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Sex in YA, Part 3: Stereotypes

It's been a long time since I've posted one of these Sex in YA posts, but they have returned! This is part 3 in the series, and the last part will come later this month.

As a refresher, this short series has featured topics about gender and sexuality in YA. Things like taboos and contraception in love scenes have been discussed already, and this time the topic is "stereotypes."

Recently, I read a dissertation about the portrayal of sexuality in "chick-lit" for teens. The findings of the research really made me worry because they pointed out several potentially dangerous stereotypes in regards to gender, sex, and romance. Here are just a few of the stereotypes that the paper pointed out.

1. Boys only want sex and girls only want romance. Relationships consist of girls giving a boy sexual favors and the boy in return providing romantic intimacy.

2. "Good girls" only want romance, and therefore those girls who want sex are bad and dangerous.

3. Boys fall into two categories. The "Good guy" who is handsome, smart, and boring, and the "Bad boy" who is dangerous but much, much sexier and more interesting than a good guy.

These are just a few of many stereotypes the article pointed out and I've noticed others in other genres, too. So my question is, how do you feel about these stereotypes? What other stereotypes have you seen in regards to gender, sex, or romance in YA books? What stereotypes should writers and publishing professionals actively work to destroy?

Let us know in the comments! We love hearing from you!
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. Yay, Part 3! (Wait, that's wrong...)
    When I read #3, the character who came to mind was Xander. I only have a few dozen more pages left to Matched, but I adore Xander. He's definitely as hotter than Ky, if not more so. And he's sort of considered the good one, since he's safe and Ky is off-limits.
    #2 leads back to life in general. A guy who's never done it is a loser, a girl who has is a sl*t. That's the mindset of the average person today. You have to ask: Why? before you can talk about if a girl is good or bad for wanting it.
    But you know, at the same time there are all those books where the girl near the end says "I'm ready" and no one looks down on her, because they've built up a relationship.
    #1 I can't speak for guys and how their minds work, but I think it's taking the basics of how men and women are built and emphasizing them, ignoring the fact that this isn't always true.

    Loved the post!

  2. Attempts to overturn the stereotype about how 'good girls want romance, girls who want sex' are bad leads to another stereotype - anyone of either gender who doesn't want to have sex is boring, nerdy, a social outcast, weird etc. Or a far-right Christian. Some teenagers want to have sex, some don't, maybe because they haven't met the right person or just don't feel ready. Stereotyping either way is frustrating!

  3. I think its important that Young Adult books are sex-positive (to encourage education about sex, and to not look down to sex as this icky thing)

    Could you provide a link to the article? I'm really interested in reading it in full!

    I do think these stereotype are dangerous, because they make girls to behave in a certain way, and boys to behave in any other. So boys are not "men" if they don't want to have sex, and girls are not "ladies" if they do want to have sex.

  4. Stereotypes exist because sometimes they are true. In high school, I knew girls who would go the extra mile sexually on Valentine's Day because their boyfriend gave them flowers, jewelry and a candle lit dinner.

    Sometimes bad boys are sexier.

    Sometimes hyper sexual girls are dangerous.

    I've seen all of these in my own life.

    I think it is important to be aware of stereotypes and be true and fair to our characters. Are they behaving in a stereotypical way because that is their personality or is it because I am stereotyping them?

    If characters fit stereotypes naturally, I think that is okay.

    We should not shy away from breaking stereotypes either.

    The good girl, valedictorian, with a healthy sexual appetite. The bad girl, biker chick with a promise ring. I would love that.

    But as writers we must stay true to our characters, I think, is the most important.

  5. Love this, Kodster!! It's such a good point that boys get stereotyped a hell of a lot too. And I agree with what Monica said about being true the character. Any stereotype can be made into a real person with some love and care!

  6. Agreed to what Riv Re said about guys who haven't done it being losers and girls who have being sluts. I hate that double standard so much.

    A couple more things that have always bothered me is the fact that there are no emotional consequences when a couple does have sex, and anyone who wants to wait is weird or extremely religious.

  7. I'm going to agree with Monica on this one. I try to pretend stereotypes don't exist when I'm writing and simply try to stay true to the characters. IF, when I'm done, I'm following stereotypes too closely, I know I have to go back and tweak.

  8. Cool idea for a post, and so important. I like the list, but sometimes I wish we saw MORE of #1. The prevalent stereotype in YA these days seems to be guys who are uber-sweet, devoted, handsome and perfect to girls who don't always even deserve it. Teenage boys DO like sex, and they are often horny, distracted and self-centered. I'd love to see more guys in YA that were allowed to be nerdy, jerkish, shallow, i.e. flawed (and not in a dark, sexy, tortured way either).

    Mr. Darcy was 28 in P&P. When he was 17, he was almost certainly a giant toolbag. When we write teenage boys, I think we sometimes forget they're a major work in progress.

  9. I noticed these things too and it really bugs me.
    Books usually glamourize sex as well. I'm not saying sex is bad or it can't be like that, but before Forever... by Judy Blume, I've never read about a really truthful depiction on how YA sex is, especially the first time.
    Also, I'm getting tired of when the girl is a virgin. There's nothing wrong with being a virgin but, there's also nothing wrong with a nonvirgin. But when they girl happens to not be a virgin, they've either been raped, used, or something along those lines. They've never been the user or had sex with a guy, that wasn't lying to them, because they truly wanted to.

  10. Can I say I'm SICK of reading about bad boys? It's like, "Oooh, should [female name] take the plunge to be with bad boy [exotic male name]?"

    I think that if you're going to deal with sex in a relationship, BOTH genders need to grow into feeling comfortable about sex. It's annoying to read about a guy who's confident in his sexuality, but a girl who's not. It's how a relationship changes, yeah?

  11. The one thing I have problems with, when authors do write about defying the stereotypes, is that they make such a fuss over it. If they write a gay character, then being gay is a conflict. If the character is in a polygamist relationship, then the polygamy is rejected by their parents. Things like that.

    But actually, I think it has the opposite effect. Reading about a girl struggling to keep her sex drive in check doesn't result in a book telling girls that it's okay to want sex; it just makes for a book about about an odd-ball girl with a roaring libido.

    The best way to integrate those values through literature is to treat those traits like it IS normal. It's normal for guys to wear makeup. It's normal to feel attracted to the same sex.

    That's when change will come.

  12. I'm really tired of first sex being treated as a topic in terms of it being The Biggest Damn Deal Ever. Look, nations won't rise and fall over the loss of your virginity. Sure, it feels that way, but where is the ho-hum, what-was-that? sex scene in YA? There are some, but there needs to be more.

    And some girls are not conflicted about having sex. Some girls have sex and nothing terrible happens, except maybe it's boring or bad in terms of pleasure, and they're not sure what to do that. Where are the books showing us that awkwardness and confusion? What if you lose your virginity and it doesn't seem like anything really happened at all?

    A lot of YA books have characters who don't seem to use the internet for anything besides school work. In this age of abstinence-only sex ed and free internet porn, I don't find this realistic. What if you had two crazy kids who like each other, have sex, can't figure something about it out, and have to go online to get the answers? This could be incredibly funny. Or incredibly tragic, too. But I'm tired of the message That Sex is Dangerous. So is snowboarding. So is eating sushi.

    We don't see the merely sexually-curious girl much and I'd like to see her more.

  13. The stereotype thing... well I don't like stereotypes/ I feel some of it is simplistic labeling. i.e. "There are only eight stories in the whole world." There may be only eight stories in the world, but authors have found numerous ways to tell them and make them interesting.
    feel the same may be true of some of these so called stereotypes.

  14. I just wrote a novel but haven't been sending it out to Y/A publishers because I have a feeling it's a little too edgy for them. I mean, I could be wrong. However, if you'd like to take a look at a sample chapter and let me know your thoughts (you can use the Comments section at the bottom of the chapter), I'd really appreciate the feedback. Here's the link:


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Item Reviewed: Sex in YA, Part 3: Stereotypes Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger