’re seeing an extreme shift in the other direction. Can’t we just have something in the middle, where characters (that actual teens get a lot of inspiration from) think about actions and consequence’s before getting into a physical relationship.

    • Glad I’m not the only one who feels that way. I feel like there’s been a shift to showing more sex in YA books, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing, but depending on the storylines, that sometimes means that sex is shown really early on in relationships. Like, I just want more stories where the kids date for a while and make that decision based on mutual love and respect after thinking and talking about it. I know teens have sex – I’m not completely naive, but it just feels like the current message in a lot of books (and TV) is that you’re pretty much expected to just jump into it as soon as you get together with someone!

  12. It looks like you’ve already gotten a lot of support, so I will just say that I agree. Of, course I am religiously conservative and think everyone should consider the consequences carefully before making such an irreversible decision. I was in my early 20s when a work friend found out I was a virgin and told everyone. I was not ashamed of my choice, but I felt like it wasn’t right of her to share personal information without my permission.

  13. Oh man, when I saw the title of this and immediately thought of The Loose Ends List — that book really bummed me out and not because of her grandma but because I absolutely agree that the she was shamed for being a virgin. I think this is a great discussion! I can see both sides — some books seem to ignore the fact that teenagers have sex while some are way too focused on it (given other issues in the book). I like a realistic portrayal — that yes it is thought about but there is so much else out there vying for your attention when you’re a teen. I think Miranda Kenneally ix exemplary in her portrayal of sex in YA.

  14. I think we see the problem of going from one extreme to the other quite often, everywhere, Nicole. And it may just be a necessary evil in order to find the right balance. I agree with you that sometimes things are really too hurried – especially in YA – when it comes to dating and sex, and that’s really not a good thing.

    I recently finished reading The Problem With Forever by JL Armentrout, and I loved that the characters talked about sex, and how they wanted to wait, and that it would be the first time for both of them. I also loved how sex and intimacy was tackled in Jery Smith-Ready’s Shade series.

    I don’t think everybody is ready to have sex at 17, just like not everybody feels like it’s necessary to wait until they’re in their 20s, or to be married. Sex is very personal! And I think it’s important that this is portrayed in stories, especially those that are written towards a younger reading audience.

    And shaming those who want to wait, or who just maybe don’t have a partner they actually want to have sex with is no better than slut-shaming! Why should there be any kind shaming at all? To me, all that shaming comes awfully close to judging, and I don’t think any of us are actually apt to judge anybody else’s feelings or actions.

    Great post, Nicole!

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted: Review: The Problem With Forever – Jennifer L. Armentrout
  15. Really good, really thoughtful post!

    It’s really important to me personally– as a YA author who writes about sex– for the sex to be incredibly meaningful (and safe!) in my stories. I understand that that’s my personal beliefs sinking into my writing, but … in some ways, I think that is going to happen anyway. You can learn so much about an author by reading his/her books. I think my worldview is reflected in just about everything I write. But my books are an extension of me. I’m probably rambling here. 🙂

    Jackie Lea Sommers recently posted: Second Draft Manifesto
    • Totally have to chime in because I thought that the way you handled it in your book was PERFECT. Like, there was no stigma either way, and the characters just did what THEY felt was right. Which is really what I want to see more of. Like, the people involved deciding these things in a responsible and thoughtful way 🙂

      Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: The 100 Season 3 Wrap Up
    • I think your personal beliefs almost HAVE to influence your writing – and I do love to see that. And I have to agree with Shannon that you handled the issue of sex wonderfully in your book – it’s got to be hard to get that perfect balance, and I totally get that. It’s impossible for me not to read YA as a mom – my daughter’s only 12 and my son is 14, but I do hope that when they choose to have sex it will have meaning and not just be the “thing to do because, well, why not?” And I certainly hope they won’t go from first kiss to “first time” in one day (or even one week!).

      • Thanks, Nicole! The balance is tough … I think ultimately I (me-myself-and-I, I can’t speak for other writers) have to let my beliefs influence my writing but also make sure that I’m being true to the characters and the story. AND I have to *mostly* quit worrying about what anyone else is going to think. (My sister was horrified by the sex in my book, lol. My parents didn’t mind it. My brother said, “Wait. They had sex? Did I miss that?” The conservative university where I work probably has mixed feelings, but mostly they’ve been supportive.) 🙂

  16. You made some great points about this! I’ve noticed the theme of “celibacy shaming” in a lot of YA books recently. I remember one in particular that REALLY bothered me, because the general tone of the book was that sex is something you do to become an adult. The main character and several others (all of whom are teens) seemed to think of it that way, and nothing in the story contradicted that view. I got the impression that the author truly thought of it that way too. It just seems like such a toxic thing to teach teenagers, that having sex makes you a grownup and having it sooner makes you an adult sooner. I couldn’t help thinking how ironic it is that you’d NEVER be allowed to say things like that about parenthood (imagine how crazy it would be to say “If you don’t have kids, you’re not a real grownup! Have kids as soon as possible so it makes you an adult sooner!”). Yet parenthood does WAY more than sex to shape people into adults. If we can’t call parenthood the be all and end all of adulthood, how can we say that about sex?

    • So true – I’ve seen this message a lot in books and other media as well. As if sex somehow makes you more mature. Of course, as adults, we realize (or, I guess most of us do) that sex itself doesn’t do anything for maturity, but it’s a common idea for some reason.

  17. A really thoughtful post! And one where I read pretty much everyone’s comments too! 🙂 I agree with you on this topic. I want for a little more reality when it comes to sex in YA. I’m looking for books that strike a good middle ground. I’m fine if a friend or trusted relative shows some sort of surprise either way to a protagonist who has or hasn’t had sex. But the shaming I could live without. It all depends on the character development. I’ve dealt with plenty of sex in my new adult books but I’ve always tried to keep it realistic to their character. What would Isa or Sanaa do? That’s the question I have to answer.

    • I love it when the comments on a post are just as interesting as the post itself! That’s the sign of a true discussion. I think middle ground is more what I’m looking for – especially in YA. I realize when I read a NA novel that there’s a good chance sex is going to be more center stage, but hopefully most NA characters have a little more maturity and are making more informed choices about their sex lives (at least that’s the hope!). In YA, I just would prefer not to see characters jumping into sex so fast in almost every book I read. It’s the trend that disturbs me, not necessarily the individual instances. But, yeah, the shaming thing just bugged me. (And, like you said, I wouldn’t have been disturbed if it was an odd remark here or there, but everyone’s constant focus on the main character’s sex life was just weird to me!)

  18. Ugh. YES. Okay so, the thing is, I just don’t understand WHY people have to care so much about what OTHER people are doing in their private lives, you know? And I mean this as society, at large. Because yes, for SO long it was slut shaming, which is NOT okay. But then it kind of turned into the opposite, which is ALSO not okay. Because if someone has sex, it is THEIR business, along with the business of whoever they are having sex with. That is literally it. Of course it is something they’ll discuss with others, but shaming in either direction is not okay. And if the partner in question is doing the shaming? That is someone who I hope a character would RUN from. The only way this kind of thing works in books is a “how NOT TO behave” message.

    And for the record, sex should never be “expected”. That makes my stomach churn. And I think you are right about it. I just wish you weren’t. When did this become a “thing”? (Also, I think we’re old 😉 )

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: The 100 Season 3 Wrap Up
    • Yep, old pretty much sums up how I feel when I write posts like this. Though, actually, I don’t think my opinion was much different when I was young – but maybe things really have changed that much since I was a kid? When I was a teenager I wasn’t a Christian yet (not until the second half of my senior year, at least – and even then, I was a really new believer, so I can’t say it totally shaped my opinions on a lot of things at that point), so I didn’t have any notions of waiting until I was married to have sex, but I did think of it as a pretty big step and an emotionally impactful act, and most of the people I knew waited until they’d been dating someone for a while to jump into it.

      I don’t honestly remember having many thoughts at all about other people’s sex lives beyond mild curiosity, though. And I certainly didn’t express the opinions I DID have – I remember being a bit surprised about a friend who said she wanted to wait until marriage (mostly because I was thinking, “What happens if you don’t get married for ten or fifteen years?”), but I certainly never discouraged her from her decision or told her I thought her choice was somehow strange. The only person I DID have any opinion about at all was my best friend, but that’s just because I saw her get hurt a few times because of her choices and, of course, that made me sad. (Even still, I knew my role was as a supportive best friend not as a judge of her actions!)

      Obviously, the world isn’t completely non-judgmental, and I get that (in fact, I’m sure I’ve probably just blocked out some of the judgmental thoughts I DID have). I just don’t like to see a message in a book that makes it seem like judgment or, worse, pressure (in either direction) is completely fine.

  19. I completely and 1000% agree with you. I do feel like there have been a few books where a girl feels guilty for not having slept with someone yet. As Shannon said above, why are people so concerned about what everyone is doing in their private lives?? I do love books that show young girls not only want sex, but they desire it. I don’t necessarily think casual sex is wrong, as long as the people are CAREFUL and use condoms. But I think that waiting is a decision every woman should make on her own and she should NOT feel bad about it. If a girl wants to wait until she gets married or until she’s in a relationship, then she should do that. The sad thing is that in today’s society, waiting is getting to be kind of old fashioned and I imagine it’s more common to be bullied because you haven’t had sex. I don’t think that’s right and I would love for books to show that celibacy shaming is just as bad as slut shaming. Frankly, NO ONE should be made to feel bad about their sexual decisions no matter what. Great post!

    Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books recently posted: DISCUSSION: Easier to hate than to love
    • Right. Why should people care one way or another what someone else is doing? I agree that having sex earlier is starting to become the norm and that people who wait are often looked at as old-fashioned or prudes – I get that it happens, but I don’t want to see the message reinforced as being okay!

  20. I usually avoid books that have a lot of romance, but I can tell you that celibacy shaming does happen in real life. When I was a teenager, I had no interest in having sex, but everyone I knew was doing it. There was a massive amount of pressure to have sex. Something must be wrong with you if you’re not in a relationship. Eventually, my classmates decided that I was a lesbian because I wasn’t having sex. I’m not gay, but I learned that lesbian shaming is also a thing. Maybe YA books are just reflecting the messed-up ideas of real teenagers?

    Aj @ Read All The Things! recently posted: Review: Reality Boy – A.S. King
    • This is so sad. Why should anyone feel like they have to have sex or face ridicule? I definitely realize that this is an issue that actually happens in real life, but I hate to see a book that condones it – that reinforces that message that you’re not mature or worldly until you’ve had sex. I think we can pretty safely say that maturity and sex do NOT have to go hand-in-hand!

  21. This isn’t something I’d considered much and I really wish I’d thought about it sooner because it definitely is. I mean, as a romance reader I do hate the whole innocent virgin trope, but that’s because in romance land the world seems awash with these innocent virgins and it feels unrealistic. That being said, I do think that now a lot of books have gone to the other extreme of trying to make it seem a foregone conclusion that everyone must be having sex as it’s not a big deal. I want a mix of characters and would like some to follow a middle ground between the two.

    I don’t mind characters rushing into sex if there has been enough explanation to why the character would be taking such an approach if they were being pressured or something. I would prefer sex to be written about responsibly in YA, though, and that some thought is going into it and if there are characters are doing it thoughtlessly they come to realise sex doesn’t have to be a physical thing but also emotional and shouldn’t always be thought about likely. In fact, I just want my YA characters to demonstrate some thought in their actions and not just be following the trend of whether to wait or do the deed, you know? If they want to abstain explain to me why they’ve made that choice, same goes for if they want to wait and take it slow, and if they want to have sex straight away explain to me why.

    • I think that this newer trend is kind of a backlash from the innocent virgin trope in some ways. And I agree that it’s not necessarily the timing when it comes to sex but the amount of thought that goes into it that bothers me most. Like you say, there are circumstances where I can feel like the characters made a thoughtful choice to have sex sooner than later and I’ll feel okay about it. And there are certainly individual books and characters where this choice doesn’t faze me. It’s the trend of jumping straight into sex immediately without much thought at all that bothers me more – when I go through the YA books in my Goodreads list, I see this sort of sexual encounter a LOT. Wish we could have a bit more balance instead of swinging from the “sweet virgin” trope (often with the super experienced guy – sigh) to the “have sex right away because it’s just no big deal” trope.

      Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: Zero by Morgan Dark – Review, Giveaway & Author’s Top Ten Addictions
  22. It’s interesting because I’ve always felt like, “What’s the big deal?” Okay, so people have sex and some don’t. Why do people have to be made to feel bad because they’re in the latter group. I’m a Christian and an unmarried virgin, and if I’m not being made fun of–I’m constantly being asked, “What are you waiting for? Are you a lesbian? Do you not like sex, or men?” It’s frustrating but people have this weird thing with sex. It’s like you just need to be having it, or something must not be right with you. I, for one made this decision and I’m cool with it. Why isn’t that my right? People need to just let other people live their lives, with or without sex, ya’ know? And leave the shaming at home.

    • Yes, why do we have to dwell so much on what other people are doing when it comes to sex? I mean, unless it’s someone I’m REALLY close to (and therefore perhaps know more details about their sex life and decisions), why would I even give their choices much thought?

  23. I have read a few books where this seems to be a thing, it never really got so bad it actually bothered me, but now that I read this post I do remember yes I’ve read books like this where the main character basically gets shamed for having little sexual experience. But like some people in the comments also pointed out this does happen in real life, so maybe that’s why it’s also in books.

    I think sex is one of those things that’s different for everybody, not everyone has had sex when they are 17 and yes some people do, but not everyone. It would be nice if people don’t make a big deal out of it. But maybe authors also want to show realism and I guess unfortunately things like that do happen and sex is a big deal at that age, I am pretty sure people do shame others about their decision to have or not have sex. It’s just a shame so many people find reasons like that to make others feel bad instead of just accepting everyone is different.

    And I think Becky makes a great point, no mater what the situation I find it important that I understand why the characters made that decision and that it feels like it’s in character and makes sense what and why they do things. Interesting topic!

    • I do agree with you that it does really happen and therefore it makes sense that we would see it in books sometimes – I would actually be okay with seeing it if the overall message of the book seemed to be that people shaming someone for not having sex wasn’t okay, but this book definitely seemed to support the viewpoint that someone is automatically more interesting and worldly once they’ve had sex. Can’t say I agree with that!

  24. I definitely agree with you! I was raised as a Catholic and in there, sex before marriage isn’t something you should do. Also, the culture here is different from Western culture. In here, sex before marriage is not a usual thing. In fact, I think it’s pretty rare and I’m pretty sure you won’t be judged if you don’t want to have sex before marriage. That doesn’t mean I’m against sex in books because I do like it, it’s just casual sex that I usually have problem with, especially if the characters is still a virgin and want to get rid of it ASAP. Also the people around the characters who judged them for being a virgin. Like, what’s wrong with being a virgin? People should be allowed to decide when they want to have sex. If they want to wait until marriage, then that’s fine and other people should’ve respect the decision. Anyway, this is such a great post!

    Tiffany recently posted: Why I Never Pre-Order Books
  25. I missed this post! But yes, I definitely agree with you. I don’t think it’s bad when teens own their sexuality and have sex, but it’s also important for real life teens reading these books know that there are ways to be safe, etc. I think my biggest issue is what seems to be YOUR main issue too and that’s the shaming of it. I do NOT agree with that. People shouldn’t be made to feel bad about themselves because they don’t date or don’t have sex. It’s an individual decision, and then a couple’s decision, and what you decide should be right for YOU not anyone else.

    ShootingStarsMag recently posted: Rekindled Flame by Andrew Grey
    • Right – I just don’t like the message that if you haven’t had sex yet there must be something wrong with you. It’s almost like there’s more and more pressure to have sex just to be “normal.” Plus, very little thought is being made about the decision at all in a lot of books, and I just wish that wasn’t the case.

  26. I remember complaining about this exact topic in a book review once. I forget which review but I was really annoyed that celibacy shaming or virginity shaming was used. To me, it’s the same as slut shaming. We are all judged for our sexual choses, especially women. It’s a wrong if you do or wrong if you don’t situation. I understand in real life people experience celibacy shaming, and it can be portrayed in books as something a character deals with but it shouldn’t just be causally thrown around. Obviously, teens have sex as well. But not all of them and it’s everyone’s personal decision of when they feel like they should have sex. Nobody should be shamed no matter what your decision is. No matter if your a fictional character or a real life human.

  27. What a great discussion you have here!! I just love this topic so much. I don’t really read much YA, I haven’t for quite a few years but back then there wasn’t sex in them. Just mostly kissing and touching which I felt was more reasonable. Even in adult fiction, you see shaming happen quite a bit. like if a woman hasn’t had sex by 20 or 22—then “we can’t even socialize with someone like that”. I know many people that decide to wait to have sex until its with someone they would marry one day instead of just being more casual about it. Nothing wrong with that either, but its important to be educated about safe sex and making sure teens are aware and take precautions if they go that route.

    • Yes, I think YA used to be a bit more “clean” when it came to sex. There’s a big trend that YA NEEDS to be shown in most YA books (which I’m not necessarily sure I agree with entirely – I think a good mix of books where it’s addressed or not would be best – but I do see people’s points). I’m certainly not advocating taking sex out of YA books altogether, but this trend of jumping into it immediately leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And condoning shaming of any kind when it comes to sex just makes my blood boil!

  28. Sam

    As an asexual person who doesn’t want to have sex ever, the whole ‘everyone has sex’ thing in books is just part of the wider cultural expectation that is incredibly alienating to me. I’m 27, never been in a romantic or sexual relationship, never kissed anyone, and nor have I wanted to, but people act like getting to my age without having done these things means I’m childlike or defective in some way. I didn’t even know there was a word for my orientation until I was in my 20s, so I spent my teen years feeling broken. I’d really like to see more characters who aren’t interested at all, characters who say ‘not yet’, characters who aren’t sure. Showing a breadth of experiences is important!

    • I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced this sort of pressure and shaming. Our society definitely gives a general message that sex is “right” or somehow a gateway into adulthood – a completely necessary rite of passage. I would imagine that this would have been confusing and frustrating for you in your teen years (and probably still is sometimes today, even though you’ve come to understand your sexuality as an adult). With so much focus on diversity, asexuality is one orientation we still haven’t really seen represented in YA. I hope that changes!

  29. It’s sad that our society is nowadays so confusing and messed up. On one hand, when you practise safe sex with different partners, you are slut shamed. On the other hand, when you don’t have relationship or sex with a partner in a certain age, you are getting weird looks and comments. I personally think it’s okay not to have sex. People and characters shouldn’t do it just because their friends are doing it or because it’s “the right time” because they’re certain age. Books have a lot of influence on teenagers and I think they should give them positive message. Slut or celibacy shaming is the opposite. After all, we are all different people, we come from different cultures, from different environment, we have different religious beliefs, we view the world differently… Our bodies are different and someone is okay with having sex in 17, someone is not comfortable having sex in 26 and that’s completely okay. I think authors have a lot of power, especially when they write a story with a heavy topic like this and they should think about the message that teens will get out of it. But I must say that this was really interesting blog post and I’m so grateful that I stumbled upon it. I haven’t read The Loose Ends List but I want to so now I’m curious. 🙂

  30. I agree. Thanks so much for writing this post. I do think it was brave because there definitely are a lot of people who disagree with you.

    There’s been a lot of talk about “diversity” in books lately, and while there’s been a really positive focus on thinks like ethnic diversity and LGBT representation, to me “diversity” has always meant representing a wide variety of experiences. My co-blogger, for instance, wrote about the need for more religious representation in mainstream literature recently. So I think representing different views on sex is worthwhile and counts as diversity.

    While many people are quite respectable of others’ life choices, I have seen what we might call “celibacy shaming,” both in literature and in real life. Any time someone mentions something like having a problem with sex on their wedding night on in their marriage or whatever, and they mention they had waited for marriage, they’re bound to get a number of responses like “Well, what did you expect? You have to PRACTICE sex? You have to test drive your spouse? You deserve this, you prude!” Which, you know, is rude and unhelpful. And, yes, I think sex has become “expected.” I know women who have had sex with men they were dating when they DID NOT WANT TO for reasons like “Well, we’re dating. We have to have sex” or “We’ve been dating for a month. He’s going to want to have sex soon.” (And, to be clear, it wasn’t rape because they never told the guy they didn’t want to be having sex; they just felt that not having sex was not an option due to societal expectations.)

    So, yeah, representing waiting to have sex for marriage or for later in a relationship or for the right relationship in literature can have some very positive real life consequences, in my opinion. By celebrating sexual freedom perhaps a little too much, we’re inadvertently telling young people that not wanting to have sex or wanting to wait to have sex is abnormal and unappealing. I know a lot of people who have had sex they regretted; I know practically none who are sorry they waited for the right person.

  31. SO MUCH YES. Without spilling all of my juicy (and non-existent) secrets all over the Internet, let me say this:
    1. I don’t agree with slut-shaming, and I do believe that more open, honest and frank conversations need to be had about sex so it isn’t “taboo”.
    2. I do believe that men and women should be treated equally when it comes to how many sexual partners they’ve had e.g. men are awesome for having loads, and women are dirty. No. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
    3. However, I personally don’t believe in promiscuity for the sake of promiscuity. I was raised in a particular religion, and perhaps that has embedded some subconscious seed that I’m not aware of, but I now don’t associate with any organised religion, so I doubt that’s why. Having sex at an early age, before you are emotionally mature, can have a multitude of negative consequences, having multiple sexual partners can cause a multitude of negative consequences. I don’t shame someone who chooses to have multiple partners or casual relationships, so I really wish others wouldn’t shame me and those like me. What does that mean? It means I only believe in being intimate when in a serious relationship. I don’t necessarily believe in, or practice, complete celibacy. It’s selective celibacy, I guess. I haven’t been in a serious relationship in 4 years, so guess what?? Yup. I’m 26 years of age, and I get celibacy shamed by people all the time when they hear this (I don’t hide it in any way). “Just do it”, “what’s wrong with you”, “you need some”, or the polar opposite, “wow, that’s really impressive, it must be so hard for you”, “how do you do it?!”. I read a recent article on the Daily Mail, where a man abstained from sex for a year, and was raising a fortune for charity, and the comments were insane! How hard for him, what dedication. Are you kidding me!? I could have raised a FORTUNE by now!! Lol Seriously though, it’s such a personal choice, judgement needs to be removed from the situation entirely. I talk about this all the time, how the Feminist movement and message can sometimes get confused (as I think this is partly where it stems from). It’s not about all women going out and getting some when they feel like it, and being sexually liberated to do so, it’s about being sexually liberated to do what you want to do, and not be shamed for it! R xx

    • YES! I agree with you that it’s ridiculous how much focus we put on sex in our culture – like it’s necessary for any sort of happiness. If you’re not having it, you obviously must be miserable. I also agree that female empowerment has somewhere along the line become equated with promiscuity – I think mainly because for centuries it’s been deemed “okay” (by men) in many cultures for men to sleep around, but not for women to do the same. The backlash of that is a message that sex is good for everyone equally – meaning we should all go out and have it as much as we can. More and more often, people are given the impression that in order to be “normal” you have to be sexually active – and that message is filtering down to younger and younger ages.

      The story about the guy raising money for charity just makes me laugh, by the way. 🙂

      Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: I Dream in YA – Let’s Discuss!
  32. I think that this definitely happens– that in YA, teenagers having sex is seen as normal. Like people shouldn’t be ashamed about having sex, but as a teenager, when you don’t have the security of a committed relationship, as well as all the STD stuff you quote. I really like books where sex isn’t just a ‘next stage of the relationship’ thing, it’s something the characters discuss and maybe decide to leave. When We Wake by Karen Healey and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia are two books that come to mind when I think about this–they had those conversations very sensitively. There are other books, like Sarah J Maas and The Spectacular Now that are way more thoughtless around sex. Thanks for this thoughtful post!

    Shanti recently posted: The Bookish Planet: Central Asia
    • I’m glad this post has resonated with so many people – honestly, I thought more people would disagree with me (and maybe they do, but they’re just not the ones who are commenting!). I see so often in reviews people who are happy with the “sex positive” messages in a book where the characters sleep together super quickly or see sex as just a thing to do rather than an important choice – to me, that’s not all that positive, but obviously lots of people disagree!

      Made You Up was already on my “really want to read this” TBR. I’ll have to check out When We Wake too – I hadn’t heard of that one. Thanks so much for the great recommendations!

      Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: I Dream in YA – Let’s Discuss!
  33. Ah, so true, Nicole! Authors – and people in real life – should avoid being extreme in judging someone’s sex life. If they don’t want to have sex, then people should LEAVE THEM ALONE. I’ve faced many people who have pressured me into having a boyfriend, etc., and it’s really annoying. Hopefully, “celibacy shaming” and “slut shaming” can be discussed/shown better in many, other books, especially YA ones.

  34. Nowhere Girl

    “and [that] (girls especially) should own their sexuality in this new way by not really worrying too much about that.”
    I own my sexuality: I refuse to have partnered sex with anyone because my body is my sole property and I won’t let anyone use it if I don’t want it.

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