|A bit of sex, drugs and rock and roll|
Sex is, as Dr Lucy Pearson, stated nothing new. She notes that there was a change following the publication of Judy Blume's Forever in 1975. Once again that is a US book. Sex has been portrayed in books for young adults for many years in the UK (you could potentially go back to Penelope Aubin and her books in the Eighteenth Century where her main characters are often young teenagers and sexually active). Another example is Aidan Chambers' book Breaktime (1978) where he split the page in two when he explored his main characters' first experience. On one side the sex was described from the perspective of Dr Spock's A Young Person's Guide to Life and Love while on the other it was how they actually felt. It was an honest and considered approached that pulled the reader in. In my own research, which focused on British young adult fiction from 1996, I noticed a distinct change in representation. It came out from under the metaphorical covers (literally in Melvin Burgess's Junk, where the sex is implied and happens in a sleeping bag) to being pretty full on in books like Burgess's Doing It, Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry, Noel Clarke's Kidulthood, Judy Waite's Game Girls, William Nicholson's Rich & Mad, Rachel Ward's Numbers and Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden. This is just a brief sample and they provide a wide range of sexual experiences from the gentle and exploratory in Rich & Mad to the offer of oral sex in exchange for drugs to sell so they can buy new dresses in Kidulthood. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I explore it far more in my thesis. An important point that I noted in my research was that the more graphic sex did not represent an increase in sex among teenagers necessarily, instead it seemed to reflect a reaction by author's to the availability of information and influences of youth culture.
In my opinion, sex in young adult fiction does have its place if it fits in with the story. I have said this many times before, it is all about being in context. I have quoted both Pullman and Burgess ad nauseum about this so won't do it again. But it is all about the vicarious experience. (See this TED talk by Dan Gilbert which talks about this too) Giving teenagers somewhere safe to go to and explore. However, I do have concerns when the publishers state they want to capture 'Fifty Shades of Grey effect for teenagers'. Do we really want girls (or boys even) to think that it is perfectly acceptable to be treated like this? Or maybe I am just an old fashioned feminist who is not overly keen on being in an abusive relationship.
And here is Jake Bugg with his song 'Two Fingers'