The Sex Education of Non-fiction Young Adults

Parental-advisory-explicit-lyricsIs it me, or are the Young Adults in Young Adult fiction getting a lot more action than I ever did when I was a Young Adult?

Or maybe it’s just the Young Adults in New Zealand, as recounted in Ted Dawe’s new book, Into the River, which was just named children’s book of the year by the New Zealand Post.  The selection of the novel has caused a bit of a controversy, due to the explicit sexual content of the children’s book.

Yes, that’s right.  I said explicit sexual content in a children’s book.

To be fair, the book is targeted to an audience 13 and older, but I’m 32 (and a half, my kids feel the need to add) and I had to be revived by smelling salts when I read the passages, which were too racy for the New Zealand Herald to excerpt in their review.

The book uses expletives including the c-word, depicts drug use and sex scenes, including one where a baby mimics sounds of intercourse. The Herald on Sunday has decided not to print extracts as they would offend some readers.

In an effort to get more page views for their website In the interest of journalistic integrity, the newspaper did link to the offending passages in the story, “Award-winning kids’ book drops c-bomb”, on their website, so you can satisfy your prurient interest make up your mind about the literary value of the writing by following this link.

I’m not averse to the topic of sex in books intended for children to read (as long as it is age appropriate, and I think it probably is in Dawe’s book, although I have not read it, except for the dirty bits) and I think that books can serve as terrific (and emotionally neutral) starting points for parents to use in discussions about sex with our kids.  It’s got to be a lot easier to talk about the choices Ted Dawe’s protagonist makes in Into The River than it will be to talk about the choices a real life son has made when he announces his real life girlfriend is real life pregnant.

Not that I need a book to get sex discussions going.  I am one of those women who’s always bringing up the topic of sex, menstruation and/or childbirth, to the discomfort of my dinner guests and the elderly man who got stuck standing next to me in line at Dunkin Donuts last Tuesday.

I’ve written before about the sexual education I got from my mother in the post, Sex Really is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You, and I vowed, as I gave birth to one daughter, and then another, that my kids would not grow up feeling shameful and embarrassed about sex, and I hope to greet every question from them about sex with good humor, understanding and acceptance.

See, in my mind, I am Super Mom.  In reality, my attempts at educating my children has my oldest explaining to her little sister that sanitary napkins are “Mommy’s diapers” despite the diagrams I white boarded for her explaining the menstrual cycle and then brainstorming together the pros and cons of wearing sanitary napkins vs. tampons.

“They are not my ‘diapers,'” I correct, removing the sanitary napkins from the bathroom walls where the toddler has stuck them.

“I didn’t say they were diapers.  I said they were like diapers.  A simile!” Since we have been working on figures of speech over the summer, she’s now hoping to appeal to the English lit nerd that she knows I am.

“They’re not even like diapers.  You’re going to have her thinking that I’m incontinent.”

“Incontinent!” She repeats, and then as she’s walking away, I can hear her saying, “Africa, Antartica, Asia, Australia, Europe . . .”

We’ve been working on Geography, too.

You can read more about New Zealand (yes, I’ve actually written about this small Pacific island before!) in the post,  U Can’t Has Kittehs in New Zealand.

The image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.


13 thoughts on “The Sex Education of Non-fiction Young Adults

  1. Karen says:

    The theme for this month’s NaBloPoMo is “Connect” and I’m not even going to make some sort of tortured connection (wait! There’s that word!) between this blog post and that theme .


  2. Clever Girl says:

    Okay, I call total bullshit about that stupid book (even though I only read the excerpt)!

    It should be called “Into the Trashbin”

    The biggest lesson that should be taken from this literary crap is this: men don’t know how to please women, and it starts at a very young age, so start teaching boys how to do it properly before they turn 13!

    It’s so obvious that it was written by a man-boy because it’s typical of a boy-man to think that a woman gets complete sexual satisfaction as soon as he “enters her” without doing any fucking foreplay! And he describes her “digging her fingernails into his back” (so cliche!) to further exclamate the fantastic fucking she’s getting from said boy, because let’s face it, all it takes is for the penis to enter the vagina, right?

    What a moron!

    “Shades of Gray” for the Tween set!


    • Karen says:

      Wow! This isn’t where I expected this post to go, but I’ll roll with it!

      In defense of Dawe’s book, he doesn’t use the phrase “fingernails digging into his back.” Rather the line is “her fingernails on his shoulders” which I guess is a fair enough description, if one wants to include that sensory image, and is not hackneyed.

      The book is written from the young boy’s perspective, so we don’t know how the young girls feel about the sexual encounters, so not sure where you see the author or his protagonist claiming incredible sexual prowess, unless you’re interpreting one of the girls exclaiming, “God!” at the conclusion of the act as satisfaction or approval. I interpreted it as exasperation, actually, but maybe I’m just projecting my own disappointing early experiments with sex onto the female character.

      The boy does a lot of gasping and shuddering and fluttering though.

      I don’t think it’s fair to compare Into the River to 50 Shades of Grey. This is not a book about sex–it’s a coming of age story where, as part of his physical and emotional growth, the protagonist experiences sex. Out of a 279 page novel, there is less than a page of excerpted paragraphs that include (admittedly graphic) descriptions of sex.


  3. SandraM says:

    Great post. And yep, I do feel that young adult fiction has changed since I was a kid. But I think it was there, as I do remember watching Footloose, FlashDance and Grease as a young adult. (please don’t do the math) 🙂


    • Karen says:

      Yep, YA fiction certainly has changed. It’s just exploded as a genre. When I was a kid–Go ahead, do the math. I don’t care. 😉 — YA fiction was just Baby Sitters Club and Goosebumps, and now look at it (not to mention the block buster films inspired by YA novels).


    • Karen says:

      I’ve been thinking more about this, and I can’t believe we forgot to mention Judy Blume and her novels! I never read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or Forever (because they were “for girls” and my early feminism was manifesting itself as misogyny), but this discussion would be remiss without including her.


  4. Elyse says:

    Now why isn’t the world like it was when I was a teenager? When I had to steal that sort of book and hide it while I read it and completely misunderstood what it was they were talking about. You mean he pees inside you??????????


    • Karen says:

      Not to be too graphic (but you know me, and you know I will be) the whole concept of erections was totally unknown to me until I started dating (and making out). Mrs. Heinz never covered that topic in my fifth grade sex ed class, so there was this huge gap in my knowledge base! Then when I was older, a male friend of mine described his years in high school as “one boner after another I was trying hide” and I thought, “Huh? I never saw anyone hiding boners in high school!” but I guess this is what they do, and it seems that every guy has at least one embarrassing spontaneous erection story to tell.

      Yet one more reason to be glad we were born women.


  5. Joyce says:

    When I was a teen in the 80’s Judy Blume was a staple in my lineup! She is absolutely my hero. Also, a lot of us would sneak the Flowers in the Attic series back and forth, which had a lot of crazy twisted stuff, including sex – though not graphic accounts as I recall.

    But it certainly does seem to me that tweens and young teens are more savvy about sex now than when I was younger – although some of us were savvy then.


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