Can 2017 finally be the year we drop all the outdated virginity tropes? If I read another "abstinence-porn" YA idolizing purity (I'm looking at you, Twilight), or any more sex scenes that totally fail to acknowledge female sexual desire (it's not consent without it!), I might just scream. Teenagers today are so much smarter than this — and they deserve a literary sex education that can keep up with them.
In 2017, I don't want to read any more books that pretend virginity is anything more than a social construct (one that can have huge importance to you as an individual, sure, but not to anybody else). I don't want to read any books that claim virginity defines you, or that suggest "keeping" yours gives you a higher moral character. And I definitely don't want to read any more books that think penetrative sex is the only way to lose your V-card — because seriously, how heteronormative is that?
This year, I want to focus on the badass, progressive books that talk about sex in a way that actually makes sense to young people — and that will actually help them understand their own sexuality better. And I've got 11 of them right here.
1'The Miseducation of Cameron Post' by Emily M. Danforth
The way we talk about virginity tends to be extremely heteronormative. People disagree over the exact definition (and at least we're *mainly* moving past the whole hymen-needs-to-be-intact concept) — but it tends to include some reference to P-in-V action. The Miseducation of Cameron Post stamps all over that definition, with a first-time sex scene between two teenage girls — and not in a penis in sight.
2'Losing It,' edited by Keith Gray
Losing It is a selection of short stories by YA authors about what losing your virginity can mean to different people. One of the best is Patrick Ness's story "Different For Boys," which questions what "counts" for a gay man to lose his virginity.
3'Ella Enchanted' by Gail Carson Levine
I'm sure you're wondering what a children's fairy-tale with absolutely no mention of sex and virginity is doing on this list — but bear with me. Ella Enchanted is one long metaphor for consent — and consent in the context of female virginity is something that we do not talk about enough. A lot of women think that it's normal not to feel any sexual pleasure during their first time having sex — and so they might "consent" to sex for reasons like "my boyfriend wants to do it and I love him." In Ella Enchanted, Char wants Ella to marry him (we'll take that as the PG13 version metaphor for boning), but Ella, under a spell that leads her to be obedient, would be saying yes for the wrong reasons until she learns to put her own desires first. Only then can she give him her enthusiastic, affirmative consent to live happily ever after — and (I assume) to have the mind-blowing first-time sex that she deserves.
4'Anatomy of a Boyfriend' by Daria Snadowsky
Dominique has internalized everything that society has taught her about virginity: she thinks that her virginity is a precious part of herself, and she's glad that she "saved herself" for the right person. But throughout the course of the book, she starts to challenge that idea — and realizes that she can take back ownership over her own body.
5'Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self' by Danielle Evans
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is a collection of short stories about being young and African-American or mixed-race. One of the stories, 'Virgins,' is all about the pressure placed on young girls to follow the "right" path, of losing your virginity to the "right" person. The main characters are teenagers Erica and Jasmine, who make up new identities for themselves in order to reclaim their sexual agency, away from the community that they feel places this pressure on them.
6'Our Own Private Universe' by Robin Talley
This one comes out at the end of January, so put it on your wishlist. It's about 15-year-old Aki, who knows she's bisexual but has so far only dated boys. Our Own Private Universe is all about Aki exploring sex and romance in a brand new way, one that isn't limited to the heteronormative definitions that Aki has encountered so far.
7'None of the Above' by I.W. Gregorio
Kristin has just been voted homecoming queen, she's got a scholarship to college, and she's decided to take things to the next level with her perfect boyfriend. But her first time is a lot more painful than expected — and a trip to the doctor reveals that Kristin is intersex. Kristin's "perfect" virginity-losing moment didn't work as she imagined — and so while the rest of the novel isn't specifically about sex, it is about her learning how to inhabit her own body, which will eventually include exploring what first-time sex can mean for her.
8'All Our Pretty Songs' by Sarah McCarry
I often see YA novels that show the female protagonist only having her sexual awakening once she meets a (usually male) love interest — but a girl's sexuality doesn't depend on anybody else. All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry has a rare scene of female masturbation, showing that traditional, two-person "virginity-loss" isn't the only way that a teenage girl can learn about her own sexuality.
9'The Summer Prince' by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Summer Prince is set in a dystopian Afro-Brazilian society in which social class is everything. The three main characters become entangled in a love triangle — but Johnson breaks with YA cliche by including a sexual relationship between the two male characters. The heroine, June, is not a virgin at the book's start — but as the characters explore bisexuality and polyamory, their attitudes to sex and virginity expand and change.
10'The Moon and More' by Sarah Dessen
While first-time sex is an incredibly worthwhile issue to explore in YA, it can sometimes suggest that losing your virginity has to be a key moment in your life — particularly for girls. Sometimes, it's great to see a female protagonist who isn't a virgin, or whose virginity was never a particularly big deal. Emaline in The Moon and More is one of these heroines: sex is just on element of her relationship with her boyfriend Luke, but it doesn't define them — and it definitely doesn't define her.
11'Forever' by Judy Blume
Let's be honest, when it comes to books about teenage sexuality, you don't get any better than Judy Blume. Forever takes every outdated notion of virginity you may have heard, and flips them on their head. Katherine chooses when to have sex for the first time entirely based on her own desires — waiting until she's both emotionally and physically ready (and until she's taken a trip to the clinic to organize birth control). Katherine receives contradictory advice from her friends and family about how important first-time sex needs to be — but ultimately, Katherine realizes that its significance is totally up to her. Oh, and even if your relationship doesn't work out in the end, it doesn't mean that the sex wasn't meaningful at the time.