Morals and values in YA lit, or Janette should really get more sleep before she opens her mouth

A couple of weeks ago, my friend (and super author) Shannon Hale asked for my opinion on a blog she was doing on morals and values in young adult books. Shannon, like a lot of authors, says she doesn’t think about morals or values as she writes. She just tells the story and lets people draw their own conclusions about it.

I typed out my opinion and sent it to her–although I wrote the email during a long stint of not-getting-much-sleep, and on that particular night I was up for 28 hours straight. The result is that my answer came off much harsher than I intended and it sort of sounded like I’m telling a lot of authors that they’re going straight to h*ll. With no stops along the way.

Yeah. Sorry about that to all of you authors I may have offended and will subsequently end up sitting next to at upcoming book conferences.

You can see the whole discussion over at: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2010/06/morals-and-values-and-lessons-oh-my.html

But basically my quote was something along the lines of: It’s irresponsible for YA authors to write about teen characters having sex when they make it seem like no bad consequences will happen. It’s tantamount to encouraging fourteen-year-olds to throw their lives away, and you’re all going to h*ll!!

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the exact quote, because I went on for several paragraphs, however you get the idea.

But here’s why it’s such an issue for me. About nine years ago while I was doing research for my book, What the Doctor Ordered, I had a scene where my doctor character counseled a pregnant teen. He told her she needed to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, so I wanted him to throw out some statistics about STDs. I went on the internet to research STDs but I couldn’t believe the numbers. They were too high. Fifty percent of people have the HPV virus that causes genital warts and several kinds of cancer? One in six people have herpes? Surely not. More people would be talking about STDs if they were that big of a problem.

I called two STD hotlines and both times was told that 80% of sexually active people older than 14 years-old have some kind of STD. I still didn’t believe it so I called my gynecologist and asked him. He confirmed the numbers.

I was completely shocked. I still am. It’s a huge elephant in the room that nobody is mentioning.

Here’s another cheery statistic for you. I have a friend who works for a drug company and he’s traveled to Africa several times to work with doctors on their HIV medicine. According to him, in more than one country, one out of every five people are infected with HIV. One out of five! Think of the people who live on your street or the kids in your children’s school. Can you imagine if one out of every five of them had an incurable deadly disease?

Are we here in the USA smarter? Are we safer? Not according to one website I saw that said 50% of teens who have sex don’t use condoms.

And here are a few more facts kids should know before they make life changing decisions: Several STDs are incurable, many are painful, some aren’t prevented by using condoms, and more than one can kill you.

According to The Center for Disease Control approximately 19 million new STDs occur each year— almost half of them among young people 15 to 24 years of age.

The most reported diseases in the country every year are Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Women/girls are particularly at risk because women don’t get symptoms from these diseases but both can result in infertility if left untreated.

As an added bonus, Gonorrhea—which has the highest reported rates of infection among teenagers and young adults—can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. About one million women in the United States develop PID each year. Look forward to abdominal pain, fever, and internal pus-filled “pockets” that are hard to cure and long-lasting.

Not fun enough? If you get syphilis, which can also go for years without detection, it can damage your internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. Signs and symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, dementia, and death.

Well that’s certainly worth contracting if the guy is dreamy enough.

I could go on, but I won’t. If you’re interested in more fun facts, you can go to the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

In truth, I don’t think my fellow authors realize what a serious and devastating problem all of this is. I think they would be more hesitant to put sex scenes in their YA books if they did. Of course, I’ve done my part to solve the problem. I told all of the authors that read Shannon Hale’s blog that they’re going to h*ll.

I’m just really caring and tactful that way.