Sex in Context

July 29th, 2008 • Kate

One of the blogs I read regularly is Blue Rose Girls, an interesting collective of children’s book professionals including writers, artists, a former librarian, and an editor. The post yesterday said, in part:

Some of you may have seen a video on the blog today. There one minute, gone the next. It was a stop animation of two upholstered chairs doing “the nasty” on a rooftop.[…] I should explain that I put it up because it’s a very cool and artistic video. Artistic creative things get my artistic creative juices flowing. I make books by being inspired. Enough said.

But someone complained that it wasn’t appropriate for a children’s book blog, and so it came down.
Unfortunately, that kind of thing happens all the time, where we self-censor in order not to be thought of by some other, unknown group as something deviant, or wrong, or overly emotional, etc. Lots of words that could otherwise just mean creative or opinionated.
But moving on. What I wanted to talk about was a further discussion in the same place about how sex and nudity is treated in children’s books. You can say that a video of people having sex is inappropriate on a blog for kids, which of course it would be, but when it’s chairs? On a blog for adults that’s ABOUT children’s books? And what about when characters have sex in books? When is it right or appropriate? Is it all about the context? What about naked images in picture books? I can recall a brouhaha when a picture book featured a naked female form and was called to be censored — never mind that it was about a kid in a museum and the naked form was a piece of classic art.
it reminds me of when some people though John Green’s Looking for Alaska was inappropriate because of a sex scene, never mind the Printz Award. The scene was the opposite of sexy, but was very very real for the characters.
I don’t know, maybe this is too deep a subject for a hot Tuesday morning. But I don’t like the idea of something like this getting shoved under a rug. What do you think? To narrow it down to just one question, what kind of sex is appropriate in teen fiction, or on a blog about teen fiction?

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4 Responses to “Sex in Context”

  1. Gina Black Says:

    I find it so unfortunate that as a culture we shield our children from sex and nudity as if it was bad and deviant. Those Puritans sure had a lasting effect!
    But moving on to your question . . . IMHO sex with no repercussions of the emotional or physical sort would be wrong in teen fiction. Not saying someone has to get pregnant, but there are always consequences for actions and that would be important to me as an author and reader (and parent).

  2. The Compulsive Reade Says:

    Hmm, this is a tough one. For me, I guess I don't mind sex in YA books as long as it doesn't get too graphic. Build suspense up to a certain point, but don't go into every detail. Most teens self censor what they read and realize what is appropriate for them, but that doesn't mean you can stick a huge explicit scene and expect every kid who reads it will be mature enough for it, and those who aren't will just skip it. Does that make sense?

  3. Carrie Says:

    I agree that sex should be treated responsibly in teen fic and shouldn't be gratuitous. But I also think that to censor the realities of teen sex is both unrealistic and irresponsible. According to the CDC, over 2/3 of students aren't virgins when they graduate from high school. To censor these topics when we write to teens is to talk down to them, to turn a blind eye to reality. So it makes me feel good to see teen books that deal with sex in a responsible way; Sara Zarr's wonderful Story of a Girl comes to mind. I think it takes guts to write and to publish a story like that, but I also think about the girl who reads it who has gone through something similar or who is contemplating it, and when I consider how much of a difference that book might make to her (or him, obviously), it seems to me that it's worth the risk.

  4. liliwilkinson Says:

    it never ceases to amaze me how so many people assume teenagers knew nothing about sex and had never really thought about it, before they picked up a copy of Looking for Alaska.
    As if teenagers don't think about sex, and talk about sex all the time.
    Gratuitous sex is usually inappropriate, but I also hate it when sex is always punished. It was one of the things that bothered me about Buffy – the way everyone who had sex raised a demon or turned evil or whatever. It's like the normal consequences of having sex aren't enough – you gotta run over their puppy in the street just to ram home the message.
    It's one of the reasons why i LOVE Meg Cabot's Ready or Not. I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it, but it's one of the best books I've ever read in regards to the whole sex-in-YA issue.