Violence? Fine! Sex? No way!
Stick with me here…First let me tell you where this question comes from. I often find myself sitting behind a table talking about books–mine and other people’s–with parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents. Often the question comes up: what age is this book appropriate for? Folks are almost never asking about reading level. Their concern is about content.
Now in Watersmeet, there is a hint of romance but no sex. There’s not even kissing. There is violence. The story is about a world in the first stages of a war. There is a monster who wants to lay waste to whole communities. There is prejudice, hatred, loss of parents. Folk fight with real weapons and folk die–not just the “bad guys.” In The Centaur’s Daughter, there is more romance, some kissing and cuddling, but no sex. The violence is equally prevalent.
So, when someone asks me what age my books are appropriate for, I usually cut right to the chase. I say: “There is some romance but no sex. No language. But there is some violence.” It’s on the third point when a lot of folks wave their hands as if to say, No worries. You gave me the answer I wanted: no sex, no language. They never ask what kind of violence is involved: is it graphic, is it tortuous? They never ask if critical main characters die, the ones that a reader might really care about. Some people even say, out loud, “Oh, violence is okay.”
Part of me understands this. I’m a parent, and as a parent I do worry about the way my children will understand and make decisions around sex and relationships. Children have been “sexed up” in this generation–on TV, in movies, in their clothing choices.
On the other hand, I don’t get it. It’s okay to see people beat each other, shoot each other, kill each other, but–eeeeek!–don’t let them kiss and cuddle or even “go all the way”? There doesn’t seem to be room in this conversation for, “Well, my MC is 17, she has been dating her boyfriend for a long time, she goes with her mother to planned parenthood to get birth control and an HIV test”–a model of responsible sex. Once sex is acknowledged, the conversation is over.
Think for a moment about The Hunger Games, a book I loved. Loads of violence. No sex. Young kids are reading it. To be fair, there has been some flap over the violence, but how much worse would it have been if Katniss and Peeta were also having sex in that cave?
Another one: Twilight. Violence. It’s about werewolves and vampires. (Yes, the hero vampires were animal eaters, but they’re an anomaly.) But, the book is praised because it’s supposed to be a metaphor for abstinence. Never mind what I would call some very questionable images of young women and what they are looking for in a love relationship.
So, I don’t get it. Sex is going to be part of every person’s life. In fact, as adults, we see sex as a healthy part of our lives. Violence is not seen as healthy. And yet, when kids are young, we shy away from acknowledging this part of their psychology. We’re reluctant to let our kids see what can go wrong or what can go right in an intimate relationship, but we have lots of books about battles, war, weapons–my books among them.
It’s not that I think violence should be cut out of books. I just don’t understand why beating someone is seen as less of a taboo than kissing someone.