This article is going to be about sex.
I figured I’d get that out of the way first before continuing.
I’m going to be talking about the obsession with sexual purity in young adult heroines.
This is an issue close to my heart because I find it difficult to find heroines that aren’t introduced as special flowers who have never bloomed, let alone even touched another boy (or girl!). But as I was reading The DUFF by Kody Keplinger, I realized it was high time to talk about the subject at length.
To put it bluntly, sex in YA tends to make you evil. The antagonist – especially in contemporary fiction – is always the sexually promiscuous girl, the bitch, the mean girl. The the heroine is always angelic and pure, has never been with a boy or at times, even thought about being with a boy. On the chance that the heroine isn’t a virgin, her past sexual experience is usually viewed as something traumatized, negative, or regretful.
Why? Because pre-marital sex is viewed as a major taboo in our society – despite the fact that almost everyone does it? Or is because YA is catering to a stereotypical bookworm, huddled in a corner away from the people around her?
Whichever it is, it’s unhealthy. Encouraging the idea that sex is this gross taboo that must be kept hidden does nothing but cause teenagers to feel insecure and alone in their pursuit of relationships. As for the stereotyping, all this does is narrow your prospective audience and alienate anyone else who could be showing a healthy interest in reading. Contrary to popular belief, not every bookworm is a virgin! Let that simmer in your head for a little bit.
But jokes aside: since when did YA, which is all about embracing the different lives that teenagers can lead, start valuing girls by the number of people they’ve slept with?
When I think about the list of books that feature heroines who have had previously healthy, consensual, happy relationships, it’s pathetically small: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Fire by Kristin Cashore.
And why is it only girls? How often do we read young adult books that feature sexually active boys? That can make them more appealing! So in addition to letting girls believe that their sexual activity equates to their worth, we’re also treating them that it’s completely fine for boys to do the same?
By following this road, you’re promoting a culture that forces girls to be ashamed of their sexuality and idealizes this purity myth – a myth that is a load of bullshit.
I’m not saying that heroines can’t be virgins – that would be ridiculous. What I’m saying is that authors should be more conscientious about not only their audience but the society that they’re contributing towards. What I’m saying is that diversity should feed into this: more girls who sleep with people simply because they wanted to, enjoyed it, aren’t judged for that fact!