Ok, ok, I'm not actually going to talk about sex per se, rather sex in books and whether it's appropriate for young readers. However, since there will be talk about sex in this post, consider this your warning if that makes you uncomfortable.
Initially I wasn't going to join this discussion topic because I've never read 50 Shades of Grey, but then I kind of got inspired.
See, my first thoughts were, "OF COURSE 15 too young!"
But then I thought about it and realized... maybe it's not.
So *of course* I have my reasons to share, and then I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the matter!
Is 15 Years Old Too Young to Be Reading 50 Shades of Grey?
First things first, from what I’ve heard about 50 Shades being anti-feminist, portraying abuse in a sexy way, and not portraying BDSM correctly, that particular book might not be best for impressionable young readers since they might assume that’s the norm. However, there are other books out there with sex scenes and even BDSM that are done well, that are not sexist, that don’t portray abuse in a positive light, that show BDSM done properly with safety and consent, etc.
But regardless of the book or how correctly anything is portrayed, I don’t think there is a single answer to this question because every child, teen, and person matures at a different rate. Some teens can read about something in a book, form their own opinions about it, and understand that just because it’s in a book, or just because the characters in a book think it’s cool or normal or good, that doesn’t mean it actually is cool or normal or good or something that they should run out and do.
As I said though, that wasn’t my immediate response. I actually have this tendency to be overprotective of anyone younger than me (and I can only imagine how much stronger that must feel as a parent). But when I got to thinking about my own childhood and teenage years, well, that was when I re-evaluated my opinion on this question. I realized some interesting things about my sex education and my reading habits growing up:
– I was 10 when I received my first sex-ed lesson in school and learned, in a very straightforward way, what sex was.
– I was 11 when I took health class and learned that there were numerous types of sex, and not all of them were for reproductive purposes.
– I was 12 when I first read Flowers in the Attic, a book with a scene that shows underage rape between a brother and sister.
– I was 14 when I started reading The Vampire Chronicles, and though most of the books don’t contain actual sex, especially the first few, they still contain erotic and homoerotic scenes that involve biting. And some of the later books, which I read when I was 15-16 do contain some scenes of a sexual nature. If memory serves me correctly, The Tale of the Body Thief has at least one sex scene, Blackwood Farm I think has a vaguely sexual scene involving the MC and his doppelganger, and Memnoch the Devil has one scene with what I can only refer to as the vampire version of oral period sex (please don’t ask me to explain that one further).
– I was also 15 or 16 when I read my first two [paranormal] romance novels, graphic sex scenes and all.
But look at me! A fully functioning, not-scarred-for-life adult. Learning and reading about sex never made me feel pressured to run out and do it myself. Reading about rape and incest didn’t make me think it was ok. Just like reading about vampires didn’t make me want to drink blood. If anything, I think reading about things helped me to look at them a little more objectively from a distance and form my own opinions about them. So who am I to say how old anyone should be before they can read a certain book?
I know this is going to sound preachy, but I really do think it’s a parent and/or guardian’s job to educate their children about sex. If a teenager knows about the consequences that can come with both safe and unsafe sex, if they have an adult they can turn to any time they have questions, if they understand consent and how important it is, if they have respect for their bodies and respect everyone’s right to make decisions about their own bodies, if they’re encouraged to always think for themselves rather than to automatically believe that everything they see/read/hear is the “right” thing, then they’re much more likely to make good decisions about sex. Regardless of what books they read. Yes, books affect us—I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for all the books I’ve read—but they don’t affect us in a vacuum. The way books affect us depends on the rest of the experiences we have in life.
So as I said, I believe that the right age to read certain books or about certain topics is completely dependent on each person and situation, and it’s really not up to me to make that decision.