I first kicked off this topic on my Tumblr some time ago with this post first, followed by the short piece I’m reposting, below. This still comes up, not just in relation to my books, but in conversations with other authors, readers and people in the industry, so I have a feeling I’ll be posting about it again from time to time. For now, enjoy my initial observations, and look for more in the future.
First, let me say that there are TONS of posts out there on this very set of topics. I’m not writing this series because I think I’m more clever or original (in fact, I’m relying heavily on previously created content!) I’m just writing because it’s on my mind and, as a writer, I write in order to understand the world around me. You’re the innocent bystander to my exploratory pros on the state of the world. 😉 That being said, if this stuff is interesting to you, there’s lots more on this topic to be found out there on the interwebs. 🙂
I thought I’d kick off this little shindig with the following thesis:
Victorian attitudes toward young women’s sexuality are still alive and well.
Now, whether that statement makes you cheer, or makes you shudder with disgust is another topic for another time. But this thesis came from the following set of statements exchanged during the infamous discussion that prompted me to write this post-series:
“And Megan’s cavalier attitudes toward casual sex!” my friend exclaimed. “I didn’t like that much.”
“Well, neither did Leah,” I replied calmly.
“That’s true,” my friend agreed. “I did like how Leah pointed out that Megan’s views were sad.”
Believe it or not, I don’t feel it is my place to make value judgments on Megan’s views on sex, and I don’t intend to do so in this post. (Within SHIFT, Leah’s reactions to Megan’s attitude are colored by Leah’s own views and experience. In other words, Leah’s reaction is the result of Leah’s own judgments—not necessarily my own.) But I found it interesting that, in essence, Megan was perceived by my friend as slutty because she’d chosen to share a physical relationship with a boy whom she did not intend to keep seeing after the summer was over.
So why is it that we run away from the idea of teen girls having the same appetite for sex that teen boys have? Are we still stuck in the Victorian idea that it’s the girl’s responsibility to be the voice of abstinence and reason? I found this quote among the comments on a post from Kody Keplinger’s blog about this very issue and it rang true for me:
“…I think it goes back to that basic, primitive thought that guys are supposed to be macho and virile, and girls are supposed to be meek and pure. When a guy sleeps around (or wants to), many people just accept it as “natural instinct,” while they assume that when a girl does the same, she’s “broken” and her “natural instinct” to be chaste and pure has malfunctioned.”
I think this hits the nail on the head: we assume that a girl with a sexual appetite must have some sort of problem, be it moral (accusations that she’s a slut) or emotional (the assumption that she must have been abused, or similar) or some other manner of “malfunction.“ It appears to be rarely considered that, maybe, the girl just wants to have sex–no ulterior motives to speak of.
As an author, when I write sex, particularly in a YA storyline, I have two goals in mind: 1) that it’s not gratuitous; the sex must move the story or the characters along in some way, and 2) the sex isn’t the whole point of the story/the motivation of the characters. These two goals could be seen as counter to one another, so let me explain with an example: when Leah and Drake make love for the first time, it is transformative for them both. It catapults their characters, both separately and as a pair, into the next phase of their relationship and connection. It is a pivotal point in both of their character arcs. However, Leah’s goal for the summer was not to lose her virginity, nor was it to sleep with Drake (or vice versa.) Their physical/sexual relationship is neither gratuitous to the story, nor central. That’s the balance I’m always trying to strike when writing characters whose story includes a sexual relationship.
So, what do you think? Have you encountered disapproval of young girls having sexual experiences as you’ve read/shared/discussed YA lit with your friends, families, teachers, etc? What do you think drives that? Do you agree or disagree with their disapproval? I’d love to know!