All We Left Behind is a book that talks about the complexities of sex. Teenage sex. It’s an undeniable theme in the novel. But it’s also a theme I avoid taking about.
Why? Because I feel like I’m not supposed to talk about sex, much less write an entire novel about teenagers who are struggling with it. Actually, it’s not my fear of teenagers that keeps me silent. It’s the adults I fear. It’s the parents and teachers and nay-sayers who want to censor sexual content in books and automatically label it as pornography. It’s the adults who don’t want to think of young people as having sexual lives and bodies.
Back in June, we all heard about the Stanford Rape Case and the haunting letter from the victim to her attacker. Hundreds of articles were shared discussing this crime, and many started asking why we’re blaming alcohol for this incident instead of asking what causes a young man to think he’s entitled to touch an unconscious person in a sexual manner.
One article really resonated with me on this topic: The Consequences of a Lack of Sexual Imagination
This article punched me in the gut. It beautifully articulates why it’s so incredibly important that we write and talk honestly about sex. It’s helped me to understand why my own book is important and that I need to be brave and not avoid the sexual themes of my novel. I need to combat my feelings of shame when someone asks what my book is about. This article makes a compelling case for our nearsightedness when writing about sexual experiences in books. We need more stories that explore sex in a way that’s positive, frank, and honest.
From the article …
“I am dismayed that people don’t want to talk about sex. This is why I’m depressed that authors don’t want to see their fictional characters as sexual beings. This is why I’m bored with books that create a vivid character and when it’s time for kissing or anything beyond that, the story devolves into stock romance novel language and imagery …
Don’t fade-to-black in your story-telling when what happens between two naked people could help show how real sex might look.
Don’t laugh off discussions about sexual problems or desires or fantasies, saying that romance novels are trash or women are idiotic readers, or scenes involving sex and bodies are “smut.” Look again. And again. Why do these things exist? What rings false to you? What rings true? What does all of this mean for real people? …
Don’t be an author who can more easily write about rape and sexual violence and abuse but stops when it comes to positive portrayals of sexual behavior. Figure out how to bring your characters together sexually and romantically in a way that’s true to them and their experiences; show what inexperienced sex might look like for these people. It need not be perfect; it just has be genuine.
Don’t swerve into romance novel language when you’re thinking about your own sex life or your characters’ sex lives. Give yourself and your characters some credit and honor and individuality.
Don’t be afraid to talk to young people about sex. Or old people, for that matter.
Don’t look at sex as disgusting and obscene; look at rape and sexual violence as disgusting and obscene.”
Please go read Carrie Mesrobian‘s full article. It’s a powerful call to action for honest and positive portrayals of sex in our writing. The written word is powerful. It can change and influence our culture. Be brave.
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