Friday, March 27, 2009

Sex and Violence

a brief note - I discuss a bit about Breaking Dawn in this post so if you're afraid of getting spoiled, look away.

One of the questions I often see making the rounds of writing loops, discussion boards, and the general blogosphere is whether sex in young adult books is okay.  Honestly, I think it depends on the book.  I don't write any explicit sex in The Forest of Hands and Teeth because it's not necessary to the story -- what is important is the tension between the characters.  I think a long drawn out almost kiss can almost be more sexy than any kind of sex.  (Don't believe me?  Watch Bella and Edwards first kiss in the Twilight movie.  That's one of the hottest, sexiest scenes I've ever seen.)

Does that mean there's no sex in my book?  Depends on who you ask!  According to Kirkus, there is no sex (and they found that odd.  I find it odd that a review of a YA novel is asking for more sex...).  According to some other reader reviews I've gotten there is sex.  I tried to write it so that if you want to read sex between the lines you can and if you don't, you won't.  Seemed like a good balance to me while still fitting the needs of the story.  

So what about violence?  I rarely see as many discussions about the appropriate levels of violence in YA novels as I do about appropriate levels of sex.  Honestly, I think our society is just more obsessed with sex than we are with violence.  And so when I saw a headline that read "Twilight book missing after parent complains" and knew from the referring link that it was about a challenge to Breaking Dawn, I assumed the challenge was due to violence.  

As it turns out, I was wrong.  The challenge was due (apparently) to the sexual conduct.  Yes, that's right, a parent challenged a book in which sex is implied between a married couple.  Let me get this straight: womb chewing, multiple bones broken by a gestating baby, blood spewing by pregnant woman who must then consume blood for her vampire baby is okay.  Implied sex between a loving married couple is not okay.

Really?  THIS is what she wanted to challenge?  I mean, I hate to gross everyone out here, but I kind of operate under the assumption that most married couples actually have sex.  I also operate under the assumption that most parents have, at least at one point, had sex as well (either before or after getting married - I don't judge).  Heck, Bella was older than a LOT of girls when she got married and had sex (totally off the page).

I'm not a fan of challenging books.  I also don't have a problem at all with Breaking Dawn or the violence in it.  I give full props to Stephenie Meyer for writing the book and concluding her series the way she felt it should be done.  But I'm just shocked that the collective fear of sex in YA novels is so strong that it outweighs any problems we have with violence or potentially abusive relationships.

What do y'all think?  Are we too obsessed over the sexual content in books?  Are we appropriately obsessed with sex but not enough about violence?  How can we expect teens to read Romeo & Juliet (sex and violence) and Hamlet (violence) and Lord of the Flies (violence) and The Scarlet Letter (sex and violence) and not think that they're able to handle this content in contemporary books?

20 comments:

the epic rat said...

Sometimes these challenges are so ridiculous that I stop paying any attention to them. And, if they're anything like me, banning a book is a surefire way of making want to read it even more!

*gasp* Married couples have sex?! Craziness ;)

Perhaps they're saving the violence blame game to video games...

Martha Flynn said...

My parents have *not* had sex! You take that back!!!

Rebecca said...

I completely agree with your view on Breaking Dawn. I think there was just enough balance to please both the young and old fans with the honeymoon. Of course being nearly 30 myself I totally appreciated the headboard and feathers...

So many YA books have sex in them these days and this is the first I've heard of them actually being married. How can parents complain about that? Isn't this a good example for teens?

I struggled with that when I wrote my book but decided to save it for later in the series. Waiting is never a bad thing.

Speaking of waiting.

Can't wait to pick up a copy of your book today! I'm curious to see if I'll think there was any sex or not. Love how you left it up to the reader. Great post!

Patrick said...

I assume sex is what people are doing all the time in real life.

Hey, I haven't seen Tom in a while he must be off having sex. Maybe I'll see him next week.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I'm against banning/challenging books, but I get why sex makes parents nervous and violence doesn't.

My brother isn't afraid his daughter is going to read Breaking Dawn and run off and start "chewing wombs" or battling zombies or any of the other over-the-top violent stuff we writers put in our books. He is, however, afraid that she's going to go off looking for her own Edward to make babies with.

I think this is maybe where the difference between boys and girls is. I think boys read violence and go, "Cool, where can I blow stuff up?" and girls read love/romance/sex the same way (hopefully without the blowing stuff up).

But that doesn't mean we should ban stuff, right? Right. I think it means that parents should be more involved in their kid's reading lives. They should read Breaking Dawn and explain to their daughters that in real life, no ones eats their own fetus.

I think if violence or sex or drug use comes up in a story, it should be organic, not gratuitous. But denying that teens are violent, sexual, exploratory little people is silly. If we sanitize all of that from their books and movies, they'll just find it on the internet. Probably in fanfic somewhere.

Loved FHT, by the way. It rocked.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Rebecca, read IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin.

I agree. I was shocked to read that about BD. I also read an article discussing twilight fanfic where they were critiquing one fanfic clearly written by a teen depicting the honeymoon, and Bella was thinking, 'Wow, will I really let him go all the way?' The idea being guys, they are married. That's what a honeymoon is about. Marriage does assume sex, I believe. Especially from a religious perspective. Sex within marriage is considered in every Judeo-Christian religion I'm familiar with to be a sacrament. That's how you make more people.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Also, i remember reading somewhere that american audience have more problems with sex than violence in media, and in, say, England, it's the opposite.

Patrick said...

Yes, the English are a bunchy of wimpy sluts.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Thank you for posting about this! I think that of all the things she could challenge in Breaking Dawn, sex between a married couple should not be on that list. That's just crazy! I hate challenging books-if you don't want to read it, then don't read it, but don't force your views on other readers.

Aerin said...

LOL @ Martha.

Just finished Wintergirls, speaking of themes I'm not sure teens should handle - not that they can't, just that wow, it was heavy.

I had a professor in seminary who told us (most of us being twentysomethings) that we couldn't believe it now, but there would come a time when, you know, you'd just rather read a book.

The point, of course, is that there's more to life than sex. Just not American life, apparently. And for what it's worth, I thought there was sex in your book. And I - um, appreciated the BD headboard, too, Rebecca. Why yes, yes, I am an American...*sigh*....

susan said...

I think we are not concerned enough about violence. I'm not a Twilight fan for several reasons so I won't go there. I am not offended by sex books for YA provided it's not gratuitous. What I'd like to see is more realistic, honest examination of the consequences of teen sex.

Rebecca Herman said...

I haven't read Breaking Dawn but I can't believe people would object to non-graphic sex between a married couple who are obviously deeply in love!! Meanwhile violence is barely noticed. I've read books marketed to preteens, and they had such graphic violence it would even push the envelope in an R-rated movie, yet no one bats an eye these are marketed to kids that aren't even teenagers yet? I just don't get it.

talshannon said...

One of the last great taboos of our culture seems to be the sexuality of teenage girls. So many parents, and adults in general, seem to be violently against even the slightest suggestion that teenage girls are interested in sex; it upsets them even more to think that some teenage girls might even be READY for sex.

To those folks, even something as mild as BD could be construed as a "bad influence" because it is read by teenage girls. It wouldn't matter to them whether or not the characters were married -- just that actual sex was implied in a book read by someone under 18.

One of the great roles that YA novels can take in a teen's life is to whisper in her ear, "Yes, what you're feeling is completely HUMAN! And no, it's not evil for a teenage girl to be a HUMAN BEING."

susan said...

I've linked your post to our Little Lov'n Monday meme. Hope you'll come by.

Celeste said...

Waaaay too obsessed!

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Leah said...

I'm surprised people are balking at a sex scene between a married couple that wasn't even written! It was a fade to black! Sheesh.

However, and please nobody throw things at me (this is just one lame opinion :), the violence in BD bothered me. I don't like that Bella woke up from her first sexual experience severely bruised. I worked in a women's shelter and saw too much "bruising" that equaled "love". I know Edward wasn't abusive in the least, but still. I also read an article in Seventeen (?) that said 70% of teen girls would stay with someone they loved, even if that person were physically or emotionally abusive. That makes me sad. I think the story would have been just as strong if the bruising was left out. I don't think violence is sexy and I really wish she'd written that one scene differently.

I didn't like BD, but I definitely don't think it should be banned.

Deborah said...

I agree with everybody else. Banning books is not a good idea. That kind of enforcement smacks of Big Brother.

Frazer said...

Not only is Hamlet violent, but it's also absolutely filthy. "It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge..." gimme a break! No wonder teens are crazy with all this exposure to sex! Violence is another matter. I recently read a stunning YA novel by Patrick Ness called "The Knife of Never Letting Go." No sex, but plenty of brutal violence, and an air of hopelessness that I wouldn't want anyone under 12 exposed to. I think Carrie strikes a fine balance in her wonderful book. The Stephenie Meyer books are a little too romance-y for me...I think Carrie's novel has perfect tone.

Glen Akin said...

lol you do realise that young adults know a lot more about sex than they're given credit for, right?

Banning books and treating Young Adults like bumbling baboons ignorant of stuff like this won't solve anything. It'll just piss them off.