When I was in junior high there was a band called Color Me Badd and they had a popular song called, “I Wanna Sex You Up.” I got the CD from a friend for my birthday and my parents told me I could listen to every song on the CD except that one. But that was the song I wanted to listen to. It was that song that made Color Me Badd famous. So I used to pop that CD into my discman (yes, I’m old) and listen to that song with my headphones on. When my parents would enter the room or ask what I was listening to, I would quickly switch the song. Oh, yes, I thought I was so clever. Now that I’m the mom of teenagers, I’m pretty sure they knew what was happening all along. Times may have changed, but one thing remains the same: Sex sells. It’s everywhere – in music, movies, television. We can’t get away from it. And it seems that our children are being exposed to it at younger and younger ages every year.
Let me make one thing clear: I’m no prude. I’ve been married for sixteen years, and I have no issue with sex. In fact, sex isn’t really what this post is about. It’s more about the lines we’ve crossed, the boundaries we’ve erased, and the ways we’re hurting our society, and most of all, our children.
When I first started writing teen fiction, the genre that was big was paranormal romance. It most likely started with books like Twilight and then sort of branched out. Vampires were once big, but by the time I joined the scene it seemed like it had shifted to werewolves, fallen angels, faeries, mythical creatures. So I put out a series of christian thrillers with supernatural elements. Then I started working on a mainstream paranormal romance centering around a group of ten warriors with superpowers. By the time I released the first book, DAZZLE, I started noticing a new genre emerging. It was called New Adult. When I found out this genre was written for college-aged readers, I was ecstatic. I had been waiting for a genre like that to emerge ever since I’d written ENGRAVED.
ENGRAVED was one of those books that never seemed to fit anywhere. When I published it I had no idea how to categorize it. The main character, Amy, was in her twenties in the book, but the novel vacillates between the past and present. And in her past chapters she’s in high school. Because of this, I contemplated selling it as a young adult novel, but in the end decided against it since the issues in the book were a little too adult for YA. Still, I felt the novel would be best suited to readers between 19-26, but had no idea how to target the college-aged audience. Now it seemed I had my answer. Excitedly, I ran out and one-clicked all over the place, filling my kindle with NA books. Then I started reading them.
And my face turned bright red, my insides churned and I felt in dire need of a shower.
Again, I’m no prude. I’ve had sex. I know how it works. Nothing in those books was new to me or shocking in any way. What was shocking was the graphic nature in which the sex scenes were depicted. And the sheer number of sex scenes. But the thing that bothered me the most was the message portrayed in these books.
The guys were egotistical, controlling, sex-crazed jerks. And they practically demanded sex from these girls. Not only that but it seemed that’s all they wanted from these girls. The relationship seemed fueled by sex, not emotion, not romance, not true love. The heroes in these books equated love to sex.
The message was clear. Sex = love.
Sex is expected.
Sex is how you get the guy.
And I took issue with that.
I will note that some of the NA books I read were tame and only had one or two scenes.If sex is a natural progression of the relationship I can understand that. If the couple is truly in love and their love is based on emotions, and sex is used as a means of communicating that love, I’m okay with that. Those aren’t the books I’m talking about here.
As I read these books all I could think about was that this was not the message I wanted my daughter getting.
We all know that men are visual, but women are emotional. We like to live in our imaginations. It’s all about the fantasy for us. That’s why the written word holds so much power. Is this really the message we want to give to our girls? Is this the fantasy we want to hand them?
Not me. I want my daughter to fantasize about a guy who knows her body is sacred and lovely and hers to give when she wants to. I want her to fantasize about a guy who falls in love with her heart and allows her to dictate when he can touch her body. And I want my daughter to fantasize about the good guy, not the bad boy. Because I know from experience that the bad boy will only break her heart.
Lately I’ve been hearing about an even more disturbing trend. The fantasy-rape books. When I first heard this I thought I must be mistaken. But no, it’s a real thing. And they sell well. Books about men kidnapping and torturing women are being sold as…get this…romances. This honestly sickens me.
Do you know how long and hard women have fought against oppression? And now we’re going to write romance books about women falling for men who oppress them? And that’s okay?
It’s not okay. It’s a crime. It’s disgusting. It’s really happening all over the world.
And it’s not romantic.
I’ve heard all the arguments about how this is all just fiction. But like I said before, words have power. Entertainment has power. For years, violent video games and violent movies have been blamed for violent crimes in real life.
Life imitates art.
Is this what we want our sons and daughters to imitate? Are we proud of what we’re creating?
I read romances because I love the rush of falling in love. I love getting swept up in the emotions and feels. I enjoy reading books about true and honest love – love that heals hearts and conquers all. That’s what romance novels should be about.
Can we get back to that?