Virginity has always played a role in society. In the days before modern paternity tests and where heredity controlled estates, I guess I can sort of understand it’s importance…but modern day society it still holds a lot of creed.
In some parts of the world unthinkable things happen when a woman loses her virginity before marriage.
As much as those sorts of things are appalling, I’m not going to discuss them today. What I am going to discuss is the effect that virginity has on YA.
I think before I start looking at how virginity is portrayed in the genre, I’m going to discuss how I came upon this idea for this post. I was watching Hocus Pocus.
Yes, that God awful but so bad it’s good Disney movie that stars Bette Midler as an evil witch-ha, perfect casting Disney. In the movie, there is a huge emphasis placed on the main character’s virginity. It’s used as a catalyst, a constant joke, and a way to make fun of him. Emphasis on the him.
It’s funny, since I’ve been reading YA virginity is hardly ever focused on when it comes to male character, it’s almost exclusively a female thing. Which is a shame. However, some of these books did discuss virginity when it comes to the male POV a little bit. Not a lot, mind you, since most of it is viewed through their girlfriend’s POV, but at least we get flashes of it. And it just alarms me how different its treated.
For the rest of this article, I’m going to be focused on three separate works: The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, and The omnibus Shadowhunter series by Cassandra Clare.
The Princess Diaries:
This is probably one of the most helpful conversations about sex in YA. To be honest, I feel like my Meg Cabot books were a better version of sex ed than my actual sex ed course.
I think what I like about Meg Cabot’s portrayal of virginity is she basically states what a farce it is.
While Mia obsesses over virginity and the virginity of her boyfriend in the early novels, she grows up. She has to go through some pain first, but she does mature.
I really liked the fact that in Cabot’s world not everyone is a virgin and sex isn’t treated like a sin or an after school special.
Okay, so there is one character that sort of gets snapped at, but the person who snapped at him learned her lesson.
The one thing that did bother me about this series portrayal of sex is that it would often make the bulk of the book (see books six and eight). It made me roll my eyes and want to read something else to be honest. But I get why she did this.
This series isn’t the only one that Cabot used as a pedestal to talk about safe sex and sexuality in YA. She also wrote a book (sequel to All American Girl) called Ready or Not which focused on this aspect as well. In addition to this, several of her other YA books involve sexual relationships too. Personally, I prefer the books where there’s no “hidden” message. But I have to give kudos to Cabot for trying and educating. Also, I’m giving her kudos for taking different approaches to the whole virginity issue.
Interesting to note, is that more recently Cabot has had a trend to have more sexually experienced or non-sex obsessed protagonists that are more willing to get in bed. I think this is a good thing. That it shows progress. To be honest, we shouldn’t be obsessing about sex like Mia does. However, a portion of teenage girls do.
I chose Twilight, because like Diaries it talks discusses virginity extensively. However, Meyer takes a different approach than Cabot. While Cabot gives a more informative view about sex without sounding like a PSA, Meyer’s views have more of a traditional approach. It’s probably not her intention, and I don’t even know if you’d call the content traditional, but when I read Twilight and read about Bella and Edward’s sexual relationship (or lack of sexual relationship), there are several themes that have almost a traditional vibe to it.
I think the first thing I need to discuss is the one hundred plus year old version-complete with frozen sperm that just stayed there you know because he never had sex or did anything remotely sexual since before he met Bella. His one true love here.
It’s a pretty innocent and borderline romantic view at first. Likewise, is Edward not wanting to be with Bella till marriage. However, once the relationship is consummated, Twilight probably has some of the darkest sexual undertones to it-which isn’t that surprising since it gave birth to a book where pulling out a tampon is considered sexy.
Dear lord, I really wonder how people read that crap? It was bad enough on fan fiction but the fact that there’s going to be a movie and…digressing.
Getting back to Twilight…
The darker tones of the aftermath of the act, could be viewed as foreshadowed if we approached the before relationship between Bella and Edward in a different light.
Pure and simple that’s how I view Bella and Edward’s sexual relationship. A mark of possession. Just like how Jacob imprints on Nessie.
Oh yeah, I went there. But it is essentially the same sort of thing. And yeah, Meyer, the whole imprint thing to me is creepy in part because of that.
But think about it?
Edward was not going to do it with Bella till they were married. From the content of the book, it’s not like he had religious values from waiting. He already condemns himself.
Argument: But he wants Bella to be saved that’s what he says in the books.
He agreed to marry her. To change her. I don’t think that’s soul saving.
He was scared about the sex though. I have my own theories about why (cough, he believes he’s impotent, cough), but that’s not what Meyer was trying to go for.
I find it odd though, that it’s not the marriage that Edward balks more towards, it’s the sex.
Marrying Bella means he’s saying vows to god-it is a sacrament-so since he views himself as a demon….
He ultimately relents though and the sexual relationship between Edward and Bella changes their lives for ever. You could almost say once he possessed her that’s when he changed her. Not after the birth from hell (seriously, I think that scene is keeping me child free for several years in the near future).
Though Twilight mostly fades to black during the worst written sex scenes ever, we still see shades of control in the sexual relationship between Bella and Edward.
The broken bed.
The fact that she’s completely alone on the island with only Edward. Therefore, dependent on him.
She’s nothing more than a toy for him.
Even though you might hate Bedward with a passion, they are not the only couple in this story that has a horrible relationship. As I previously stated, the wolves are just as bad with their stupid (and in my humble opinion) perverted imprinting.
Though nothing (that I know of) sexually happens between Jacob and Nessie in the novel, there is that same sense of possession that you see in the Bedward connection.
Jacob follows Nessie around like a lost puppy or a bad Uncle Jesse stand in throughout most of the rest of the novel. He even takes away parenting decisions that should be made by Bella and Edward.
Again, we have dependency being built. Again, Nessie is viewed to be more of a possession than a person.
While there are a lot of YA series that talk about sex that are out there, I decided to take one of the series that I think handles the subject matter in a grossly inappropriate manner.
This time it’s not about obsessing over a V card. It’s about not even taking a remotely realistic path in discussing relationships.
This could actually apply to a lot of series.
However, I think The Shadowhunter Series has some of the most despicable portrayals of sexual relationships in YA literature today.
Virginity often isn’t even really an issue here, because even if the character is a virgin they’re already a pro in bed and want to bone their sibling.
I think the fact that there is no thought involved in the sexual issues going on in this book is what really flummoxes me.
You’d think some of the characters would go on about why they want to bone their sibling, but they don’t.
It’s the same with even more serious issues like rape.
A character in the novel was almost raped, but was there any fall out from it?
No. Not really.
Honestly, the reaction is similar to any other sex-capade in the book.
On one hand, I’m glad that sex doesn’t really revolve around the characters’ lives, on the other hand….such a laissez-faire attitude seems a little unrealistic.
I’m sure some would argue that this attitude makes Clare’s characters powerful, but I disagree. They are abused and don’t do anything about it. One character gets back together with her abuser at one point in The Mortal Instruments series.
It also adds an unrealistic feeling to these books. In the Victorian set sub series, The Infernal Devices, the characters are very affectionate with each other to the contrary of the standards and traditions of the time period.
You might find it odd that I don’t like the portrayal of virginity and for that matter sex in Cassandra Clare’s work, since it doesn’t go the traditional precious gift route, but I think Clare’s work is just as bad but in a different way.
It doesn’t educate. And as I said before it leaves sort of a bad message for cases of abuse that it isn’t that big of a deal.
Unless society norms change, sex in YA is probably always going to be a bit of a taboo.
While at best it’s used to educate, often the messages that come from sexual relationships in YA is mixed at best. Especially when virginity is used as a plot device.
When I started writing this article, I wanted to focus more on gender roles in virginity. Is virginity treated in YA differently for males than for females? However, there aren’t that many male centered books where this is viewed as an issue. In Harry Potter, there isn’t even any talk about losing ones V card. However, even though there aren’t a lot of male centered YA novels out there that deal with virginity some of the female oriented YA novels have male characters who’s V card comes an issue. Funny thing though, for these characters it’s often not as big as an issue as it is for their female counterpart. Even the one hundred something year old virgin (Edward Cullen) didn’t seem to have any problem with it being his first time. Even more common, in YA is that male characters lost their V card a long time ago like it was something shameful.
But with female characters, it’s viewed as a quote on quote precious gift. In fact, there have been some series (notably, Alyson Noel’s The Immortal series) that use virginity as a plot device.
There have also been books with themes of being a born again virgin.
Which all I have to say is ridiculous.
But on the other side of the coin…you get books like Cassandra Clare’s. Where sex is treated so blase, that abusive situations aren’t even addressed.
As an adult, reading these books just make me roll my eyes, but to a teen who has little to no sexual education….well….. all I know is that I’m glad there are some books like Meg Cabot’s out there. Which while not perfect does give a fairly realistic view about sex and protecting one’s self.
The sad thing is that I really see YA evolving in the future. And even if it does….there are so many issues involved in the V card topic that I don’t know if all of them can be resolved. In addition to a horrible portrayal on the subject matter, the industry seems to have only focused on one group of people losing their virginity (straight females) the rest of the population.