Sunday 26 July 2009

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Guest Post: Ana of Things Mean a Lot - Why I Think Teens Should Read About Sex

I asked a few fellow book bloggers who were interested in SiTL Month if they were interested in contributing a guest post for the month, and some agreed! Today we have a guest post from Ana of the awesome book blog Things Mean a Lot.

Why I Think Teens Should Read About Sex

Sex in YA Lit

Let me start by getting this out of the way: I’m not opposed to teenagers having sex. I think having sex as a teen is not a decision that should be made without deliberation, information, and of course contraception. I think it can be, and sometimes is, the wrong decision. But I also think that’s not always the case.

I’m not a person or faith, so before or after marriage is a non-issue for me. I’m also someone who questions the association between sexuality and morality. I don’t think that having sex or abstaining from it says very much at all about who you are as a person. What I mostly care about is if someone treats others with consideration and respect, if they’re empathic and caring. I realize that the association between sexual abstinence and moral worth is a strong one, especially when it comes to girls. And I know that people with different worldviews will disagree with me, which is perfectly fine. But I thought it’d be only fair to start by telling you where I’m coming from.

I grew up in a country where there was no sex ed whatsoever. We studied puberty and human reproduction briefly in science classes in middle school, but no adult sat down with us to talk openly about sex – and it’s now, almost a decade later, that this is finally starting to change. What this meant was that kids who didn’t have an open enough relationship with their families couldn’t bring up the subject. Kids like the kid I was ran the risk of being left in the dark. Or worse, they might get all their information from hearsay, and we all know how reliable school rumours are.

This is where reading comes in. My family was an odd mixture of progressive and conservative, so while they didn’t want to sit down with us kids and talk about the birds and the bees, they wanted us to know. I was given books and teen magazines, and that’s how I learned the facts of puberty and sexuality. I also had access to a school library where books on these topics were widely available. This was important to me and to several of my schoolmates.

Those books and magazines covered the facts, but of course there’s a lot more to sexuality than the facts. And that’s the beauty of novels – they go far beyond mere facts. Teenagers, as adults, often want to know what things feel like, and literature gives us a safe space in which to rehearse experiences. It gives us a peek into private lives – imaginary private lives, yes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t give us real answers. I don’t think reading about sex in YA will make teens either more or less likely to have sex themselves. But I think it will give them something to think about, and perhaps address questions they couldn’t bring themselves to ask. I think stories can help them decide whether or not they’re emotionally ready for sex themselves, can show them what intimacy is like, can help them make better decisions.

Sometimes I see parents and other educators complain if a YA novel doesn’t show the consequences of sex. I think it’s important that teens understand that sex can and does have serious consequences, both physical and emotional. But as I said above, it also can have positive consequences. And books that portray sex positively don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re none of them trying to be the ultimate book about teen sex. They exist alongside books that represent pregnancy, sexual abuse, virginity, emotional scars, social pressure to have sex, sad sex, lonely sex, you name it.

These books are of course important, but my point is that not every book about teen sex needs to be a cautionary tale. There’s room for many voices, many stories, including ones that are simply about the enjoyment of sexual intimacy. I see nothing wrong with books about happy and rewarding teen sexual experiences. These are important too, especially for teen girls who grow up exposed to contradictory messages about sexuality – they are supposed to be desirable, but they’re labelled sluts for showing any sexual feelings of their own. We need to sever the tie between female sexuality and shame. We need to get rid of the sexual double-standard. And YA literature can help us do that.

Thank you, Ana, for such a wonderful guest post! Anyone want to comment on what Ana has to say?


  1. what a great post. I did a month like this a while back! hope the response is great :)

  2. Thanks again for having me, Jo!

  3. Wonderful, wonderful post!

  4. It irritates me that schools, while often completely separate from religion on many grounds, will advocate abstinance until marriage. Maybe I was just in a part of the country that was very conservative, but the idea of abstaining before marriage was prevelent even as we were taught about contraception methods. It was as if they were saying here's what you can use to protect yourself if you're too weak to wait.

    Sex is complicated and carries a lot of emotional ups and downs before and after marriage. I don't think marriage makes everything magically better. My dad went against my mom's teachings as a kid and told me that we should wait for love before having sex, not marriage. That's probably the most valuable lesson I ever got from him.

  5. Great post!
    As you will probably read in my own post, I completely agree with your views on the subject! I think literature should address all aspects of teen sexuality, good and bad; insisting only on the bad suggests that it's something to be scared of. :( That would be very unfortunate.

  6. Ana,
    This post was eloquently written!! I think you should be just the person to write a novel about teen sex where no one feels bad about themselves at the end!!

  7. Ana your post was really good because it was honest. I think that sex is fine in teen novels and that it should show the emotional consequences - both good and bad - as well as the physical ones.

  8. Excellent post! It's awful that there is a sexual double-standard. I loved your post. It was honest and meaningful.

  9. I'm glad you all enjoyed Ana's post! Thank you, Ana, for participating!