CK Kelly Martin has come to visit us today :) She had some great answers to the tough questions.
What do you like to portray teen sexuality as in your books?
Personally, I like to reflect the varied set of experiences and feelings that teen sexuality truly is. Some teenagers think about sex a lot but don’t have any direct experience and don’t plan to for sometime. Some fool around (which may or may not include oral sex) but stop just short of having intercourse and still others hook up with people at parties or are in serial monogamous sexual relationship. There are guys who like other guys, girls who like girls and people who are attracted to both genders.
As well as what activities they’re engaging in there are also differences in the way various young people approach them—some are very careful about safer sex practices like using condoms and are interested in the experience being a mutually satisfying one whereas others are only concerned with what they want and how they’re feeling.
Another thing that I’m very aware of when I’m writing about teen sexuality is the influence of popular culture (everything from music videos to Internet pornography, TV and video games). Not that those things cease to be an influence later in life but hopefully when you’ve had more experience you learn to be less swayed by what other people are doing (or say they’re doing) and how they’re doing it and then concentrate on engaging in activities you enjoy in the time and way you want to.
I worry a lot about girls, especially, getting these exceptionally toxic messages from our culture—that they’re uptight if they’re not having sex but that they’re skanky if they are and that the sex they’re having should be more about performance (like in lots of pornography) than about enjoying themselves. With guys there are a different set of problems—the unhealthy messages they’re receiving are that they should be up for it at anytime otherwise they’re losers and that they should be dominant in their sexual relationships.
Do you think books should be more or less open regarding teen sex?
If we’re talking about contemporary YA I think they should be more realistic, which doesn’t necessarily mean more graphic details but that often there’s going to be uncertainty, awkwardness and even funny moments amid the sex. When I was growing up I really appreciated what Judy Blume did with Forever. I felt like it gave me a realistic idea of what sex with a trusted boyfriend/girlfriend could be like. More recently I thought Daria Snadowsky did a fantastic job with Anatomy of a Boyfriend, Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson with The Parallel Universe of Liars and Alex Sanchez with his Rainbow Boys series. Coe Booth is another writer that deals with teen sexuality in a truthful, open, non-judgmental way. Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy has important but disturbing sexual scenes between a twelve year old boy and the teacher that manipulates him into having a sexual relationship with her.
Not that every book needs to even have some kind of sex scene, of course! There’s room for books that don’t want to deal with sex at all but I do think it’s important that teenagers have books that accurately reflect their own sexual experiences, both positive and negative.
At what point do you draw the line between YA and Adult books regarding sex?
That’s a good question and it’s very hard to pinpoint. I feel like adult books can be gratuitous when it comes to sex whereas YA should be a bit more careful because the readers it’s aimed at can be more impressionable because of their age. I think with a YA book you don’t want to glorify sex or demonize it, just tell it how is. Also with YA I think it’s more important to emphasize safe sex.
Do you think there’s an age where kids/teens should start being able to read books involving sex?
With I Know It’s Over I noticed some reviewers recommended it for readers twelve and up and others said fourteen and up. One blog reviewer remarked that they wouldn't recommend the book to anyone under the age of seventeen, although the characters in the book who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy are only sixteen. I think ideally kids should begin reading books involving sex before they find themselves in a sexual situation but not so far beforehand that they’re not ready to think about it (I don’t even mean considering having sex but just generally having sexual thoughts). This is going to be a different age for different people. Generally I wouldn’t recommend readers younger than thirteen read my books but for some fourteen or fifteen might be a better age.
Do you feel it’s important to show “first times” in your writing?
I think our society tends to think of first times as being a big thing – more than we should. It’s not like there’s automatically this huge divide between someone who has had sex and someone who hasn’t. It doesn’t change who you are and I don’t think it should be more important that someone has a good first time than a good second, third etc. What is important, in my opinion, is that you only start having sex when you really want to and are ready for it on a lot of different levels (not just physically but that you realize you need to be responsible about it).
But because many people see first times as monumental I often reflect that in my books. In I Know It’s Over Nick and Sasha’s first time sucks, in part because Nick has unrealistic expectations, but the second time is pretty good. In my third book, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, the main character Mason has sex for the first time in chapter one and while it’s a positive experience everything goes downhill from there. The girl he sleeps with is a good friend of his and things get very complicated emotionally. I don’t want to say too much about One Lonely Degree and first times because I don’t want to ruin the book for people but as far as main character Finn goes, when she meets Jersy again (they were friends when they were much younger) it’s the first time she feels strongly about a member of the opposite sex who isn’t a rock star or unobtainable crush.
Should middle school kids read the same YA books that High School kids are? There is a big difference yet they are classified the same.
I guess my answer for this is similar to question 4. There are YA books that don’t have that much mature content and which are fine reading for middle school readers and others that young readers might not be ready for but I suppose unless you see an age recommendation for a certain novel on a bookseller or book review site you might not be aware of it to use as guideline. I think it’s hard to break the classification of books down any further as far as shelving goes, though, because kids mature at different rates and what someone is ready to read at twelve and a half someone else might not be ready for until fourteen and a half.
Any last thoughts?
Because we’ve been talking a lot about sex here, I want to mention sex ed site Scarleteen (http://www.scarleteen.com/). I can never say enough good things about it - so much information but it goes way beyond facts. It’s focused on making people “healthy, happy and whole in themselves and their sexuality: in body, heart, and mind.” Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna has also written a really good book on the subject called S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College (http://www.amazon.com/S-E-X-All-You-Need-Know-Progressive-Sexuality/dp/1600940102/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top)
And speaking of first times they have a Ready or Not? Sex Readiness Checklist on Scarleteen:
Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about all this, Ashley!