Popular Paperbacks, Books About Sex, and Banned Books Week

We’d done “Books That Don’t Make You Blush.” We’d done “Religion: Relationship with the Divine” and “Read ’em and Weep. It was time for Popular Paperbacks to take a walk on the wild side. In 2007, the committee decided it was time to put together a list about teens’ decisions to have sex, or not. It’s no secret that teens are fascinated by sex, and that they receive mixed messages about it on a daily basis. We wanted to put together a list of books that would show how complicated the decision to have sex, or not having sex, can be. After much debate and a few raunchy jokes, the seven members of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults given the charge of constructing and giving focus to this list, including myself, got down to business.

We knew putting this list together using the Popular Paperbacks criteria would be difficult and controversial. First, we didn’t want a list where teens would be punished for having sex. Second, we wanted to show that teens have a range of attitudes towards sex, from fright to ambivalence to enjoyment. Third, acknowledging that teens do have sex is always risky ground for librarians to tread, and we knew that there was a good chance our list would be met with outcry and opposition from “concerned parent” groups. As we discussed books like Paul Ruditis’s Rainbow Party, Elizabeth Scott’s Bloom, and Judy Blume’s Forever, we worked hard on adding stories from boys and girls, gay and straight, sexually active and abstinent. Although the original working title of the list was “Sex is a Touchy Subject,” we ended up changing it to “Sex Is…,” which we felt better encompassed the many points of view represented in the fiction and nonfiction that made up the list.

As Banned Books Week approaches, it’s time for us to remember that “sexual content” is often cited as a reason why books are banned. Of all the books for teens that do get banned, I often feel that the ones that are banned for sexual content are the ones most worth protecting. To a book banner, sexual content isn’t necessarily about two teens having intercourse. It’s ultimately about exploring and wondering about one’s sexuality and developing independent thoughts about sex. Everyone reading this knows that teens are curious about sex. All teens grow and develop and regardless of the rate at which they do so, they wonder about their bodies,romantic relationships, and other topics that are addressed in these books that are banned for sexual content. It was worth it to the Popular Paperbacks Committee to take the risks of being censored or called names because we were providing a list of popular books that would show teens they were not alone in their curiosities about sex and sexual health. It was worth it to us to cite books that say, “Yes, you are normal.” To the committee, “Sex Is…” about love, about heartbreak, about seizing the moment, and most importantly, about being human.

You can see the 2008 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults “Sex Is…” list at http://ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/popularpaperback/08ppya.cfm#sex

About Carlie Webber

YA Services Librarian for the Bergen County Cooperative Library System in Hackensack, NJ. Devoted to classic rock, vintage jewelry, and two adorable cats.
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2 Comments

  1. Damn! I happily anticipated finding one of my books on your “Sex is . . .” list. “If You Loved Me” is particularly relevant for the “to have sex, or not” category. “Love Rules” deals with gay/straight issues. “Detour for Emmy (often challenged)” and “Too Soon for Jeff” deal with teen pregnancy. Alas, none made the cut. Maybe next year. My own disappointment aside, thank you for the good work you’re doing on behalf of freedom of choice for young readers.

    Marilyn Reynolds
    “True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High”

  2. I wish I was on the committee this time around; I love the books that are realistic and true to teens. I look forward to seeing the list this year.

    Joy Millam
    Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Chairperson

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