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Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
I have known Lili Wilkinson for many years now. She’s one of the most talented, driven, organised people I have ever met. I am in awe of her. (Yes, even when I’m asleep.) She has had many wonderful books published in Australia as well as the UK and Germany. Her first novel to be published in the US is Pink which is one of her very best. It will be out in Fall of this year from Harper Collins. Trust me, USians, you want this book. Her post today is a wonderful follow up to Sarah Rees Brennan’s post on double standards in Hollywood.
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Lili Wilkinson is the author of five books, including Scatterheart and Pink. She tends to write nerdy chick-lit for teens. She’s currently enjoying Battlestar Galactica and likes making monsters out of wool. You can find her at www.liliwilkinson.com, her blog, and on twitter.
There, I said it. Lots of other people have been saying it lately as well, particularly in Australia. Because a couple of weeks ago the leader of our Opposition party, Tony Abbott, told the Women’s Weekly> that he hoped his daughters1 would wait until they were married until they had sex, and that a woman’s virginity is “the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving.”
That was the beginning. Then 17 year old YA author Alexandra Adornetto weighed in in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper. She said some reasonably sensible things about self-value and the desire to have meaningful experiences. Then she said that “virginity is not highly valued among teenage boys” and that girls had to protect their reputations, which I kind of thought was a bit sexist and disrespectful to all the boys out there who are also looking for meaningful experiences.
Then 16 year old author Steph Bowe wrote a response on her (awesome) blog. I must restrain from quoting the whole thing here, but Steph’s basic opinion is, “if sex is legal, consensual, and there’s mutual respect, I really don’t see the issue.” I highly recommend her piece.
Reading the comments on these two articles are almost as enlightening as the pieces themselves. They cover both sides of the argument, and frankly both sides are offensively judgemental.
Anyway, I’ve got some opinions of my own on the matter, so I thought I’d take this particular forum to share them. So without further ado, here are the six things I’ve learned about sex.
We have to respect other people’s choices. If someone chooses to wait until they’re married, then good for them. If they don’t, please don’t inform them they’re going to burn in the fires of Hades.
There’s a lot of talk about people wanting their first time to be special and amazing and perfect. I totally respect that, but let me tell you from experience – there’s a strong chance it won’t be. You know how the first couple of pancakes are always a bit weird, until you get the consistency and heat just right? Well it’s a bit like that.
Virginity is not a gift. Losing your virginity is an important experience, but it doesn’t define you as a person. It’s like losing your baby teeth. Does anyone ever say “I want the first time I lose a tooth to be really special”?2
Sex is a gift. I don’t want to sound like someone’s slightly batty aunty here, but sex is something important that you should share with someone who you trust. It should be fun. It isn’t something that a girl sacrifices for a boy, never to have it back. It is, in fact, the gift that keeps on giving.3
People make mistakes. Some of them involve sex. I think if we didn’t place quite so much mystery and awe around the whole thing, this might not happen so much.
You are totally allowed to disagree with my opinions and my choices, just as much as I’m allowed to have them in the first place.
As a writer I’ve never included an actual sex scene in a book, because they’re REALLY hard to write. But there’s some implied sex. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. Some of it will be regretted. Some of it won’t. Because I think that reflects the reality of sex. There can’t be any blanket rules of you have to be THIS old or THIS mature. It just doesn’t work that way.
Anyway, for further reading I recommend you check out the comments on this matter on Insideadog, and Gayle Foreman’s excellent post on sex in YA books.
Posted by Justine at 0:26, 19 February 2010 under Guest post, State of the World, Sydney/Australia, Young Adult literature | 17 Comments »
Excellent post. Personally, I am of the opinion that sex needs to be talked about more. If sex was not this mysterious and taboo subject in American culture, I think fewer people would make as many sex-related mistakes.
Of course, I’m sure many other people disagree with me. Thanks for providing a great way to discuss this issue.
February 19th, 2010 at 1:27 AM
Tim Keating Says:
Re: footnote number 3: I can see it now — “How to Ditch Your Virginity Fairy”
February 19th, 2010 at 2:56 AM
Or footnote 2. Whatever. It’s late here.
Great post, Lili, and thanks for putting things so eloquently. I’ve been trying to muster my own thoughts about this, but you put it better than I’ve been able to.
I think part of the problem is that everyone agrees that sex is important, but how they define “important” tends to vary so widely. And I agree with Chrissy that it’s a subject that needs to be discussed more, and more openly and honestly at that.
February 19th, 2010 at 3:00 AM
Lol, I just had this conversation with a friend. I would prefer to wait, but she didn’t and that’s okay. I just had to get that out there because it was driving me crazy not telling anyone.
Anyway, I like this post alot. There was an article about this in one of my mom’s church magazines and it basically said all the reason why you shouldn’t do it, but it never mentions the time it works out and there are no regrets. They always talk about pregnancy, STD, which are concerns, but they never address the times when it does work out and everyone is content.
Anyway, great post.
February 19th, 2010 at 3:43 AM
Lauren McLaughlin Says:
Treating female virginity as a commodity is just another way of treating women as male-owned objects. All people–male and female–should wait to have sex until they’re ready, however they happen to define ready. But anyone who believes in the equal dignity of women should oppose the fetishization of female virginity.
February 19th, 2010 at 7:08 AM
Just want to say thank you for having the cajones to post this. It’s such an important topic, for both women and men, and it just doesn’t get talked about enough.
February 19th, 2010 at 7:50 AM
Shveta Thakrar Says:
Lili, I agree totally.
Lauren said: Treating female virginity as a commodity is just another way of treating women as male-owned objects. All people–male and female–should wait to have sex until they’re ready, however they happen to define ready. But anyone who believes in the equal dignity of women should oppose the fetishization of female virginity.
This! Why, to quote the article mentioned, is a man’s virginity not “the greatest gift to give”? Why is it okay for a boy to have sex, but a girl must protect herself? (Yes, I understand the risk of pregnancy, but that’s why we need to discuss birth control openly.) Why is a boy a stud and a girl a slut?
Why, also, is there pressure on one side for teens to have sex ASAP and pressure and shame on the other side for them not to? Every single person is different; ergo, what’s right for one person will not be what’s right for another. Sheesh! Can’t we all respect one another’s choices? (Apparently not.)
February 19th, 2010 at 9:59 AM
Sarah Rees Brennan Says:
*applauds post with a vehemence, and mentions to all and sundry that Scatterheart is very good*
I smiled at the pancakes analogy, which I think is very true, and I especially wish to underline and check the respecting other people’s decisions.
I like the Wiccan philosophy ‘an ye harm none, do as ye will.’ As long as people do their level best not to harm each other, then whatever else they do is none of my business. The worst things in this world happen when people try to control or punish others.
February 19th, 2010 at 12:58 PM
I’m glad you mentioned how judgmental people on both sides of this argument can be. I’m hoping to wait until I’m married, but I totally respect people who choose differently. I don’t think sexuality defines a person. If people are choosing to have sex, cool. But if they realize I’m not choosing that, I would prefer not to be immediately classified as a narrow-minded prude. (Which is not how this post comes off at all … but that’s often how authors, politicians, etc make me feel). I feel differently about many of these points you presented, but I whole-heartedly agree with this quote: “We have to respect other people’s choices.” So true. Thanks for sharing so candidly!
February 19th, 2010 at 2:07 PM
I am a teenager who wants to wait for marriage before I have sex, but I’m also of the mind, that sex is a personal decision- one that isn’t half as taboo as some people either like to make it, or think.
What makes me REALLY uncomfortable, is when men go and discuss their daughter’s virginity in public like it’s something to be personally proud of- “I’m obviously a good father, because my daughter’s legs have remained crossed!” Yet the SONS of these men aren’t held to any similar standard- their choice to have sex or not is either completely brushed off, or mocked by the media.
I can understand hoping that your child would make the “abstinence, at least for now” decision, but they should also be the support system for the daughters and sons who are NOT virgins- by choice, not by choice, and whatever consequences (if any) arise.
February 19th, 2010 at 4:05 PM
I’m a great believer in more open, candid, frank discussions about sex – all parts of sex, from the mechanics to its history to how to do it safely – since its status as a kind of taboo while simultaneously being a driving force behind so much of so many cultures is at once ridiculous and dangerous. And how things are framed in discussions regarding sex are often just as ridiculous as not having discussions at all – like how, to many people, if you’re waiting to have sex, you’re somehow “saving” your virginity, which at once implies the desire to at some point “lose” it (which I think the asexual community would be quick to deny), while also placing some kind of moral code regarding when it’s appropriate to have sex over the simple necessity of being ready, whenever that may be (since “saving your virginity” often has “until marriage” implied).
Besides, sex by itself is a ridiculously interesting topic, and having it hidden away, wrapped in mystery and taboo, really just denies people the joy of dissecting it – from how it’s been treated in different societies, to the physiological and psychological components of arousal, to the ambiguities in defining what it means to be sexual and what defines a sexual act. The list goes on, really.
February 19th, 2010 at 6:17 PM
So nice to see such positive comments! Thanks everyone.
February 19th, 2010 at 7:03 PM
Okay, where were you when I was a teen? This should be part of sex ed! Great post.
February 20th, 2010 at 12:23 AM
“Another Kind of Fairy”…?!?! XDDD Lili, you made me burst out laughing in the middle of the office… drats…! (What would you put under your pillow then? Wait—don’t answer that!)
But jokes aside, thank you for this post—I hadn’t heard about Mr. “lame, gay (naughty teens—why do they use this as a diss?), churchy” Abbott’s 19th-century comments, but wow… it kind of makes me wonder what kind of Lolita fetish he’s secretly harboring. @_@ I always worry when a guy thinks too deeply and positively about the pained, frightened, surprised reactions a girl typically has to losing her virginity (so it’s a gift to have a girl react like that rather than to enjoy the sex with full knowledge and appreciation like an equal? Creep). Smacks of all that schoolgirl porn in the hentai manga industry… yuck.
But anyway! I’m with Steph (and you) on the matter—consensual and MUTUALLY RESPECTFUL, that’s the way to go. I do somewhat feel that women become mentally better able to appreciate sex several years after they become physically mature (that is, when they grow out of their teenage years, where there’s really more a wish for romance and admiration than the true feeling of lust that we gain in our twenties). But maybe that’s just me?
Meh, to each his or her own–and that definitely applies in fiction. I have characters who’d definitely be jumping into bed together at a young age, and others who’d waffle along until much later (to at least one party’s pitiful lament–lol~~).
Anyway, thanks for the post!
February 22nd, 2010 at 8:53 PM
I immediately want to kick any bloke in the goolies the moment I hear ownership or ‘right to take’ around this subject.
I also get rather annoyed the moment I hear people on their pulpit (like Mr Abbot there) prattling on about it being a gift to give away – and that doing so is ‘the right thing’.
I’ve worked with high school groups where the lass’s are pressured into ‘giving away’ favours – and young lads take them! I’ve worked with their parents and their peers too. The double-standards that exist at all levels around this topic really makes me wild.
The lack of understanding (of what constitutes a sexual act) and the realisation that actually saying no – is a real choice – is bloody frightening! But some of the circumstances surrounding young lass’s in these situations are just as bloody frightening… at the time when this happens to them – ‘no’ might just be a choice available – but it’s loaded with all sorts of nasty knock-on effects, it sometimes ‘easier’ for the lass just to say yes.
The worst part of it all…? When it comes to discovering the nature of such things – often through the bragging mouth of a bully-boy – it almost always becomes the lass’s fault first – she did it – she must have led him on!
I hate that the victim in these cases almost always get kicked down first, before someone has the decency to offer them a hand up – after! That rides on the back of comments much like Tony Abbot’s right there – and THAT frightens the hell out of me…
February 24th, 2010 at 7:23 AM
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