Sunset without shadows
Let me start off by saying I’ve read more YA in the past three years, than I did as a young adult, or teenager, or adolescent or young person or whatever it is we’re supposed to call homo sapiens between twelve and eighteen. That said, the total number of YA books I’ve read all of is probably under twenty five.
Cory Doctorow is both right and wrong. What is he right and wrong about? Well, he states that teen sex belongs in Teen Lit, and it that he’s right. What he’s wrong about is why. He’s got a limited, and some might say prudish reason for s-e-x being in books. While it is a passable reason, my disagreement is more in the manner of scope than kind.
Sex belongs in literature[a], because art imitates life. Sex is not only the most hardwired form of human interaction it is one that occupies the attention of most humans on a pretty regular basis. Despite the best efforts of quacks who call themselves psychologists, the entire Victorian Era, various religions movements large and small, and others more motivated more by ick than facts sex is going to continue to be a part of peoples lives in ways that the small minded don’t approve of. While one can argue that teens have no business having sex, it’s really not a very good argument. It’s an activity with both social and biological pressure driving one towards it. It’s an activity that well is enjoyable and when you come right down to it is the only interaction between equals or near equals that is necessary for the continuation[b] of the species.
Further, the inclusion of sex in literature, can be used for a number of reasons. Not simply to push a characters or writers agenda or ideology, or to provide boogeyman stories about the dangers, but to present some of the reason why a teen might, or might not choose to have sex. Despite the positioning of some[c] simply because a writer chooses to have a character choose sex, or not doesn’t mean they are encouraging young adults to do the same, regardless of the consequences, assuming there are any, to their activities. It’s no more true that a writer who’s year old characters decide to slip between the sheets is advocating that others do so than it is one they have one character kill another, consume an adult beverage, get into a fight, or take some more aggressive risk.
So in the simplest, shortest terms I can muster: Sex belongs in books for young adults because it’s a part of their lives, possibly in a way their parents would approve of, possibly not, but so are drugs, death, bad hair and early morning classes, regardless of anyone’s opinion of them, and taking that important an interaction entirely out of the landscape of human behavior is like painting pictures of sunset without shadows.
[a] (where appropriate to the story)
[b] The debate over the value of which is one which can be had later.
[c] And I don’t include anyone specifically in that statement.