Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: Are teenagers too young to read romance novels? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
My daughter is 15 and a sophomore in high school. She’s an avid reader, especially fiction, and lately she’s shown an interest in my own vast collection of romance novels. She and I have a pretty open, honest relationship and have discussed sex and sexuality a lot, especially since she became a teenager. I started reading adult fiction when I was in 7th grade and made my way over to the romance genre not long after. She loves rom-coms and I know she’s plucked a few books from my shelf recently. Is she too young to handle romance novels with sex scenes? Should I have a talk with her beforehand about what’s in them?
Can I just say, this is probably my favorite question I’ve answered in this advice column so far? Thank you for reaching out!
You know your teen best. As with kids of any age, some skew “older” or more mature in their interests, and some kids don’t. If you think your daughter is mature enough to understand and enjoy rom-coms, then she’s likely not too young for romance novels. Particularly since you said you two have already had frank discussions about sex — which, YAY, because she’s 15 and nothing good ever comes from not communicating with our kids about sex.
Romance novels (and I’m talking true-blue romance, with happily-ever-afters and sex-positive tropes, not erotica, not Nicholas Sparks tragedy porn, and not a fiction novel with a romantic relationship in it) are a great way for young people to learn about sex. Particularly for young women, though there’s plenty about them that would benefit people of all genders. In true romance novels (especially ones written during the last decade), sex is healthy, the people engaging in it respect each other, consent is clear, characters have agency over their bodies, and pleasure is a vital component for both parties, not just the penis-havers.
They’re also about so much more than just sex (I think most average about 3 sex scenes per 400 pages, tbh — not that crazy). The misconception that it’s just readable porn is a real shame, because some of the wittiest, laugh-out-loud, and even touching, make-you-tear-up moments I’ve ever read have been found in the romance genre. Cool People™ who criticize them have their own ignorance and misogyny to deal with, and that’s that on that. I’ve had a lot of people roll their eyes and tease me about my love of romance novels, and it used to bother me a lot. Now I know that self-described “book snobs” are really just…assholes. And I’m writing one. So…suck it, jerks.
I don’t think it’s a sweeping generalization to say that most 15-year-olds know about sex. Some of them are already having it. Some of them want to. And some of them just want to read about it from the safety and privacy of their own room or favorite armchair. Get her a Kindle if you’re able to, and that way she won’t feel self-conscious about the book covers.
If she’s already plucking books from your shelf, I don’t think a “talk” is necessary. But offering recommendations of your personal favorites and letting her know that you’re open to an Informal Book Club With Mom is fine. She might cringe and refuse, or she might realize that chatting about these books is something special for just the two of you as you move onto the next phase of your mother-daughter relationship. Watching our kids grow up sure isn’t easy, but there are some amazing things about them getting older — and I really think this could be one of them for you two.