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.


~ by ellenjensenabbott on August 19, 2012.

5 Responses to “Violence? Fine! Sex? No way!”

  1. Beautifully done, on every level.

  2. I remember discussing this issue in my Children’s Lit class in college. It didn’t make sense to any of us, either.

  3. I think it’s something that’s left over from before the women’s rights movement. It was normal for a woman to not even know much about sex before the night of their honeymoon. They knew the basics, like a man and woman created a baby but women back then were raised to think “clean, healthy and insubstantial thoughts” and to leave all thinking to their husbands. Women were meant for breeding and pleasing men, nothing else. Plus everyone was really religious so losing your virtue before you were married was taboo. In today’s society, some of that still happens to some degree. I mean, it’s normal for a teenage guy to look at naked women and some fathers encourage that behavior in their sons. But would a father encourage their daughter to look at naked men? I don’t think so. I then think, mothers typically don’t encourage that kind of thing either. Mothers in general try to teach modesty to their children, but mostly with their daughters. So that’s why some parents are really sensitive to that I think. But when it comes to violence, it’s more accepted by society because it is our most basic form of defense psychologically “fight or flight”. So humans by our very nature are more adapted to violence. Though sex is a basic human drive, because of the so many years before women’s rights, our sexual nature had been contained, and now it’s like everyone is having sex once they reach 8th grade, or at least that’s what the media wants you to think. I guess I’m just rambling now, so I will end it here.

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