With everything going on not only in the town of Plattsmouth, Nebraska, but all over the United States, I thought it would be good to dig into some facts and definitions.
First of all, the women driving these book bans will tell you “We aren’t banning anything. You can still go out and buy these books.” This is a disingenuous and incorrect statement. A ban is defined as the removal of material and/or a prohibition on said material. Removing books from libraries is banning books. Period.
Second, these women (because that is who is primarily behind this, self-proclaimed “mama bears” who often are members or admirers of the hate group, Moms For Liberty AKA Klanned Karenhood) are all following the same playbook. They are pulling from the exact same list of titles, going into school and public libraries, searching for these books, and then kicking up a fuss.
Third, many of the books being attacked are young adult. This term is fluid in definition, and can range from teens through twenties, and even into one’s thirties. In the publishing industry, young adult is specifically the 13-18 audience, while new adult is 18 and older. Young adult and new adult books often center on themes of self-actualization (aka finding yourself), coming of age, family, friendship, loyalty, and love.
Finally, the women fighting for book bans use inflammatory language to frighten and incite others. They love words like pornography, obscene, erotic, and sexually explicit, and refer to librarians, public school teachers, and parents who disagree as groomers and pedophiles. Once again, these are incorrect and inapplicable words.
So what are their definitions and why might there be scenes of sexual intimacy in young adult books? Good question. Here goes.
I had an extremely successful career writing LGBTQIA romance. I wrote erotica for fun (and still do). Then I moved to writing paranormal and urban fantasy, because that’s my first love as both a reader and writer. So this explanation comes from years of experience and involvement in various writing communities. Now, on with the definitions:
Pornography – The literal definition is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotica rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” When I think porn, I think of the classics, like Debbie Does Dallas. If you read through the books challenged in libraries, you will find that this word does not apply to any of them.
Erotica – Literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire. In a story, the characters are DTF (down to f***). The end. There might be a plot or story, but you won’t find these books in the vast majority of libraries, and absolutely not in school libraries.
Literary Erotica – Plenty of sex happens here, but often to propel a story/journey of self-actualization or growth. Usually a plot or reason for the sex beyond “ooh la la, loin tingles.” Think The Story of O. Absolutely not in school libraries.
Romance – Falling in love is the main plot. Often includes a secondary plot point of self-actualization, solving a mystery, or some other theme or trope that brings the characters together. Romance ranges from “clean” to “spicy.” Sex, whether on page or fade to black, is an important part of the narrative because it serves to solidify the relationship. Is not erotica. Sometimes found in school libraries.
Everything else YA to adult – All other fiction genres (except for juvenile and younger) revolve around one or two plots or themes, usually with additional supporting themes. Romance can be a secondary or tertiary theme, as in “romantasy” novels. If there is a romance subplot, including sex, that’s intertwined with a much larger story and character growth.
Sexual intimacy, whether described on page or not, does not mean the book is erotica.
Consensual sex in fiction exists to connect characters through the greater challenges they face together. It is part of advancing character growth.
The inclusion of non-consensual sex or other non-consensual events (such as Feyre’s sisters being forced to become fae in the A Court of Thorns and Roses [ACOTAR] series) often serves the purpose of creating conflict or adversity for a character that also propels their growth.
A final note on this: we authors don’t sit down, cackle, and go, “I’ll add sex here and here and here and here.” In fiction (not including the erotica tier), sex is included for a reason that makes sense to the narrative and the characters.
So, even with some explicit sex scenes, books marketed toward YA readers are generally appropriate for teens and older.
What does this mean? It means that you, as the parent or guardian, are the one who needs to be aware of what your kiddos are reading and decide if you’re cool with it. No one else should make that decision for you. However, you do not have the right to make that decision for others because every family is different.
These books are not porngraphy, but guess what? If you don’t like them, you don’t have to read them or allow your teenagers to read them. It’s as simple as that.