Thursday, June 21, 2012

ENTRY POLL: Which do you think is more acceptable for Young Adult literature?
In a forum that I'm part of, one parent asked for recommendations for "cleaner" YA fantasy books for her daughter. She said that violence wasn't a problem, but she was concerned about drug use, adult language, and most of all, sex.

Now, this mother is the only person in the forum who knows her daughter. Those guidelines might be exactly what her daughter wants/needs. I recognize and respect that. However, a few of us couldn't help wondering why violence was okay, but sex wasn't.

Violence over sex is not an uncommon preference -- at least not in America. (Maybe because of our Puritan roots?) But not everyone in the world agrees, or even understands. Europeans, for example, are known for their open attitudes towards sex and nudity. When I studied abroad in Spain, even the conservative, Catholic, middle school teacher I was staying with said to me, “It makes no sense. Why do Americans enjoy watching cars crash and people beating each other bloody, but then they get so upset to see two people making love?”

I didn’t have a good answer for her.

Look, I understand that not every teen is ready for sex. But should any teen be ready for violence?

And what do we accomplish by teaching them that sex is taboo? The taboo label is meant for things that are bad, scary, or dangerous.

Sex, when done right, is none of those things. Sex is by definition a natural and necessary part of human life. It’s the only way to continue. It can be a way to connect.

Violence, on the other hand, is ugly. A force to be wielded with great care and consideration. Not encouraged, and certainly not glorified.

Or at least, that’s my opinion. What’s yours?

EXIT POLL: Which do you think is more acceptable for young adults in real life?


Alissa said...

Wow. This is a post that really makes you think.

I think it's hard to come to a rock solid conclusion for either polls. Although, in my opinion, I'd have to side with violence being more acceptable, if only because it's such a part of our everyday lives. While I know sex is just as much a part of our lives, too, it's more restricted (or treated more socially unacceptable) than violence.

Anonymous said...

I think in a way that's exactly why sex is considered more uneasy (offensive?) for people. Because they're things that will most likely naturally occur at some point in a life.

Violence, at least to me personally, isn't something that I'd get a curiosity for, so no matter how many horror films/books/news channels I read or watch it's not going to make me consider doing it.

We do have a high crime rate in our country too. Every day you hear about something horrible happening to someone and we're fairly desensitized to it now.

Our culture shapes us, and we're a culture that doesn't like to confront things we think is uncomfortable, but we also don't want someone else offering that information in our place.

Carrie Mesrobian said...

I think sex is more a part of our every day lives. I'd rather that than violence, at least. But sex is everywhere, too. And I'd rather live in a world that was open about it than in this world that is anything-goes when it comes to violent content.

lanna-lovely said...

Sorry, this comment got longer than I intended:

I'm not really a fan of censoring things in YA books in general. It's the execution that matters, not the subject matter itself.

If it shows something realistically, then I'm fine with it (like sex in YA books shouldn't be portrayed the way it would be in an erotic novel, drugs or drinking shouldn't be showing it in a way that promotes it and makes it seem all positive etc.)

I voted sex in both polls, because sex is a natural part of life while violence isn't/shouldn't be.

I believe that teens can decide for themselves what they are ready to read about, it's a subjective thing.

I'm Scottish btw - you mentioned in the post that Americans seem to have a different attitude to this sort of thing and that is so true (for example: there's page 3 girls in some news papers here, papers that people will casually read with their morning tea and not even blink an eye at the topless woman as they turn the pages. Or if you compare the US version of Skins to the original UK version - the US one is so watered down but they're both teen shows.)

Last thing:

I think the reason some parents would prefer violence in books to sex is because they *know* sex is natural. There'll come a time when their son or daughter will want to have sex and they know that and they're afraid that reading about it will make it happen that much sooner so they'd rather a book promote abstinence or not mention sex at all.

They don't have to have that same fear with violence, violence isn't natural and the majority of people reading about it won't get violent urges by reading about it and even if they did, it's not something the many people would act on and there's laws against violence that there aren't for sex.

Matthew MacNish said...

I don't believe in keeping anything out of YA novels. It all exists, so why not write about it?

Now, in real life, I would love it if violence didn't exist, teen-pregnancy too, but they do.

Rebecca Barrow said...

I mean, sex over violence. Every time. Would I rather read a book where teens were having sex or beating each other's brains in? But I know a lot of people won't agree with me...I do think it's weird, though, that on TV we are shown people cut in half, chopped up with their organs hanging out, but their genitals are strategically covered up/blurred out. The parts that each of us has on our own bodies! But if that's what they want to tell us is acceptable, then I guess they can do that. (But when I have kids I think I will be teaching them the opposite). Great post!

kaye (paper reader) said...

I think the issue for me is that it's never as clear cut as saying that sex is better than violence. I mean, that's a statement completely stripped of any realistic overtones. Sex is natural and beautiful, but I've read some books where it's just something people do with whomever, no big deal. It's blasé. There's no discussion of consequences.

In a world where things are discussed, people are aware of their actions, then, yes, absolutely I would pick sex as a topic in YA over violence. Violence, for me, is never ever the answer.

Unknown said...

I just did a post on another facet of this topic, using The Hunger Games as an example (right here, if anyone cares.)

Personally, I remember going to see a Bond movie in theatres when I was thirteen, and being thrilled every time James beat another faceless baddie to death with his bare hands. Not saddened at the loss of life, but happy because the film presented death as a positive event. And yet, in the inevitable sex scenes, the women were always covered.

Sex is a part of life (one of the better parts, if we're being honest,) and something productive members of society enjoy every day. Cold blooded murder… not so much. Dunno, I've always wondere what is says about us that we're willing to let kids watch violence, but God forbid they see a naked woman...

linda said...

Wow, the difference in results of the entry vs. exit polls is really interesting.

I would definitely choose sex over violence. I hate reading about/watching violence, with all the blood-spewing and bone-cracking and PAIN (I am basically a wimp when it comes to this sort of stuff). I also understand the worry about being desensitized to it or glorifying it. That doesn't mean I think violence in unacceptable, but for me it's just not something I enjoy reading about and I would not be upset at all if the amount of violence in YA and other forms of media went down.

I care a lot more about portrayals of sex. The messages I grew up hearing make me so angry now -- messages abut how sex is wrong and dirty and sinful and you must remain pure until your marriage to someone of the opposite sex to be a good person, and heaven forbid if you feel any desire or lust outside of that context, never mind act on it. I think it's so sad our society sees sex as taboo (as well as other messed-up attitudes when it comes to sex and sexuality), and this is a big reason why I'd like to see more sex in YA.

I'd want young adults to be able to find books that portray their current and eventual sexual choices as normal and acceptable, with characters including but not limited to: teens who make informed choices to have sex or not have sex against peer pressure, teens who find sex uncomfortable or painful, teens who love sex with one special person at a time or with lots of partners, teens who abstain for various reasons, teens who struggle with the emotional implications of sex, teens who see it as a purely physical act, teens who are informed when it comes to contraception and safety, teens who deal with significant negative consequences of sex, teens who don't run into any major problems, teens who do and don't orgasm, teens who only like vanilla sex, teens who experiment with kinky sex -- basically, teens who make a wide range of personal, preferably informed decisions regarding whether and with whom and how to have sex and dealing with the potential consequences.

Of course, not all teens are ready for or would want to read about everything on this list, and parents have the choice to keep these kinds of books away from their kids. But I think it would be awesome if those books were available, so at least teens that want to can find reading material that reflect what sex is like in real life, provide some food for thought regarding their own sexuality, expand their horizons, and/or make them feel represented in YA lit so they realize they're not alone or weird or messed-up. And that way, when they get older maybe they'll have healthier attitudes toward sex than we do.

Jennifer Dominique said...

So I guess parents would rather have their kids lose their lives in the Hunger Games than lose their virginity?

Maybe it has something to do with teen pregnancy...

Hmmm. I'm going to be thinking about this topic all day now, lol.

Michelle Santiago said...

i totally agree (btw my answer for both polls was sex). i also don't understand why violence is more okay than sex.

Carmen Shaw said...

For the first poll, I chose violence over sex because I just think that young adult are more susceptible to be involved in some kind of violence rather than sex, especially if you go to public school. I've gone to public school all my life and there are fights every single year. I'm not the kind of person to gravitate to that kind of thing, or even like it but it's just happens whether you enjoy it or not. But I've never seen people having sex lol. Of course, some teens are having sex but violence is more involved in kids lives nowadays... that's definitely not a good thing, but it IS realistic thing... With sex, at least you can avoid it MORE, than you could with violence... I believe. Great post! It makes you think!

Shae @ Understanding Shae's Story

Kristan said...

I just want to thank each and every one of you for your very thoughtful comments. I don't want to add anything or argue, because my goal was simply to state my thoughts and then learn what others think. If you agree: fantastic! If not: I just want to understand why.

(Also, I purposely left out "Neither" as a choice for the polls, because I'm sure that would be the ideal for many people. But that would have been too easy of an out and wouldn't have made us think as much!)

I'm so glad this made people stop and consider their positions, and I hope we'll all continue to ponder this issue and how it impacts stories, our lives, and most importantly, the lives of children.

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