Readin’, Writin’, and…Sex?

Nice article in Salon challenging the “alarmist” findings that over half of young adult novels have sexually explicit content in them — which ranges from Rated G kissing to sexual intercourse. And, according to Salon columnist Tracy Clark-Flory, the study authors seem to find this problematic (note: I was not able to locate the study or even the abstract, so I am commenting on something through hearsay in this post).

I can only scratch my head in wonder over their concerns. Let’s see, what was I reading when I was a young adult? Oh yeah. There was the 1975 classic Forever, by Judy Blume, which told the story of a teen losing her virginity. Tame stuff. Then there were the VC Andrews books that made the rounds in my school — these lovely tales featured sexual exploration among siblings locked in an attic. Finally, there were Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, telling sexual tales of all sorts, including a relationship between two vampires — one of whom was embodied in a 8-year-old girl. While I admittedly have not read many of the young adult novels that are reviewed for this recent study, I cannot imagine the current sexual exploits are more fringe than the ones I read growing up. But correct me if I’m wrong.

And let’s not forget what teens are writing themselves. I wrote this post  sometime back about youth-authored fanfiction. If we shield teens from sexual content, then they are going to just make their own. Or find it somewhere else. So, let’s not be too concerned when a young person buries their nose in a book. At least their vocabulary might increase.


Teens creating "adult" content

I have been wondering about teens who write fanfiction and more specifically whether teens write stories that are rated “mature” for sexual content. This interest stems from my overall interest in how the internet impacts sexuality and sexual development and also from the fact that when I was young I was an avid fan of several TV shows (and starstuck by the leads) that were popular back then. I can’t help but wonder how large a role fandom would have played in my life had Television Without Pity existed when I was a kid.

From a research standpoint I have taken a very strategic approach to this question through triangulation. I study the impact of the internet on teen sexuality while also investigating adult-authored erotic fanfiction. Eventually, I tell myself, it will be “safe” to actually take a systematic look at how teens use fanfiction to express their sexuality — or at the very least write about sex. But today I simply decided to take a little sneak peek to answer the simple question: Do teens write sexually explicit material and publish it online?

Answer: Of course they do.

In about 15 minutes of exploring a popular fanfiction site, I read one story about Draco giving Harry a blow job and another featuring two characters on the OC having wild sex after a party (red lingerie included). Both stories were allegedly written by 17-year-old women (pictures and “about me” statements included in their bios help validate their claims).

So, what to make of this? Not sure. Should we cringe at the very idea that teens are writing stories that they are banned from purchasing? Or should we celebrate the fact that they are expressing themselves sexually in a relatively safe environment? I mean, you can’t get pregnant or an STD from writing sexy stories now, can you? And at least they are not sending naked pictures of themselves, a crime with potentially serious consequences.

It will be a long while before anyone really pays attention to this phenomenon. But when they do, you can bet adults will be upset. Adults are always upset when they hear stories about teens expressing their sexuality — never mind their sexual desire. And writing fanfiction is all about desire. I just hope that when people realize this is going on, that there are many worse things out there that can actually cause harm.