A strange thing happened yesterday. The Mail on Sunday wrote something I agree with.
Rachel Johnson’sarticle echoed the excellent Malorie Blackman’s call for children to receive their first information on sex through ‘realistic’ scenes in books and not through porn on the net.
The thing is, I don’t think there’s much good fodder about. Earlier this year, The Telegraph reported on a new genre: ‘steamies’ which are ‘flying off the shelves’ and aim to tap into the young E L James market but whilst authors like Liz Bankes are doing well in the US, these books are sensationalist and their storylines lack the ‘normality’ of relationships. Compared to, say, Jilly Cooper’s Prudence and Octavia in the eighties, there are few books around now that address everyday life and sex and allow teenagers’ imagination to do most of the work.
Teens know sex pretty well. Even if accessible porn didn’t exist, they have friends who’re doing it if they aren’t already themselves and relentless media coverage of the Jimmy Savilles and Jeremy Forrests of this land make it only too clear what one sex wants from the other (sex).
It’s true that when I was fifteen, my education mainly came from Judy Blume’s Forever with the male protagonist’s endearing use of the name ‘Ralph’ for his penis (though I always thought he’d named it ‘Frank’ for some reason). But, as Ms Johnson says, “the curious thing is, as visual culture has become more pornified, the literary scene has become less so.”
She attributes this in part to the annual wooden spoon of the Bad Sex Prize. I attribute it to More! magazine’s Position of the Fortnight, which I think started balls rolling (no pun intended) away from the written word*.
Perhaps there should be a ‘good sex’ prize for young adult fiction. As well as keeping some things private, it might balance out children’s inevitable absorption of stark newspaper reports and graphic porn sites a bit, to be frank.
*More! Folded in April of this year, with The Guardian terming the magazine an ‘embarrassing mum trying too hard’ and killed off by the internet.