Sex scenes in Young Adult novels

Since the last post contains a sex scene that is pivotal to the plot, I want to transition into this topic. This is an article written by literary agent Sara Crowe. I came across it when I first began to research on this topic, but haven’t used it until now. I guess I wanted to save the best for last?

Crow acknowledges the difficulty of writing a teen sex scene because of how awkward it can be. And she goes on to present some examples of successful scenes. The first one is from Bringing Up the Bones. The main character Bridget is described engaging in sex with a boy named Jasper, after her ex-bf Benji passed away.

His lips brush from my breasts to my belly button to the dampened cotton crotch of my panties which soon find their way to the floor. I come quickly, guiltily. But it doesn’t stop there.
He reaches over me to the wood-laminate nightstand, fishes around the top drawer until he finds a condom. I can feel him looking at me in the darkness, can feel him wondering if I’m one of those girls who likes to slip it on the guy herself. My nails dig into the soft flesh of his shoulders; my tongue thrusts itself into his mouth. He decides to do it himself, rolls away from me a bit.
And then he’s inside me, and I’m expecting to feel the searing pain I did with Benji but it’s not like that this time. […]
When it’s over, I start to cry. Quietly at first, then louder.

Steamy right? Even though I’ve never read the book, the given context is enough for me to guess that Bridget feels guilty, guilty that she enjoys sex with Jasper more than she did Benji. Even more interesting is the way Crowe analyzes this scene:

The details of this sexual interaction hint at so many aspects of the novel: the oral sex speaks of Jasper’s tendency to give, and Bridget’s to receive; the moment with the condom reflects Bridget’s use of sex/body language to communicate instead of words.

Opposite to this scene, which is engaging and gives you the raw feelings of having sex, Crowe’s last example is about a character being very disconnected during sex. In Before I Die, Leukemia patient Tessa decides to do it because it is on her bucket list. And this is what takes place:

He lies down, moves my legs apart with his, presses closer, his weight on top of me. Soon I’ll feel him inside me and I’ll know what all the fuss is about. This was my idea.
I notice lots of things while the red neon numbers on his radio alarm move from 3:15 to 3:19. I notice that his shoes are on their side by the door…
He supports himself with his arms, moving slowly above me, his face turned to one side, his eyes tight shut. This is it. It’s really happening. I’m living it now. Sex.

This passage alone is enough for me to feel so bad for the character. She notices the time on the clock and the shoes at the door more than what she is doing … She is completely distant. There is absolutely no connection, no sensation, let alone pleasure. It sounds almost like a rape scene where the victim is not resisting. We know that it is now how sex is supposed to be, especially not her first time.

Luckily, Tessa grows and experiences much better toward the end of the book. This time it is with her boyfriend whom she cares about:

His hand slides to my waist to my belly to the top of my thigh. His kisses follow his hand, work their way down until his head is between my legs and then he looks at me, asking permission with his eyes.
It spills me, the thought of him kissing me there.
His head is in shadow, his arms scooped under my legs. His breath is warm on my thighs. He very slowly begins.
If I could buck, I would. If I could howl at the moon, then I would. To feel this, when I’d thought it was over, when my body’s closing down and I thought I’d have no pleasure from it again.

Crowe’s analysis is such a good article on this topic, and I just want to share it on this blog. She really intrigues my curiosity. Hopefully I’ll get the time to read one of these novels soon.

Lessons from the tragedies of Spring Awakening

In this entry, I’d like to change it up a little and talk about a theatrical production. When I entered college in 2008, I was randomly put in a peer group of theater majors and had a theater professor for an academic adviser (I later realize it was a mistake because I failed to “officially” declare the major I wanted – Communication – prior to entering).

Anyway, I had the opportunity to see the musical at the Ahmanson theater in downtown LA. I have to admit that I had never been a theater fan or known much about the productions, but I remember enjoying the show a great deal. The emotions were so raw, and I absorbed the energy even though I was sitting from very far away (discount tickets!). After four years, I don’t remember the story very well so I did some research to joggle my memory.

Spring Awakening is a rock musical adaptation of the 1892 German play by Frank Wedekin. Taken the time period into context, you can understand why the topic of teen sexuality is so controversial. The whole musical is strung with tensions. The main characters, the teenagers, are growing out of childhood and into puberty. They develop strong sexual desires but are often in the dark about sexual anatomy, how to express the feelings or the consequences of acting them out. The matters are worsened because the adults refuse to give them information to make wise decisions.

Wendla & Melchior

– The female lead Wendla (played by Lea Michele), for example, doesn’t know where babies come from, and her mother is intent on keeping it from her. Later, Wendla ends up having sex with Melchior despite her initial reluctance and lack of knowledge on the matter. She is astonished to find out that she’s pregnant. The abortion that her mother forces her to get results in her death. (In the play version, there is a clear indication that she is raped by Melchior).

– Moritz is an intense and nervous young man because he can’t make sense of the erotic dreams he has. After being educated by Melchior’s essay with illustrations, his dreams become even more vivid, which Moritz believes is a sign of insanity. Later, he is unfairly failed by teachers and resorts to suicide because he has no way out. The teachers blame this death on Melchior’s sex essay.

– The musical also deals with homosexuality/bisexuality in a scene where a student, Hanschen, seduces a delicate classmate, Ernst.

This musical is a frank and intense critique of a dogmatic society that inhibits sexuality. It has some graphic scenes and sexual content, and is recommended for older teenagers.

Research features Gossip Girl & Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Today, when I was researching my blog’s topic, I came across “Pushing the Envelope: Exploring Sexuality in Teen Literature,” a research by Eleanor Wood published in the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adult. This is by no means the only detailed research available online. The distinct feature of this paper is that it features a recommended reading list in the appendix, which is helpful for those who want to study this topic.
Wood inspects a random sample of 124 YA novels in her paper, some of them I have briefly discussed, including a book in the Gossip Girl series.
The Gossip Girl series is notorious for its inclusion of sex in all forms, and since the series is ever-expanding, it was not surprising to have one of the series, I Like It Like That, included in the sample.
And Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants:
Many storylines serve to terrify teenage girls who are already scared of getting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant and repeat the idea “that the only things that result from sex are negative.”15 Negative consequences abound, such as … Bridget’s emotional recoiling and withdrawal from others after her first sexual encounter in Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Forever by Judy Blume is such a classic that no article/research dealing with teen sexuality in literature fails to mention it. Click here to get a glimpse of Eleanor Wood’s research or to view her list of recommended books.

Mean Girls fearlessly portrays teenage sexuality

This has to be my most favorite post so far because it is about Mean Girls (2004), one of my all time favorite movies that I know the lines to. This should also be an interesting take at teenage sexuality because of the movie’s colorful and humorous portrayal of the issues.

The basis of Mean Girls revolves around Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), an American girl who grew up in Africa, has been home-schooled all her life and, thus, is completely ignorant about the way an American high school works. She is thrust into the chaotic social scene and has to make a hard choice: identifying with the beautiful but vain and mean Plastics or with the real, accepting social outcasts.

Teenage sexuality is present in many details through out the movie. For example, a scene of the Sex Ed class shows coach Carr warning students to not have sex or they would contract chlamydia and die. At the end of this irresponsible speech, he hands out condoms anyway, acknowledging that the students are having sex despite such preaching. Ironically, despite being a promoter of abstinence, coach Carr engages in a sexual relationship with an underage female student.

The biggest lesson from Mean Girls, however, is the fact that a student’s sexuality/identity defines his or her social placement. You may recall the infamous scene where Cady is introduced to the cafeteria. Students divide themselves in distinct groups and sit exclusively together:  “freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks.”

Regina has all the boys at her finger tips

The Plastics are the most popular girls in school because they are beautiful and have expertly use their sexuality to manipulate people. The person who excels at this is the antagonist Regina George:

– Regina takes back her ex-boyfriend Aaron just because she doesn’t want Cady to have him. Because Aaron is hot and popular, Regina keeps him in order to make herself part of THE power couple.

Regina makes out with Aaron in front of Cady to show her power

– She cheats on Aaron by hooking up with Shane Oman in her house and above the auditorium … just because.

She two-times Aaron because she can

– When Janis, Damien, and Cady want to take down Regina, they secretly try to make her gain weight so that she her status will dwindle.

On the opposite side of the coin, being out of the heterosexual norm or the traditional “hot” ideal guarantees that you’ll be an outcast:

Janis & Damien: being gay or lesbian makes you unpopular and weird

– Janis is bitter toward Regina because Regina has humiliated and ostracized her by making up stories and labeling her “lesbian.”

– Damien is among the outcasts because he is “too gay to function.”

Mean Girls is successful in giving sarcastic and poignant lessons by portraying an amusing, ruthless high school environment. Its biggest target is to tackle superficiality and instill the idea that people are much more than how they look or who they hook up with. I greatly recommend it to teens and adults alike.

Smallville: Too much sexual tension and too little resolution

The Smallville series finally closed in May 2011, ending its tenth season and 10-year run. Personally I think the show was too overdue. I stopped watching it a long time ago despite being an initial enthusiast. However, I would still like to discuss what took place in the first three seasons.

TV shows use sex to sell, and Smallville is not an exception. Well, it would indeed be a waste with such an eye candy leading man like Tom Welling. For the first three seasons, Lois Lane – Clark’s destined partner – hasn’t even been introduced. But the show does not lack juicy elements.

Clark & Lana

Clark has simultaneous sexual tension with his best friend Chloe and girl-next-door Lana Lang. Both of them are alluring: the former smart and adorable, the latter beautiful and vulnerable.

Nothing even happened between Clark and Chloe (despite many compromising scenes like this one) because the feelings came only from Chloe’s side. For Lana, what constantly stood in hers and Clark’s ways were his secret and her various suitors (Smallville wikia). Even when they express their feelings for each other, Clark’s super power makes consummating their relationship problematic.

Clark’s and Lana’s first time (Click for clip)

An older blogger from Cheap Sex and Other Stories observes, Lana and Clark have a problem that is similar to that of Edward and Bella:

If he’s ‘faster than a speeding bullet/more powerful than a locomotive, then surely his ejaculate would shoot right up and through her. Killing her.

Cleverly enough, the writers arrange for them to have sex during the time Clark loses his super power in season 5. They actually lose their virginity to each other, which is really sweet (and quite unrealistic considering how many boyfriends she’s had). Later on, they are able to do it again when Lana gains super power. And their combined strengths render seismic tremors all around town – just a superman version of rocking the bed.

Their earthquake-rendering sex (Click for clip)

In my opinion, the series progressed too slowly, leaving the sexual tension between these two unresolved for seasons. And it isn’t just the tension that keeps the audience on edge. Their on-and-off relationship was also constantly stormy until her tragic death in season 6. I understand that the producers have to employ this tactic to keep the show going for 10 seasons. However, it’s quite ineffective in keeping a loyal audience interested in the long run.

Gossip Girl: The novel vs. the TV series

I read the Gossip Girl series in high school (circa 2007), and the Gossip Girl series on CWTV ran throughout my college career. Both creations have received much criticism for the sexual content that is too explicit for its teenage audience.

Naomi Wolf of the New York Times critiqued the Gossip Girl novels in 2006 in an article titled: “Young Adult Fiction: Wild Thing.” She wrote: “sex saturates the “Gossip Girl” books … This is not the frank sexual exploration found in a Judy Blume novel, but teenage sexuality via Juicy Couture, blasé and entirely commodified.” Then Wolf went on to quote a passage from the 8th novel “Nothing Can Keep Us Together,” where Nate takes a Viagra and gets it on with Serena in a Bergdorf’s dressing room. Ironically, this is one scene that I do recall from reading the series five years ago:

Nate was practically bursting as he followed Serena. . . . He grabbed her camisole and yanked it away from her body, ripping it entirely in half. . . . ‘Remember when we were in the tub at my house, the summer before 10th grade?’ . . . ‘Yes!’ ‘Oh, yes!’ . . . Nate began to cry as soon as it was over.

Promos for the movies are stills from sex scenes dubbed with negative reviews.

As for the show, the Parents TV Council gives it a “red light” rating because of occasional “graphic simulated sex scenes” and “plenty of provocative kissing scenes, erotic situations, and skimpy clothing.” But it is not the graphic sexual content that makes the series reprehensible. Common Sense Media points out the the sex is not graphic but that “it isn’t always equated with love.” The Parents TV Council that the sexual content in the Gossip Girl series is often “gratuitous” and the characters appear to be promiscuous.

Besides sex, there are also depictions of unhealthy and un-teen like behaviors such as rampant alcohol and drug use.  New York Magazine points out the lack of consequence (in the novel) that serves to glamorize these negative actions: “kids have sex without pregnancy scares.” The Parents TV Council concurs, saying the characters in the TV show often “play musical chairs with their sex-partners, but suffer no physical or psychological ramifications.”

As an audience of both, I definitely prefer the wit of Cecily von Ziesegar’s prose to the childish drama in the Josh-Schwartz-and-Stephanie-Savage-produced show. The latter seems to drag on forever, replaying the same Blair-Chuck (nicknamed Chair) over and over. At some point, the unthinkable manipulation employed by the characters wears out its charm. The fact that everyone hooks up with everyone, breaks up and hooks up again (!) makes it get old really fast. As the producers run out of ideas for controversy, they arrange for Blair to become an item with Dan, the existence of whom she has spent most of her time either abhorring and ignoring.

To reward your patience for reaching the end of this post, here are some bonus sexy scenes from the show: Blair and Chuck having angry sex and showing off undies. One of Blair’s and Nate’s rare hookups. Serena’s & Nate’s drunken first time and fooling around in the kitchen, and an implied threesome between Dan, Olivia & Vanessa.

Dropping the pants on the Sisterhood

<Sorry for the bad pun>

Sisterhood of the traveling pants poster

I saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants one year after it was released, which was when I was sixteen (2006). It was based on the first book of the four-title bestselling series by Ann Brashares. I never read it and am not likely to read it now. But the movie made a big impact on me as a teenage girl.

The sisterhood consists of four girls, Bridget, Carmen, Lena and Tibby, whose mothers were in the same pregnancy fitness class. On the first summer they have ever been apart, they find a magical pair of jeans that fit all four of them, despite the fact the girls are different in shape and size. Over summer, the girls pass the jeans on to each other via mail from their different locations, along with a letter detailing their journeys.

The four main characters are incredibly stereotypical, yet they are so appealing and easy to relate to. There’s Bridget (Blake Lively), the beautiful blonde athletic girl who is deeply troubled by her mother’s suicide. Carmen, the smart, gregarious Latina who’s made to feel inadequate by her father’s new yuppie wife and step children. Lena, the sweet artsy girl who’s afraid to open up, and Tibby, the sarcastic alternative girl with a nose ring, jet black hair and blue streaks.

(Clockwise from top) Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget.

Guess who gets laid first?

Bridget has a crush on a coach at her soccer camp in Mexico (Eric), flirts with him, seduces him at a dance club and loses her virginity to him one night on the beach. The emotional reaction following this is worth discussing. Sex with Eric leaves her feeling empty and listless, which is not what she expected. Her mood swings make her afraid that she was going to be depressed like her mother. Bridget is full of disappointment and distress. The movie implies that she is is mistaken to hope that sexual intimacy will fulfill her. The message is that sex should only happen when she is happy and calm within herself.

It is not only the sexual awakening that leaves a mark. Lena, while visiting her family in Greece, falls in love with a guy whose family is her family’s sworn enemy (A Romeo & Juliet situation). Carmen has to deal with her insecurities and rage at feeling abandoned. Tibby’s sarcastic world view is challenged by the purity and compassion of a young leukemia-inflicted girl. The movie set ups dramatic situations but portray very realistic character development. The audience seems to experience emotional catharsis as they root for each girl to overcome her problems.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is an inspiring for teenage girls who are struggling to define their identities. I enjoyed it at that age, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get inside the emotionally turbulent world of a teenage girl.

‘Twilight’ fan-fic phenomenon: Fifty Shades of Grey

Since I was writing about the Twilight series in the previous post, it’s only apt that this fan fiction novel is next in line. I stumbled upon a news article on Twitter while updating social media at work, and was thoroughly surprised by what I read. Disclaimer: this so-called Twilight fan fiction is an erotic trilogy, not Young Adult literature. However, I chose to discuss it because it is a good illustration for publishing issues we talked about in class.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” (followed by “Fifty Shades Freed” and “Fifty Shades Darker”) is written by E. L. James, a female British author and former TV executive. According to People, the books is about a virginal 21-year-old college student Anastasia Steele and a charming, 27-year-old millionaire Christian Grey. The catch is that Christian is a sexual deviant who only engages in dominant-submissive relationships with women. Despite her inexperience, Ana agrees to enter the unconventional relationship and falls for him in the process.

Judging from the setup of the novel, you may also guess that it involves a lot of BDSM erotica. It is surprising to many people that it has become a big hit among American women, so popular that it has been dubbed “mommy porn” or “S&M for Dummies.” Frank Santo, who reviewed the book for the Daily News, tries to explain why women don’t find Ana’s submission offensive and off-putting:

 Just as the majority of men who watch pornography do not actually think of their significant others as lascivious, orange-skinned, clearly-faking-it sexual acrobats, I seriously doubt that most women would prefer their men like Christian Grey: domineering, stalking, devoid of any humor or personality whatsoever. They are all kind of silly, these fantasies of ours, and were they to come true, we’d just want something else. Pornography is fundamentally absurd, but will endure regardless.

He also admitted:

For me, being a straight, white male of rather vanilla sexual inclinations, the experience of reading E. L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey” on the subway was enough to make me feel like a complete psychopath.

This humorous comment leads to my next point – The Fifty Shades trilogy was published by a small independent press in Australia and an “obscure” author (New York Times). It enjoyed most of its success in digital release. According to the NY Times, e-book downloads propelled “Fifty Shades of Grey” to No. 1 on the New York Times e-book fiction best-seller list (March 3, 2012) and No. 3 position on Amazon’s best-seller list. This goes back to professor Hunter’s remark in the first class period that erotica has benefited tremendously from e-readers because these devices give people more freedom to read discreetly.

Because the novel has become such a hit, the logical next step is to make it into a movie. Universal Studios and Focus Features have reportedly won the bid (EW), and E. L. James must be smiling wide at her big fat $5 million check. The concern is that, considering how hard-core the porn is, it would be difficult to make the book into an R-rated movie. Fifty Shades has also been compared to the Millennium trilogy in this aspect.

I don’t know if I will have time to try read Fifty Shades, but I’m naturally intrigued by it. Will you ever read this? Do you think this novel is worth all the buzz around it?