So, Suze Reese on her fun I <3 YA Blog Carnival has offered a new and interesting topic, and I'm not just saying that because it's based on my ramblings from last week. As she put it:
"Thanks to Cara M. for suggesting this week's topic. Cara pointed out that while 'a lot of people are very rah-rah about sex in YA...I doubt they would be so happy if an erotic romance subgenre started up.' I have to agree with that, though I'm sad to say I've seen hints of just such a subgenre."
I have to say, to some extent, I agree with Suze. I like a clean read. I like a book that if it says its going to be sci-fi or fantasy is actually sci-fi or fantasy, and isn't sex-sex-sex all the time. It's actually why I read more children's and YA than I do adult, because I couldn't stand being hit over the head with sex all the time. I didn't want there to even be the idea of sex in my books. That's what turned me off of Tamora Pierce and Anne McCaffery when I was young, because I couldn't bear the onset of puberty narrative. (Amusingly enough, I've gone back to Tamora Pierce and now I have a different point of view, which is that it's a rather boring narrative compared to the, say, fighting Spidrons option. I also realized that while some people are horrified by the casual mention of the existence of birth control in a fantasy world, I was horrified by the casual mention of the idea that any of these characters I identified with might ever want to not use it.) Then, of course, there was the dragons-mating which caused an overwhelming urge to couple in their human bonds in the Anne McCaffery books, which made me ill.
But I also know that when I was a little older, 13, 14, I wanted to read about sex. I wanted the information. And I ended up on the internet reading fanfiction. Fanfiction is very informative, but it's also very diverse. Things are well marked. You can choose what you want to read and you're not going to be tricked. Ratings and warnings are for the reader, so that they won't be shocked by what they find inside.
So honestly, I think I would prefer that there actually was a well marked (brown paper covered) erotic subgenre for YA. I would much rather that than to set off into what ought to be an innocuous book and discover it halfway through when I wasn't prepared. I doubt this will ever happen unless the publishing companies lose all grip on the market, but if they do, it's natural evolution. And what I would really like is for these books to contain positive, safe, and healthy depictions of sex and sexuality, of a variety of types of sex and sexualities. My real issue with 50 Shades of Grey is not its nature as fanfiction, nor its shoddy writing, but the fact that it is currently the most common exposure anyone has to D&S. D&S as a political culture has one of the most healthy attitudes to sex anywhere, which is that it is all about planning and communication and safety. That attitude is the one that needs to be shared, but right now only the titillation is being communicated.
50 Shades is mostly known for being read by adults, but I don't doubt a lot of its original popularity came from YA readers. When you're writing about sex for a YA audience I think the most important thing is to be honest, about the realities of it, about the dangers and the risks. But that doesn't mean it can't be erotic. If people can explore their sexualities through fiction it may make it less necessary to explore it physically right away, and being informed about the safe way to do things and about your own preferences and your responsibilities is always going to be better than going in blind and stupid.