Let’s Talk About…Virginity in YA Fiction

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately stewing privately over thinking about various issues/trends in YA books I’ve read, and I want to start discussing them here on the blog. I’ve been whining so much in the past few weeks about how I want more content besides reviews and memes, so…here we go. I hope to hear your thoughts on these topics as well!

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of in YA fiction is the reliance on virginity as a key plot point. Whether virginity helps keep the population under control, or helps the heroine fulfill her destiny, there seem to be more than a few instances where remaining a virgin becomes critical to the novel’s positive outcomes. Lately I feel as if I, as a YA reader, am getting clubbed over the head with the message “Virgin good, slut bad!”

There are a variety of techniques used to keep heroines virgins in books. There’s the “I don’t want to hurt you” technique. This is epitomized by Bella and Edward, where he couldn’t possibly have sex with her because he wouldn’t be able to control himself and might accidentally damage internal organs or something. This is most often seen in paranormal romances where sex is denied because the vampire/werewolf/whathaveyou is FAR too dangerous and therefore they can’t possibly be together. Because sex makes you lose control and that is BAD.

There’s the “if you lose your virginity you fail to fulfill your destiny” technique. The one that most readily comes to mind is Rampant, where Astrid can only be a powerful unicorn huntress if she abstains from sex. Forever. Girls can’t possibly juggle a job AND a sex life, right? In order to be 100% focused on their futures, they must deny themselves love and the natural expression of it and just be happy killing unicorns.

Then there’s the “doomsday” scenario. This is where the girl can’t have sex because Bad Things will happen to her or the people she loves. I spotted this one in The Mephisto Covenant, where having sex meant that Sasha would turn into a homing beacon for the villain and he would instantly be able to track her and kill her. Again, sex = bad.

Bad, bad, bad.

Now, I’m not saying I want to see a bunch of books about irresponsibly promiscuous teenagers. I don’t want to read a book about irresponsible promiscuity, period. I would, however, like to see books where young women make informed choices that reflect what is best for them and their lives. If a girl wants to have sex, and has the maturity and knowledge to do so safely, why not have a book explore that decision?

I’m sure there are books out there that deal with this topic in meaningful ways. I don’t doubt that there are a lot of girls getting good information about sex from books that deal with it in a pointed fashion. What bothers me is the sense that a lot of these messages about the value of virginity are undercurrents that slip past the radar. If you read enough books about sweet, heroic virgins that are better people because they have chosen not to have sex, you start to think that’s the only right choice. It devalues the many teen girls that have chosen not to remain virgins. And if you follow teen sex statistics at all, you’ll know that’s a very high number.

I’m tired of reading books where the protagonist must remain a virgin or bad consequences follow. I’m tired of our culture’s insistence that virginity is something precious to young women. More than anything, I’m tired of these characters’ decisions being taken from their control and passed along to someone else. Whether it’s Edward sticking to his dated chivalrous guns, or an inherited vocation dictating their choice, or even the threat of certain death, young heroines are not being given the power to make their own decisions when it comes to whether they are ready to have sex. Instead, the decision is handed to them by external circumstances, and that’s not something I like to see.

Have you noticed other ways in which virginity is celebrated in YA fiction? Do you think I’m way off base? Sound off in the comments, and let’s get a discussion going.