Millenials can easily be described as one of the most sexualized generations and it’s shown in the way Young Adult fiction is portrayed now, as opposed to our grandparents — and even our parent’s teen literature. Parents once balked at books like, Forever, by Judy Blume; now they’re scrambling to have books like Gossip Girl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and TTYL removed from school library shelves. Many of these titles have been flagged as “sexually explicit” or “inappropriate for the age group.”
Granted, at one time sex was rarely spoken of in public, we’ve now come to an age where it’s used to sell just about anything. It’s hard to walk through a mall without seeing giant signs with half naked or scantily clad individuals on them. In fact, 40 of the best selling young adult novels in 2008 had an astounding 1,500 profane words. But for some reason, there will always be a group of individuals that fight to keep their little ones sheltered from the world around them. And, it’s understandable. But, it’s also naive.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all teenagers (44% of girls and 49% of boys) between the ages of 15-19 have sex. Authors of Young Adult fiction cater to their audience in a more specific way than most other genres do. A writer for The Hub said it well: “Teens can spot a poser a mile away. It’s like radar. If you try to approach them from an insincere place, they will see right through you. Successful YA authors understand this.” The reason many of these “controversial” books make it to the best sellers list is because the stories resonate with teens. They read real-life situations –like sex — from a perspective close to their own, and glean the moral from between the lines.
There’s a delicate balance that needs to be maintained, however. Gratuitous sex has no place in a young adult novel. The question that should be asked in regards to writing sex in YA is whether the scene drives the story forward and is true to the characters. Additionally, books aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum (9-14-year-olds) should have minimal sexual content.
Some have proposed a rating system for books similar to film ratings that would serve as a guide for parents in determining if a book has inappropriate content for their child. However, opponents to this system state that any sort of rating system is a form of censorship that may deter teens from reading books that may be beneficial to them. For instance, the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher came under fire for allegedly glorifying suicide. Shortly after it ended up on the American Library Association’s “List of Challenged Books or Banned,” the author received an email from a teen who told her that after reading the book she had decided not to commit suicide.
Personally, I believe parents need to be aware of their child’s maturity level and gauge the books they bring home accordingly. I don’t think that a rating system would be a bad idea, as long as it served as a guide, rather than an outright restriction as with the MPAA.
What are your thoughts on sex in YA literature?
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