Monday 2 November 2015

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Sex in Teen Lit Month II - Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison: Virginity in YA Novels

The brilliant Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison, YA authors of Lobsters, are stopping by today to talk to us about YA novels and virginity.

Tom Ellen & Lucy IvisonVIRGINITY IN YA NOVELS: MYTHS AND EXPECTATIONS by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

There's a line near the end of our book, Lobsters, that goes: "You can only lose your virginity once. It's the only big milestone between being born and getting married".

This pretty much sums up why we wanted to write a book about sex - and, in particular, virginity - in the first place. It is, as Ron Burgundy would say, kind of a big deal.

Our characters, Sam and Hannah, have both just finished their A-Levels, and the thing weighing most heavily on their respective minds is the idea of going to university as virgins. All their friends seem to have done the deed and, to them, it almost feels as if they're the last virgins on earth - viewed by everyone around them as totally clueless.

This is an experience that will probably be familiar to a lot of teens, and we wanted to use our book to try and knock this preconception down a few pegs. Obviously, not every teen is preoccupied with sex/virginity, and that's absolutely fine, but for those who are, there can be this idea that EVERYONE except you is massively confident and experienced when it comes to sex. And this, of course, is usually nonsense. Everybody's normally just as anxious and unsure as each other. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all.

That's why we felt it would be dishonest, really, to rose-tint or falsify the whole losing-your-virginity experience. The idea that people might read Lobsters and think, 'Thank god it's not just ME who feels like this!' seemed like a really nice one to us.

So many questions come with the idea of losing virginity, too. It's a subject that, when you're at school, seems to be surrounded exclusively by gossip and rumour and hearsay. You can't ask your parents or your teachers about it - let's face it, that would be extremely embarrassing - so in the end, the only people to ask are your friends. And, as we've established, they might not know much more than you.

Lobsters by Tom Ellen & Lucy IvisonThat's where YA - and in particular UKYA - comes in. It tends to portray sex - and virginity - not as some imagined, airbrushed, Hollywood-esque experience, but as it REALLY is. It doesn't rose-tint things; it shows them realistically, in all their clumsy, daunting - and occasionally hilarious - awkwardness. Great YA books can actually answer the questions teens have about subjects like virginity, or simply just make them feel a bit less alone and confused.

We almost felt that if we made out losing your virginity was usually this idyllic, perfect thing, we'd be lying to our readers. Of course, for some people, it can be, but for most of us - especially jugding from the friends we spoke to about it - it's not. And that's fine!

As well as wanting to answer some questions and - hopefully - make people feel better, we also wanted to write about virginity because it seemed like a pretty fertile (weak pun intended) area for comedy. Something that seems so important and daunting and yet also so mysterious definitely seemed like it could be funny, too.

We talked to a lot of our mates about their experiences losing their virginity, and actually ending up putting a few of them in the book. One friend of ours - who we won't name here, for fear of embarrassing him - lost his virginity in an office stationary cupboard while doing work experience after his A-Levels. That seemed pretty amusing, so we basically took it wholesale and put it in Lobsters. We did ask him first, of course.

Ultimately, then, that's why we thought virginity would make such a great subject for a YA romantic comedy: to reassure those who haven't lost it, and give a nostalgic laugh or two to those who have...

Thank you, Tom and Lucy, for this brilliant guest post! What do you think of how YA deals with characters losing their virginity?

Be sure to check out Tom & Lucy's Facebook page, and my review of Lobsters - a hilarious and realistic romance, that I can't recommend enough!


  1. I have not heard of Lobsters (although I should have) but reading this, it sounds like an absolutely amazing book, and I'm ashamed I haven't checked it out already. Thanks for sharing this Tom and Lucy, and thanks to you Jo for hosting it! :D

    1. It is SO good! I loved it! I hope you do, too! :) And you're welcome! :)