There’s an article I read last week that I now can’t find (of course) about sex in young adult novels and how said novels are getting sexier in order to have real life readers associate more with the books being written for them. While I don’t believe writers should be forced to be moral beacons for teenagers (they have parents for that) and while I’m well aware teenagers are absolutely having sex I really don’t think YA novels need to be sexed up simply because their supposed target audience is sexing up.
I’m certainly not a prude; I’m just not a fan of squick. I’m fully capable of recognizing that teenagers can have sex without having that image shoved down my throat. Just like I can recognize my parents as being sexual beings with sexual urges, that doesn’t mean I want those images shoved into my headspace. Please god, no.
By amping up the sexual content of YA novels you’re playing with legal child pornography. The legal definition of child pornography is relegated to visual images so let me re-phrase. You’re working with child erotica. If those two worlds put together don’t gross you out you’re either under 18 and thus don’t find minors having sex all that squick-worthy or you need to get yourself off my website. Ew.
Needless to say more explicit sex scenes in YA make me really uncomfortable and it should make a lot of people really uncomfortable. The fact that this is a growing trend in publishing is disconcerting because while no minors were actually harmed in the making of said book therefore no wrong was actually committed, it lends itself to the sexualization of teenagers. Minors. It’s erotica for minors and it’s a loophole in the whole child porn deal. I find it hard to understand the mentality of an author who writes these types of scenes and is okay with it, is okay with depicting minors, even fictional ones, in more explicit, non-fade-to-black scenes.
I found New Adult hard enough to swallow but at least there the protagonists are at least 18. Barely legal stuff but the characters are of the age of majority. But having that drip into YA is disturbing. It has nothing to do with the erosion of the moral fiber of the country (or whatever, because that sounds so much like me) and has everything to do with just not being appropriate and in poor taste. Technically it’s legal but it doesn’t mean we should be seeing an influx of explicit sex scenes in young adult.
And no, I don’t think this is ignoring anything. Just like it’s not an author’s job to inject their moral compass into their reading audience, it’s not the author’s job to educate teenagers about sex via fiction. One, it’s trumped up sex and, like adult sex scenes in movies, are wholly inaccurate to the sex actually being had so it’s not realistic sex anyway. And two, there are ways to approach teenage sexuality without just having them fucking each other from one cover to another.
I don’t comment very often on what is and isn’t appropriate because what I believe is and isn’t is largely irrelevant to the world. But child erotica is inappropriate. There are ways to approach the very real notion that teenagers are sexually active without plopping them in explicit sex scenes in a bid to sell books. I’m not even saying sex scenes don’t belong in YA. If the book renders it and it’s relevant to the story being told there’s no reason to have a lighter sex scene involved. But explicit sex for the sake of sex because sex sells is not something we should be doing with minors, even fictional ones.
People are constantly complaining that kids are growing up too quickly. Remember how crazy some people got when stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera first broke out and how sexualized those teenagers were (and they were minors at the time)? Or how twenty-somethings are regularly cast as teenagers in whatever TV show or movie is being shown so we have an inaccurate and overly developed representation of what teenagers “should” look like. But we’re okay with showing them in increasingly more explicit sexual acts in fiction because it’s “realistic”? For the sake of realism, we should be okay with this?
I’m not saying teenage readers of books created for them are too young or not mature enough to read this kind of stuff. Teenagers read up all the time. But that doesn’t mean we should be bringing the sex down to them with them involved. It’s like parents buying alcohol for their kids and their kids’ friends to drink. Those aren’t cool parents; they’re shitty parents. Yeah, we all know teenagers drink; it doesn’t mean those of us 21 and up should lend them a helping hand because well, they’re going to do it anyway. As a parent you recognize that you can’t stop them from doing these things while outside from under your wing. You educate them about being smart and making the right choices. You give them options. You don’t give them a damn keg (aside from the fact that it’s actually illegal to supply minors with alcohol but whatever). Same concept with sex. You educate them so they make intelligent decisions and you steer them down a more educated path (this is not a bid for abstinence only, it’s a bid for educated sexual decision-making). You don’t buy them a prostitute because hell, they’re going to do it anyway.
People would argue this is a safe way for teenagers to explore their sexuality. Regular, legal porn does that just fine. Regular, adult erotica does that just fine. We do not need to “accurately represent” children having sex in fiction in order to give teenagers an outlet. No. They have a hard enough time comprehending that when they Snapchat nude pictures of themselves to each other that that’s actually distribution of child pornography and it’s illegal. Now the waters are being muddied even more because stuff like this is saying it’s okay to show teenagers fucking as long as they’re not real teenagers fucking. No. Just . . . no.
I don’t approve. I don’t approve of adding gratuitous sex scenes into YA for the sake of selling books. I don’t believe that depicting minors performing sex acts in an explicit manner for the sake of titillating readers is at all okay. It’s disheartening to see how this is the direction a subsection of YA is moving in and people are okay with it. Because it’s realistic and it’s used as a means to engage the target audience by factoring in “real” aspects of their lives into the work when the reality is that more than half the readers of YA are actually adults.
And most people are aware of that. So . . . who are you writing those minor-filled sex scenes for again? Gross.