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.