Teen sex belongs in teen lit

My latest Locus column, "Teen Sex," explains why I think young adult literature should have sex -- and other "mature" topics -- in it.
There's really only one question: "Why have your characters done something that is likely to upset their parents, and why don't you punish them for doing this?"

Now, the answer.

First, because teenagers have sex and drink beer, and most of the time the worst thing that results from this is a few days of social awkwardness and a hangover, respectively. When I was a teenager, I drank sometimes. I had sex sometimes. I disobeyed authority figures sometimes.

Mostly, it was OK. Sometimes it was bad. Sometimes it was wonderful. Once or twice, it was terrible. And it was thus for everyone I knew. Teenagers take risks, even stupid risks, at times. But the chance on any given night that sneaking a beer will destroy your life is damned slim. Art isn't exactly like life, and science fiction asks the reader to accept the impossible, but unless your book is about a universe in which disapproving parents have cooked the physics so that every act of disobedience leads swiftly to destruction, it won't be very credible. The pathos that parents would like to see here become bathos: mawkish and trivial, heavy-handed, and preachy.

Cory Doctorow: Teen Sex

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  1. I have teenagers – I figure that part of them growing up is them screwing up – there are life lessons that don’t sink in when your parents tell you, you have to do some incredibly stupid things to realise why your parents were telling you not to do them – then the embarrassment, shame, terror, whatever kicks in and provides that reinforcement that helps them really learn

    As parents we have to make sure that they don’t screw up to badly, that they arrive at adult hood, alive, out of jail, without kids, a habit or an incurable disease and capable of making a living and a future for themselves – but not to insulate them completely from their own stupidity

    1. Ah if only good parenting could (alone) prevent any one of those! Still, we all do our best towards exactly that goal.

      With a considerably more traumatic adolescence than Cory’s, with many truly horrifying times, I still am surprised at how much I was able to survive back then, in spite of everything. Teens believe they’re indestructible, and most of them very nearly are. The pain of losing the ones that aren’t is considerable, but only occasionally preventable. Traffic accidents are the worst of it for most.

  2. The chance on any given night that sneaking a bonk will have a serious, permanent effect on a GIRL’s life is actually quite high.

    The lesson, of course, is not that prohibition should be pushed harder, but that the stigma and barriers to access should be removed from birth control, STD prevention and, as a last resort, abortion.

    That puritans draw the wrong conclusions isn’t a reason to discuss teen sex solely from a male perspective. (Nor is this comment heterosexist, since lesbian teens may be even more likely than straight girls to succumb to an error in judgment that lands them in bed with a boy.)

  3. Here’s why I purchase books that include teens having sex/doing drugs/etc for my library: it’s better for kids to explore these issues between the covers of a book than to try it in real life. Even though kids’re going to do what they’re going to do, all of these things are risky behaviors (pregnancy, disease, social awkwardness, etc) and if they can think twice first and really explore the issue emotionally, they may make a better decision, or at least be safer about risky behavior.

  4. The real tragedy with the situation is that these behaviors are even on a teens radar – these things are verboten in America. was a military brat and spent my formative teen years in Germany. Alcohol was not forbidden – I actually learned to drink responsibly there – before I could legally drive a car. Sex was something out in the open – KaiserStrasse in Frankfurt is world renown. So – alcohol and sex had no mystique for me when I returned to the states. It seems that turning 21 is a rite of passage where we turn an inexperienced youth out for an unbridled night on the town. How many of these young adults really screw it up because they aren’t prepared? Anyway – apparently we can overcome prejudice but not Puritanical roots. Eliminate restrictions on recreational drugs and alcohol and make them normal parts of life as they should be.

  5. I disagree. I am a teen (have not have sex or been drunk) in my senior year of high school with great friends, good health, good grades, and I am very happy.

    And I hate reading about sex in teen books. It makes me uncomfortable and seriously weakens the book in my opinion. Can the author seriously not keep the story moving so much that they have to have a sex scene?
    There are book without sex that have been successful. They reach out to a wider range of an audience, though marketed for teens. I feel fine reccommending them to friends.

    If there must be a sex scene, there needs to be reprecussions, as there are in real life. But I would not read a book like that if I had a choice either way. Even if it was a brilliant author.

    Also, the same effect can be had by insinuating that two people had sex, but not describing it. I’ve seen several books do this and am fine with it (allowing that there were reprecussions or that they were married).

    Keeping teens from having sex is the moral accountability of the parents, and a choice the teen has to make. I have no heard of one person that chose not to have premarital sex because of a book.

    1. See this is what we mean. Sex doesn’t = consequences. Sex doesn’t = cheap. Sex is a valid part of human experience that is still painted by many many people as wrong.
      There’s nothing wrong about it in marriage, out of marriage.

      Do you read to hear ideas that affirm your preexisting beliefs? Or do you read to expand your mind and open yourself to new ideas, especially those that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to?

  6. OK everybody get ready to flame me as a Nazi.

    I drank too much as a teen. There were too many times when I drank until I puked. Too many times when I drove while idiotically drunk. Too many times. I have lived with regret about my stupid behavior ever since then. And marveled that I never killed or maimed anyone. My experiences with alcohol were never “wonderful.”

    In my experience, teens do not generally “sneak a beer.” Teens get falling-down shit-faced drunk. And then do reckless things like drive.

    I think that people should write books the way they want them and I think that censorship is bad.

    I also think it’s a bad to suggest to a teen that an innocent “sneaking a beer” is a good thing. To my limited teenage brain, that message would have meant “Drinking is fun! Drinking is cool! So drink up. Drink! Drink! Drink!”

    At the same time I didn’t need books to tell me that.

    1. I don’t think that anyone’s going to “flame you as a Nazi” for projecting your teen drinking experiences onto others. But that is what you’re doing.

      Teens drink without getting drunk and even if they do get drunk, don’t always or inevitably get behind the wheel of a car; they try drugs without becoming stoners or junkies; they have sex without getting pregnant or contracting STDs. There are things that they can and should do to mitigate the risks inherent in these activities, and just as importantly, there needs to be the understanding that they should never feel pressured into trying these things if they don’t want to.

      But that whole “do as I say, not as I do or did” approach? The absolute worst way to go about keeping kids safe, bar none, the all-time classic.

      1. …and you are projecting your “teens drink but they don’t necessarily get drunk” view onto others. It boils down to whether you believe that the average 15 or 16 year old will drink responsibly or drink irresponsibly. I believe that, more often than not, it will be irresponsibly.

    2. I’m in my mid-twenties. I had my first smoke at 13, same with my first joint, my first drunk night was at 14. I often snuck one or two beers. I was mildly sexually active at 14 or 15, but didn’t have sex until 5 or 6 months after my 18 birthday. Yes, sometimes we got out of hand, but much more often we had some fun and no one got hurt. Part of the difference between me and friends I had who were complete idiots in high school was that I had never been sheltered against any of this stuff. I knew that my dad had done drugs before my older sister was born, and that he regretted it. I knew that my dad was sexually active in high school, and that he mostly regretting being irresponsible about it.
      My friends were simply kept from knowing about any of those issues, or were simply told that all booze sex and drugs were always evil in any amounts, ever.

      Little Brother is a wonderful book, that I will certainly recommend to my children when I have them.

  7. I really think we need more literature like this for young adults. It isn’t that it glorifies such activities, but that there are both good and bad consequences to the actions teenagers take. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to pretend that teens don’t drink, don’t have sex, or don’t do a number of other things that could potentially end well. I think the key word is potentially, though, as some of these types of things end very, very well.

    So, glorify it? Of course not. But talk about it in a way that lets readers know what happened, and that the effects of that event can carry on beyond that one day or night, yes.

    For me, I knew about sex before I had it for the first time. My parents had mentioned the mechanics of things, and how to stay safe, but there was always the, “but do NOT do it!” attitude always attached. So I knew mostly what to expect in terms of the physical aspects, but I was completely unprepared for the emotional impact it had on me. However, it isn’t an experience I regret, nor is it something I think others should avoid. It’s part of life, and that means doing things without knowing what the outcome will be.

  8. Life is all about risk, and learning to live is learning to manage risk. The primary issue with portrayal of any risky activity in any art form is whether or not it encourages the risky behaviour in the audience without giving a realistic representation of the risk. Teens do not have a good grasp of risk assessment, and they don’t have the experience to know how real life and fiction differ.

    Getting drunk when you don’t have the necessary self-control to avoid getting in a car and getting killed (or killing somebody else) is not behaviour we want to encourage — the risk is too great. Similarly, unprotected sex can lead to total destruction of a young woman’s life if pregnancy results (some might have an out through abortion, but others might not, and most teenage mothers and many families of teenage mothers will not be able to provide a good home in such a circumstance).

    These are not behaviours we want to encourage.

    As human beings, where do our responsibilities end? Are we not morally obliged to avoid encouraging others to engage in risky behaviour when we know they cannot properly assess the risks themselves?

    I think that cigarette companies share some blame for lung cancer (not because they provide cigarettes, but because through advertising they encourage people to smoke). Similarly, artists that portray risky behaviour to a naive audience without also realistically portraying the risks share some blame when reality strikes and the risk is realized.

    I can’t comment on Cory’s work, as I haven’t read any of it. I’m just saying that an artist can be irresponsible, and that there is a moral obligation on artists to be careful when broaching such subjects.

    1. I think that’s rather easy, at least in my mind. :) Human beings have a bit of an obligation to educate, but beyond that, I think it’s all on others to decide what their actions will be. You can’t keep people from hurting themselves or taking unnecessary risks, all you can do is educate them as to what the potential consequences of their actions might be. But, I do think that includes educating them as to what the potential rewards of their actions may be as well.

      You’re right that teenagers have a very hard time assessing and managing risk, but the only way they’re going to learn is with practice.

  9. I agree with JustDoug that an artist can be irresponsible if he encourages particularly risky behaviors in books and targets them at teens. The differences in outcomes for teen girls and teen boys having sex resonates with me because I think it’s often ignored in these kinds of discussions.

    That said, I think Cory’s work does not in any way encourage teen sex and drinking. It encourages risky behavior, sure, but the technological kind–which parents maybe don’t know enough to complain about! *tiny Little Brother spoiler alert* But when I read the sex scene in Little Brother I thought: this is the MOST AWESOME BOOK FOR TEENS EVER. Because the scene isn’t sexy. It’s all right. The sex is totally OK. Not what teens might fantasize about. And that is *exactly* the way I’d want my kids reading about sex. It doesn’t glorify it, or make it so hidden as to be coveted. Cory just portrays it pretty honestly, especially for two, somewhat awkward but horny teens.

    So, Cory, I agree with you that even though you’re writing science fiction, you have to portray the world in a believable way. But I think you sold yourself short there–you’re portraying sex in a way that’s also totally believable, much more so than is usually the case in other media. For those of us who have been through those awkward fumbling times, I think it rings true. For those teens who haven’t yet, it’s a clearer picture of what “the first time” is like than they’re likely to get anywhere else.

  10. When I was a teenager, I drank sometimes. I had sex sometimes. I disobeyed authority figures sometimes.

    Oh, you were that kid at the Science Fiction Club or Society for Creative Anachronism meetings.

    “Hey, didja hear that Doctorow got to third base with Melissa Sweeney?”
    “Only about nineteen times. He says he’s going to seal the deal after he takes her to see Star Trek V when it comes out next month.”
    “A sound tactical strategy, Captain!” [snorting laughter]
    “Set phasers to… lube!” [snorting laughter]

  11. Cory is pretty much right about everything here, but he’s missing the core of everyone’s seemingly unreasonable objections: the myth of 18. Have you ever noticed how it’s not permitted – forbidden – on TV talk shows and other public mass media forums, to suggest that people under 18 should ever have sex? Even in a discussion about how to make under-18 people who ARE having sex safer and happier? That is the reason you are getting this response, because your hero and his girlfriend are slightly under 18 – the arbitrary and nonsensical dividing line between the Real World and Shiny Happy Magic Child Land.

    This new taboo has emerged very recently in the U.S. – it started in the late 1980s and is slowly spreading around the world as a bizarre sort of U.S. cultural imperialism. Before then, the taboo was sex outside of marriage, not sex before some wholly fictional and nonsensical age boundary. I’ll leave the deep economic analysis of why this is happening to another time.

    Like Cory, most teens totally ignore this age boundary as the irrelevant foolishness it is. Teens these days manage their own coming of age – a far cry from the formal initiations of other cultures and times.

  12. When I was a teenager all of the sex (and drugs) that I knew about came from the books of Hunter S. Thompson that I had smuggled out of the family’s bookshelf to read because I was told not to. And I was interested in sex, but while Heinlein is a great read and all, teh sexy is not in his books.

    There wasn’t anything written for me. So I set out to fill that need with whatever else was at hand, and what else was at hand was Fear and Loathing books.

    I’m pretty sure I would have been better off getting some sex words from someone else. Someone who knew I was a teenager and didn’t really know what he was reading about. I’m sure my first few girlfriends would agree.

  13. Teenagers have sex. Some good some bad and their literary counterpart should as well. Parents who think otherwise probably don’t know that their 15- year- old daughter just tweeted about giving her first blowjob.

    I am a little worried about #7 up there though. It’s cool if you don’t want to read sex scenes but the idea that such scenes should “have repercussions” (one assumes “negative”) unless the couple is married is disturbing. Hate to tell ya kid but premarital sex isn’t always a bad thing. Sex is the natural thing. Not marriage.

  14. The part that puzzles me is that there’s a “teen literature” category. Adolescence is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood. That does mean experimenting with identity, sexuality, and the rest. It also means being able to read adult literature.

  15. What puzzles me most is the fact that this (Cory’s column) is even controversial. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  16. Let me first identify myself upfront as a 16 year-old female. While reading ‘Little Brother’, the scene where Marcus lost his virginity jumped out at me as being refreshingly different. In fact, I enjoyed the entire book because it is clear that Cory Doctorow has a certain confidence in teenagers. It’s so uncommon for an adult to believe that young people are competent enough to change the world, and also to make our own informed choices about things like sex. As an intelligent, ambitious young person, Marcus Yallow is not only a good role model for teenagers. He is an example to the adults of the world that their children are not idiots with no capacity for seeing the consequences of their actions.

    Sex ed does wonders for reducing pregnancy and STI rates. But everyone knows that’s not the real issue bothering most adults. It’s the “ick” factor that their children have urges and are acting on them. Perhaps the real issue to be solved here is the moralizing that goes on, placing moral values on a neutral biological act. When prairie voles get some action, do you think they’re slut-shamed by all the other voles?

    1. “When prairie voles get some action, do you think they’re slut-shamed by all the other voles?”

      feel free to set up an account, get a login name. seems like this might be your kinda place. :)

    2. That’s also part of the whole fear of youth thing our culture loves so much.
      I mean, we invented the idea of the teenager as a distinct stage of developement in the last hundred years.

      I was an adult before I was 18, and I have friends who are still children in their 20’s.

  17. Most of us (that are not puritans) do not object to teen sex, or drinking as such. We all either did or knew plenty of kids who did one or both. Most of whom grew up perfectly healthy and happy. But most of us also know of at least one kid who got knocked up in high school and dropped out, and at least one kid killed by a (teenage) drunk driver. And quite a few of us also remember the kid who got an abortion and was thrown out of the house, and the kid who got from alcohol into drugs and is now living under an underpass.

    And that too should be addressed in those books that address sex and drinking.

  18. There is a word used to describe the Children of Israel in the bible that is often translated as “stiff necked”. I came across a different translation which was being unable to foresee the consequences of one’s acts. If you are past seeing the world as a free lunch I doubt anything can corrupt you.

  19. Young people are people first and need to be treated as such. I deplore the infantilization of young people which I have observed increasing in the United States over my lifetime. The most educated, responsible and happy young people I know are people who have been raised outside of mainstream culture and the grim day prisons which raise our children for us. Little Brother tells it like it is in America and is a breath of fresh air.

  20. Nice column, Cory, but the pic beside it is horrible. It doesn’t look a bit like you.
    As for not writing about things that happen in real lives, the idea that this false ignorance will lead to better outcomes has had horrible effects. Kids from communities that focus on abstinence and ignorance have far higher rates of pregnancies and other problems than kids from communities with real sex ed. Does writing a book that graphically describes the tricks that anorexic kids get up to lead more girls to starve themselves? Or does it make a few of them pause and decide not to?
    Plenty of books are out there that specifically target the problem drinkers, druggies and runaways by showing that those choices usually lead to a bad end.
    It’s nice to see some sense once in a while.
    (Remember the fuss raised by a book for 5th graders that had the word scrotum in it? The character didn’t know what it meant, she liked the sound. Somehow this was seen as teaching children bad things.)

  21. But there is. There is “a universe in which disapproving parents have cooked the physics so that every act of disobedience leads swiftly to destruction.” And it’s the universe of the slasher flick.

    The concerned parents and other bluenoses who question you just want you to act more like Jason Voorhees.

  22. Hi Cory! Great column, and whenever someone brings up the fact that teen-lit should mention life experiences that many teenagers (if not most) will go through at some point (without resulting into disaster), it deserves a heartfelt round of applause.

    I have my reservations about one thing you said, however: “every parent has the right and responsibility to decide how his or her kids are exposed to sex and sexually explicit material”. I doubt this is your case, but a lot of parents get this right mixed up with the right to withhold important information from their kids about sex, or to keep them ignorant about this topic, and I think it’s important to make that nuance. I’m a sex educator, and I frequently have to struggle with some parents who believe they have a right to prevent their kids from accessing any sort of information whatsoever about sex, which strikes me as nothing short of criminal negligence.

    (Is there something wrong with me if I feel I would have a moral obligation to teach my 6-year-old how to work around censorware?)

  23. If literature and art decide to take a pass on portraying sexuality– (and I make no distinction between “teen” lit here) then we cede all conversation and imagery on the subject to the pornographers and the advertisers. I welcome sexual content that addresses our humanity– trust, intimacy, anxiety, curiosity, fear, desire, disappointment, responsibility. We need more of this, not less.

  24. I tend to think it’s irresponsible to expect a book to raise a child. Or a movie, or TV Show, or pop culture, or their friends, or your friends, or an artist/creative person that has never met you or your child. If you are a parent, then it is your responsibility alone to raise your kid. You agreed to have them. You are responsible for shaping their mind and moral compass to your traditions and specifications. I don’t have to agree to those specs. If you don’t want your kid to read about teens in sexual or other ‘risky’ situations then it’s your responsibility to know what they are reading. It isn’t the artists responsibility to write to your specs. Or, to discuss the book with your kid. If a book has more influence on your child than you do as a parent then you have bigger problems in the mix than fictional teens drinking, boinking, etc.

  25. I know saying this opens up me to accusations of being a “geek” who wasn’t “popular” as a teen (probably true on both counts), but I think considerably more teens (at least middle class teens) *talk* about sex and *think* everybody *but* them are having it then actually *are* having it. It’s pretty normal and typical not to have a serious relationship until university. And yet TV, movies, and books make it seem that that’s weird. I think a lot of script writers and authors have forgotten what it was really like in high school, and get their university and high school memories mixed up.

  26. @34- A lot of adults in general have seemingly forgotten what it was like in high school. Hence the parents who want to pretend their kids aren’t drinking, smoking and having (or even thinking) about sex. Point out to them that it was the same when they were teenagers they’ll go on (without specifics) that it was “different” then. Adults are stupid *looks around furtively*

  27. Look, I didn’t drink or have sex in high school, and think that was quite typical both then, and I, suspect, now. And it wasn’t that I was some born-again puritan that went out of my way to avoid either. Obviously, there was and is *some* of both going on. Some students die in drunken car accidents and others get pregnant. But the drunken orgies that nearly every teen movie presents are being typical just don’t ring true in my experience.

  28. I disapprove more of alcohol use and abuse in media (any media) than sex – I think the former is much more dangerous than the latter. If memory serves, studies have shown that using alcohol inhibits brain development – as such, recreational alcohol consumption should be reserved for adults – i.e. after development has peaked. And I won’t een get into issues of DWI, alcoholism, etc.

    That said, there’s a fundamental flaw in this whole argument, which is the familiar (yet terribly annoying) assumption that people imitate what they see in media – “life imitates art.” People have been railing on for years about how violent media makes people violent, but the studies only show correlation – not causation. I think the same is true for just about anything.

    And the urge that people have to censor and restrict – even for their own children – is likely counterproductive anyway. My mother always thought it better to allow my brother and I to consume media and remind us that it’s fantasy and not to be emulated, rather than ban it and make it more desirable, or make us sheltered. To date neither of us has maimed or killed anyone, so I think she got it right.

  29. @Spekkio
    I agree that the “life imitates art” argument is pretty bogus (people have free will despite what some philosophers say), but what *isn’t* bogus is the idea that people get the idea of how their life *should* be like from art. Just like how normally-weight girls feel inadequate in comparison to anorexic models, many teens feel that something is inadequate with their lifestyle based on the sex and parties depicted in the media. Seeing that didn’t turn me into party animal, but it made me pretty sad until I met my first girlfriend and learned that *her* life wasn’t out of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” either.

  30. Anonymous #20 believes that teens should read adult literature, but I disagree. There is a huge difference between 13 and 19. I’m not sure how the industry defines the category. When I was a tween I read stories about fifteen-year-olds and that was pushing the boundaries of my experience. When I was fifteen I read about eighteen-year-olds. When I was seventeen I read Dumas, Bronte, Austin and Sayers.

    I was horrified when I saw Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews in the teen section of Barnes & Noble last night. I read that series in seventh grade because my parents were reading them and forbade me to touch them. Those books stained my soul. I felt unclean reading them, but fascinated. There are teenaged protagonists, but abuse, murder and incest were way beyond any evil I had read up to that point. My parents were right to ban me but should have hidden the books better.

    I have given Little Brother to several teens of various ages. The minimal and realistic sex and alcohol use was not a factor in deciding appropriateness, but I did consider if they were mature enough to understand the consequences of defying authority and not be traumatized by the horrors of a major terrorist attack and torture.

  31. I don’t know. I didn’t have sex as a teen and didn’t want to hear/think about it. So it depends. I liked Dostoevsky back then. That does have some sex in it, or rather yes… sex is a part of some of the books but it is usually very grounded in the plot. I don’t know. I hate most genre fiction anyway.

    I think that people should stop thinking of teenagers as some mindless hive of non-individuals. Not all kids are the same, and not all media is going to affect them the same way. I really resented the fact that most people assumed I drank, smoked, or sucked boys off just because I was 16. It disgusted me. I had things I cared about and those weren’t in the plan. So yeah, maybe it’s good for some teen lit to have that stuff in it, but some kids just want to be kid without that stuff in their life and that’s normal too.

  32. I guess what I’m trying to say is not all teens are horny and not all teens are ready to deal with or think about sex. Some are. Some aren’t. It’s abusive to force either on a kid.

  33. why does the world even need teen lit? I work in a bookstore and I see endless vampire lit, “clique” lit, and poorly written fantasies (with gigantic text, seriously, are today’s kids totally blind, or do publishers want to inflate the book so they can charge more). Nothing that gets shelved in the “teen” section looks to be a worthwhile read (and I would never buy any of it for a teen), except for the adult and child lit that gets published in multiple formats (like LotR, Potter, Redwall). When I was a teen, I most certainly did not want to read about teenagers and their stupid problems. Adult SF was good enough for me, why not steer today’s youth towards classic and new SF authors like Asimov, Zimmer-Bradley, Pratchett, Weber, Stross, Gaiman, etc. Heck, even Weis/Hickman or Salvatore would be better than 99% of “teen lit” (though not by much, Vancian magic may make for a good game, but not for a good story filled with mary-sue characters, but I doubt the kids will notice)

  34. I am a senior in high school, and we are reading this book in a class of mine, not english class but a elective about utopias and dystopias. I am extremely glad that I have teachers that are not afraid to teach books that contain ‘questionable subjects’.

    The sex in this book makes sense to me, both from a plot standpoint and a teen/life standpoint. Many of my friends drink and smoke pot, and the only repercussions that I see are hangovers, they’re grades and friendships are not ruined.

    @ #8 at any party that I have been to where drinking has occurred, yes they (I say they because I have a one drink policy, I’m a ballet dancer and I don’t like what it does to my body) were just drinking to get drunk but there was always at least one person not drinking willing to drive.

  35. To quote commenter #1:
    “As parents we have to make sure that they don’t screw up to badly, that they arrive at adult hood, alive, out of jail, without kids, a habit or an incurable disease and capable of making a living and a future for themselves – but not to insulate them completely from their own stupidity”

    While I think it’s great that you seem to be doing your best to accept what your role is in raising your child, I have to say that I do not wholeheartedly agree with you when it comes to this particular issue.

    You see, you’re addressing this from the standpoint that having sex or drinking as a kid is a stupid thing; I posit that it isn’t. I do not fault you for this, as you were likely raised in a time when this was the prevailing wisdom; indeed it may still be so. However, I would like to provide you with an example, if you would be so kind as to hear me out.

    I am 21 years old, I work a part-time job (24 hours a week) in addition to going to college at DePaul University, where I have repeatedly made the Dean’s List at the College of Computing and Digital Media. I live in the city of Chicago, I was raised in the suburbs by Catholic parents, though I do not personally consider myself a Catholic any longer (another story, another time). I was an Honors student in high school, graduated very near the top of my class, and am generally well-liked by my peers. I did not drink alcohol until my 21st birthday, and I did not have sex until not much more than a year ago. I give you this information to establish my character; as you can probably tell, I would likely be considered a reasonably well-adjusted person.

    My best friend throughout high school, whom I will not give the name of, lost his virginity at a young age (I do not know exactly when, but he has been having sex for as long as I’ve known him), and has also been drinking since he was 16. At the age of 16, he began working at a retail establishment and eventually became the assistant manager at the age of 18. Now he works in the IT department of a company in Chicago, makes more money than I do, and lives a comfortable life.

    I don’t personally believe that either of us made a stupid decision: my choice to abstain from sex and drinking was no more intelligent than his choice to partake of the two, and neither of our choices (in that regard) have harmed us in any way, as far as life seems to indicate.

    Since I fear this may be getting too long, I’ll end with this:
    Certainly the choice to drink excessively or have outrageous amounts of sex would have changed things, but the people who will make that choice aren’t being shielded by our puritanical viewpoints on the two, they are in fact being hurt by the fact that they cannot learn how dangerous that excess can be while simultaneously having loving parents to catch them when they fall.

  36. Cory, I liked your column very much and agree with you. We need to broaden the horizons of our country’s youth past our own (and our predecessors) limitations and moral hang-ups.

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was growing up, if I was told ‘not’ to do something or to ‘not’ go somewhere, thats exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. The problem I see is not with teens wanting to explore their bodies and the world around them, but with the adults telling them what they can and cannot explore. I think kids and teens can form their own morals based upon their own perceptions and experiences, and we(adults) need only give them general guidelines to life, not 1,000 page long manuals.

  37. Good article, Cory. But I would take what you say a step further. You argue against “moralizing” teen stories essentially out of principle. I don’t have children (if I did would my opinions be different?) But letting teens have exposure to questionable moral situations, are more importantly, allowing them to make mistakes seems to me to be a very important part of growing up. If all of their moral decisions are made for them I think they will grow up to be weak adults. Their (lets me honest, I mean “our”) mistakes and what they learn from them will become a critical part of who they are as grownups. You know…kind of like that TNG episode “Tapestry” where Picard learns that to change the bad choices he made in the past destroyed the honorable and wise man he had become in old age.

  38. Realism-wise teen sex or any other sex should find its way into all forms of art. The usual treatment of sex in pop art/media is anything but natural.

    … That said, it’s not “natural” (culturally and in general terms) for us to witness any sexual acts except our own… so if a book or movie features sex it’ll most likely cause a reaction (sexual excitement usually, but also rejection or awkwardness).

    … So it’s not natural or innocent to feature realistic/natural sex in a book or movie. Yet it’s the right way to go if we want to have (as a culture/socity) a more natural outlook of sexuality. Or it might not, but at least we’ll get our rocks off a bit… :-)

  39. Thank you for that. As a teen myself, completely agree with your reasoning. And even though i do not personally engage in sexual activities or drink, i still wish that these scenes would be included in teen books because
    1) teens are curious. we all wish to know what would happen if (…) and so we experiment. putting scenes in books instead may cause a few to decide that they dont need to experiment.
    2) if authors are trying to fabricate teenage lives, they need to include all aspects of teenagers (not just what people wish teens were or throwing in little clues that you are supposed to make an inference about what – to any other teen – would be a life changing moment)
    most teens have sex, do drugs, and/or drink alcohol at some point and to deny this fact takes away a major influence upon a teen’s personality, judgement, and emotions

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