Future Project – The Abstinence Taboo: Negotiating Sex in the YA Romance Novel

UPDATE: This abstract was not accepted for the collection that it was pitched for (they can’t all be winners), but I do plan on coming back to it down the road. If you’re aware of any other projects that it might fit in with, please let me know. 

Status: Submitted for consideration for inclusion in an edited collection on YA Gothic Romances


As a genre, Gothic Romance has long been preoccupied with repressed sexuality and the exploration of forbidden sexual desire. In young adult (YA) gothic romances, these themes continue to reign supreme. A major point of difference in recent best sellers however is the discussion around the relationship between love and sex. Whereas sex outside wedlock was viewed as taboo in the YA romances of previous generations, in this chapter I argue that the opposite is now true; that it is the decision to abstain from sex until marriage which is seen as unpopular and even oppressive. Abstinence and virtue rather than desirable have become monstrous. When we consider that adult romance fiction, historically and in the present, frequently features plotlines in which the heroine is a virgin and marriage is the consequence or pre-requisite for the loss of her virginity, it makes little sense that teen fictions should be criticised for presenting this same trope to younger women. Yet they are. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the criticism of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, specifically as it relates to the romance between Bella and Edward. In this chapter I investigate why Meyer has been so scrutinised and how Twilight compares to other popular YA romance franchises in respect to its discussion of sexuality.

Alongside Twilight I consider Beautiful Creatures (Garcia & Stohl), Hush Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick) and Evernight (Claudia Gray), with specific focus on their discussion of sex and its relationship to love. These titles have been selected because they feature a supernatural romance which unfolds over four instalments. Like Twilight, the Evernight series uses vampires, while Beautiful Creatures focuses on magic and wicca. Comparatively, Hush, Hush casts a fallen angel as the primary love interest.


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