Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's Talk about Sex Baby....

As I am slogging through a particularly dense critical text for Genre History Crit and Theory, I reach a chapter titled "And then I came" Sex and Power in Adolescent Literature. Consquently it has been the most interesting chapter in the book thus far, despite the dense technical jargon. One of the points it brings up is how, since adults are the authors, they impose societal and their own bias and condemnations on teens having sex in their books. Truthfully I never stopped to think about how many books punish their sexually active characters with ruin, pregnancy, or death. Most of the time, its the woman who suffers more for her promiscuity, which means even though our societal is supposed to be much more accepting and free, we still haven't come all that far from Hester Prynne. Gays and lesbians have the even rawer deal, as half of their texts concentrate on trying to normalize "gayness", but they also often end in death, ruin, or just a really bad day. Even the few books the writer points out are on the more positive side don't really cut it for me.
So how do I feel about sex in my stories? I know its a tricky subject. I like to think of myself as a open minded person, but even as a teenager, I KNEW there were consequences to sex if you did not protect yourself. There were girls in my small hometown class who went through pregnancy or abortions before we graduated. But I can't condemn them. They all have their reasons for sex. I personally chose not to in high school. But the second I got to college all bets were off.
Character wise, I've never really thought about how I handle sex or intimate scenes in my stories. In my thesis piece, I have sexually experienced woman who is being pursued by a virgin male. He makes the first move, but she puts him off for many of his first attempts. Although she is attracted to him, she does not want to ruin his innocence, and she doesn't want to become deeply involved with him because she knows she is terminally ill. But sex does come into play eventually, as love kinda steam rolls it over. In this case I guess I am promoting the bias that sex should come after love. And my female protagonist is going to die. But I don't consider her punished for her sexual activity.
In Blue Zone however, the chapter I am writing write now has Mina engage in kiss that she intiates without love. At first she thinks she is sleep walking in a dream, but she quickly realizes she's more "awake" than asleep. However she takes advantage of this state because the one she kisses, Felix, assumes she is alseep and believes she will forget the action. Hopes she will forget in fact as he feels he has taken advantage of her even though she is the one doing the kissing. It is a dynamic I hope to play on later of Mina's feminine power over Felix.
Is Mina a virgin. If I wrote a character profile of her, I'm not sure how I would tackle this question. She is sixteen, which is the older end of the high school spectrum, and she is mature through life experience. But I don't think she trusts men with her father issues of abandonment. It is food for thought. I think I have to really think on the subject for a bit.


Karen Romano Young said...

Not sure what happened to the comment I made after your emergency room post. It may have gotten lost in the web... I'm sorry about your troubles, and I'm amazed at how you maintain your energy and keep moving forward.

What is the book you're reading with the sex and power chapter? That sounds like something I'd be interested in reading, too.

I've done a huge amount of research on gay history, including LGBT young adult books. It is changing and evolving -- but the whole issue of getting punished for sex is still very real. Our most visible mainstream movie in recent times, Brokeback Mountain, was set in the sixties and included one guy getting killed and the other having to pretend for the rest of his life. Really modern thinking there! And I'm following the Don't Ask, Don't Tell situation very closely and with great hope. The tide will turn.

As for your own writing, and the activities of your character, I would encourage you to write from the heart, and from what you feel to be most true about your character. That said, you don't have to tell the reader everything.

In my novel Cobwebs, in which Nancy tries to figure out how her parents' spider genes (a ground dweller and a jumping spider) will manifest in her, she falls in love with a boy who also has spider genes. Theirs is a very physical relationship, but, though there's a lot of sensuality in it, I don't actually say whether anything happens between them. As I wrote on (Spiders is the second book, but hasn't been published) they became "closer" and the parents became more agitated about the possibility of their having sex, because a child of theirs could have some whacky powers and Nancy and Dion needed to be really ready for it. Still, they were probably having sex. I just never went there in the book. They slept together on roofs... So you don't have to say everything, and you can raise all the controversies and values issues if you want without compromising what you know your characters would or wouldn't do.

I think it's important to stay true to yourself, and to write as honestly as possible. You can always scale back later if it feels wrong to you.

Krazydiamond said...

I've been thinking a lot lately of the physciality of my characters, mainly because I am trying to establish with myself how big a want Mina and Felix's romance to play in the story. mmmm. I like implications myself.

Krazydiamond said...

Oh the name of the book is "Disturbing the Universe, Power and Repression in Young Adult Literature" by Roberta Trites.

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