I have a twleve-year-old going through Sex Ed right now at a public school. Also, I like to write books for teens, so for me, the sexual habits of teenagers are as thoroughly fascinating as they are concerning. In books for teens it’s almost unrealistic not to at least mention the subject. What’s interesting to me is that the way the subject is being handled in books is more honest, more healthy, and helpful to teens than what they’re getting in class (at least, my kiddo’s class).
What’s in YA books: Everything. But, in the books I read the sex means something to the development of the character. Over the few years I’ve been writing, I’ve seen more sex scenes and themes than I thought I would. I think this is great. I want my kids to read them. (I want my kids to read ALL books) I have a sex scene in my book (Oh help me when/if my parents read it), which I figured would get cut somewhere along the revision process, though I hope it wouldn’t. It hasn’t yet, but there’s still time. I have solid reasoning for having in there that I’ve been prepared to voice, if questioned. I don’t want to give specifics here on the blog because that would be spoilery. So, let’s say it’s pretty important to character development. It’s one of the things in life that separate the men from the boys, if you will. And in YA literature, isn’t that the central struggle of any book? The blurry area of kid-ness vs. adult-ness. One of the things I appreciate so much about YA is that when a character in a book (and hopefully one that the reader is rooting for) goes through growth and change because of sexual relationship, it can shape the reader’s ideas about sex. And, we’re all just so damn curious about it at that age! If done well, the character will have consequences for their sexual actions, whether it be sex is pretty awesome or we should’ve used protection, or so this is (or isn’t) love, or whatever. My point is that the reading experience is far more informative and meaningful than class.
What’s in class: Abstinence. (and other people) My daughter brought home a paper we had to sign that acknowledged the school stance on sex. Josh signed it alright, and included a few words about how unrealistic it is to think teaching abstinence will be effective. Day one, Eleanor came home and was surprised and irritated that she was the only one brave enough to ask questions (Go, Eleanor! Proud parent right here.) The next day she came home scared of AIDS and asking how many people Josh and I had slept with before we got married. (I told her, btw.) I’m not bothered that she was scared of AIDS, because everyone should be. But the school’s answer to AIDS is abstinence. So, I was left to inform her that I wasn’t ashamed of or scared to have sex with people who hadn’t become my husband, because I’d used protection. Thanks, public school. The third day she came home and said, “I asked my teacher how we were supposed to have babies if we never had sex?” The teacher replied that he was teaching abstinence because that’s what the school had told him to teach. (That’s Eleanor’s paraphrasing) And Eleanor concluded (right or wrong) that he probably didn’t believe what he was teaching. Now, I’m thrilled my kiddo is asking questions at home and at school, but I KNOW she’s in the minority. And even with her asking all the questions, I hope she’ll explore the issue in her reading, where it’s safe and she can’t get AIDS.