Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Discussion: Can YA Novels Encourage Sexual Activity?

I came across an article about a library in America that would start labelling teen books with sexual content after an organisation, Citizens Against Pornography, protested last year about teen books they felt were inappropriate. We've already discussed whether or not labelling is good or not, so that's not what this post is about. There was a paragraph in this article that caught my eye.

"Others protested that some titles in the teen section could contribute to an increase in sexually transmitted disease among teens."
I think my mouth literally fell open at that; the insinuation that books with a high level of sexual content will make teenagers have sex. I think this is pretty outrageous. Sex is everywhere; it's in magazines, it's in films and on TV, it's even in music! There is not really any escape from it. Yet it's the books that are going to cause teenagers to go and have sex. Let's, for the sake of argument, say there are no teenage/YA novels with sexual content in the world. Not one. In that world, would teenagers be having less sex? Of course not! They can still get their hands on adult novels, but even if they didn't exist either, I don't think books are the sole problem here! As I said, sex is everywhere.

I'm not a teenager, but I was only a few years ago. If I had read the books I have been reading for this month back then, they wouldn't have made me want to go out and have sex, they would have just strengthened the views I already had; to be careful, to make the right choices, to be responsible, to wait. I'm not saying that this is what all the books are saying, this is their message, or that this is what all teens should be doing, I'm just saying these were, and are, my views on sex. The books deal with sex so well, and so maturely, even when the situations the characters are in don't seem that great (e.g. Good Girls, Screwed), or are ones I'd never be in (e.g. The Second Virginity of Suzy Green), there's always something positive to take from them.

So to say books can cause an increase in pregnancy, abortion, STIs, or sexual activity in general I think is utter rubbish.

What do you think? Can YA books with sexual content encourage sexual activity? Could they lead to an increase in STIs, teenage pregnancy, and abortions for teens? Am I actually talking rubbish, or do you agree with me?


  1. Well, you've seen my guest post, so you know my answer to this is a big NO :P Teens are much smarter than people give them credit for, and even if they were that gullible, there's everything else you mentioned - TV, commercials, films, you name it. Sex is everywhere in our society, yet people only seem to go hysterical over books.

  2. I don't think that books with sexual conent encourage sexual activity. I don't see why books are separated. Is it because people can blame one person, the author, whereas with films there are multiple actors? I don't watch James Bond films, go out and shoot bad guys whilst drinking a martini. So why does the author get the same stick.

    I personally don't think that it can increase cause in STIs. If anything, YA books make you more aware of the consequences of sex. However, I do find these tend to lean more to the pregnancy side than STIs/STDs. An increase in teenage pregnancy? I completely disagree with this statement. As I've just said, a lot of books look at the consequences of teenage pregnancy. They don't encourage it. I would also like to point out how broad a term teenage is. It can range from thirteen to nineteen. That's a massive gap. Thirteen year olds can't do much and have to attend school. Nineteen year olds can buy alcohol, cigarettes, have sex and don't have to be at school. So is a nineteen year old becoming pregnant still considered a teenage pregnancy? I don't see this as a big problem if it's what they want. They could have finished college, be following their chosen career path and be in a loving relationship. Some would argue they're not mature enough but it varies with everyone.

    An increase in abortions. I've never read a book about an abortion. However, I believe most people already have their own views on aborion. It is normally based upon religion, when you believe your child is truly arrive and your own personal opinion. I've never met anyone who has based their opinion upon a book. My view on the matter is irrelevant. But I don't think books encourage abortion. I also don't believe that those who have abortions should be chastised in books. It's a delicate topic which is why I don't think I have read it in a book yet.

    Sorry that I leave such long comments Jo. It's just I see a stereotype of teenagers and am one of those people who are stereotyped. I also fit the YA target. So I'm loving this month where I can express my opinions. It's a great idea!

    Books are widely and unjustly criticised. Yet the same treatment isn't applied to films, music, magazines and the TV. You're not talking rubbish, Jo. I think that books can actually have a positive impact on the decisions we make and whether we receive the right type of support.

  3. Kate, don't worry about long comments AT ALL! It's what SiTL Month is all about, discussing and sharing our views; long comments are welcome! Great points, Kate!

  4. That is ridiculous!

    As you said, sex is everywhere. People just look for a medium to blame, and they chose the wrong one.

    I like to think that the teenagers reading these books are wise enough to make their own decisions and are not persuaded by the actions they read in books.

    I am not a teenager, but I am in my 20s and I am a teacher. Teenagers do not receive the credit they are due. Today's teens are smart, and although they do not always make wise decisions, their choices are not made because of novels they've read.

  5. Personally, I think YA novels change the way we (as teenagers) think about sex: that it's okay to want it, that there are so many complex consequences, and that it can turn out to be horribly awkward, not glamourous like in movies.

    Whether or not one is sexually active largely depends on one's society: if you think no one around you is doing it, there is no peer pressure to do it. In my society, traditional asian values run deep, so sex is generally not discussed / there is no gossip about kids having sex. This also means people are embarrassed to talk about sex-- parents and teachers are like: Just don't do it. At all. We will not talk about it, because it is vulgar and taboo.

    The media (ads, tv, movies, radio) are unlikely to promote promiscuity; now there's a kind of numbness towards ads which use sex to sell. It's so common that it becomes mainstream, and youths remain largely unaffected by them.

  6. Nicole, thanks for your comment! I have to admite I know very little about cultures around the world, so it was interesting to read your comment.

    A little confused by the last paragraph though; you say the media is unlikely to promote promiscuity, then that it's so common. Which is it? Sorry!

  7. I wrote this big old long response and then it got lost when I hit Post Comment. So, here I go again...maybe it was too long to submit, lol. I'll try to condense.

    @Kate --> Teen pregnancy rates in the US do include 19-year-olds even if they are married...

    I agree in general that teens are waaaay smarter than they get credit for. I believe that the more information they receive, the smarter they are (see how that works, lol) and that withholding information from them only makes them ignorant, not safe.

    That said, I believe that the community and the parents have a RESPONSIBILITY to provide teens with the information necessary for them to make good decisions. I also believe that until a child turns 18, it is the parents' RESPONSIBILITY to teach them morals and values in addition to screening and discussing all influences in their lives. So, in that respect, I think that the labels are a good idea so that the parents have a clue that they may need to read that book also so that they can be informed as to what to discuss with their child and how the information was presented to their child.

    I also think that though teens are smart, they are impressionable. Books aren't the same as TV and music because the messages they impart cannot be heard from across the room as mom is doing the dishes or making dinner. They are different because unless someone takes a keen interest (which i think they should) the information, fictional or not, is presented to one person at a time, the reader. As with audible types of media, any type of situation in a fictional setting including books usually stems from a hypothetical. We use hypotheticals to teach decision making and critical thinking skills to teens. So, it is irresponsible to allow them to read a hypothetical (which is what fiction is) and its support (which is what the storyline and plot support are) regarding sex (or any other major life issues like suicide or cutting or even things like going away to college) and not discuss it.

    Leaving a teen to fend for themselves with information garnered from a book will result in the same ways as leaving them alone with the information they learn from TV and music. They may or may not decide to have sex for the right or wrong reasons. Whatever your religious beliefs, most psychologists agree that teen sex can be damaging to the developing psyche of a teen, thus increasing the importance of the parental role along with that of teachers (when appropriate) and community.

    It is absurd to assert that there is a directly proportional relationship between the instances of sex in teen lit and the number of teen pregnancies or STDs. Not only is it unscientific, it defies common sense. If anything, I think that the instances of STDs and teen pregnancies among teens that read about sex in YA and discuss with appropriate people, including their peers, would be an inverse relationship, where STDs and teen pregnancy decline with the amount of information and support a teen has with regards to sex.

    tumble --> with regards to promiscuity, studies that I have read indicate that most teens who are promiscuous have been abused either sexually or emotionally, so I agree that media has little influence on promiscuity.

  8. Oh and I forgot to mention that it is possible for a teen to decide about their sexuality without lending any clout to the media at all... like I said at the beginning, they're a lot smarter than they get credit for.

  9. Got this from Ellen Hopkins on Twitter:
    All I had to say was WOW! Seriously, The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Are they crazy?

  10. Read Lilibeth's link, and I don't think that parents should try to decide for other parents, just for their own children.

  11. Thank you, Lilibeth for the link! Oh my god, some of the things they want! I've never read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but still, some of the things they said are just outrageous! Oh, how these people make me bloody mad! I will add the link to the "Who Says What?" post. Cheers for the heads up!

    Shesten - I don't think I completely agree ith you. I agree that parents have the responsibility to talk/discuss important subjects with their teens and be aware of what they're reading, but I don't think they should necessarily have to know exactly what is in the book they're reading. If the teen is an avid reader, say like my cousin, who gets through 7-10 books a week, should her mother read every single book she does before hand, to know what she's reading? It's impossible. I talk a lot with my cousin about books, and she's not yet reading such books, she doesn't want to go near them yet, but if she was, I think it would be good enough that her Mum knows roughly what it's covering and happy to talk to her about it, but not necessarily the exact content. Just what I think.

  12. I guess I probably wasn't clear :o) I think that the parents need to know what the book is about at the very least. Not every book is going to have situations that need discussing, but yes, I do think that those 7-10 books per week should be screened by a parent, definitely not read cover to cover, but screened... even if it's just reading a few reviews to make sure the parent knows what the book is about. The fact that your cousin has you to talk to about the books extends out into the community aspect of what I was saying. That's awesome. If her mom feels comfortable letting her read it and she wants to talk about it with you, she has that option, which I think is great. I think more what I am referring to is parents who don't even know what their teens are reading about. There are a lot of them out there... and they don't even bother to ask.

    Take Gossip Girl for example. If it's on TV in the next room, and mom hears that Nate and Blair are planning to have sex, she can monitor the circumstance and discuss with her child if there is a need to discuss it... if that same child were in his/her room reading the books, and the same situation came up, mom would only know if she asked... or had pre-screened the book. I just think that mom and dad need to ask and stay up on what's going on... and hopefully not be overbearing or nosy about it...

    And don't get me wrong, I don't want to tell anyone how to parent... I just think our teens and children are always better off with more information and close contact available with people to explain it. Hopefully that explains what I was trying to say a little better (need to work on that concise thing.)

  13. Good points - I completely agree with you. Books that have sex in them somehow warn you and even sometimes put you off doing it. Either way, they tell you to be safe. So that article is just looking for something to blame it all on. Making books a scapegoat, if you will. Which is really hypocritical as people WANT YAs to read!

  14. Shesten - Ah right, sorry for misunderstanding. That makes sense :)

  15. I think to take away YA novels is stupid. I've read some of them and yes there is sexual content but I think some teens need that. Not all parents are happy to share when it come to sex and most people only know the basic facts of life when they come into it. The novels help teens learn about the reality of sex in a safe enviroment and if you get uncomfortable you can just put the book down. No one can force you to read it.

    At skl they onlygive the facts of babies and always use a condom and the basic facts but some people need more and instead of going out and experimenting they can learn from YA novels.

    To say the novels of all things are making a rise in sex and STDs is stupid. You see sex everywhere on adverts in music and on the radio, tv ect. I dont think books are going to bring on a rise because no normal person who read a YA novel would finish and go "NOW i want to have sex!" give teens some credit. This is just my veiw , take it or leave it but I think books arent going to make a rise in STDs STIs and teen pregnancy

  16. Thank you for your comments! I agree with you whole-heartedly!

  17. I'm doing a assignment on this and i totally agree with you!

  18. Awesome, what a cool assignment! Good luck with it!