Excerpt from my review of Shut Out by Kody Keplinger:
When I sat down to write this review, I thought it would be awkward to talk about a book like this, where the main plot revolves around sex. I’ve read books like Giving Up the V and ones where the girls are open about things like that, but I blush when thinking about my family and friends reading this review. Or even my teachers.
But even though I’m thirteen and adults don’t expect me to be talking about these things (on the web no less), I have to be honest. I usually get uncomfortable when books talk about teens having sex. I don’t believe in sex before marriage. I’ve been raised in a Christian community where that’s never really happened before. Sure, we hear about people our age and some people we even know, but it’s more of a taboo subject.
Adults tend to think that they’re protecting us, but most of us (at least the people who I’ve been raised with) know right from wrong when they hear it. We can make our own conclusions about it, and it does help to live out several different lives with books like this. It helps us individually experience the emotional connections that the characters have to their actions, with the consequences, and it affects our decisions. This book explores all parts of that. Hooked showed us what it’s like to be a teenage parent, Someone Like You showed us how to deal with being the friend of somebody who was pregnant. Lost It, Forever, Kiss It…all those talk about what it’s like to have all that pressure and changes that change you forever. Through hearing about those, and imagining those characters to be us, we can form our own conclusions. I don’t think that these books are too inappropriate. For younger kids, yes, but entering high schoolers and above? Older middle schoolers? We deserve to know what’s out there in the world. These books educate us, but they don’t corrupt us. They also serve as entertainment.
But in books it’s different. If books are honest like these, it helps. It helps us with the questions that, even though in Health class they tell is that it’s okay to have a question, we’re too embarrassed to ask, Kody is blunt about it. She makes everything black and white, but knows when to make something a grey area. She is perfect and blending emotions so perfectly together that you don’t know which is which anymore.
Recently, I was contacted by Kimberly A. Johnson, author of The Virgin Diaries, and she made me think about sex. Her book is an anthology of interviews and stories by people who lost their virginity. Male, female, after marriage, before…nothing and everything mattered. It was all about how it impacted that specific person. We’re all different and my theory is that one reason why there is sex in YA is because it is realistic and will effect us. Some people end up regretting decisions while others believe in them.
Many of you may be thinking that I’m too young to be posting about a topic like this. I’ve only recently turned fourteen. I know now that it effects me NOW. It has for the past few years, through media, the books I read, the conversations that I have, and the situations that I may find myself in in the future.
I may be young, but I know more about how sex impacts teens now than most adults because I am a teen now. I know what it’s like to talk about sex and wonder about it and read about it. I know how being exposed to it impacts me and I am willing to talk about it. You may not find too many posts about this.
I am embarrassed to be talking about sex but it’s too important not to talk about. It’s a part of life and it is a part of the lives of teens. Whether you choose to be one of those teens is what the decision really is. We’re exposed to it.
Sex in YA has long been debated because there’s a constant line that everybody draws at different parts. There are different things about sex that effect different people and some books are graphic while others don’t touch on the subject. It is a regular part of life and effects teens in a big way. There’s a lot to say about sex in YA.
Think about it. Why do we read books about sex? Because it impacts us. Sex is a large part of a young adult’s life whether you choose to partake in it or not. It’s eventually going to impact you even if it isn’t now and only that person (and their parents!) should get to decide how something is going to impact them.
I draw the line in different places but I am a unique person. Not any one person gets to decide whether you should read a book that has sex in it. That is for you to decide and figure out. Sex actually was a big part of Banned Books Week because many books were banned for “glorifying” sex. Teens should be exposed to what is real or fictional based on their decisions. They read other books about characters who live happily ever after and those who make mistakes and sex is a large part of being a decision. What I want to say is that there is more of a chance of a teen who isn’t educated about sex and its effects on diverse people regretting an action because they weren’t educated about it and they didn’t have the chance to. Sex is something that is personal, and that includes what you want to be exposed to.
Many books even talk about sexual assault and how it affects the characters. Perhaps one of the most famous of this is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, which deals with rape. Perhaps the most recent one that I have read is The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. My personal favorite would have to be Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. If rape is glorifying sex, than that is just sick. So think about it, all these books that glorify/criticize sex are honest to different people. There isn’t any one person who knows exactly what will impact you.
My friend Mary Elizabeth sometimes reads books with sex in them, although she is highly religious. She will read books about insta-love and sex but still stays true to her faith and belief in sex after marriage. Personally, I agree with her but I am not as strict as her on reading material. She has managed to find books focusing on faith and sex that apply to her and help her with her questions and discussion.
It’s only natural for children to be curious about sex. It’s something different and unusual and it is a big part of all of our lives. Books can be positive or negative about sex, but each person has a different view. The complex debates about it and how it affects teens is something that is reflected in young adult fiction. It’s only natural that young adults be exposed to this.
I have a strange view of sexiness. I don’t really mind it, but it doesn’t need to be excessive. I’ve read some adult titles, but I’m not ready to start reading a book where the main characters have sex every night. Not every book has to have sex in it, but I do enjoy reading titles that are thought provoking on the subject.
I can’t stand books with graphic scenes in them. I don’t need to know the details. If it’s an educational book with an outside focus on sex (such as Want to Go Private?) I’m fine with it. If it’s an anthology such as The Virgin Diaries, I’m fine with it. I just don’t need to have details that I don’t want. I would like to be in the dark about sometimes.
I’m a fan of the Breaking Dawn approach. Skip to the next morning if you think that your book may be read by younger teens or aren’t directed to a more mature audience or higher reading level. I don’t want to have a chapter on sex. I want there to be a focus on it like there may be in a realistic relationship but when it’s unnecessary, it is unnecessary. It doesn’t make your characters more desirable and it doesn’t make it the sort of book that parents want to give to their parents.
When I was younger, my parents would comb through every book synopsis, recommendations, and more to make sure that they weren’t giving me something that would be inappropriate. When I was younger, I also found ways to get past them. I made sure that the books I bought had clean synopses even if I knew that my friends said that there was sex in it.
There’s a certain point where it becomes a part of growing up and becomes a part of your life. How early you choose to make that happen is completely the choice of you and your parents. It depends on your maturity, age, reading level, and a number of other factors. If the book has a main focus on sex in a thoughtful way, consequential way, educational way, or some other way other than superfluous text, I enjoy reading it.
I take on books for review about sex completely. It’s still interesting and it is something that I know will be surrounding me when I go to high school next year. There are always going to be people around you who have sex or talk about sex or think about sex and we’re fine with it. I figure I’d rather learn from books earlier and know how to avoid peer pressure and how to deal with it like an adult.
Most kids have seen movies that have innuendo or some sort of sexual reference. I watched the James Bond movies when I was seven or eight and it flew right over my head. It all depends on how big of a deal you make it and how the book handles the subject. One person who talks a lot about sex and has really intriguing thoughts about it is Kody Keplinger, author of The Duff.
I am a huge fan of Kody’s. Her books deal with sex and the subject affects her characters in highly personal ways. Bianca from The Duff approaches sex in a casual way. I wasn’t a fan of her frankness sometimes and sometimes I found myself put off by how she thought of herself and sex. She has sex with a boy she hates but ends up loving, and sometimes it sends the wrong message; although, that isn’t what I wanted to talk about with Bianca. Bianca does think about sex like a teenager. It is little things and phrases that are so deeply honest and sincere that I find myself falling in love with Kody’s writing.
It helps being a teenager and writing YA because you have experienced all of it first hand. Kody has provoking thoughts on strong characters, feminism, sexuality, and family. She puts a ton of emphasis on what she calls “authentic YA”. Her books are fictional but these situations do happen. There are characters like Bianca in real life.
On the other end of the spectrum is Lissa from Shut Out. In Shut Out, Lissa is uncertain about sex and many of her questions come into play throughout the book. Lissa doubts when she knows that she’ll be ready for sex and debates her boundaries. She explores how guys approach sex, how girls approach sex, and the drama that surrounds it. Kody’s books all deal with sex in a personal and realistic way.
Many books focus completely on sex. Giving Up the V, Jumping Off Swings, Hooked, and more explore the entire matter of sex. Sex seems to meet something different for every person and it means that each book approaches it in a different way.
Everybody has a different opinion about sex. There are so many honest statements about it, true in the eyes of the writer. It all depends on who you are and what you believe. As a parent, it involves what you want your children to believe.
I don’t care if other people have sex before marriage. It’s their life and they get to choose what to do with it. I don’t agree with people who insist on making people conform to their personal beliefs because they could be wrong! We don’t know how we’re going to feel about something until we experience it, but can only rely on our own beliefs.
I know that one of the reasons that I’m choosing to wait until marriage is because of the books I’ve read and my upbringing. By reading first person accounts of characters with whom I identify, I know how I may react in situations and I know the benefits and consequences of different ways of lives. I’ve lived a thousand different lives through books.
The first book that I read with sex in it was Ready or Not by Meg Cabot, which my twin and I snuck from our older sister’s room when we were about ten. I didn’t really understand it, but we got the gist of it. I loved Meg Cabot, but I knew her from The Princess Diaries. All-American Girl is about the only YA book in my school library (unfortunately) and it was also one of my favorites. When I was younger, I was fascinating by teenagers, as most kids are. I wanted to be one of them, and my outlet was books. I devoured books about teenagers, and that meant that I’ve pretty much always been a YA person.
I don’t think that my situation is an indication. I think that if you’re worried about what age you would want your children to start reading YA with the risk of some iffy materials, you should wait a year or two after you’ve given them the birds and the bees speech or until you think that they’re mature enough to handle it. For advice, I would check out http://www.commonsensemedia.com. While sometimes I don’t agree with their reviews and ideas, they do have some great points about discussion. On most books, I would subtract about two years from the recommended age that they get.
I try to put ages on my reviews but most of the time I forget. I am trying to bring that back, but it does depend on your child’s maturity or how you view sex. If you have a more casual view of it, don’t review books that encourage it at a young age. If you know that your child knows how sex can affect their life, you should give them reading material that both educates them about the consequences and I wouldn’t worry as much as putting sex-in-YA into their hands at a mature age because they are only reading for entertainment.
Some people may worry that I’m encouraging sex in YA. I’m not; in fact, I wish that there would be more books that don’t focus on the physical. Sometimes I’ll skip past scenes that linger too much on the topic. If you choose to let your child read YA with “sexytimes” in them (in the words of Melina), be smart about it. If you don’t, there are plenty of appropriate books out there that explore first love without breaching that topic.
We know that teens are having sex. I’ve been raised in a religious family that believes in waiting until marriage and that’s the decision that I’m going to stick by; however, some teens do not. The variety and diversity of character represented in YA means that some characters will have different views of sex and it will shape the book and character development.
Also, in the words of Andye (who has an absolutely excellent article on this subject) WE KNOW THAT TEENS ARE HAVING SEX. That particular statement has been shoved down our throats so much that I just want to scream that yes, that is why there are shows dedicated to teen pregnancy and all sorts of statistics about parenthood and sex and teens. It’s ridiculous how many people think that they’re being profound by saying that. We know it. It’s how you choose to interpret it that matters to you and the subject of whether or not your child is ready for reading something with this material.
One thing that has always frustrated me about my school library is that they are convinced that every YA book has sex or some other measure of inappropriateness in it. Not every YA book has sex, drugs, alcohol, or bad decisions. If you focus on sex in an incredibly religious way, there are people with thoughts that reflect that and explore sex from that angle. If you find authors who think in the same way that you do, you may find some books answering your questions and arousing your debates about sex in a way that connects to you.
I know that some books that I’ve read have also deterred me from sex. There are books that talk about how stressful and confusing it can be to have sex at a young age. I know from Emma from Jumping Off Swings that sometimes you end up with regret like a weight pressing in your head, a cloud hanging over you. It can end in tears or pain or sadness but it can also be positive. How each person approaches sex is up to them, and while I understand it may be the hardest thing to expose your child to the reality of the world, sex is a part of that. The age that you choose to do with is entirely up to you, but I wanted to let you know that you will find angles that work for you.
What is yet another thing that many people overlook is that sometimes the book that is more controversial is the book that doesn’t mention sex. This is the book that people claim is unrealistic because the characters never do more than kiss. The true love lies in the chemistry and whether a teenage couple in a book decides to express that through hand-holding and kissing or through sex, that’s their decision. I know how I stand on my views and I don’t think that it is unrealistic. For the many teens who have sex, there are also teens who don’t have sex.
Many books that I read focusing on sex simply satisfy my curiosity. There are many quotes revolving around a book’s ability to make you live a thousand different lives. Reading how these decisions about sex and discussions about sex directly and indirectly affect characters can help you think through your own life and think about them. I read about sex because I’m curious about what will happen when I’m older and how it might impact me. If I read about a character who thinks similarly to me or reacts similarly to me in situations, if I read about her in another situation that I haven’t been in, I might know how I’ll react.
I’m being honest here in saying that I don’t know how I feel about sex in YA. On one hand, it’s educational and entertaining, but on the other, I don’t know how I’m going to handle things. I know what I believe in and I know deep in my soul that I’m going to stick to that. I don’t know how I’m going to react with it around me and in media and everything. I don’t know what everything is going to be like. Books are the only way I can live another character’s life and see what they chose.
I may end up adding more to this I have a ton of things that I want to say about his topic, so maybe it will pop up in another post. If you’re looking for some more articles to read, read some of the posts by bloggers mentioned throughout the post such as Andye and Melina. They have excellent posts on them. For now, think on the post and comment below.