Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sex +, or Why You Should Read Kody Keplinger

When you write for young adults, I would argue that as an author you open yourself to an intensified public judgment and criticism. Some well-intentioned, others purely mean spirited, the blow back YA authors receive derives largely from conflicting opinions about what teens can and can't handle in literature and/or what they should or should not be exposed to.

Whether it be religion, drugs, or violence every reader and writer has an opinion about if a line for content in YA novels exists and where it should be drawn. And no subject garners more debate than S-E-X.

I haven't been shy about expressing my opinion on censorship, book challenges, and book banning. There's no room in my heart or mind for any of the above. I'm also proud to call myself a feminist and, for me, part of being a feminist is decrying double standards in sex and gender as well as the propagation of sex ignorance among young people, especially young women.

Working against double standards and ignorance is what I think of as sex positive education. Today, YA Author Kody Keplinger, offered up an important and fantastic blog post about what sex positive means (to her) and I couldn't agree more. Kody is the author of The Duff and the upcoming Shut Out (her take on Aristophanes' Lysistrata - one of my all-time favorite plays!) Kody is a brave and talented writer. And she's in college - I wish I would have been the force of amazing that she is when I was that young!!!

So I was more than humbled and honored that Kody mentioned Nightshade as a sex positive book. For me there is no higher compliment. And it's particularly meaningful given that some criticism I've seen of Nightshade is that it's too much "lust" and not enough "love." While the few comments along those lines I've seen don't surprise me, they do frustrate me. Here's why:

Sex and romance aren't the same thing, but in books they are very often equated or conflated. In Nightshade, Calla lives in a world of gendered hierarchies and sexual double standards. When she comes face to face with her own awakening sexuality, she's totally unprepared for it because she's been taught to deny that part of herself. Yes - she's experiencing lust. Of course she is! Sexual feelings and impulses are part of life, particularly in the hormone bonanza that is adolescence, learning how to understand and process all those lusty moments and how to separate lust from real love is a key part of growing up. Growing up and finding herself are what Calla is doing. It's what all young people are doing and I believe they need all the maps and guidebooks we can offer to help them on that journey.

Too often our culture still expects young women to ignore or repress the fact that we, as humans, are sexual beings while the opposite expectation dictates the ideologies around young men's sexualities. (FYI: I'm talking in heteronormative terms here - there's a whole world of additional silencing and repression when it comes to LGBT sexualities. Catherine Ryan Hyde had an amazing post on this topic recently). These double standards lead to confusion, frustration, fears and even dangerous consequences in the lives of young adults.

There will always be voices shouting down a sex positive take on young adults and sex education. There are those who believe young people should be sheltered from tough topics and they will continue to try to censor books that teens need to read: books on domestic abuse, drugs and alcohol, depression and cutting, and yes - sex. Teens need these books because they aren't sheltered. They are alive and life is hard.

Sex positive = whole lives, healthy lives.

Thank you, Kody.


  1. Great post Andrea! I agree. Reading about sex and drugs and all of the above isn't going to stop kids from figuring it out on their own. What needs to happen is the proper guidance in the home. Besides it's not like teenagers are naive at all. They can decipher from fantasy and fiction and I think that introducing a little reality into books is a great thing. Ive read Nightshade ( loved it btw :) ) and I did not get that impression at all!! Book banning is just ridiculous because it's censorship and just plain silly. Do not criticize the author's for writing about what we all experience in our every day lives. And besides when it comes to your book which is about werewolves sex is a huge part of the werewolf culture. Its a major element to their story and it's not like you could have left that out lol.

    I love your outlook Andrea!! p.s cannot wait for Wolfsbane :)

  2. *gives standing ovation* Thank YOU, Andrea and Kody, for speaking up.


  3. Thanks for the link to Kody's article. I must have missed that.

    I think books provide a safe, disease and consequence free place for teens to learn about sex and relationships. I'd rather see books for teens with messages like it's okay to responsibly embrace your sexuality, whatever that is, than the ones with more *ahem* unrealistic pairings (which are usually rife in YA paranormal).

    Our culture's attitudes toward sex (and don't even get me started on violence) are seriously skewed and repressive. Books shouldn't be censored for helping teens work through their own emotions, for helping them analyze thoughts they were probably having anyway.

    Thanks for this, Andrea.

  4. I love that we have the same outlook, Andrea. I definitely think that a lot of the problem is a cultural stereotype that females must want romance and males must want sex. (This was actually a key point in the presentation I gave that Nightshade was part of). It's not fair taht we push the genders into these positions. Some girls DON'T want romance. Some girls DO want sex. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.

    So glad you liked my post! <3

  5. Thank you for writing this post. <3

  6. The problem with learning about this topic I find as high school student at the moment is finding a balance. People can be so embarrassed or miss led that they can't find a balance or see the difference between fact and fiction. I see that boys just want sex they never get emotional and girls think they can be like that, they copy and get called slags; the guys get off scot free. Girls don't see that they are more emotional and more mentally ahead of boys so they'll end up hurt and boys can't see they need to slow down.

    Parents and teachers don't know how to handle the subject I mean a class or 20 to 40 15 to 16 year olds is hard to handle. When you throw sex, relationships and love into the equation it just becomes chaos. So most teachers avoid it and just shove a pamphlet at you at the end of the lesson.

    I don't think as a reader nightshade was bad at all. I felt that there was a lot of balance between all the different plots, nothing was to much or to less. If people want to complain about sex in books they should stop and take a look at the teen community.Sex is every where and much more explicit in music, movies and TV dramas. YA books are probably one of the only part of the teen media that considers boundary lines from a moral aspect.

    People should also consider teen life. We are so much more open now that teens pretty much have so much more freedom than 10 or 20 years ago. The amount of girls I know with fake ideas going to clubs is amazing. The thing is not everyone cares, some people don't care enough and so little do that not enough is done to reinforce balance.

    Andrea as a fan please carry on doing what your doing because me and my friends are fans because you do what you do very well :)

  7. My character is 17 and she has sex. Nothing graphic-- I cut out before that stuff happens. I didn't put the relationship in there to teach a lesson. I put it in there to be true to the story and to be true to myself. I had a similar relationship at that age. It was about being with that person fully and escaping the problems I was going through at that time. Sex wasn't the big deal that everyone had made it out to be. It was just sex. It was something between the two of us and although others tried to stick their noses in our business, it was still just between us. When the relationship ended five years later, it was one of the most painful things that I've ever had to deal with and that was my consequence of learning to love and lust for one person. That's what I've tried to show in my character's life. That's the only way I feel I can be true.

  8. Interesting. I read Nightshade, loved it, and didn't perceive it as a book with excessive sexuality/sensuality. Those aspects seemed very organic and natural to the story. I think a lot of people forget how much sex is on the brain when you're an adolescent. Even if they haven't indulged in the act, they think about it--a lot. Puberty is biological.

    The biochemical switch gets turned on and away we go. So yeah. Sex and sexual feelings are going to get a great deal of play in many YA books because that's where many of the kids heads are at, during that stage of development.

    I have read some books, one popular one that I think has too much casual sex and I wasn't comfortable passing my ARC on. I know kids do this, but I didn't want to be part of promoting it. Any who, I think Nightshade is a terrific read; the characters feelings were real and I definitely recommend it. I was so happy to get two ARCs. I kept one and gave away the other on my blog. It's one of my favorite books of 2010!

  9. I am a teen myself, I have your book but have not bean able to read it yet.
    I always try NOT to get any books with sex in it, period. I don't believe teens or anyone who is unmarried should think about sex. I love reading and it upsets me greatly when there is sex in a book, or sexual tension.
    I am home schooled and have never been in a public school, but I know and understand that kids have drugs, alcohol, cutting, and sex all around them everyday. So yes I believe PARENTS should talk to their kids even before they enter high school about this stuff so they are not ignorant when they are pressured or when they feel lust.
    However, I do not understand why authors must put this stuff in books, I think that if authors, movie makers, TV shows (don't say that if it wasn't in it then it wouldn't be entertainment, look at bewitched, thats a show thats clean and entertainment, theres alot out there) and music left all of this junk out then MAYBE the teenagers wouldn't be so pressured, or feel like they are the only ones not doing anything, or when they read books and a girl thinks she is a freak for being a virgin then that will put it in the girl who is reading it believes she is also a freak.

    I understand, however, that this will never happen. Teens will have sex, get pregnant, and do drugs. It's apart of this world and it is going to get worse.
    What can I do? Keep avoiding these books, review them and let people know what they have in them, and when I have kids, make them sit and listen to me when I tell them about all of this, even masturbation. I do not care if they will hate me for it, in the long run they will be glad I informed them about the temtations in the world.

    Sorry if I offended anyone I don't mean too at all.

  10. Parents shouldn't hide the fact from teens and young adults that people have sex, yes it's true unfortunately and that there are bad and good reasons for sex. When the fact is hidden then that's where teens become rebels; because they really want to know what it is and why parents are hiding it from them.

    When it comes to putting it in books, they should. Let's use Calla for example (Hope you don't mind Mrs. Cremer). She's not entirely wolf so she's going to have wolf/werewolf/shapeshifter tendencies. What I mean by that is the urge or drive to mate because of the lust. It doesn't have to be about love (From what I studied wolves most likey don't have reason for that). Mostly a higher calling or to reproduce otherwise like I said just to mate. Wolves do this (Mostly the alpha pair only) to show status and to reproduce, expanding their pack. Also when it comes to a new fully mature wolf the sexual drive tends to be stronger and not necessarily to reproduce either but because they now can and they want to challenge the previous alpha leader for his status among the pack (mostly this happens to males). As for females I'm not quite sure but it could be for status as well but most likely to reproduce. Males tend to be more aggressive and dominant.

    So not putting it in books like these (such as paranormal and fantasy) would be denying some truth to the species (or ones close to the fantasy species). I am now 18 but I read books like these when I was younger and in my opinion it's much easier to understand because the books break it down rather than going to school and reading it in the biology textbooks (Now, now, not everyone is a science freak). Not only that but for those of you who hadn't read actual adult romance and romance fantasy books (Like Christine Feehan's Dark series - not rating her books as bad I love the series, just using it as an example) then I would like to tell you that these young adult and teen rated books are nothing compared to the adult books like Ms. Feehan's is when it comes to the details of sex.

  11. I mean't "not entirely human.) My apologies.