My freshman year of college, I took a communications class as one of my gen-ed credits. One of the things we had to do was a persuasive speech, and I did mine on why positive sex education was better than abstinence only or no sex ed at all. I included the many statistics that show how little effect abstinence only sex ed has on when and how teens have sex, and argued that the best way to keep kids safe and healthy was to teach them about safe and healthy sex, rather than trying to keep them from having it at all. Seems like a no brainer, right? As I’ve written about before, my mom was very open with me about sex and alcohol and drugs. As a teenager, I knew that I didn’t have to do it until I was ready, and that I absolutely didn’t have to do it to keep a boyfriend, and that if I DID decide I was ready, the main thing to remember was condom, condom, condom.
Those three words were my mantra from the time my brother was born when I was four, and it became even stronger when my sister was born and I was age ten. I was far too shy sexually to even LOOK at a penis in high school, which my sometimes friend with benefits was totally, wonderfully okay with; but when I got to college and started to think I might be interested in going further, you bet your ass I picked up free condoms from the Lambda table, just in case! And though I was all prepared, it was still three years before I decided to have sex. When I did, it was simply and purely because I wanted to, and so did my partner. I was not at all nervous, and I did not just “let it happen.” I made a decision, because my mom taught me that it was my right to decide.
My point is this: it only takes a few words to make a huge difference.
SO, fast forward to today. I’ve been reading The Girl Who Would Be King by Kelly Thompson. It’s an engaging enough read, but there has been one scene in particular that made me rage a little bit.
Main character #1 is a sixteen-year-old girl named Lola. She kills her mother and runs to Las Vegas, and ends up joining a crew of master criminals. One of these criminals is the conveniently attractive seventeen-year-old Adrian. Needless to say, they fall in love in the space of about twenty pages. So I get a little ways in and suddenly there’s this line:
“I make him wait longer than he’s probably ever had to wait for a girl.”
Oh dear. I saw where this was going right away, and though I had high hopes, they were disappointed. She’s nervous about sex for the first time, which is understandable, especially since she’s super strong and she’s worried about accidentally hurting him. (Sort of an Edward thing, I guess–which actually makes it seem worse since Edward DOES hurt Bella during sex, but Lola doesn’t hurt Adrian. At least Edward was telling the truth.) So she has nightmares about hurting him, and its when she wakes up all sweaty from one such nightmare that they start to get hot and heavy.
“Before I even realize it, we’re kissing and pieces of clothing are falling away and in moments his skin matches mine in sticky sweetness.”
Okay, alright. My clothes never conveniently fall off, but whatever. Now here’s the part where they stop and get a condom and have that adorably awkward moment of agonizing waiting!
“He’s inside me flawlessly,
Nope. Those sentences are right next to each other. There is no condom, and there has been absolutely no mention of Lola being on the pill or any other kind of contraceptive.
See, here’s my beef. All it would have taken was ONE SENTENCE to turn unsafe teen sex into safe teen sex. One sentence, something like “I clench my fists around the sheets, writhing with impatience, while he rolls the condom on.” Tadaa! And then you have a sex scene where they’re not worried about getting pregnant or getting STDs (a reasonable concern, since apparently Adrian is a ladies’ man). You don’t have to get preachy about it. I am all about more depictions of healthy, safe sex in YA! Healthy and safe being the operative words.
Lola is, functionally, the antagonist of the book, which means that her behavior is transgressive, edgy, violent. She steals, she kills. BUT. She also gets twice as much page time as the functional protagonist, Bonnie, at least in the first third of the book (which is all I’ve read so far). It’s clear that she’s the author’s favorite character, and she’s by far the more interesting character. So what ends up happening is that even though the author may have included this sex scene in some weak attempt to show what a “bad, devil-may-care girl” Lola is, all the reader sees is the coolest teen girl in the book having unsafe sex with her new teen boyfriend.
I obviously don’t know what Kelly Thompson was trying to do with this sex scene, which by the way, doesn’t even matter much to the plot (so far–there may be little plot babies a’coming). She may not have been trying to do anything. That happens. But this is ostensibly a young adult book, and a little awareness of your audience can go a long way. I doubt she’s actually advocating rampant unprotected sex between teenagers, but the scene between Lola and Adrian does normalize and glamorize such sex. Believe me, it can be just as flawless with a condom, and a whole lot less nerve-wracking.
3/14/13 EDIT: Read my full review of The Girl Who Would Be King here!
I ranted about this for a good hour when I got home, and my boyfriend decided to take a brief video near the end. For your viewing pleasure: