Why is sex so very, very scary? Why is it that, when a parent is considering which books (or movies, or television shows, etc.) they want to give their children, sex is a corrosive and dangerous bogeyman, but violence is a clean thrill? Violence is exciting, an adventure. It goes: bam!, zoooom, pow!, and makes the sound of pages being turned. Sex, on the other hand, is insidious. It will grow shadows in young people's eyes; leave burn marks on their imaginations.
There is something wrong with this.
There's something wrong when a mother tells me that her 14-year old son could not possibly read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother because the main character loses his virginity to a girl he's fallen in love with, but a minute later tells me how GREAT Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games is for him. Would you like to know what happens in The Hunger Games? Boys and girls fight to the death. They kill each other in an arena. It (and its sequel) is one of the most popular young adult books in the store.
Parents look uncomfortable when the word is mentioned. Say, "sex," and their eyes go sideways, for just a moment. Say, "murder" or "fight scenes" or "guns" or "slashing swords," and they might get a hopeful look on their faces and say, well maybe that will be exciting. Maybe they'll like it.
I shouldn't ignore my own complicity. I never recommend Melvin Burgess's Doing It, which is a novel of enormous heart and empathy, because it is drenched in sex. I feel no guilt in championing The Knife of Never Letting Go, which has moments of shocking and personal violence. I adore action movies, admire the elegant splatter of Tarantino and the absurd slaughter of Shoot 'Em Up. Lucky Number Slevin is one of my favourite movies, and a clever, stylish film that ends with two old men being suffocated in plastic bags and duct tape. And, yet, the sex scenes are what make me feel sheepish. If I'm watching it with someone, I can feel myself very carefully not turning in their direction.
The only excuse I can make for myself (and maybe for those parents too) is that, in my world, sex is more commonplace than violence. It's more real. It exists, with all its pleasure and pain and inevitable awkwardness, more often than stabbings and fights to the death. Think of it that way, and I'm lucky to live in a world where sex is sometimes more dangerous than violence.
Except that it shouldn't be.