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Is Smut in YA Novels Bad?

*Warning: this post is a category two, please read with consideration, and if you are under the age of 14, consult your parent/guardian before reading.*



The rise of #BookTok and #Bookstagram has led to the rise and normalization of "smutty" books which can be categorized as books with explicit or "adult" scenes in their pages. Authors like Colleen Hoover and Ana Huang have risen to the limelight with their romance novels dominating store shelves and hitting social media by storm. Often the novels follow young adults through complex and often problematic relationships. And while these books fall under the "New Adult" category, other books including Cassandra Claire's, The Dark Artifices series include explicit scenes and there is no "New Adult" umbrella to explain away the "sexy" behavior or to use the common vernacular when addressing sex in books - smut.


What is Smut?

The discussion of smut in YA novels is not a new conversation and has been debated heavily periodically since the "scandalous" release and rise of the Twilight franchise. Yet the conversation is growing as more young readers are picking up books that blur the lines between New Adult and YA. As the book market becomes increasingly more deregulated with the rise of Independent publishing - or self-publishing as it is also referenced - the access to "smutty" books is easier than ever before as more and more authors realize what Hollywood realized years ago and that is that, "Sex sells," but the question is, should we be selling sex to young readers?


Kate Sullivan at TCK Publishing argues, "Exploring romance - and sex - are part of growing up, and they're natural topics for including in books for readers who are in the process of growing up." She also comments, "But kids are going to learn about these anyway, so shouldn't they come up in the kind of books that help them adjust to the realities of life?" While at first glance her arguments may seem compelling especially since they are the arguments that have been used to get YA fiction to where it is. The problem is the blurring of the line between what is acceptable to young readers, but what ultimately topples Sullivan's argument is the lack of consideration between talking about sex and the need to include sexual behavior. If one was really concerned about helping kids "adjust" to reality they would want kids to know morally when it is acceptable and when it is not. There would be a conversation about sex, without any sexual content. Yes, kids are curious because it's a new part of life they have just learned, but that does not necessarily mean they need to read about sexual behavior. An author can skillfully answer young readers' questions while still being "pure" and not having their characters perform unnecessary acts. Better yet, one can leave these conversations between a child and their parent.


One may still argue that writing a smutty scene would be true to their characters to which Luara Harris of Penguin Group Australia director of Books for Children and Young Adults would advise, "If sex is true to the characters, you need to have it there; you shouldn't avoid it," but what is too far for a young audience? That is primarily what they are failing to ask. Young adult books are written for a 12-18-year-old audience, and while people argue that teenagers are losing their virginity and exploring sexuality, that is not a strong enough argument for including sexual scenes.

It comes down to how one defines smut and the first three definitions that pop up when you google the word are: soot, wet rot, and porn.

Smut is porn, google's definition not my own.

The argument above would be like telling a married man that because he has sex with his wife he can watch porn because he's been exploring physical sexuality. But this analogy breaks down because said man is an adult and isn't just trying to find a good read.

And if one is still not convinced that these arguments for smut in YA are weak then let's explore Kate Sullivan's last point which is, "Those younger readers? They don't really care. They just want a good story - and they want it to be something they can relate to." Now, to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt one could argue she was just saying that kids just want a good story, and don't need sex for that purpose. Sadly, this writer's belief in people's moral standing is diminished so it is more than likely that Sullivan was arguing for the fact that because children and teenagers don't know any better, one can include sexual scenes if it's "just part of the story." These arguments, ideas, and attitudes are the primary reason the problem of "smut" in YA (Young Adults) is even a problem.


Where is Porn?


As described above, smut is porn. Sadly, there is a misconception about what is considered porn. When one thinks of porn, they think of videos or pictures one can access via the internet or magazines. Due to this misconception, the idea of porn being in our literature is often overlooked and neglected, but porn is sneaky and can come in a variety of shapes, and sizes. This includes books, manga, graphic novels, etc. in fact, it can be argued that due to this ignorance, parents are more likely to be lenient on what a child consumes in terms of fiction. They may concern themselves with what a child is watching online, but completely fail to think about what a child is reading. Now, it is hard to control everything a teenager reads especially if they are an avid reader. Instead of trying to control what they read have a difficult conversation on not only the dangers of visual porn but literary as well or if you are said teenager, educate yourself on the dangers of porn literary or otherwise.

Porn is dangerous.

And no, people do not say that to simply restrict others from having fun. All our actions have consequences, and porn has serious consequences on our minds, hearts, and relationships.


What does porn do to my brain?


The reading or viewing of porn causes your brain to release a surge of dopamine which overstimulates your brain and goes beyond normal pleasure activation levels. This then desensitizes your brain to what you watching, so what was once pleasurable is common and you have to seek a new level of pleasure. Which often is more graphic, violent, and "dirtier" than before. This means that things that were once pleasurable are no longer enjoyable. And there is only one pleasure in life - porn. That is why porn is considered a drug because like a drug addict once you've experienced the new "high" you need more, more, and more.

Joseph J. Plaud, a private, clinical, forensic psychologist from Boston Massachusetts, explains, "The more you do and the greater degree of access, the more explicit [it is], you seem to need more and more,"

Luke Gilkerson at Covenant Eyes describes it as leaving an imprint on your brain because all the chemicals released work together to form lasting memories.

Dr. William Suthers found that porn actually weakens the region of the brain called the cingulate cortex which is responsible for your moral and ethical decision-making and willpower. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, ask yourself the question: do I want to be a good person? If the answer is yes, viewing porn lessens your ability to make good decisions and hinders your ability to have delayed satisfaction. Instead of working toward a goal that will in the long run be good and satisfying like getting married and starting a family, it is more likely you will seek a quick fix... eerily similar to a drug addict.


Perhaps you are arguing in your head, "Someone can do whatever they want as long as it makes them happy!" or "Everyone does it!" or "You're exaggerating," or, finally, "I don't care if does all of that to me," If the last one is you, there is no argument for apathy, but it can be implored that you find value in your own life and that it's worth making good decisions and not to be a vessel of self-destruction.


But it makes me happy!


Maybe, you think this, or this is why you do not see this as an issue because anything that inspires "happiness," is valid. Yet if one is to embrace this idea in its totality, a lot would fall by the wayside. Paying bills does not make you happy so you don't pay them, going to work does not make you happy so you do not go, going to school does not make you happy so you do not do that work. All those actions have consequences. You will end up without a house, a job, or an education which will have further ramifications. Not everything we do can be on the premise of happiness, it has to be on the premise of "What will be good for me?"

Working hard and paying bills is good for you because it promotes responsibility and pride and accomplishment. Studying and getting an education is good for you because then you will live a self-disciplined, successful life. The same approach has to be looking at subjects like porn. "Is porn good for me?" and from the evidence above, the answer is simple - no it is not good for you. Not everything that makes you happy is good. If you simply look around you can see humans tend to be pretty self-destruction. Naturally, what makes us "happy" is normally far from good or productive. Just take a look at a toddler, their happiness is fickle, and often dependent on varying circumstances and they are quite selfish with their toys, and time among other things. Adults and teenagers are no different. Porn is harmful to your mind, heart, and relationships thus it is not enough for it to make you happy.


Everyone does it!


We are not in high school... well some of us might be, but the point remains. Just because culture says it's not that bad, does not mean they are telling the truth. The masses are often the ones who are the most wrong. Don't believe this argument? Look at history. Multitudes from ancient Rome to deep in the 1800s believed slavery was an okay practice, multitudes burned women on the premise of witchcraft, and multitudes believed women were incapable of working outside the home. The list continues. Whole countries believed that genocide of specific races was okay including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. If anything, if the masses are saying one thing you might want to research the opposite direction before you come to any of your own conclusions.


You're exaggerating!

If this article is not enough information for you, that's completely understandable. Educate yourself, and know the facts. Know that what is mentioned above is not an exaggeration, if anything, it's a watered-down version of porn's perversive nature. If you need more resources, check out:





Conclusion: Is Smut in YA bad?


While Collen Hoover, Sara J. Mass, and Cassandra Claire are popular does not mean all the content in their books is beneficial. When reading a book with sexual content ask the question: Is this good for me? What purpose does it have? Overall, it boils down to the question. Should we be sexualizing a young audience an audience that is primarily under 18? Should we be objectifying an audience that in any other form of media would lead to an immediate outcry, but because the characters are fictional no one bats an eye? The sexualization in YA shapes how the readers view the world around them which then leads the readers to sexualize and objectify the world around them. People are not objects, people are not just sexual creatures, and to include smut in YA, no matter the storyline is unnecessary and reckless. Smut in YA is not only romanticizing fictional porn but normalizing sexualizing a young audience.


When faced with smut in YA, turn the page, and skip it, it is not good for your mind, do yourself the favor and guard your mind. It's worth more than any five-minute scene that will never leave you. Protect yourself.

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